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Method to the Madness: Homeschooling Approaches

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In today’s post, we are going to take a brief look at the three main approaches used by homeschoolers today.

Structured:

The structured approach basically brings the classroom into one’s home, and includes any method or style of home education that follows a defined curriculum with planned outcomes or goals. For some parents, it may be using an OOTB (out of the box) solution, based on any number of programs that are primarily Christian faith-based, but there are also programs drawing on Jewish, Muslim, and other religious traditions. While the majority of homeschooling families have traditionally done so for religious reasons, the number of families who are now homeschooling their children for non-religious reasons has grown as well. For these families, there are OOTB options such as the non-sectarian curriculum offered by Baltimore’s Calvert School (based on their traditional classroom curriculum), among other vendors.

Other parents may enroll their children in full-time ‘online’ or ‘virtual’ schools, where their children attend classes at home via distance learning. These can be either public, charter, or private institutions. The structured approach is used by many parents as an attempt to imitate a traditional school setting, while personalizing the curriculum to fit their needs. For many parents, this is their ‘gateway’ into homeschooling.

Unschooling:

The polar opposite of structured learning, unschooling is described by its fans as the most ‘natural’ form of learning for children, in that its primary focus is on the child’s interests. A formal definition of unschooling commonly cited is:

“Attempts to teach through the child’s daily experiences and focuses more on self-directed learning by the child, free of textbooks, teachers, and any formal assessment of success or failure.” (Martin-Chang, S., Gould, O. N., & Meuse, R. E.)

While unschooled children generally learn basic skills (such as reading, writing, and math) school textbooks, lesson plans, and other materials commonly found in a structured framework are not usually employed by unschooling parents.  One of the more famous advocates of this approach is himself a former New York City public school teacher, John Taylor Gatto, who famously submitted his resignation in the New York Times shortly after winning New York State’s Teacher of the Year Award. His books include titles such as ‘Dumbing Us Down’ and ‘Weapons of Mass Instruction’, in which he advocates for a strategy of ‘open source learning’.

Unschooling parents feel that their child’s innate curiosity, coupled with a desire to learn, is enough to drive learning – and that their child’s individual learning style should be accommodated. When it comes to working within educational frameworks, unschoolers don’t believe that a child should have to try and be ‘the square peg in the round hole’. It’s all about the individual, and their own interests and abilities.

Eclectic:

If you were to depict homeschooling approaches using a Venn diagram, the Eclectic method would probably be found in the area overlapped by both Structured and Unschooled approaches:

Venn Diagram - HS Methods

In other words, the best of both worlds. Eclectic homeschooling parents may rely on a  structured approach for some subjects (such as writing or mathematics) while other areas of interest (such as history, literature, and science) may be tackled using an unstructured approach. For the eclectic homeschooler, adhering to a specific educational philosophy is secondary to providing their child with the best learning opportunities.

The ‘a la carte’ approach works well for their children, as these parents, while not as ‘laid-back’ as unschoolers, are also not bound to the set curriculum in traditional structured learning. It’s little wonder that this approach is now very popular with the majority of today’s homeschooling parents.  

We at Open Tent Academy recognize these different approaches, and our various online and interactive course offerings aim to provide homeschooling parents and children with a dynamic and meaningful learning experience.


Jonathan Meola, co-founder and instructor at Open Tent Academy, attended the University of Miami, where he earned his B.A., and returned several years later to earn a graduate certification in Applied Quality Management, while helping to manage executive graduate degree programs for their business and engineering schools.

Professionally, Jonathan has worked as a technical consultant, managing enterprise software implementation projects for companies such as AT&T, Boeing, Discovery, Honda, Nestle, and several Federal agencies across the United States, and also worked on projects in Canada, Israel, and Mexico. He also has developed curricula for corporate training, and led sessions as an instructor on many occasions. Today, he resides with Eva in a small town outside of Jerusalem. Jonathan has three children, all of whom were homeschooled at one time or another. In his spare time, he loves traveling, reading, photography, analyzing politics, NCAA college football (Go Canes!), and cinema.

Other blog posts by Jonathan:


Works cited:

Martin-Chang, S., Gould, O. N., & Meuse, R. E. (2011). The impact of schooling on academic achievement: Evidence from homeschooled and traditionally schooled students. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 43(3), 195-202. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/878227015

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