Sonya Shafer was a featured speaker for our 2015 homeschool conference. In this message you’ll discover her overview of five approaches, or “flavors,” to homeschooling and what works best for your family. Other resources may be found at Simply Charlotte Mason.
Don’t you love to look through recipe websites? I just found a great recipe app for my computer. Now any time I see a recipe I like on a website, I can click and drag it into that app and it magically transfers all the information to my collection of recipes.
That’s the easy part. The hard part is looking through page after page of mouth-watering photographs and recipes and deciding what to serve my family.
The more I talk to homeschoolers around the country, the more I’m convinced that the world of homeschooling is a lot like the world of food. You have choices. Pages and pages of choices sometimes.
You know that you want to provide nutritious meals for your children’s minds, but there are so many possibilities for what educational food can look like and taste like, it can get overwhelming sometimes.
Let’s see if we can simplify the process for you.
In the food world there are many different flavors. You might prefer Italian, Mexican, Chinese, or American dishes, to name a few. In homeschooling, there are also many types of flavors. You might prefer traditional, classical, Charlotte Mason, unit studies, or unschooling.
What’s the difference? Here’s a quick overview of five flavors of homeschooling.
Traditional homeschooling is probably what you grew up with in the classroom. It usually has separate textbooks and workbooks for the various school subjects. You read the assigned chapter in the textbook and answer the questions about the content. Usually the workbooks contain fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice questions.
This approach might sound the most familiar, but it is not the only option you have. There are other flavors you may not have heard of yet.
Classical homeschooling is based on teaching children in three stages, called the Trivium.
The Grammar Stage (ages 6-10) focuses on absorbing information and memorizing the rules of phonics, spelling, grammar, foreign language, history, science, math, etc.
The Dialectic Stage (ages 10–12) emphasizes logical discussion, debate, drawing correct conclusions, algebra, thesis writing, and determining the why’s behind the information.
The Rhetoric Stage (ages 13–18) continues the systematic, rigorous studies and seeks to develop a clear, forceful, and persuasive use of language.
The Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling uses rich literature and “living books” rather than textbooks or dumbed-down twaddle.
Charlotte was a British educator in the late 1800s and early 1900s who emphasized respecting each child as a person and giving him a broad education.
This flavor of homeschooling presents a generous curriculum, including nature study, art and music appreciation, and handicrafts, as well as the usual academic subjects.
It seeks to “spread a feast” before the child and let him digest what is appropriate for him at the time. And it uses methods that will nurture a love for learning and reinforce good lifelong habits, not just present a body of information.
Unit studies take a theme or topic and incorporate all the school subjects (language arts, history, science, music, art, etc.) into that topic.
For example, when you study Ancient Egypt, you read books about Egypt (history), make a salt dough map of Egypt (geography), determine how to calculate the height of a pyramid (math), explore how Egyptians irrigated their farm land from the Nile (science), read a historical fiction book set in Ancient Egypt (literature), build sugar cube pyramids (art), learn how to spell “pyramid” (language arts), etc.
The fifth flavor can go by many names, but we’ll call it “unschooling” here.
Unschooling basically goes with the interests of the child. There is no set curriculum. If a child is interested in butterflies, you research and learn about them until the child is satisfied. If he develops an interest in race cars, you give him information on race cars.
Do any of those flavors’ descriptions whet your appetite? Just as you can find restaurants and stores that cater to each food cuisine, you will find publishers that cater to each flavor of homeschooling. And those publishers will be gathered at your annual homeschooling convention. Think of the convention as a Taste of Homeschooling event.
You will be able to learn more about each flavor of homeschooling and take a closer look at different publishers’ materials.
Now, shopping for curriculum and materials is a lot like shopping for a meal. You can buy a ready-made meal; for example, you might get a pizza to go.
And some publishers offer that type of meal: third grade or fifth grade in a box. They give you everything to do for that child during that year. Ready-made school-in-a-box is convenient, but it’s not very customized.
An alternative to ready-made is shopping for different components of your meal. So, instead of getting a pizza to go, you might shop around for ingredients for a crust, sauce, and toppings to make your own customized pizza.
It’s the same with homeschool materials. You have freedom to choose various components from various publishers and put them all together. It’s not as convenient as school-in-a-box, it might take more time to plan or prepare, but you can customize it more for each child.
Whatever flavor you choose, make sure it is one that you will enjoy and that will work well for your family during this season of life. You may even want to create a smorgasbord of flavors, doing mostly one but adding some of another.
That’s perfectly fine. The key is to teach the child, not just teach the curriculum.
Feel free to tweak the spices in the sauce or change the toppings you use as you go along. One of the great things about homeschooling is the freedom you have to make changes as needed. You are not locked in to a certain curriculum. If you’re not enjoying something as you thought you would, or if you find it’s not as nutritious as you had hoped, or if you discover that it’s just not your child’s taste, make adjustments. You have permission to swap out a book or look for a substitute ingredient.
And soon you will find that you are navigating the homeschool world with ease.
I remember when I first started cooking; everything was new and required a lot of decision-making, which led to some very stressful hours. But as I gained a little experience, both the effort and the stress level lessened; and now I can cook meals in my sleep. (In fact, I think I have sometimes.)
It’s the same with homeschooling. Getting started or trying a different flavor might seem a bit scary at first. But give it some time and gain a little experience, and soon you will settle into your favorite flavor of homeschooling and feel comfortable feeding your child’s mind.
That’s what happened to me. About 20 years ago I attended a homeschool convention, where I first heard about these flavors of homeschooling.
I knew right away that my favorite was the Charlotte Mason method, and I’ve used it with all my children from first grade on. It has worked wonderfully for my three who have graduated and even with my special needs daughter, whom I am still teaching.
In fact, I’ll be giving several workshops about the Charlotte Mason approach at the Midwest Parent Educators Conference. If you’re interested in the Charlotte Mason flavor of homeschooling, I’d love to help you learn more about it.
Whatever flavor appeals to you, I hope to see you at the conference—your convenient Taste of Homeschooling!
We have updated this blog post, originally published in May 2015, for timeliness and detail.