Following are definitions of various learning approaches taken both by home schoolers, and often in public or independent schools. Many educators use a combination of two or more methods, aiming for an education that will serve the needs of each individual child.
Unschooling: child centered education, working with the child’s inclinations, learning through everyday life. John Holt is often considered the Father of Unschooling. Using children’s’ interests and curiosity as a starting point provides motivation, and from almost anything you start from, you can go in a multitude of directions/subjects. In unschooling, learning and living are not separated, and children learn mainly by following their own interests, by being part of the world, free to explore what interest them, having questions answered as they ask them, and being treated with respect rather than with condescension. It is believed that by observing those around him, a child will pick up skills that interest him. Interest sparked by all kinds of activities will lead a child to seek more information, and will lead naturally into many different “subject” areas. Parents must trust their child, help their children find resources for learning, and allow learning to happen according to the child’s own internal schedule. Some unschoolers are known as “radical unschoolers” because they totally allow their child to choose his own activities and learning path; others may provide more structured learning in certain core areas (math, language arts) while unschooling in other areas.
Structured learning: Many people feel there is a time and place for structured learning, and a need to cover a basic body of information that will allow our children to communicate effectively in our society and make informed decisions. Structured home-learning may range from strict adherence to a highly scheduled prepared curriculum covering all subject areas, to structured learning in core subjects such as math and language arts with more relaxed learning in other areas. It may also involve following an outline which suggests “core knowledge” children need in order to be effective members of a democratic society.
Cultural Literacy: a core body of knowledge shared by literate people in a society, that in a sense defines the culture, provides an avenue of common thought and communication, and provides a basis for democratic discussion. It provides a handle (the allusions, the unstated context) that opens the doors to communication about political or ethical or scientific or historical ideas in a critical, thoughtful way.
Waldorf: an educational system developed by Rudolf Steiner. Children’s development is divided in 3 stages: to age 7, children learn mainly by imitation; from 7-14, feelings and emotions predominate; from 14 on, the development of independent reasoning skills becomes important. Waldorf education emphasizes arts, crafts, music, movement, and books students make themselves rather than textbooks. It emphasizes developing the individual’s self-awareness and judgement, sheltered from the political and economic aspects of society until well into adolescence.
Montessori: an educational system developed in Italy by Maria Montessori. It aims to provide proper surroundings and tools so children can develop to their full potential. Carefully selected materials, related to real life, yet child-size, help children to learn to function in their culture and become independent and competent. Montessori emphasizes beauty and quality, and avoids that which confuses or clutters. Materials are prepared and arranged ready for use when needed.
Charlotte Mason and Guiding Natural Curiosity: Charlotte Mason was a British educator who emphasized informal learning during a child’s early years, with an emphasis on nature study to develop observation and classification skills, and appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation. History and geography are to be learned through travel and study of the environment. Mason stressed taking into account individual abilities and temperaments. She believed that to lay a solid foundation of good moral values, one must develop good habits to govern one’s temperament, and that this is an important aspect of education.
Multiple Intelligences: this theory developed by Howard Gardener holds that there are 7 main types of intelligences: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. According to the theory, each person has a different mix of these intelligences, and learning is best tailored to each individual’s strengths, rather than emphasizing the linguistic and logical-mathematical approaches of traditional public schooling.
Eclectic Education: Those who follow this educational approach mix and match various methods to create learning which suits their needs. Eclectic schoolers may do some subjects in a highly structured way (most often math and language arts, which they feel require an ordered sequential approach), and leave others for the children to pick up as they are interested. They usually pick and choose materials from a variety of sources — libraries, curriculum publishers, bookstores, science equipment companies, internet, etc. They may also devise their own materials, or adapt existing ones. This is usually a fairly child-centered approach, and quite different methods may be used for different children in the same family.
Programmed Instruction: This method may use textbooks, teaching machines, and/or computer programs to arrange step-by-step sequencing of information which can be easily mastered. The student makes a response at each step and receives immediate feedback about the accuracy of the response. The repetitiveness of this approach has been criticized, and it lacks attention to creativity and problem-solving, as well as emphasizing individual facts over wider ideas and concepts. It is, however, often a useful way to provide extra practice, and can motivate students who are having difficulties with other approaches.
Unit Studies: Basic school subjects are studied in the light of a particular topic, theme, or historical time period, instead of studying many isolated subjects. Children learn holistically as they see how subjects relate to each other. Basic skills are often taught in an informal manner while engaged in study of a particular unit. Previously learned skills are strengthened as children learn at their own level within a group which may be composed of learners of widely varying ages. The unit study approach emphasizes the use of a wide variety of *real* books (as opposed to textbooks) and hands-on materials, and seeks to introduce children to the “best” classic literature. It often involved learning methods such as narration and dictation, using real books. Parents may create their own unit studies, or purchase a wide variety from various publishers.
Principle Approach: This is a teaching method developed by James Rose. The four Rs of the approach are: (1) Researching the Bible to identify God’s principles and purpose for a subject (2) Reasoning from these truths through the subject with the student (3) Relating the principles of the subject to the student’s character, capacity for self-direction, and use of personal talents, and (4) Recording in writing the personal application of these principles to life. Students often create their own notebooks of factual and inspiration materials. The approach emphasizes comprehending a subject from the whole (principles) to the facts. While the principle approach as originally conceived is strongly faith-based, more secular variations have developed, especially taking a strongly patriotic, historical, heritage approach.
Worktext approach: Several curriculum publishers provide consumable books that include both instruction in a subject, and questions or projects with space to answer the questions. Diagnostic tests are provided to determine what level a child should be doing in each subject, so a child may be doing several *grades* at once. Some publishers try harder than others to include questions that require advanced thinking and application skills.
Traditional Curriculum or School-At-Home: Home schoolers following a traditional curriculum approach follow some variation of the traditional public-school system in the home. This may range from correspondence or electronically delivered programs provided by the local public school system (which is technically NOT homeschooling, but public-school-at-home), through secular or faith-based curriculums provided by publishers or independent “umbrella” schools. The traditional approach generally depends on the use of textbooks, and is teacher(parent)-directed.
Classical Education: accumulation, integration, and application of knowledge. The art of learning is developed by Grammar (memorizing categories of facts), then Logic or Dialectic (analyzing relationships between the facts), and then Rhetoric or Wisdom (expressing the derived principles). Classical Education traditionally includes Latin (or Greek), logic, and debate; and includes rote memorization, copy work, recitation, narration, logical analyses, essay writing, speech presentation and debate. It emphasizes serious and diverse reading and classical content, integrated into the environs of family life. After these life-long learning skills are developed, the student is ready to study in-depth whatever advanced subjects he chooses, to prepare for his life work. Classical education aims to cultivate character qualities and mental habits fit for thoughtful and responsible living. It traces its roots to the Trivium used by the Hebrews, Romans, Greeks, and in Medieval education. There are quite a variety of approaches to Classical Education, depending on things like one’s personal world view, and ranging from strict adherence to ancient patterns through to a pick-and-choose approach from among those patterns.