In a previous post, I discussed how, in homeschooling, parents and children are the one who create their own blueprint and decide on their own approach. If you’re new to homeschooling, it can be overwhelming. You could come across one approach and think, “Wow, that’s really great. We should use this”. Then, you could come across another great, but totally different approach. What then should you do? Which should you do?
The first thing is that you probably can’t and definitely shouldn’t try to do “every good thing” out there. Think of homeschooling as being about infinite choice. There are SO many types of curriculum, so many approaches. Many of them are excellent and have different benefits. Like with language learning, it’s probably best not to overwhelm yourself and your children with too many goals, too many languages you want to learn or types of materials you want to use.
Recently, a parent interesting in homeschooling asked on Facebook, “What curricula do homeschoolers use?” and “What must I use”? That’s the thing about homeschooling – you don’t have to use any fixed curriculum. At it’s very core, it is not a uniform, centralised system whereby your decisions are controlled and you may limited options. It’s the opposite. Every homeschooling family is unique and different. In fact, I don’t have any homeschooling families who used the same materials as we did and then earned the same school-leaving qualifications. The question to ask is not, “What is good?” or “What works?”, but what works for you.
Even within the same family, different children have different needs, strengths, weaknesses and abilities. Homeschooling is not about uniformity and conformity but about individualising and tailoring education to meet children’s needs and provide them with the best education for them. Personally, I don’t believe that that is one definition of a “good education” as a good education means different things for different children. In a sense, between different solid, reputable methods and approaches, there’s no “right and wrong”.
I’ve said this over and over again, but what works for someone else doesn’t have to work for you. It’s like the story of the man, the boy and the donkey. Everyone else’s advice has to be taken with a pinch of salt. If you do what everyone else tells you to do, it will be very difficult to do anything at all.
(Even anything I suggest – don’t feel you like have to do it. It is sounds like it could help, that’s great, but if it stresses you out and doesn’t jive with what you are doing, just click “x” and close the page.)
This is especially true with homeschooling because there is a tendency to compare. You may feel stressed when looking at what everyone else is achieving and doing and feel very small and unsuccessful in comparison. Comparison kills. It kills the joy and love of learning. Even comparing children within the same family doesn’t work. One child may have a lot of interest in and an aptitude for music, another child may be completely uninterested in music. So if the first child takes up three different music instruments, it’s out of passion and interest. Forcing the second child to do the same thing and to achieve the same thing would be tortuous drudgery. Instead, the second child probably has a different talent that could be explored.
My mother tailored homeschooling to fit her teaching style and our learning style. She did not like direct teaching (“spoon-feeding”, she calls it). She doesn’t have the aptitude or patience to stand at the foot of the dining room table and deliver lessons, nor to create detailed lesson plans. For us, a structured, digital curriculum with automatic marking and multimedia lessons was suitable and worked really well and helped foster independent learning. However, it definitely doesn’t work for everyone.
What does this have to do with your homeschooling approach? In a previous post, I discussed the important of doing thorough research and reading up about the different options you have in homeschooling. While doing that, even before doing that, it’s a good idea to have an approach in mind. Before you can decide “what” to do, it’s a good idea to think about “why” you’re homeschooling and what you believe about education in general.
This “blueprint” is a work in progress and changes over time. You don’t even have to have it written down. It could be one line, an idea – “I want education to be about creativity and critical thinking”. It could be someone you have in your mind, the educational values that determines your choices.
Deciding what you’re looking for during the research process helps eliminate what isn’t going to work. Having clear criteria helpswith the decision-making mprocess as well. For example, unit-based, thematic curricula was out of the question for my family as it would involve way more preparation than my parents thought was practical or feasible for us (I’m sure it works for other families). Or, if you plan to send you child to a certain country like Germany or the UK for tertiary education, you’ll probably need to start a little earlier and not just suddenly pick up German or think about A levels a few months before applying for university.
Why do you want to homeschool? My parents chose to homeschool so that we could have a happy childhood, a balance between study and play. This was their belief or philosophy and this guided the choices they made. They also believed that education should be holistic, about character-building and important life skills (for example, chores). That was their basic understanding which guided their choices and how they chose to homeschool.
Some questions you could ask, include:
- What is the purpose of education?
- What are your “big picture” goals for your child? Where do you see him/her in 10-15 years, or as an adult? What do you want to equip your child with for life?
- What are your priorities, the most important aspects of education that you would want to focus on?
- What do you believe about learning? How do you believe children learn best? How do you believe your child learns best?
- What do you want your child’s childhood to be like?
- What are the philosophies, methods or approaches you would like to include? How would you define them? For example, if you’re into un-schooling or Waldorf education, what is your own definition of the approach and why do you prefer that approach?
- Why do you want to homeschool? What do you hope to provide for your child through homeschooling?
These will help you form a “big picture”. Having a big picture can you give a sense of direction and outline your priorities. Then, when you read homeschool blogs or try to choose materials, you have a guidelines and a firm idea in your mind what you’re looking for and what may work.
Another author, Kris Bales, came up with these questions:
- What are my basic goals for homeschooling? When my children graduate, they should be able to…
- What are my overall goals for each subject?
- Why did we decide to homeschool?
- Why do we continue to homeschool?
- What do we hope to accomplish by homeschooling that could not be accomplished in a traditional school setting?
- What life skills do I want my children to have?
- What are our family’s priorities (i.e. academic success, community involvement, specific character traits)?
- What does the ideal homeschool day look like to me? To my children?
- What are our goals, short-term and long-term?
- How is learning accomplished in our home?
- What materials do we use to accomplish our educational goals?
This will create what is called a “homeschooling philosophy” or “education philosophy”. It’s very personal. You can look it up on the internet and find many articles and how-to guides. Think of it like choosing from a palette of colours to paint with, almost, except it’s very important that it definitely isn’t all about your ideals and visions but it should be about the child. After all, homeschooling is providing your child with an education and that is something that’s very important. It has to be about the child. As with any form of education, it’s not about forcing the child to fit into the approach or ideal but tailoring the approach to the child’s particular needs.