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.

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!

Establishing a Homeschool Philosophy

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An educational philosophy is important for your homeschool. If you have a homeschool philosophy that is specific to your family, it helps to keep your goals and strategies in focus. The grandfather of homeschooling, Dr. Raymond Moore, recommended that each homeschool family have a philosophy written and prepared as the basis of establishing a curriculum for their family. Once a family has established their educational philosophy, choosing a curriculum and teaching methods will fall into place. Taking time to think about what is important in the education of your children provides your family with a base for all decisions related to how your children learn and how you teach. Once this has been done, selecting curricula, establishing schedules and routines, and choosing extracurricular activities become easier, as your belief system has been well thought out and decisions have been made about what is important to you.

For each of us, educating the whole child is of top priority. An educational philosophy helps you to keep this in focus. A balanced, wholesome child is important. Helping him or her develop spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally creates a well-adjusted child that has the talents and abilities necessary to succeed in today’s world. Homeschool families in 2016 are given opportunities to choose from a myriad of academic resources. Curriculum companies have been quick to write textbooks and provide resources for the learning needs of homeschooled students. Sometimes it is easy to forget that a child’s education is not one-dimensional, but that academics are only one piece of the puzzle. Spending equal time planning for physical, emotional, and spiritual elements is key in creating a well-balanced child. For example, character is developed through work and service to others. Physical wellness is also a result of hard work and play. And, service to others helps the child discover that a happy heart is one that tends to the needs of others as it focuses outward in life.

Finding the blueprint for creating a well-rounded child in a homeschool environment is key. The Smithsonian Institute presents a formula for “creating a genius,” which can work as a guide for the successful homeschool family as they develop their educational philosophy and approach to education. The Smithsonian Institution’s study of 20 world-class geniuses stresses three factors:

  • Warm, loving, educationally responsive parents and other adults
  • Scant association outside the family
  • A great deal of creative freedom under parental guidance to explore their ideas

Peer pressure works to tell us that we must socialize our children by letting them spend time with other kids. But, studies have shown that the greatest socialization takes place within the family structure and by association with other adults. It is perfectly okay for children to spend all week with their parents, associating with other children only weekly at church or via an occasional play date or cooperative learning venture. More emphasis is placed upon peer socialization than is merited. As children reached the upper elementary grades, they frequently start asking for opportunities to spend with other children. At that point, teaming with other friends to start a homeschool activity group that meets periodically and provides structured field trips for a group of local, homeschool children can be provided. This frequently fills the “need” of children to associate with others their age. Piano and other group lessons can also help meet this need. The structured environment continues to facilitate learning, and provides for opportunity for parental guidance. It’s important, though, not to cave in to peer pressure or feel like you are depriving your children if you maintain a home environment where they spend more time with family members than anyone else. It is a key element of this formula for successful brain development.

A great deal of freedom to explore is also important. In order to create inventive children, time and resources to work with are essential. Children can also be given freedom to explore in nature, art, play, books, and more. Exploring the world around them from all aspects is important!

It’s important to keep priorities in focus. If one chooses to home-educate, then the education of our children must be a priority. This includes their religious education and the development of their intellect and ability to think for themselves. Lessons learned while creating, building, analyzing, and applying concepts are best absorbed and retained by children. A project-based approach that is developed by the teacher-parent, and based on the interests of the children being taught, is interesting and grasped well by them. It is the role of the teacher-parent to create lessons and learning experiences that spark the interest in the children being taught. A bored child does not learn well. It is the parent’s role to provide experiences that facilitate growth, learning, and interest in any subject. Mastery will result effortlessly if this principle is applied.

Developing an educational philosophy assists the homeschool family to teach and learn purposefully. Once a philosophy of learning is established, the resources selected to facilitate this learning fall into place. If workbooks do not play a role in promoting your educational philosophy, there is no need to spend money on them! Instead, use your resources to find the tools that promote the philosophy you choose to embrace. Children are a precious natural resource. Thoughtful care should be taken in establishing how we will help them learn.

If you haven’t taken the time to write down your philosophy of home education, why don’t you take a moment to jot down what you really believe about educating your child. What is the foundation of your homeschool? It is the core of your family’s system of education.