Homeschool Methods, Uniquely You

Homeschooling is a unique activity – unique because your family is unique. There are so many many homeschool methods out there to choose from, which is it?  THE right one?  Well, that is the thing.  What works for my family probably won’t work for your family.  You get to try different methods until you find what works best for your family!

And to me, that’s a big reason why homeschooling is so appealing.

At any time, I can modify our homeschool to perfectly fit my unique family – our schedule, my kids’ personalities and interests, my own personality, and our budget.

Over the six years that I’ve been offically homeschooling, we’ve ranged from workbookers to unit study enthusiasts to online curriculum lovers to unschoolers. As the seasons of our family life have changed, so have our educational choices.

Horton Boys with “Belle Boyd,” Confederate spy, at a historical presentation at our local library.

When my oldest was just starting Kindergarten, I bought lots of workbooks for him because … well, because that’s what I thought Kindergarteners were supposed to do. Every store and catalog carries workbooks, after all, and I can sure remember filling out lots of them when I was in Kindergarten.

It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize that my little boy didn’t enjoy sitting at the table marking the objects that didn’t match or filling in dot-to-dot puzzles. I was blessed to discover KONOS Character Curriculum early on, and we moved into the world of hands-on unit studies.

While I still think unit studies are a good idea and that hands-on learning often leaves a more lasting impression on young, wiggly kids, I found that all the crafty activities didn’t fit my own personality very well. Making bead belts and hand painting salt dough maps is all well and good, but if I ended up irritated about the whole thing, it just wasn’t worth it.

Too Busy for School?

As a work-at-home mom, I’ve had some very busy times when I’ve been working 30-50 hours a week for a few months at a time. (Boy oh boy, did the house look like a wreck when I could finally take a look at it!) Not surprisingly, that kind of work schedule left virtually no time to officially ‘have school’ with the kids. We might read something aloud a couple times a week and, of course, I would talk to them throughout the day, but otherwise we turned into unschoolers during those times.

At first, that bothered me. I’d go to bed at night thinking what a failure I was, how their lives were slipping by while I wasn’t doing anything to prepare them to be intelligent adults. Slowly, though, I began to realize that they were talking about things that I hadn’t taught them. I’d notice my middle son figuring out math problems in his head while we were cooking … math problems that involved concepts I’d never officially worked with him on. I’d hear my oldest son tell his friends about World War II battles and generals that I had never heard of, much less taught him about.

Oh … I get it … (Watch the lightbulb slowly brightening in my brain.) … kids keep learning even without formal lessons. Unschooling can work. They don’t really need me to tell them every little tidbit they’re ever going to know.

Knowing that freed me from the guilt I had been feeling over working so much, but it didn’t marry me to unschooling completely. I like doing lessons with my kids and enjoy exploring new topics alongside them. Today, you could call our school “relaxed eclectic.” We use several different resources including:

  • Math on the Level – an excellent program that uses everyday experiences to teach math along with continual, daily review of previously learned concepts
  • Family Read-Alouds for History and Literature – Currently, we’re studying the Middle Ages and have found several great books that our whole family is loving. You should hear the choruses of “Please read another chapter!!” 🙂
  • Considering God’s Creation – This is a K-6th grade science curriculum that includes lots of cut-and-paste activities that my kids are really enjoying. I like to do Charlotte Mason nature studies also, but the weather’s just too cold right now.
  • All About Spelling – Three times each week, I use Level 3 with my oldest and Level 1 with my middle son. I love the kinestetic aspect of AAS, its phonetic basis, and the fact that it doesn’t rely on a weekly test to determine whether or not a child is learning.
  • Five in a Row, Volume I – I’m working on these little studies with my younger two sons (ages 7 and 4). I got it primarily to give my four-year-old something that he can do each day because he kept asking me, “Mom, when are you going to do school with me?” real pitiful like.
  • Readers from the Library – to give my seven-year-old practice with his reading (We’re making a paper chain to document the books he’s read. Each time he finishes a new book, we add a chain with its title. This is really helping his motivation.)
  • Student Writing Intensive from IEW – I’m using this with my oldest, and his writing skills have greatly improved since we started.

Each evening, I pick out the things that I want us to do for school the next day, and I make a stack that I can simply draw from throughout the day. I take whatever thing I want to do first (usually one of our family read-alouds) and put it upside down on the floor/table. Then I take the next item and place it upside down on the first, and so on until I reach the end. Then I just turn the whole stack over, and we’re ready for school the next day.

Of course, I order things so that one child can work on his math page or writing while I’m working one-on-one with another child. This still leaves certain gaps when one or the other has free time for a little while, but that’s okay.

So that’s what my homeschool looks like right now. I don’t know what it will look like next month or next year.

What does your homeschool look like? Does it change with the seasons like mine?

Cindy and her husband, Jon, live in beautiful West Virginia with their three sons – Nick, age 11, James, age 7, and Robert, age 4. They homeschool with a relaxed, eclectic style and enjoy reading great books together as a family, geocaching, and visiting historic and scenic places. Along with teaching Sunday School, knitting, and baking, Cindy loves geography and is the author of Expedition Earth: My Passport to the World. Visit her blog at Fenced in Family.

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  1. I am so very grateful that I stumbled across this today. What a blessing it is to know that during my “unschooling” season, I do not have to feel like a failure…as I have been feeling. My family and I have currently been living with my mother while supporting her through months of cancer treatment. It has been challenging trying to fit in homeschooling just the way I ideally would like to during this season. I often go to bed feeling like a failure as a mother and teacher, and especially worrying about my 12 year old daughter, who is my oldest and closest to adulthood and independence. To add to this equation, I am 7 weeks pregnant now (I already have 4 that I homeschool), experiencing all nausea and fatigue. Your post has blessed me immensely! Thank you for being so candid and sharing with us!!!!!! 🙂

    1. Teri, I’ll be praying for you, your family, and your mother during this difficult time. Isn’t it wonderful how God speaks to us–whether through a blog, another person, the Bible, or another way–at just the right time? I had to take almost a year off from schooling a few years ago while building my house. “Real life” is going to happen, and I think our homeschooled kiddos will be better prepared to handle challenges and interruptions because they will have learned to do so from an early age. I know your children are learning valuable lessons, real life lessons, during this time, and what they’re learning now will benefit them all of their lives. I know it can’t be easy at all, but you are definitely not a failure! God will bless you and your children for your faithfulness to take care of your mother when she needs you. Blessings to you and your family! ~Wendy

      1. Thank you so much, Wendy! It warms my heart that you will keep me and my family in prayer. Yes, God knows just when we need to hear something. It was truly no mistake that I came upon this article when I did. He knew my heart and the thoughts that were floating in my mind. Once again, thanks! And may you be blessed as well! 🙂

  2. Thank you! I too work from home and homeschool. I love hearing about other mom’s journeys and how they get rid of the guilt and cultural norms and enjoy doing what fits for their family and kids. I too struggle with Mommy guilt because I’m not creative and I don’t like worksheets, we’ve used the computer, unit studies and literature based learning to fulfill the needs of my son. I love homeschooling and the freedom it brings. I appreciate posts like this because it makes me see that I’m not alone on this journey! Thanks!

  3. Homeschooling is about flexibility and doing what is best for each child and family. Mommies have to keep researching, learning and changing right along side with our children. I am a former public school teacher and educational consultant. It’s amazing how homeschool has taught me to go with the flow. As mothers, we always want to do the very best for our children so guilt is just a part of being a Mommy. We just have to remember it is a natural feeling and not to take ourselves too seriously. 🙂

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