By Crystal Ladwig
Deciding to homeschool is something all homeschoolers struggle with to some extent. We are all concerned about how well we can teach, how it will affect our children socially and academically in the years to come, and how to best teach them. There are three key decisions to make as you set up your homeschool that help to address these concerns.
First, decide which homeschool method to use. While there are a wide variety of homeschooling methods, the most commonly used around Gainesville are the Charlotte Mason approach, Classical Education, Traditional Curricula and Unschooling. Charlotte Mason emphasizes experiences, observation and exploration of the natural world, while reading is taught through classic literature. Lessons follow the child’s lead as parents guide children’s discovery of art, music, literature and nature while encouraging children to examine and discover for themselves. Classical Education relies heavily on the natural cognitive growth of children to help them learn to think critically. Key skills include observing, listening, memorizing, organizing, analyzing and debating. Classic literature, logic, Latin as well as traditional academic subjects are taught. Younger children focus on learning facts and gaining a basic understanding of academic concepts through memorization. Older children learn to think critically through arguments and rhetoric to better express themselves. Traditional Curricula are similar to those found in public schools. Many have been adapted or created for homeschoolers with step-by-step instruction guides. Finally, Unschooling is an unstructured approach to learning whereby curricula are determined by the child’s interests and abilities utilizing their natural curiosity about topics of interest. It requires that parents provide a rich learning environment to encourage exploration of topics and interests including a wide variety of books, field trips, and exploratory toys and materials.
The second decision is which curricula to use. When modern homeschooling first began to take root in the 1980s, there were very few choices for families. That is no longer the case. Within each homeschooling method, you will now find dozens of options and countless variations. That is the essence of homeschooling. You get to use what works for you and your family and modify everything as needed. If possible, attend the annual Florida Parent Educators Association conference held in Orlando each May. There you will have the opportunity to carefully examine many curricula. Consider both the content and the design of the materials. One child may prefer a lot of colorful pictures and examples while another child may find that distracting and overwhelming. Think about the needs of your children and select what fits best. This may also mean that you choose different curricula for different children within your family. Finally, get on Facebook and start joining homeschool groups. Homeschooling families are more than happy to share ideas and experiences with one another. We are each other’s greatest source of support in this area!
Finally, decide how you will structure your calendar and days. Florida does not have any specific calendar requirements that homeschoolers must follow. Many curricula are designed for four-day implementation with the idea that the fifth day will be for volunteering, field trips or meeting with homeschool groups. Younger children may start earlier while older ones sleep in and start later. Even breaks can be individualized. When you and your family need a few days off, take them.
There is one final point to keep in mind. Each of these decisions can be changed at any time. If you find that an approach, a curriculum or a schedule is not working for you, do not be afraid to change things up. In fact, you likely will as you discover how your children learn best.