Monday, July 16, 2012

Developing New Education Methods

My journey to develop a new philosophy of education and plan for the coming school year(s) continues.  To read the first post in this series (A Journey), click here.

Armed with a mission statement, a vision, and a list of priorities, I now had to rethink all my methods of education.  If you have been reading my blog for a while, you may be familiar with different things we've tried in our homeschooling adventure.  We have been homeschooling for 5 years.  For 3 of those years, we used primarily A Beka and for 2 of those years we used a lot of Switched-On Schoolhouse.  We have tried a few other things (Math U See and A Teaching Textbook), but my primary method was recreating school at home.  Why not?  It was what I knew best!  It was how I learned, and how I was taught to teach--the traditional classroom model of education.  Isn't it the method that works best?  Not necessarily.  I have some very grumpy, unhappy kids.  One of them scored excellently on standardized tests but failed at home life.  My efforts to reach their souls, to make lasting character changes, seem like arrows bouncing off brick walls.  My children behave just fine away from home, but within our four walls strife reigns more often than it should.  The child who scored so well on testing hates school and refuses to do one more day if something doesn't change.  The others are not far behind.  But now what?  How do I teach such a diverse group of children?  Surely I can't teach one-on-one, but they each need attention and desire to have my undivided attention!

Again, Cathy Duffy came to the rescue.  Her book provides summary explanations of some of the most popular homeschooling (and classroom) teaching methods available:  Traditional, Charlotte Mason, Classical, Unit Study, Unschooling, Independent Study, Eclectic, and Umbrella Program.  Using a chart of questions, we were able to define the top 3 methods we personally agree with.  ("We" here means me and Mitch.  He graciously listened to me ask each and every question and offered his input.)  With this, I began curriculum research that fit better into our mold of what we want and need.  So many times on this journey I have wished that this had happened to me 5 years ago.  After all, haven't we wasted precious years?  Have we done damage we can't undo trying to pressure children to fit into molds that don't fit?  Have we learned bad habits?  Ah, but sometimes you don't know what you want or like or need until you try something!  And I am a slow learner.  At this point I take a breath and lay my burden on God.  He made me and He made my children.  He knows what's best for them, and He has set me as a teacher over them.  He will equip me in His time.

I cannot teach 6 children one-on-one.  It's not physically possible.  So we need to adopt a teaching method that will allow me to teach multiple children at once.  If you think about the ability levels of, say, 20 children in a traditional classroom, most of them are on different levels also.  In fact, there will be at least 3 different levels of learning/ability in a large classroom.  And a teacher has many other factors to have to deal with in that setting.  If they can do it, so can I.  But if you haven't guessed it yet, I'm completely abandoning the "traditional" classroom approach.  It's outta here.

Before I could adopt a method, I had to learn more about how children learn.  I had to learn more about these methods.  Though the Charlotte Mason approach was not our top method from the survey, it was #3, and that is where my research began.  (In case you're curious, Unit Study was number 2 and Unschooling was number 1 on Mitch's list...but Unschooling is too much of a stretch for me, so...)

Here are some of the books I have read on my journey (and you will soon see why I haven't been posting any new book reviews!):

A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning
A Charlotte Mason Education
Educating the WholeHearted Child -- Third Edition
A Love That Multiplies: An Up-Close View of How They Make It Work by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar (nothing like getting your heart in the right place first!)
So You're Thinking About Homeschooling: Second Edition: Fifteen Families Show How You Can Do It (Focus on the Family) by Lisa Whelchel (there's a chapter in this one specifically for moms of many children, and Lisa Whelchel is funny as always)
The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child's Heart for Eternity

There might be more books, if so I will edit the list.  I have also been attending webinars.  I attended a couple at the Institute for Excellence in Writing.  I attended a few at CollegePlus.  I have listened to several audio files from IEW (some free if you create a free account).  And I've read and read and read MANY articles on that website.  It's a treasure trove! I highly recommend all these resources.

Some books not related to homeschooling, but on the subject of how children learn, that I have been reading:

What Your Childhood Memories Say about You . . . and What You Can Do about It by Kevin Leman.  Kevin Leman is a popular and funny psychologist and author.  I have enjoyed a few of his books.  While this book is not outstanding and falls somewhat short of its original goal, it does give some interesting insight to how memories are formed.  I didn't read this book expecting for help with homeschooling, but it did reinforce things I read in other educational resources.  It was a signpost on my journey indicating I was still on the right track.

Finally, the last book I want to give a HUGE review to is one I'm currently reading.  This book is captivating.  IF YOU HAVE A BOY, READ THIS BOOK!!!!  Or at least consider reading this book.

Boys Adrift is a largely secular book.  Warning: It has a bit of an evolutionary viewpoint in the first chapter, but I found that it doesn't detract from the message.  There is no mention (so far anyway) of homeschooling whatsoever in this book.  Homeschooling is not presented as a possible solution.  I obviously think it can be part of the solution, but its omission also does not detract from the urgent message of the book.  That's why I think you if you have boys, regardless of if you homeschool, you should read this book!  Dr. Sax is both a family practice doctor AND a psychologist.  He has many years of experience working directly with patients.  His conclusions are based on actual scientific studies and he refutes the approach of "Well, my kid turned out fine."  The edition I am reading (the hardback) was published in 2007, so the book is in need of an update (especially information about bisphenol A and phthalates--which now have heavy restrictions regarding the use of in items for children under 12 years old).   I also have Dr. Sax's book Why Gender Matters to read next.  I got both from my public library.  Girls on the Edge, also by Dr. Sax, is on my short list, but I am not sure when I will get to it since I have other priorities.

That's a lot of research!

To summarize, here are some of the things that I have concluded about education:
1) Children learn best when they are studying things that really matter to real life.  Rather than choose an approach that covers "everything", it's better to focus and dig deeper.  Then real learning begins.
2) Children need to be read to.  They need to hear it.  Reading should be done out loud, by the teacher, and we don't do it enough.  Read more.  Read the classics.  Read "living", whole books.
3) Have the children narrate back to you what they have just heard from the reading.  Give children your full attention, and do not interrupt them when they are narrating. (Much has already been written on how to do this.  For starters, check out this article in The Old Schoolhouse magazine by Karen Andreola:  Narration: A Big Homeschool How-To.)
4) You cannot help a child too much.  Period.
5) Memorization is a valuable, teachable skill that has been ignored.

So there you have it, at least part of it!  This is a good portion of the freeway I have been speeding down.  I have been reading and reading and reading some more.  Next we'll take a look at the curriculum choices I considered, what we finally decided, and why. 


  1. I can't wait to hear your decision!

  2. A great site for Charlotte Mason Education is Sonya Schafer is wonderful and her products are great.

    1. Yes, you are right. Thanks, Diane! There are free books to download as well as a very helpful forum. I have enjoyed some of these resources.