It’s all good.
In 2007, which is the last year the Department of Education did a survey, they counted 1.5 million kids learning at home. The National Home Education Research Institute suggests that 1.9 to 2.5 million kids is a better estimate. Whatever the number is now, everyone agrees that it’s growing fast. Most parents said dissatisfaction with school environment was their number one reason for removing their kids from school, with a large proportion of those additionally citing a desire to educate their children within a religious framework of their choosing. However, since 2003 the Department survey has also measured an increasing number of parents who simply cite the desire for a ‘non traditional approach’ as their main motivation.
One of the greatest things about homeschooling is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Everybody does it differently because – news flash – children and families are different. Once you get past the idea that school looks like this, and happens in this environment, with these tools, you realize the world is your oyster.
Here are some of the general approaches you will come across as you investigate further. You can also see the resources section for links to books, curricula and groups.
Independent Charter School
There are a great many charter schools that offer curricula, credits, teacher time, and sometimes social activities to homeschoolers. Often these are not the charter schools you already know in your neighborhood, but charter schools that operate mostly to serve independent homeschoolers. They will offer teacher consultations, or in-person meetings, a curriculum to follow, and will review the work your child is doing. Lots of people use these, some consistently, some merely for a period of time. The bigger ones are officially recognized by the state or federal government, and you can get credits (money) towards the costs associated with using them. You register with them just as you would a bricks and mortar school, so you don’t need to file a private school affidavit. Some of them are completely virtual, offering teaching and consultation through email or skype. I’ve never tried any of them, so I can’t make any recommendations. But if you do a search for independent charter school you’ll be flooded with options, and there are plentiful reviews and opinions online.
Independent Study with a school district
It is becoming increasingly common for high schoolers, and elementary school kids, to choose to pursue their education at home, and many school districts offer an Independent Study program. You’ll have to check with your local school district, but as an example, here’s the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (http://www.lausd.net/City_of_Angels/home1.html). They actually have an independent charter school that they’ve sub-contracted with, or created, to manage these students. LA’s program is particularly strong, but most school districts will have one.
Liberal Secular Eclectic
People who follow this approach pick and choose from a variety of tools and methods, and generally vary what they do easily and frequently. They might use a pre-bought curriculum, or they might use a curriculum for one subject and not another. They might have an outside teacher, specialist teachers, or no teachers at all. They tend to be flexible as to hours or classroom structure, and to be less interested in the end result than the method. There is no Ur-text for these folks, although they are often devotees of John Holt, who is thought of by many as the father of secular homeschooling.
The largest religious group in homeschooling are Christians, but there are homeschoolers of all religions and degrees of dogmatic adherence. Christians have been a well-established homeschooling group in the U.S. for a long time, and tend to make extensive use of co-ops and networks. I have found the Christian homeschoolers I’ve met to be friendly and open to other homeschoolers of all persuasions. Christian homeschoolers use the Bible as a fundamental part of their teaching library, as well as many well established published curricula and materials.
(this is one of many such sites, but contains links to a wide variety of Christian HS resources.)
Charlotte Mason was a British Educator who lived in the late 1800s/early 1900s. She believed children should be educated using classical texts, and created a three-pronged approach that her devotees use to this day: Atmosphere, Discipline, and Life. By atmosphere she meant home environment, by discipline she meant good habits and good character, and by life she meant being taught through living methods, living texts. A ‘living’ book is a storybook, usually written with great verve and interest. Bear in mind that at that point in history school text books were dry, dull and impenetrable. The very idea of teaching using fiction was revolutionary. Math, art, poetry, science – everything should be taught using living, contextual examples, rather than just reciting facts. The website SimplyCharlotteMason.com, which is an excellent resource for this approach, defines the approach like this: The Charlotte Mason Method is a method of education popular with homeschoolers in which children are taught as whole persons through a wide range of interesting living books, firsthand experiences, and good habits. This approach is somewhat analogous to the Waldorf approach, in that great emphasis is placed on ‘non-academic’ learning, something that many homeschoolers of every stripe agree on.
The Waldorf Approach is sometimes referred to as the Steiner Method, because it was founded by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian dude who lived in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was a cultural philosopher, who also started a spiritual movement called anthroposophy. This was an esoteric philosophy with links to transcendentalism. (What that means in regular English is that they believe you can grow in spiritual self-knowledge, attaining ever higher levels of spiritual purity, and that human intelligence knows no bounds. I think. I may not be grasping the transcendental part very well. You can read all about anthroposophy online, it’s not really completely relevant for this discussion.)
Anyway, regardless of whether you can get behind anthroposophy or not, Waldorf is actually very cool, in my humble opinion. It stresses the role of the imagination in education, and approaches everything in an inter-disciplinary way. They encourage children to be creative as well as analytical when learning, and the whole point of it is to help children develop into free, integrated, morally-responsible human beings who are able to fulfill their own unique destiny, which anthroposophy believes they have.
The approach is also based on Steiner’s theories of child development, which posit that there are three main stages (which closely mirror those identified by Piaget, interestingly enough):
▪ In early childhood learning is largely experiential, imitative and sensory-based. The education emphasizes learning through practical activities.
▪ During the Elementary school years (age 7–14), learning is artistic and imaginative, and is guided and stimulated by the creative authority of teachers. In these years, the approach emphasizes developing children’s emotional life and artistic expression across a wide variety of performing and visual arts.
▪ During adolescence, to meet the developing capacity for abstract thought and conceptual judgment the emphasis is on developing intellectual understanding and ethical ideals such as social responsibility.
Waldorf education is unusual and perhaps unique in the consistency, thoroughness and creativity with which it implements a K–12 curriculum that is based upon children’s academic, emotional and physical development; its underlying principles continue a pedagogical tradition initiated by Comenius, Pestalozzi, and Herder. I have no idea who they are, but Wikipedia says so, so it must be true.
Another cool thing about Waldorf is the emphasis it places on head, heart, hands – an approach which underlies the kinds of activities kids do in a Waldorf school. They use beeswax for modeling, for example, learn to knit early on, and paint with watercolors on wet paper. There is a love of nature too, and the seasons and natural rhythms are fully integrated into the curriculum. Best of all, they revel in awesome wooden toys, handmade crafts, and play silks. You can bankrupt yourself equipping a Waldorf schoolroom, or be all crafty and do it yourself. One word of warning: They are anti-TV and computers for kids under 10, and only advocate a very limited amount over 10. How far you take that is clearly up to you.
There are a couple of excellent Waldorf homeschool sites, which offer individualized curricula and extensive advice. I really like Waldorf, and try and incorporate it where I can.
Cool Waldorf toys and supplies:
A great Waldorf-influenced parenting book I love:
Unschoolers believe that children will naturally learn what they need to, when they need to. They firmly believe a child has all the tools they need to gather information from the world around them, that all humans are hard-wired to learn, and that any teacher-directed education merely gets in the way. There is actually plenty of science to support this POV, and unschoolers are often unfairly characterized as counter-culture reactionaries. They also argue that by learning from play, games, household chores and real-life activities, unschooled children are better equipped to handle the ‘real world’ than those children closeted in an environment with only a cohort of kids their own age. John Holt is their inspiration, as he is for many homeschoolers of all persuasions. He said:
“Birds fly, fish swim, man thinks and learns. Therefore, we do not need to motivate children into learning by wheedling, bribing or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. All we need to do is bring as much of the world as we can into their lives; give children as much help and guidance as they ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest.”
John Holt, How Children Learn
The parents of unschoolers have their work cut out, though. They arrange their lives, wherever possible, to give their kids a wide range of experiences, sometimes loosely thematic, sometimes not. To a certain extent, every parent unschools: It’s what we do when we point out interesting things to our kids, or teach them to scramble eggs, or how to behave in public.