Homeschooling Isn't One-Size-Fits-All

By Isabel Shaw  

How Can I Teach You? Let Me Count the Ways.
There are as many ways to homeschool as there are ways for children to learn. Parents usually start with the traditional classroom model, because that's what they know. A curriculum is purchased from one of the leading curriculum vendors, and it outlines everything the child will study in the coming year. Many curriculum packages contain all the textbooks, workbooks, and related materials, as well as telephone support.

Unfortunately, some children, especially younger ones, may resist that model. They simply aren't interested in the subject matter. Parents can then either deal with the resistance (threats, rewards, etc.) or change their approach. Some parents choose to integrate aspects of the purchased curriculum that were useful, and disregard the rest. A subject a child hated last year might become a favorite this year, so flexibility is a must.

Still other parents pick and choose from a variety of educational offerings: Saxon Math, perhaps, combined with Oak Meadow activities. Finally, there are those who find a child-led approach most effective and interesting for their family. This method -- called "unschooling" -- is the one our family uses. Whatever technique you choose, it's important to remember that the successful homeschooling parents are those who can adjust their teaching style to accommodate their child's learning style.

Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner's groundbreaking 1983 book, Frames of Mind, introduced his theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner's research opened the door to a greater understanding of, and respect for, individual talents, including: kinesthetic, spatial, verbal, musical, and logical (mathematical). A kinesthetic child, for instance, learns best when he is active and participating on a physical level. Sitting in a classroom with paper and pencil is difficult for this type of child. Although very bright, a kinesthetic learner is often labeled as a "problem" student. But in reality, the only problem is the teaching method.

Homeschooling allows children to develop and grow according to their individual learning style. My kids thought counting by twos swinging high on our swing set was great fun. But doing it inside at their desks was a bore. Fractions were an abstract concept; baking a cheesecake made it clear. So the question is: How does a homeschooling parent figure out what or how to teach?

An ancient Chinese proverb gives a clue: Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Let me do it myself, I understand. Watching children play, one can see this proverb in action. Kids learn through the senses and absorb information at an incredible rate. Their curiosity is boundless as they question and explore everything around them.

As homeschoolers, we know this curiosity gives way to interest, and interest turns into learning. Ideally, the parent becomes a facilitator rather than a teacher. By exposing your child to a variety of experiences each day, learning takes place with little struggle or effort. Homeschooling gives you the "room" to accommodate your child, and preserve curiosity and creativity.

Adapt to Your Child's Learning Style

My older daughter (11) is a visual learner. She loves to read and draw. My younger daughter (7) is a kinesthetic learner. She enjoys building things and is very active. Teaching them traditional "paper" math was a disaster. They said it was boring, and hated every minute of it. All they really learned was to dislike math!

One interest they both shared was fairies. The girls jumped at the opportunity to build a fairy house with their dad, and my older daughter immediately made a drawing of the future house. They weren't aware they were learning math, as the drawing became a house plan, and there was more measuring to cut the wood. Windows and doors added further math challenges. In figuring out the pitch of the roof, they learned the relationship of the sides of a right triangle. They were so happy with the results, they decided to build several birdhouses -- without our help!

Approached this way, learning isn't a chore. It's part of the whole process of pursuing an enjoyable activity or interest. The visual learner saw her dream become a real (miniature) house. The active learner loved pounding the nails and sawing wood. For us, the math lesson was painless and fun!

My older daughter loved drawing and planning our vegetable garden. My active little girl loved digging the dirt and playing with the bugs. They didn't know they were studying horticulture as they watched the seeds sprout, then weeded, fertilized, and harvested a bumper crop of vegetables. Reading about worms, butterflies, bees, and pollination seemed quite natural, as we studied what we encountered each day.

Freedom to Learn

Free of the restraints of traditional schools, children are active and enthusiastic learners. Most parents scoff at this idea, and say, "Not my child! He'd never learn anything on his own!" I was one of those parents. But as I let go more each year, I watch in wonder as my children take on challenges and learn in ways I could never have imagined. I told a friend recently, "They're learning in spite of me, not because of me." My feeble attempts at teaching have slowed them down. When I get out of the way, they soar.

In his wonderful article, "How Children Learn to be Intelligent" (Educational Leadership, March 1997, Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development) John Abbott writes, "The Process of Learning is wondrously spectacular and messy, and does not easily fit within a closely defined, classroom-based curriculum, particularly for the adolescent. Try as we might to accommodate children's spontaneous questions, too often their natural enthusiasm is dulled by the needs of the (school) system for order."

Abbott's solution? Empowering our youth to "learn spontaneously, independently, and collaboratively, without coercion." Hmmm -- sounds just like unschooling to me!


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