By Roberta Van Vlack
One of the most frequent questions we receive from new homeschoolers is: “How do I do the academics?” The short answer is: “However you like!” In Massachusetts we have a lot of leeway in terms of what, when, and how to teach.
What to teach
The Massachusetts General Laws chapter 69, section 1D lists as core subjects mathematics, science and technology, history and social science, English, foreign languages, and the arts. Subjects from Chapter 71 Sections 1 and 3 include orthography, reading, writing, the English language and grammar, geography, arithmetic, drawing, music, the history and constitution of the United States, the duties of citizenship, health education, physical education, and good behavior. These subjects need to be covered at some point in your child’s education. You do not have to do every subject every year.
How to teach
Nor may school officials dictate the manner in which the subjects will be taught. (Charles) The Brunelle Court pointed out that “…some of the most effective curricular materials…may not be tangible. For example, travel, community service, visits to educationally enriching facilities and places, and meeting with various resource people can all provide important learning experiences…” (Brunelle at 518)
What this means in practice is that you can really educate your child in any way you like. Your homeschool may not look like your neighbor’s. Each family will have its own needs, interests, and values. Experienced homeschoolers often find that their children thrive when they make the most of the flexibility that comes with homeschooling.
Below are some of the most common approaches to homeschooling. This list is intended to be a starting point as you explore how your family will approach education. It represents only a small fraction of the materials available to homeschoolers today. Visit our Resources page for some jumping off points.
- Big belief: the desire to learn is an intrinsic part of being human, and children can be trusted to direct their learning in a productive, beneficial way.
- In practice: Children follow their interests. The role of the parent is to help find the resources they need when they need them.
- To read: How Children Learn by John Holt; The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith; Unschoolers by Sophia Sayigh and Milva McDonald; Unschooling FAQ
- Curricula: Because of the very individualized nature of unschooling, there is no unschooling curriculum. However, if an unschooling child decides they want to learn to spell better or learn algebra, the parent may find and use a curriculum for that subject.
- Big belief: There is a core body of knowledge that all children should learn.
- In practice: Classical sees three stages of learning: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. The emphasis is on classics (usually classics of western civilization) including subjects like Latin and logic. In the grammar stage, the emphasis is on absorbing information. The dialectic stage is about asking why; the rhetoric stage is for learning to express oneself. There are both Christian and secular varieties of classical education.
- To read: The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer; The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers; The Case for Christian Classical Education by Douglas Wilson; The Liberal Arts Tradition by Ravi Jain and Kevin Clark
- Curricula: Core Knowledge (secular); Memoria (Christian); Veritas (Christian); Angelicum (Catholic)
Charlotte Mason Education
- Big belief: Children are fully-formed persons who should be given a varied, meaty, and wholesome intellectual diet from which they can absorb what they will.
- In practice: The job of the teacher is to pick the materials. The approach relies heavily on “living books,” non-textbooks which can be fiction or nonfiction but which are meant to engage the reader, and narration in which the student tells what he got from the reading (as opposed to the teacher asking for what he thinks is important). It also includes the arts and nature study. Mason herself was Anglican and her philosophy reflects that, but today there are also secular, Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim versions of her method.
- To read: For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay; A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola; Home Education Series (6 vol.) by Charlotte Mason
- Curricula: Ambleside Online; Simply Charlotte Mason; The Alveary; CMEC; Wildwood (secular); Mater Amabilis (Catholic)
- Big belief: A carefully prepared environment helps the child to grow and reach their full potential at each developmental stage.
- In practice: The teacher’s role is to create the right environment for growth. Montessori education makes heavy use of simple manipulatives and hands-on elements, child-sized tools, etc. Action precedes thought so, for instance, writing is taught before reading.
- To read: The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori; Teach Me to Do It Myself by Maja Pitamic; How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin
- Curricula: Montessori at Home; Montessori for Everyone; Montessori by Mom
- Big belief: Children go through stages of development akin to a series of births. What we give them at each stage must be geared towards what they are able to take in at that time.
- In practice: Depending on the child’s stage of growth, Waldorf emphasizes time in nature, imitation of good role models, and learning intuitively through parables and art. Logical thought—being able to think abstractly about words or algebraic concepts, for example—is reserved for the final stage in the teen years.
- To read: The Education of the Child by Rudolf Steiner; Understanding Waldorf Education by Jack Petrash; Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa Ross; The Waldorf Homeschool Handbook by Donna Ashton
- Curriculum: Oak Meadow
- Big belief: The child is seen as a caterpillar who needs to develop. The central task of education is the integration of body, heart, and mind.
- In practice: A nurturing approach with teachers as mentors. All academics are introduced through the arts. Physical and hands-on activities are integral. Concern for the global community is emphasized.
- Curriculum: Enki Education; Enki Homeschool Teaching Guides
- Big belief: Children are knowledge-bearers who express themselves and construct their understanding of the world in many different creative ways often referred to as "a hundred languages."
- In practice: The teacher facilitates but the child’s interests drive the curriculum. Heavy reliance on the arts. Emphasizes environment, relationship, and community.
- To read: Bringing Reggio Emilia Home by Louise Boyd Cadwell; Working in the Reggio Way by Julianne Wurm and Celia Genishi; The Hundred Languages of Children by Carolyn Edwards and Lella Gandini
- Curriculum: Reggio Emilia at Home; Ursa Minor (combines methods)
- Big Belief: There are a set of core values (usually traditional American/Judeo-Christian) which should be passed on to the next generation.
- In practice: Material is always related back to a set of core principles. There is often a strong emphasis on learning through mentorship and building leadership skills.
- To read: A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille
- Curricula: Thomas Jefferson Education; The Principle Approach; The Ron Paul Curriculum; Noah Plan Curriculum
The following are more methods than philosophies, and it is possible to mix and match:
- In practice: Diverse subjects are grouped around a theme or idea. For example, when studying WWII, literature and art will be chosen from that period, math problems will compute numbers of allied troops, and science will cover the machinery of the period. There is usually an emphasis on keeping the child’s interest.
- To read: : Unit Studies Made Easy by Valerie Bendt; You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechick
- Curricula: Five in a Row; Gather Round; Winter Promise; The Weaver Curriculum
Living books based curricula
- In practice: These curricula use “living books” instead of textbooks but use more traditional methods so they don’t merit the Charlotte Mason label.
- Curriculum: Sonlight; Beautiful Feet; Book Shark; Build Your Library; Guest Hollow; Heart of Dakota; Masterbooks; Under the Home; Queen Homeschool; Train Up a Child; The Good and the Beautiful; My Father’s World
- In practice: As the name suggests, nature-based approaches put a high priority on time outside in nature. There is a lot of overlap here with Waldorf and some with Charlotte Mason.
- To read: The Call of the Wild and Free by Ainsley Armant
- Curricula: Wild + Free (bundles and groups; not a curriculum per se); Blossom and Root
- In practice: Mirrors the educational methods of the public schools. Many "boxed" curricula have online-only options (see below).
- Curricula: Abeka; Alpha Omega; A.C.E.; Bob Jones; Christian Liberty; Christian Light Education; Calvert; Generations; Puritans Homeschool Curriculum; Rod and Staff; Schola Rosa (Catholic)
- In practice: Most of these programs are fairly traditional in their approach.
- Curricula: Abeka; Alpha Omega; Bob Jones; Funcation Academy; Power Homeschool; Time4Learning; Learnsys
- In practice: Children learn independently. Many of the online curricula (above) will also allow independent learning.
- Curricula: Easy Peasy; The Robinson Curriculum
Hands-on and/or Project-based
- Curricula: Timberdoodle (hands-on); Moving Beyond the Page (project-based); Torchlight (includes car-schooling options)
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