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Homeschooling 101, Part Two: The Madness Is In The Method


If you dug deep enough, you could probably uncover at least a couple dozen methods of homeschooling. In this post, I’m going to familiarize you with the most popular methods and give you some of the pros and cons of each. And then, in the next post I’m going to recommend a kind of homeschooling that is very different from most of these methods!

So, why bother going through them? Two reasons. First, I want you to be well-informed. You may finish this homeschooling series and decide I’m nuts and that you need to do something more structured with your children than what I’m going to recommend.

Second, I’m hoping that, when you get to the next post, you will see how the “cons” of the different popular homeschooling methods really smack against what’s best for children.

All that said, let’s get on to these methods of home education…

The Classical method

Classical education is so called because it embraces what is considered classical subjects that were taught to wealthy children way back when, such as history, foreign languages (with an emphasis on the classical language, Latin), classical music, and world literature. The curriculum is more rigorous than that of even some private schools.

With this method, the student begins his education at age five or six – no exceptions – and starts off spending three hours a day with his studies, ending up at about six hours per day by the fifth or sixth grade.

The advantages of classical homeschooling: your child will be taught everything that a traditional school teaches, and more. It is the most rigidly structured method, so neither you nor your child will ever be at a loss of what to do next.

The disadvantages: first, it takes a lot of research on the part of the parents to put together curricula, especially if they want to do it as low-cost as possible. Second, there is little leeway for the child to take up subjects of her own interest if they are not a specific part of the curriculum. Third, a child is forced to begin formal academics at a young age, which is not good for most children. Fourth, your child will be forced to “learn” a lot of information that they will either forget by the time they are thirty, or never use in their life. Finally, this kind of curriculum puts a lot of strain on the homeschooling parent’s time, not just to prepare, but to correct assignments and do assessments as well.

The Moore Formula

The late Raymond Moore, Ph.D., and his late wife, Dorothy, homeschooled their children (more than five!) back in the 1950’s. Both former educators (Dr. Moore had actually been a superintendent of a small school district), the couple discovered how to make homeschooling effective yet low-stress. The method is elaborated in Moore’s book, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook, but here it is in a nutshell: do not start formal academics until the child is between the ages of eight and twelve (this is based on Ivy League university studies that Moore cites in another of his books, Better Late Than Early). Up to that point, do a lot of reading aloud, singing, and game-playing with your children.

Once they began their formal academic learning, they spend as much time on real-life work as they do on their studies, and spend time in the afternoon on a cottage industry (that’s a small family business), either their own or the family’s.

Children just beginning their formal studies start out at thirty minutes total every morning, working their way up to three hours every morning by the time they are high school age. This way, a lot of time can be devoted to the child’s talents and/or special interests, another important element for the Moores.

The advantages of the Moore Formula: it is, indeed, a low-stress way to homeschool. It also focuses on teaching the skills every adult needs: the three R’s, plus the ability to teach themselves topics of interest. Because of that, parents don’t have to do a lot of legwork to obtain the resources they need for teaching their children. The children also have a lot more free time.

Also, the children are taught the importance of helping the family, which lays the general foundation of learning to be a hard-working and considerate adult.

The disadvantages: pushing children to work on a cottage industry that they may have no interest in – or before they are really ready to dive into it – is as psychologically unhealthy as forcing a child to read before they are ready. In my opinion, this kind of work should happen organically, as part of a child’s growth and maturity and in concert with their interests and skills. It’s the only thing about The Moore Formula that I disagree with.

Charlotte Mason

The Charlotte Mason method, named after the woman who developed this particular method of education, is similar to the Moore Formula but with more guiding principles behind it as to the what and how of curricula.

Children whose parents use this method generally begin their formal instruction at age seven. Math instruction is to be manipulative-centered, foreign language instruction is encouraged – starting at a young age – and all other subjects are to be taught based on what Charlotte called “living books.” These are books written by one author with a passion for the subject – whether a novel, a book about frogs, or a book about American history – as opposed to textbooks. The formal instruction period lasts between two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours per day.

But like Moore, Charlotte Mason was about more than academics. She emphasized the importance of establishing the right home environment so that children would “catch” their parents’ values, as well as the importance of training children into good habits. She also believed strongly in getting children outside as much as possible to enjoy God’s creation – and, yes, to teach them to connect with their Creator.

The main advantages: It is generally very open and flexible, with general guidelines as to when children should learn what while being much less rigorous than the Classical method.

The main disadvantage: Like the Classical method and boxed curriculums, it wrongly assumes that there is some magic in beginning formal academics with children under the age of ten, and following the scope and sequence of the traditional school system. Children do not have as much freedom to explore their world as they might otherwise have, and are not any more likely to enjoy this method of home education than they would spending seven hours in a classroom each day.

The Montessori method

While entire schools – especially preschools – are devoted to the way Maria Montessori believed children should be taught, many homeschoolers have adopted her methods, as well, especially for young children.

Montessori’s philosophy of education revolved around three core beliefs. The first was that children between the ages of three and five pick up language and reading much more easily than older children, and so that is the age that they should be taught to read and begin to learn advanced vocabulary (not to mention learn a foreign language).

The second belief she held was that all educational materials should be hands-on. For example, to teach letter sounds as well as handwriting you hand the child a block with a letter that has been cut out of sandpaper glued onto it. The child repeats the letter sound while tracing the letter several times. The third belief is that children should have the freedom to choose what they are going to work on at any given moment of any given day.

The major advantage of using the Montessori method is the wonderful hands-on activities that help children understand relatively advanced concept at younger ages than children in regular schools do. I observed in a private Montessori school once, and saw a five-year-old working on multiplication and a three-year-old spelling three- and four-letter words with the sandpaper letters.

The different hands-on activities Montessori and her subsequent followers developed are effective at helping a lot of young children begin what we would consider formal academics.

There are two major disadvantages. The first is that, despite what Montessori believed, not every child is ready to learn to read and do math at an early age. I tried the sandpaper letters with my son when he was three, as is done in Montessori schools. No go. I tried again a few months later. Then when he was four.

He just didn’t get it.

Trying to use the Montessori number rods and addition/subtraction board that I  acquired as a teacher was also a joke. If a child is not ready to read and do math, they are not ready to read and do math, no matter how cleverly you try to get them to do so.

The other disadvantage is that there is no real choice for Montessori students. There are a set number of activities available for them to do, and if they want to do something else, too bad. In that way, the Montessori Method is more like the traditional school system.

The Waldorf method

Based on what I’ve read, this homeschooling method seems to be similar to the Moore Formula as far as rigor (in other words, it’s not very rigorous). The emphasis of the man who developed this method of education is nature study. The family is supposed to read literature together for forty-five minutes a day, do math three times per week and science two times, and spend as much time studying nature as possible.

The advantage: children get grounded in the basics in a relatively low-pressure way.

The disadvantage: What if a child couldn’t care less about nature?

The Eclectic method

Eclectic homeschooling, as you might guess, isn’t really a method in and of itself, but a mix of different homeschooling methods. Many, many experienced homeschooling parents are eclectic in their approach. For example, one family might do mostly Charlotte Mason but add another hour in the schedule for more classical instruction. Another family might use a boxed curriculum for math, sticking to the same company for years, but teach science and social studies from library books.

Summing it all up

Most homeschooling methods are loosely based on the traditional school system, regarding both structure and content. While that’s not always a bad thing, they almost always take more time and freedom away from both child and parent than is necessary, and often end up with children having negative feelings about academics because they are pushed into them too soon.

I am not here to give you the panacea for all homeschooling ills. I am not going to promise that I have discovered The Perfect Homeschool Formula that will work for all families. However, as I mentioned earlier, I have read up on and/or tried out several methods, and come up with what I believe can be an incredibly effective, low-stress homeschool philosophy that will provide your child/ren with all the foundational knowledge they need to succeed in life. In the next post in this series, I will explain what that is as well as provide you with evidence that it works.

(Get notified of that, and all other future posts, as soon as they are published by clicking the envelope icon at the top right of this page.)

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