Methods… My Final Answer

27 Mar

Over the past year or so I have investigated (with much pleasure), and seriously considered, many homeschooling methods. I began with classical via The Well-Trained Mind and loved it, but wanted to see what else was out there. I looked at the Montessori method (love some of the manipulatives), Waldorf, unit-study (too much preparation), lapbooking (love them, but they seem like busy work), LCC, unschooling, and Charlotte Mason.

After a while, I was left with classical with a few elements from Charlotte Mason and unschooling.

Several weeks ago, I started up a new Yahoo group in the hopes of exploring unschooling further. I didn’t like the other groups out there because they seemed so fundamentalist and members were regularly bashed for their opinions or ways of doing things. These are radical unschoolers who go on about freedom, and yet they’re telling other people what to do. How hypocritical can you get? I wanted a group that was different, so I started one. I also found Unschooling Basics. I didn’t get much out of this group for a few reasons. One is that the answers given to questions are often just the pat responses of most unschoolers which you find on all the websites. The other is that I just don’t agree with the parenting philosophies of the members. We do not have a child-centred home, we have a family-centred home. Each member has rights corresponding to his/her responsibilities. I’m not comfortable giving my child complete freedom. So this group was of no help to me. I’ve also come to realise that unschooling can be hard to ‘learn’ about- it’s just about living life and involving your children. Unschooling, largely, has to be learned about through unschooling.

In a lot of ways I do consider us ‘autonomous’ educators, because even though a lot of what we do is structured, Stiggy wants to do it. I also involve Stiggy in just about everything I do. He works with me around the house, helps me make out the grocery list, goes everywhere with me, we have great discussions about things…we do all of those unschooly things. The only difference is that for about an hour every day we sit at the table and do a few lessons, which he wants to do (usually).

As you can see, I was getting too hung up on the term unschooling. I was thinking that unless we left the classical method behind, and became bonafide unschoolers, t-shirt and all, that spontaneous learning would not happen and all learning would be structured. I thought unstructured, spontaneous, natural learning was synonymous with unschooling. And that simply isn’t true. Spontaneous, natural learning happens in all good homeschools (and homes), regardless of method. How else do children learn to walk, talk, feed themselves, dress themselves, etc? They certainly don’t learn about it from a book.

I know a lot of homeschoolers aren’t concerned about a ‘label.’ But I feel the need to have a niche, to have a reference point. Yes, my son is a reference point, but I need a base from which start and then I can tailor that to my son. If it’s not working, we’ll rethink it. No method is right for all families. All we can do is choose what we think will be best and go with it.

After reading about each one, thinking, trying some things, and ‘sitting on it’ for a while, I always come to a point where I will gaze once again at my copy of TWTM. It appeals to me and my sensibilities. It is truly a method for book lovers, which my son and I are. It is language-based, and print-based which I feel is far better than relying heavily on software and educational programmes (See Jane Healy, Ph.D’s book Endangered Minds) I feel it’s no-nonsense, flexible, and uses tried and tested teaching techniques. The child learns to think logically, clearly, and at a much deeper level and in ways than would otherwise be possible. The child reads the classics, learns to write well, speak well, and learns about logic and persuasive argument. Hidden interests are uncovered because the child is exposed to such a diverse range of topics. And there is plenty of room for interest-led pursuits. He/she learns that that not all things worth doing are easy or immediately gratifying. You can use a wide range of materials. Classical Education is not so much about what you use, but how you use it. As long as the materials are good-quality and suited for your child, they’ll work in the classical method.

The classical method doesn’t leave it all to chance and place all the responsibility on young shoulders; it gives it to the parent, and over time gradually shifts it to the child.

I find this article about the joys of classical education on the Well-Trained Mind website very inspirational.

Please don’t mistake my words. I am not saying that any method is better than another. Just that one is better for us.

I’ve come to the conclusion that regardless of what method is chosen, a child will do well if the parents are commited, educationally-minded, spend lots of time with their child; if they read to their child, play games with their child, and have lots of discussions with their child. According to Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore in The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook, ‘The Smithsonian Institute study of twenty world-class geniuses stressed three factors: 1) warm, loving, educationally-minded responsive parents and other adults; 2) scant association outside the family, and 3) a great deal of creative freedom under parental guidance to explore their ideas, drilling if necessary.’ (italics authors’ emphasis, not mine). (Article here) So the key is to pick what works best for you and your family and go for it.

I feel a bit dismayed at all the floundering I’ve done, all the time spent researching and experimenting, but it was necessary. And it’s probably better that I’ve gotten it out of my system now, rather than in the later years when I’ve invested even more time and/or money in something and change my mind. I suppose I’m still not immune to that, but I feel better protected from it.

I’ve also recently discovered that I have a need for change. But that can be satisfied without scrapping everything and embarking on more research.

I’m feeling quite peaceful now. I’ve cut out a lot of yahoo groups and I think I’ll make better use of my free time. I feel I have a better sense of direction and I don’t need to worry constantly, ‘Am I doing this right? Should we be doing it this way? Maybe we should wait/do more/do less/consult someone on this/that group.’ I feel calm and happy with my decision. We’re classical homeschoolers with a love of learning.


11 responses to “Methods… My Final Answer

  1. Umm Khadijah

    March 28, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Masha’Allaah I loved that post! I’m glad that your feeling content with your homeschooling now, alhamdulillaah.

    I also find myself continuously going back to the WTM for guidance, and to put my mind back on track, we don’t follow it to the key, but I take what interests me and I feel is beneficial for my children, the Charlotte Mason method also appeals to me, but I’m not sure if I could implement it fully.

  2. Lynn

    March 29, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    As you said, it was something you had to do. Now you can devote all your ‘spare’ time to knitting 😉

  3. Kez

    March 30, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Thank you for this post and the links. I’d previously dismissed WTM as too “school-at-home” for us – mainly because of the way friends of ours (who use it) homeschool. I hadn’t looked much further into it than that.

    I’ve just read some of the articles though, and I think there are certainly elements of it that would suit us. I’m already following that type of 4 year cycle in history (in theory lol).

    Hmm, off to email my friend to ask if she’ll let me borrow her copy!

  4. Julie

    March 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Good post Michelle.
    It is a shame that as homeschoolers we try to pigeon hole the different ways we have of homeschooling. Everybody needs to find their own way, and that way doesn’t always have a neat label!
    In his book Homeschooling Odyssey, Matthew James talks about a mix-and-match approach to homeschooling – not just mixing and matching methods, but even using school as part of your homeschooling when it is suitable. I love this concept – it really makes me feel it IS ok for me to be flexible.
    Am really glad you have found ‘your place’. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  5. Michelle

    March 31, 2009 at 7:36 am

    Kez, the WTM really is quite flexible. There’s an article somewhere on their website written by Susan Wise Bauer showing what a day is like in their house…it’s very relaxed! I’m glad I was able to show WTM in a different light. I think people get put off by the schedules, which the authors have said they were forced by the publishers to include. Let me know how you get on with it. I love hearing about how people use WTM in their homeschool. 🙂

  6. Elizabeth

    April 1, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    I’ve as yet to read any home-ed books or looked into any of the methods–and doubt I ever will. We just do what feels right when it feels right for us.

    Have to say–the labeling and pigeon holing does seem to make more rifts than anything else.

    I always thought that autonomus meant doing/studying what/how/when it interested the child. Which makes me wonder why some in that camp berate others who do use some sort of ‘book’ schooling.

    Spontaneous learning happens all the time to everyone–think about it. How long is it since you left a school setting–have you learned nothing since? We are all learning
    something new all the time. Stop fretting over the labels, and just do what feels right! Trust yourself!

  7. Laura Lou

    April 1, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    This is so me, too: fighting against the labels in life and, especially, in home school.

    I incorporate a great deal of Charlotte Mason principles in our home school, allowing plenty of wiggle room for delight-directed paths in order to keep our learning experiences organic. Each family is wholly unique, so why should we succumb to thinking that our home school experiences should be static?

    Way to go!!

  8. Blessed Mommy

    April 2, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Just happened onto your blog and love it. This post is great. We are mainly a Charlotte Mason homeschooling style family, but I reserve the right to change anytime. Again love your blog.

  9. Michelle

    April 3, 2009 at 6:16 am

    Thank you, Blessed Mommy. 🙂

  10. Risa

    March 22, 2010 at 12:16 am

    Very interesting read, and similar to the process I’ve gone through over the past couple years. I too have learned to stay away from the term “unschooler”, as we’re not radical enough for that camp. We do lots of stuff Charlotte Mason style (short lessons in the morning, lots of time in nature), but we’re not religious. My own education in is philosophy and specifically logic, so I like lots about the classical approach–but I find parts of it too structured. I like Montessori’s idea that the teacher “prepares an environment and observes” and I like manipulatives, but I dislike the “three stage” method of instruction in which the adult demonstrates the “right” way to use the materials. (Fine sometimes, but kids come up with creative uses too–in general Montessori pays too little attention to the creative and MESSY arts, for us). So I was kind of feeling a little lost.

    But then I settled on our guiding educational principle: Offer, but don’t force. So I “strew” things and we dabble here and there, and run with things that catch the boys’ interests and go in depth, and they make connections in predictable and unpredictable ways. Sometimes I lead, sometimes they do. Works for us. For now, anyways. 🙂

    Glad you’ve found what works for you. It’s a long road!

    • whimsyway

      March 22, 2010 at 7:48 am

      I agree with you about the ‘three stage’ method with Montessori. Kids sometimes need to figure things out for themselves. Nothing gives children more joy when they’re learning than having that ‘ah-HA!’ moment when they figure something out. 🙂 Or, when they make up their own game, which my son loves to do. I like the strewing method, too. “Methods…My Final Answer” is an older post and I’ve continued to explore methods a little and change things around (don’t we all! 🙂 ), but primarily we’re classical (Latin-Centered & WTM) and with a little CM, with plenty of delight-driven study. 🙂 “Mixed Classical” I suppose would be a good descriptive label. 🙂


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