What’s the BEST home education style?

Ahhh, homeschooling styles. A quick visit to any homeschool forum and you’ll soon see a post asking about styles and curriculum, and as many different opinions as there are responses. We all want the best for our children, and we’re all worried that we’re not supplying our kids with the best. It might be a Facebook post from a mother showing off the amazing nature study her child has done or a science experiment they’ve completed…and you realise you haven’t been able to do anything like that for a while. We all question what we’re doing from time to time.

Well, rest easy. Whichever style you’re using, it’s not the best. And, that’s alright. How do I know you’re not using the best style? Well, hear me out and see if you agree. Our society has been becoming more black and white, more all or nothing, and we’re losing the ability to see the nuances and the shades of grey between even two choices, let alone the amount of teaching styles available to us. We throw around terms like “best” without ever really defining what we’re asking. The “best candidate.” Yeah, for whom? About what? The “best home educating style.” What do we mean? What would be the best for the way your child learns? The one that gives them the broadest knowledge base? Or, is it the one that gives the deepest knowledge in their preferred areas? The best for us as the teacher? The best for their personality? The best that fits in with our family and the different children we are teaching? The best to impart lots of biblical knowledge? The best at helping them become the hands and feet of Jesus? The best for our educational philosophies? The best to comply with our states requirements? The best to foster a life-long love of learning? The list goes on…

There’s a good chance many of these questions would have a different curriculum or style — but still come out as the best. We all have to work out what we’re trying to achieve, and a choice for something is a choice against something else. So, what are we to do? With all the choices out there, how can we be confident that the style we’re using is the best for our children and family? I can’t tell you which method is best for you, but I can share the steps I’ve taken to make sure I’m comfortable with my choice.

1) As always, pray. Pray that we’ll have wisdom in what we’re doing, and that whatever we do, we’ll be able to raise the children we’ve been given to be the people God made them to be.

2) Keep up with research about the way people learn. Read books on the subject; subscribe to websites where researchers on education have posted. There are some fascinating articles in psychology today on education. This allows us to check regularly against what we’re doing, so we can see if there is something we can implement. Don’t settle for anything just because it’s always been done that way. As home educators, we can look at the pros and cons of everything. It’s a real blessing not to be burdened with doing something just because it’s the way it’s always been done. We can know why we do everything we do.

3) Find out which style of homeschooling best fits our educational philosophy. Once we know a bit about how children learn, and we know our own children, we can start to look at the different styles out there to help us teach our kids. There are many websites with quizzes where you can answer a few questions about your priorities, and these will then tell you which style suits you best. I did this when I first started looking into home educating. I hadn’t heard of most of the styles it mentioned, but it gave me a great jumping off point for my research. I knew I could get away with only a quick skim of any that didn’t suit me, and focus on those that matched our philosophies. This saved a lot of time, and as I read up on different styles, it was incredibly accurate.

4) Research the recommended methods and curriculums available, and join some forums or facebook groups dedicated to those methods. You can learn so much from other parents. Once you know your philosophies, you can start to glean information from like-minded folks and see how they incorporate things into their system. Remember, you don’t need to do everything exactly the same as others with similar philosophies. Some people fall in love with a style, and disapprove of anyone doing it slightly differently to how they think it should be done.

5)  Look realistically at your children and yourself, and see what will work best for your family and its particular situation. I have three boys. They’re all different, but I’m not about to use three totally different styles. It would be impossible. I can use slightly different implementation for the different boys, but overall the philosophy isn’t going to change. I didn’t want to start one thing with the first that wouldn’t also work for the other boys. There were compromises to make there. On top of that, while I could see them flourishing from a particular style, I knew with my health issues it wouldn’t work very well for our family, particularly in the younger years. I believe that where we’ve ended up is the best compromise for our family.

Once you settle on a style, get started. It won’t be perfect; nothing here on earth is. What’s important is that you know why you’ve chosen what you have, and why it’s best for you right now. It will change and evolve. When you see things other parents are doing, you may want to add a bit. If something isn’t working, you may want to replace it with something else. We always need slight corrections as our journey progresses, but if we know why we are (or aren’t) doing something and have a philosophy behind it, then we at least have a place to start.

Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear any thoughts.

Exploring Homeschooling Methods for the Early Learner | Montessori

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I have to admit, writing about the Montessori method has been quite intimidating to me. It is a very rich and scientific method that is very precise. For something to be truly Montessori, the teacher (at home or school) MUST be formally trained in the Montessori method and use specific Montessori supplies. However, in this day and age, many families are choosing to provide their homeschoolers with a Montessori inspired education.

Some are drawn to Montessori by the emphasis on independence, others on the child-directed approach to learning, and still others by the vast array of materials and resources provided for even the youngest of learners.

In this brief introduction, I will by no means do the full Montessori method justice, but my hope is that I can share some of the most desired aspects for those of you who are interested in taking some inspiration from the pen of Maria Montessori.

A Brief History of Montessori
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who did extensive work with special needs children. As she observed children and read various educational philosophies of her predecessors, Maria began to develop a very precise and scientific approach to education that revolved greatly around the “prepared environment” and the idea that children teach themselves. By understanding child development and examining the way children played with different textures, tools, and materials, Maria developed various prepared activities, from transferring beans from one bowl to another with a spoon to sorting cards of animals and plants. During her life, Maria set up many “children’s homes” (or schools) all over the world where her theories were put into practice and found to be very successful.

Why Montessori for the Early Years
As mentioned above, Montessori methodology begins at birth. This means there is something from every age group through middle school. Where most educational philosophies don’t offer many exercises or activities for the under-six crowd, Montessori is chalk full of them.

Key ideas in Montessori are independence and giving children space to grow and discover, as well as respecting each child as a person. In a Montessori homeschool, a child would have furniture and tools that are good quality, real, and all their own size. Typically there is a shelf with prepared activities that teach a child crucial skills. One activity may be a tray with a pitcher full of water and a glass for a child to practice pouring. The idea is that the child will naturally do this over and over again until she masters the skill. She is not forced to do the activities, but rather can choose what she would like to do and for how long. Then, after she has experimented with an activity, the teacher comes alongside the student, showing ways to expand upon the things she is already learning.

Some of the key elements of a Montessori style education are mixed ages in one classroom (great for homeschool), large uninterrupted blocks of time to play and explore, freedom to choose activities, a discovery model vs. direct instruction, use of very specific educational materials and tools created by Maria Montessori, and plenty of free space for a child to move.

A Day in the Life of a Montessori Family
Like with any homeschool, the schedule is going to look very different from family to family. Part of what will determine a schedule will be how strictly one adheres to Montessori methodology. However, two non-negotiable components of a Montessori education are outdoor play, and large blocks of uninterrupted play and learning time. Below is an idea of what a homeschooling day might look like. In this case our family has one girl, Isabella, four, and a baby brother, six months.

9:00 a.m. – Circle or “line” time. Isabella and her mom sing songs, read a few stories, and see what’s happening with the weather for the day. Today Isabella’s mom is adding  an activity about skeletons to their activity shelf. She talks about the x-ray cards with Isabella and shows her how she can make x-ray art by gluing cotton swabs to black paper. They also read a new poem about bones.

9:15 – Self-directed learning time. Isabella’s mom leaves her to explore all of the things on the shelf. She is there ready to help Isabella if she needs help, but tries to give her space. Isabella immediately grabs the new tray and begins working on her skeletons. She shows what she is doing to her mom. Then she cleans up, puts her tray back, and starts working on a puzzle that is on the shelf.

10:45 – Circle or “line” time. Mom reads a book to Isabella; they talk about the morning and get ready to go outside for a bit. They may go to the park, ride bikes, take a magnifying glass and explore nature, the sky is the limit.

12:00 p.m. – Lunch time. Because this is a Montessori homeschool, Isabella is encouraged to help as much as she can to prepare her lunch. She is able to cut her banana and prepare a sandwich all by herself alongside her mom. Special care is taken to practice manners and courtesy. Isabella sets the table and helps her mom wipe the table and clean up when the meal is over.

1:00 – Quiet time for Isabella to play, listen to books on tape, or just generally be calm and rest for a bit.

2:00 – The rest of the afternoon is open to play. Likely there will be another chance to go outside and play, and the activity shelf is always open.

Materials, Resources, and Curriculums for Montessori
Unlike other methods, there are some very specific materials typically used in a Montessori classroom. Much emphasis is placed on the activity trays, and those will need to be stocked. One of the best places to find Montessori style lesson plans and materials is from Michael Olaf’s website. The North American Montessori Institute has also put together a curriculum for homeschoolers. Many people, however, find they like to take some of the Montessori activities and ideas and rework them, rather than following the Montessori philosophy precisely.

I will provide links to some websites and books that can be helpful below, but a quick Pinterest search for “Montessori activities {insert age}” can be really helpful too.

Is Montessori Right for Me?
Montessori is an approach that really encompasses all of life, not just your typical academic subjects. It places emphasis on independence, courtesy, and child-led learning. How do you know if Montessori is right for you?

  • If you like the idea of watching for teachable moments and making suggestions, but letting your child take charge of his learning, Montessori might be a good fit.
  • If you don’t mind preparing activities and rotating them out, keeping an eye on how your child responds to new things, you might love the child-led nature of Montessori.
  • If you like the idea of giving young children more freedom to play and explore, both inside and outside, while providing structure and stability, you might have a good fit.
  • Montessori might be right for you if you like the idea of using a well researched and scientific method of education in the home.
  • If you have a really young child and you want to enrich her life by providing developmentally appropriate activities, Montessori would be a good place to start.

How About You?
Do you use any Montessori methods or activities in your homeschool? Are you strict, following it to a tee, or do you just like to pull in Montessori ideas from time to time? What are your questions and reactions? Are there other homeschooling styles you are curious about for your preschooler, kindergartner, first- or second-grader? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below!

Find Out More

  1. Teaching Montessori in the Home Pre-School Years by Elizabeth G. Hainstock: An introduction to the Montessori method and how to set up a Montessori program in your home.
  2. Teach Me to Do it Myself by Maja Pitamic: A whole host of Montessori activities for children ages three to six.
  3. Montessori At Home Guide by A.M. Sterling: An introduction to using the Montessori method at home with two- to six-year-olds.
  4. Montessori on a Budget is a great website filled with tons of resources and ideas. It proves that using the Montessori method doesn’t have to be expensive and provides materials to help you implement the Montessori method in your home.
  5. American Montessori Society: Visit their website to find out more about the Montessori method and its founder, Maria Montessori.

The Project Approach in Early Childhood Education

I have always been very interested in different ways to educate children. In fact this is one of the reasons I began homeschooling in the first place. I feel that learning should be multifaceted. Children learn in so many different ways, and being able to provide opportunities that connect with all of their learning styles and multiple intelligences, plus being focused on what they are interested in, is the best form of education. One of my children I found to be a very hands-on learner. They really seemed to flourish if they had the ability to touch, taste, smell, and do. In my early childhood education courses, we learned about The Project Approach method to learning. I found that by applying this approach, my child became excited about learning.

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The major advantages of project work is that it makes school more like real life. In real life, we don’t spend several hours at a time listening to authorities who know more than we do and who tell us exactly what to do and how to do it. We need to be able to ask questions of a person we’re learning from. We need to be able to link what the person is telling us with what we already know. And, we need to be able to bring what we already know and experiences we’ve had that are relevant to the topic to the front of our minds and say something about them.

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The Project Approach should provide developmentally appropriate curriculum that will improve the child’s understanding of the world around them. It should have a balance of activities, involve field work, work time and implementation. Children should have time to review and recall what has happened during a project to see if there are any unanswered questions left. The final piece of The Project Approach should be an opportunity to display and share what has happened during the project.

So what is The Project Approach and how is it implemented. Below I have included my presentation on the historical background and the individual phases of this method of teaching. I have also included a completed lesson plan about bees as an example of how to plan using The Project Approach.

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The Project Approach PowerPoint Presentation

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Learning About Bees Using The Project Approach

Exploring Methods for the Early Learner | Unit Studies

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Do you and your kids like hands-on projects? Do you like to lose yourself in your studies, immersing yourself and discovering the many facets of a topic? Do you like to weave together math, science, history, language arts, and more? Do you have two or more kids whom you would love to learn as much together as possible? If you answered yes to any of these questions, unit studies might be a great approach for your homeschool.

A Little Bit About Unit Studies

Unit studies are a bit different than the other methods of homeschooling I will be talking about, as they are compatible with most homeschooling theories or methods. Unit studies can be used as part of the Charlotte Mason Method, unschooling, the Moore Formula, and more. They can also be combined as a stand-alone homeschooling strategy.

Unit studies may be small, lasting only a week or two, or large, lasting for a whole quarter or even a semester. By taking a theme, let’s say the “Human Body,” and stretching it across subject areas, you have the opportunity to dive deep and create a unit of study. You may read about the human body in a book, play games about the human body, build models of the body, read books about famous doctors or people who made great discoveries in health. You may work on exercise and healthy meals, do human body science experiments, or write a fictional story about how the immune system works. You can explore vocabulary, and even use math by measuring the length your small intestine would be if you stretched it out and more.

One of the best things about unit studies is that you can include the whole family in much of the activities, slightly tweaking assignments for varying ages. It cuts back on planning and requires less time than covering different topics as separate subjects for each child.

Why Unit Studies

Young children are masters of unit studies. Have you ever watched a preschooler or early elementary child get hung up on something like firefighters? For a time, they are obsessed. They want to dress like firefighters, play with fire trucks, and be a firefighter when they grow up. Any hose-like object becomes a firehose, and no danger is too big to escape their heroism. They want to read about them, watch them, and more. This continues until they are ready to move on to the next new thing to explore — maybe horses.

By surrounding a child with opportunities to learn about something in different ways, often their curiosity is naturally piqued, and they grasp hold of the topic or theme being presented. Children love making connections.

A Day in the Life of a Unit Study Family

As with unschooling, it’s difficult to say what a day in the life of a family following a unit study plan might look like. With this type of homeschooling, the amount of structure varies, and it can be easier to see an overview of a whole unit study, rather than a particular day. For purposes of discussion, I’m packing more in this example day than would actually be feasible. These activities might all be broken up over the course of a week, but I feel it can give you a better picture of what homeschooling might look like.

The family in this example is a family of three, a four-year-old boy (Trent), six year-old girl (Trudy), and seven-year-old boy (Trevor). They are studying about pioneers and the westward expansion.

7:00 a.m. – Everyone is up, working on their chores, and helping to get breakfast rolling.

8:00 – Family worship at the breakfast table, then everyone helps to clean up and get ready for the day.

9:00 – Everyone meets at the table to start the school day with calendar time, math, and any individual lessons. Handwriting might include copying sentences about pioneers. Trevor and Trudy review some vocabulary words from the story they are reading — things like bluffs, spade, foundation, and sprain. Trent joins in mostly for calendar time, but plays with his toys while his older siblings finish up.

9:30 – Everyone gathers around to read The Little House on the Prairie. Today they are reading about building the cabin. Trent plays with his cars while he listens, Judy colors, and Trevor just sits and listens.

10:00 – It’s time to do some brainstorming and planning. Trevor and Trudy are asked to use a mind map to brainstorm how they would build their own log cabin, what materials they would use, etc. Trevor writes a paragraph and illustrates it. Trudy writes a sentence and illustrates it. Trent talks about his cabin with his mom and draws a picture.

10:30 – They all go out and measure out the size of a typical cabin built by pioneers, and do some math from the reading. For example, if Pa built the cabin three logs high all the way around, how many logs did he use in all four sides?

10:45 – The children come inside and start to build log cabins out of Lincoln Logs.

11:15 – It’s time to make lunch together. The family has been cooking recipes out of the Little House on the Prairie cookbook a couple days a week for lunch. Today they read about staples from the country store, and are working together to make hasty pudding to go with the rest of their lunch. While they cook they talk about how it would have been different to cook on the frontier vs in modern kitchens.

12:00 p.m. – Lunch

12:30 – Everyone helps clean up.

1:00 – Quiet time. Everyone picks their own books to read. Mom reads to Trent. There is a basket of books about pioneers that the kids like to pick from to look at and read during this time.

2:00 – The afternoons change. Sometimes they do art, sometimes science experiments, sometimes field trips or music lessons, etc. Today they are going to start a new project. They are going to make plans for their own prairie garden just like Ma had. They will measure and plan, and if they get everything ready on time, they will get to go to the store before supper to pick out everything they need to start their garden.

This would end the “school” day and the day would continue as normal afterward.

Materials, Resources, and Curriculums for Unit Studies

Often people who do unit studies write their own. You can also find several free unit study ideas and curriculums by searching online, and there are several boxed curriculums and resources that make it easier. Please feel free to comment below to suggest other resources and ideas.

Amanda Bennett Unit Studies – Some pre-made unit studies of all different lengths: a great and inexpensive option to dive in with unit studies based on your state requirements, your child’s interests, or any timeline you may be following.

Konos – A full unit-study based curriculum that focuses on character traits.

The Weaver Curriculum – A unit-based curriculum from Alpha Omega publishing.

Five in a Row – A literature-based unit study approach that begins with Before Five in a Row for your two- to four-year-olds, and continues with Five in a Row for children up to age eight.

Are Unit Studies Right for Me?

Unit studies can work in a lot of different situations, but just like all schooling styles, the question is, is it a fit for you and your family?

  • If you like the idea of everyone in your family learning together, unit studies are a great way to span different ages.
  • If you enjoy diving deep into a topic and exploring things beyond a textbook, unit studies provide a great opportunity.
  • If you don’t mind taking the time to do in-depth projects and field trips, you might have just found your perfect match.

How About You?

Are you thinking about unit studies, but simply aren’t sure? What are your questions? Thoughts? Reservations? Excitements? Are there other homeschooling styles you are curious about for your preschool, kindergarten, or first- or second-grader? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below!

Find Out More

  1. “What is a Unit Study?” By Amanda Bennett: http://unitstudy.com/blog/what-is-a-unit-study/
  2. One way to plan a unit study: http://unitstudy.com/blog/what-is-a-unit-study/
  3. Another way to plan a unit study: http://www.dummies.com/education/homeschooling/designing-homeschool-unit-studies/
  4. “The Ultimate List of Unit Study Resources”: http://www.sidetrackedsarah.com/2012/08/the-ultimate-list-of-unit-study-resources/
  5. Free online unit studies: http://www.freehomeschooldeals.com/category/unit-study/
  6. More free unit studies: http://eclectic-homeschool.com/free-unit-studies/
  7. Astronaut unit study I put together: https://homeschoolingatjesusfeet.wordpress.com/category/unit-studies/astronauts/
  8. Excellent planning resources and examples from a unit study family: https://www.pepperandpine.com
  9. Unit study resources recommended by SDA Homeschool Families: http://www.sdahomeschools.org/unit-study/

Warm, Responsive Parenting and Delayed Academics

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In our family, we chose to follow the Moore Formula approach to education. The focus on work, study, and service helped us keep a balance in our family life while presenting the value of learning to our children in every facet of our lives. I believe that the Moore approach, possibly more than any other, allows learning to become integral to the whole child and the complete family system. With this approach, education is not placed in a box. Instead, the entire world is open to the child in a way that most other types of educational systems cannot replicate.

Sometimes parents who choose to follow the Moore Formula find that they can feel like a fish swimming up the stream instead of going with the flow. That’s because they are thinking and teaching outside the norm. Our culture and the educational system are creating learning environments that take the parent out of the educational formula at an early age (preschool). One goal of the present public system of education is to do this at increasingly earlier ages. As homeschool parents, sometimes we forget that these are external, artificial pressures, and we take them upon ourselves.

Research shows that children whose parents practice delayed academics rather than early academics, catch up with and exceed peers who have been educated formally and starting at a young age. Not only are delayed-study children beneficiaries academically, but research shows that they exhibit more skills in inquiry and higher-level thinking than their traditionally educated peers. Traditionally “schooled” AND traditionally “schooled at home” children who are not taught by the work-service-study model of delayed academics that Dr. Moore promoted have been found to exhibit signs (across the board) of burnout by fourth grade. These are only a few examples of the excellence that results in children who receive an education with delayed academics.

School Can Wait is an example of a very well documented and highly researched book which proves Dr. Moore’s educational philosophy. This book is highly research oriented and the result of a $257,000 federal grant which documented the importance of unbroken continuity of parental attachment wherever possible, and the dangers of formal schooling until at least eight to ten. In it Dr. Moore states that:

“The preponderance of evidence indicates that the key role of a parent throughout the years of childhood is simply to be the kind of warm, responsive, and relatively consistent person to whom a child can safely become attached. Early development and learning are actively dependent on this relationship. Parents are chiefly responsible for a child’s early learning by their attitudes and responses to the child in frequent interactions,” (School Can Wait, p. 47).

The Moore Formula encourages warm, responsive parenting and a delay in formal academics until eight or ten years of age. It is a plan that has proven itself over and over again. It really does work!