It is not uncommon for a first-time homeschool parent to start with a specific teaching style in September, only to discover a month or so down the road that parts of it don't work. The parent then makes a few changes that improves the process for a time, but come January, they're pulling their hair out. By the next school year, the parent may decide to scrap the whole previous plan and go with a completely different teaching method.
Such is the adventure of discovery. Even some of the world's greatest inventive minds endured trial and error. Thomas Edison experimented with more than 3,000 filaments before completing his version of the incandescent light bulb. Despite this, the light bulb was never considered the greatest of his 1,093 inventions. (www.thomasedison.com/brockton.htm) The same is true for finding the right teaching style. It might take three or three thousand attempts to perfect. And while it may not be the homeschool parent's most important task, it is high on the list of priorities and is a necessary step that will help illuminate and enhance the overall homeschool experience.
There are two basic styles of teaching, including "school-at-home" and what is called "unschooling." There are definite characteristics for each style, as well as pros and cons.
School-at-Home refers to the structure and format found in regular schools that is adapted for learning at home. Some standard features of this approach include:
- Textbook curriculum
- Daily and weekly schedules
- Lesson plans
- Record keeping
For those who either need or prefer this format of schooling, it provides simplicity through pre-planned lessons, predictable schoolwork rhythms (lessons, quizzes, tests, repeat), and an overall structured homeschool environment, complete with recess and lunch breaks. This format would be most beneficial for students who enjoy detailed bookwork and reading, routines and lists of work and/or written schedules.
The disadvantages to this approach include the amount of materials needed, time and energy invested for grading and record keeping, and a lack of flexibility in scheduling, all of which can lead to burnout for already busy families.
Unschooling offers much more creativity and flexibility. The topics of learning are selected by the natural curiosities and interests of the student. The lack of lesson plans and textbooks is the leading feature of this teaching style. Instead, the learning is extracted from everyday life experiences, while under the supervision and direction of the parent. For example, learning to cook by following a recipe not only provides home economics training, but also improves reading skills and incorporates basic chemistry and math skills.
Students who are kinesthetic learners thrive in this teaching style because they learn best through hands-on activities. Also, the constant variety and change in topics helps keep a child's interest and encourages them to use their imaginations and energy.
While unschooling can certainly be a more creative and fun learning process, it can also pose a few problems. Because of the typically unstructured learning environment, grade-level testing would be near impossible, and many unschooled students do not know how to work with time limits and schedules. Also, unschooled students can have a difficult time re-entering the school system, if that transition was ever necessary.
Finding the Balance
The learning style of the student may be different from the preferred teaching style of the parent. For example, the parent may desire a structured curriculum and a reliable schedule while the student may learn better from an unschooling method. In this situation, compromise is possible. The parent may consider setting aside specific learning times each day, and have perhaps several points of interest that the child can choose from.
On the other hand, for the parent who likes flexibility and desires creativity in teaching, and the child who learns better from reading and writing assignments, there could be library visits or other field trips, coupled with book reports and research projects. The best of both worlds is possible, so long as the end result is an excited, satisfied student with an ongoing desire to learn.
Finally, there are extremes to both teaching styles; the extremely rigid and the extremely lazy. Neither of these brings much benefit to the student. The key is to find the style that fuels both the parent's and the student's interest and enthusiasm without compromising the quality of the education and the experience itself.