Homeschooling styles differ family to family, and in our family, I should say year to year, week to week, maybe hour to hour.
We have homeschooled independently and with a charter school. I have followed curriculum and unschooled. We have tried Thomas Jefferson education, Susan Wise Bauer’s Well-Trained Mind method, Charlotte Mason ideas, and just about anything else that my friends have been excited about at one time.
And I have found that while I glean helpful strategies from each model, I can’t commit fully to any of them.
So I am more likely to describe myself as Sonlight inspired or somewhat unschooling. I admire people who follow the full Sonlight curriculum, or allow their kids a rich unschooling environment, but I know it doesn’t work for us.
And what does work is always changing.
Right now we are trying a method I developed based on Oliver DeMille's concept of "structuring time not content," and an article I read about a large homeschooling family who uses Leigh Bortin's Classical Conversation. My kids call it that "timer thing."
It goes like this: We set the kitchen time for an hour and focus on one subject during that hour. No more. No less. Well, less if you are little.
During the language arts hour I sit on the couch with my 8-year-old son and begin with a basic 5 to 10-minute grammar lesson. Right now we are using First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise. I think it was written for first and second graders, so we are moving through it pretty quickly, but he is learning basic things like the definition of a noun and the difference between a proper and a common noun.
Today he worked on memorizing the Mother Goose rhyme that goes … “Thirty days hath September.”
My 11-year-old daughter didn’t need to go through a lesson book like this. We discussed the parts of speech one afternoon while we were driving around in the car.
Then she got into Mad Libs and has never really wondered what a noun or verb was since then. At some point in the next year I would like to go through a more intensive study of grammar with her, but for now, it is not a priority. She is learning other things on her own.
When my son and I are finished with the language arts lesson, he reads a short phonics book or we look at a couple pages of his Explode the Code phonics book. Once we preview the phonics workbook he can work through it on his own.
Then he copies a few sentences and draws a corresponding picture if he wants to. We often use ideas from the Draw Write Now books. Since we started this his drawing and his handwriting have improved.
He is not reading anywhere near grade level, and I am still committed to not pushing, but we do work on it a little bit every day. When he is finished with his assignments he gets to play for the rest of the time.
During the language arts hour, my daughter reads from a biography or writes. Both of these are independent. I sometimes ask her to read to me. Sometimes we take turns reading a paragraph, especially if the reading content is difficult for her and she needs some encouragement.
During the writing hour she works on something she wants or needs to write. Sometimes it is a response about something she is reading. Most often it is for a speech she is preparing for her favorite homeschooling activity, Speaker’s Club.
She likes writing, and so I let her writing time be free for her to just write without my editing. It can be filled with creative spelling and no punctuation, but it's amusing for me to see how much her writing has improved this year simply by reading more challenging books and writing e-mails using a spell checker.
For the math hour I once again work with my son for the first 20 minutes or so. We do math games, flash cards, etc. We also use the Singapore curriculum. Because he struggles to read instructions and the text in word problems, I sit with him and help him read.
My daughter tries to work through Singapore Math curriculum herself, and I help her when she needs assistance. She likes the challenge of working through it on her own, so as long as she is not staring at the wall, I try to leave her alone and let her figure it out.
She likes that there is a cap on how long math can take. If a lesson is particularly laborious, she is not obligated to complete it in one day. And if she flies through an easier lesson, she can go on and do the next one.
Reading, writing and math are the important core subjects that I think we need to purposefully schedule time to cover. But it is not a full picture of our educational experience. We take plenty of field trips. We listen to audio books. I read historical fiction to the kids every night. We watch historical and scientific documentaries. We do science experiments, art projects, etc.
If the hour-timer strategy is not working, sometimes I let the kids just play. Today my son got through his language arts lesson with me and came to me in tears after 15 minutes of “trying” to do his handwriting lesson. I told him to take a break and he has been building Lego models ever since.
Earlier in my homeschooling experience I would not have let my daughter get out of academic work to play, but I have learned to respect the power of play and imagination. Someday soon he will be able to read and write four sentences together without frustration. And someday, he won’t be quite so excited about building Lego models.