Homeschooling Methods: An Overview of School-at-Home

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One of the most intimidating things to a new homeschooler can be the vast array of homeschooling methods out there. The abundance of approaches we have at our fingertips is one of the biggest advantages of homeschooling, but sometimes it can be difficult to sort through the practicalities of each style when trying to decide upon which course to take.

Oftentimes, the varying methods are defined by an author from a very basic vantage point. The “hallmark” characteristics are usually  listed with a general description of what that particular approach may look like. As helpful as that may be to some, I always found those sorts of definitions to be a bit abstract. I wanted to know what worked and what didn’t from people who actually had experience with those methods.

That is what I plan to do for you over the next several days. Now that we’ve finished up our 7th year of homeschooling, we have had experience with four different styles: school-at-home, unit studies, unschooling, and eclectic/relaxed homeschooling. My plan is to write a synopsis of the methods from our own experiences with them.

Since I will only include those approaches we have actually used, I will not be covering all of the possible homeschooling methods. If you are interested in something I will not be writing about, you can find a good overview of all (or most) of them here.

Since school-at-home, or traditional homeschooling, is what we started out with on our homeschooling journey, that’s where I’m going to start today. For each method, I will begin with a brief overview followed by the advantages and disadvantages we discovered along the way. I hope you may find this to be helpful!

School-at-Home

School-at-home is simply a method whereby a traditional textbook curriculum is used as the main resource. Parents and children who are either very organized or yearn for some additional organization in their lives often gravitate to this style of homeschooling because it is usually planned out in advance for you, it is easy to check boxes for record-keeping, and it takes the least amount of time to prepare. It is also typically the method used by new homeschoolers since this emulates the methods used in traditional schools, so there is still some level of comfort in that there is some familiarity with how things are done.

Advantages:

This is a great method for children who are auditory/visual learners- children who would typically excel in a traditional school setting. Our approach to learning is very eclectic (which will be discussed later), and I am very open to my children’s input on how they would best learn. My oldest daughter has chosen to use mainly textbooks for most of her subjects because this is how she feels most comfortable. With the exception of my oldest son, she spent the longest period of time in school, so this may be why she prefers to do things this way. While I personally have a hard time paying attention to textbooks, she is thriving in her education. This is why it is so important that we listen to our children. Just because we have an aversion to one style of learning does not mean that our children will, too.

With exception to unschooling, school-at-home requires the least amount of planning in that most textbooks come with lesson plans already laid out for you, and there is very little preparation time involved for the parent. With that being said, it is very important to realize that you are not required to follow these lesson plans. As with the sample time schedules, these are simply examples of how you “could” use their resources. If you feel the need to re-write the lesson plans to include more or less work, remember that you- and only you- have the final say.

This is a very good choice for parents who only plan on homeschooling temporarily and plan on sending their children back to school eventually because it is so similar to the routine used there.

Although most textbook companies do publish “box curricula” which cover all subjects, it is still up to the parent to decide which will be used and which will not. While many school-at-home families do utilize the entire set from one publisher, many others take advantage of the freedom to mix and match to fit their children’s needs. Presently, my daughter who uses this method has books from different publishers for every single subject. We find it best to explore the options and purchase the resources which will best fulfill her goals for what she desires to learn.

If a curriculum is not working, it can be set aside and replaced by another. It is not written in stone that textbooks must be completed from start to finish, no matter what. In fact, most schools do not even complete their textbooks. If it seems your children aren’t getting anything out of it, or if they just can’t get interested enough in it to pay attention, it may be time to try a new curriculum- or even a new homeschooling method.

Disadvantages:

Many textbook curricula comes with a sample time schedule to use in your homeschool. Do not let yourself fall into the trap of feeling guilted into following it. Many of these schedules are modeled after brick and mortar school schedules. First of all, homeschooling does not need to take as long as a typical school day. At home, there is no role call, waiting for tardy students to arrive or misbehaving students to settle down, tallying of who is buying lunch that day and who has packed, shuffling through the hall to change classes and visit lockers, busywork, listening to announcements over the PA system, scheduled bathroom breaks, etc. Second of all, if you have chosen to educate your children at home instead of sending them to school, why would you try to imitate the very thing that you have opted out of? Schools across the country are failing. This, in itself, should be a clue to not do what they are doing.

– Coinciding with the last bullet point, it can be all too easy to find yourself attempting to adhere to strict timetables about what time math begins, what time science ends, and when the English textbook should be halfway completed. Think about it. What life-altering event will occur if math takes 45 minutes instead of 30? Will it really matter if science comes a bit later or needs to be put off for another day in order to focus on the task at hand? Let your children work at their own pace. Try establishing a daily routine without strict time stipulations. This will be addressed in a later chapter.

Don’t try to do every single thing suggested in every single subject. Doing too much can lead to burnout, which is never a good thing. I made the mistake of this in my first two years of homeschooling. I was so eager to do everything right that I eventually got so overwhelmed that I sent my children back to school for two years. During their time in school, I spent a lot of time reading about homeschooling and working to change my perspective on how learning best happens. When I was ready, I pulled my children back out and vowed to relax. Five years later, we are still going strong, and I can honestly say that my younger children and I actually miss doing school when we are on our breaks. Remember, less is more.

This method can be difficult to use with multiple children. Unless you are willing to spend a good portion of time with each child individually, it can be an arduous task to assist several children at the same time who are each learning different things. Granted, there will be days when each child is well-grounded in what they are doing and will need little assistance, but quite often it may occur that all of your children are being introduced to new concepts that they will inevitably need your undivided attention for. If your children are the type of children who will quietly wait their turn, this style may still work for you. If they are anything like mine, they will quickly lose interest in what they are doing while they are on standby, which will make it all the more difficult for them to focus when you do get around to them. Speaking from experience, this can be a bit of a juggling act and is not necessarily fun.

If a child is not drawn to this style of learning through their own preferences, textbooks can, indeed, be very dry and monotonous. Since they are written with the sole intent to expose students to bits and pieces of concepts and information, they do not generally make for a very exciting read. It can be very hard to pay attention to something that doesn’t hold your interest, so, although your children may be reading their assigned pages every day, it does not necessarily mean that they are retaining any of it. Keep on the alert for this and make changes as needed if this is occurring. Mixing in some hands-on activities and living books are a great way to shake things up a bit.

If you’ve gotten this far, thank you for sticking through this extremely long post. *sheepish grin* Tomorrow I’m planning on discussing the unit study approach. If anyone has experience with any approach I will not be writing about, such as: Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Montessori, Leadership, or Classical education, feel free to write an overview in the comments or leave a link to your blog!

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Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

13 thoughts on “Homeschooling Methods: An Overview of School-at-Home”

    1. I read the book Project-Based Homeschooling because I love the idea of it. Although we do a lot of hands-on activities, I haven’t done full out project-based simply because I don’t know that I could afford all the supplies for so many kids. Do you do project-based?

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  1. It’s funny how we think we’ve settled on our preferred homeschooling style and then we realize that our kids are different than us!🙂 I feel like as soon as I get everything figured out around here, something changes! I appreciated this overview with the pros and cons. Very well done. Thanks for sharing this post at my Lifelong Learners Link-Up Party at DesperateHomeschoolers.com!
    Tina

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    1. Thank you. I have such a passion for helping new homeschoolers. I figured since I tried just about every major method there is, I may as well share my experience witrh them!

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  2. It’s funny, I consider us a “school at home” family, yet, when I read your definition, I was surprised by it. I think we only used 2 actual hardcover textbooks last year. They have math books and spelling books and handwriting books and English books, and we even had botany journals last year. But we draw from a lot of other books and resources, as well. I guess maybe I’m more “eclectic” than SAH now.

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    1. I think almost everyone is a bit eclectic, while leaning towards certain methods. That’s the awesome thing about homeschooling- we can use what we like from different styles and combine them for what best fits our families. Thanks for commenting!

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