People tend to freak out when they hear that you’re teaching your kids at home without a curriculum. I think a lot of folks believe that you should replicate the course study and curriculum of the local public schools exactly. Some people do that, coming up with a daily schedule that gets followed to the letter, and having plenty of structured time for workbooks, textbooks, and things done in just the right order. At the other end of the spectrum you have unschooling, or child-led learning, in which the children are supplied with lots of books and resource materials on a variety of subjects, have access to tons of art and music supplies, and are free to study whatever they want, whenever they choose. Depending on the family, either of these extremes may work. For many homeschoolers though, eclectic homeschooling is the way to go. Just as the name suggests, eclectic homeschooling blends many different ways and styles of homeschooling. The homeschool laws vary widely from state, and in some states, you basically have to follow the state-mandated curriculum and show the powers that be tons of paperwork proving that you’re doing it the way the law states. Here in NC, luckily, the laws are more child-friendly, allowing children to be taught at home in the way that works best for them and their families.
When I started homeschooling my kids a year and a half ago, I knew the school-at-home thing wouldn’t work for us. For one thing, I’m about as organized as a chicken on acid. For another, I hate the idea of traditional schooling. The thought of kids being stuck at desks all day long, learning about things that bore them to tears (and that they’ll likely forget anyway, since they don’t care about it to begin with) and being judged by random test scores just makes me queasy. I like the theory behind unschooling, but the big nerd in me insists that there are just some things they need to know, sooner rather than later.
In our eclectic homeschool, we have lots of books-about 1200 at last count, and growing on a weekly basis. Most of them came from used bookstores, yard sales, thrift stores, freecycle, and the bargain table at the bookstore. We have four or five dictionaries, a couple thesauri, encyclopedias, and all kinds of other reference books. There are a couple Spanish translation books and quite a few textbooks on different subjects. We have books on artists, dinosaurs, architecture and music…poetry and picture books…and of course, lots and lots of plain old reading books, from Goodnight, Moon up to The Great Gatsby.
The younger kids also have a bunch of different workbooks, including “complete curriculum” workbooks that contain basic work for their grade level. We work in these a couple times a week, generally, and the books and subjects they work on vary depending on what they feel like doing, and what I think they need to brush up on. The kids are free to work in their books whenever they want and believe it or not, they choose to do that pretty often. I buy the occasional workbook for my older kids, though they’re hard to find for middle and high school. I bought my 9th grade son the GED prep book in August, because I figured it would cover all the basics, and he knocked the almost 1000 page workbook by November, with the exception of some of the math.
There are a ton of good educational websites that the kids use. Some have games that look like traditional arcade games but involve spelling, math, or other subjects. Some are just full of interesting facts about reptiles, the solar system, the rain forest…whatever the kids are into at the time. We also use lots of educational games and programs you can buy for the computer.
Board games are great for combining fun and learning. One that the younger kids love is a pizza fractions game. Even my kindergartner is learning about fractions by building her little pizzas. Rack-o is another favorite that teaches number sequencing, and old stand-bys like Go Fish, Memory and Scrabble are always good.
I do assign work, especially for the older kids, in part because that’s what they became accustomed to while they were in school, and in part because I think it helps teach responsibility when they have to have an assignment turned in on time. I assign a big project for everyone once a year as well. Last year we all studied the rain forest. Each child chose an animal to learn about and did an age-appropriate project and report on their animal, and then we had a few family members over for a little rain forest party. We decorated the house like a rain forest and the kids presented their reports. The good thing about eclectic homeschooling is that each child can work in his or her own style, within the bounds of the assignment. Zoey, who was four at the time, studied kinkajous. She learned a few facts about them and made a poster. Jessica, who is a huge fan of Green Day, studied green tree frogs; her report was a song about the frogs written to the tune of Green Day’s “Longview”. Dylan is a very fact-based learner, so he wrote a traditional report and created a quiz for everyone to take after they read it. Jeremy studied fruit bats, and so he planned the menu for the party-it consisted of tropical fruits like the bats in the rain forest eat.
I also make sure to spend lots of time reading with the younger kids. Sometimes they read a story to me from a workbook and then answer the questions, other times we just read together. The older kids have book reports that are due every other week. (Which reminds me…I haven’t seen a report from either of them in a while. Jess? Dylan?…) I don’t like to assign specific books, although I do assign the older kids books to report on once in a while. Basically though, if they’re reading, I’m happy. My ten-year-old was a very reluctant reader till he discovered the sports pages. Now he’s getting more confident in his skill and reading a lot more.
I confess, I use the ultimate evil for education-the TV. PBS Kids for the little ones (I love It’s a Big Big World and Sesame Street), the History Channel, National Geographic, Discovery, Animal Planet…all are good places for kids to soak up all kinds of knowledge. I also like to take the kids to the local children’s museum and the nature center. They love the field trips, and they learn a lot in the process. We have science kits, tons of art supplies and musical instruments, and animals to care for and learn about. When we got Stuart the box turtle, the kids read up on how to properly care for him and learned lots about other kinds of turtles too.
The key to successful homeschooling is finding a method that works. Eclectic homeschooling fits the bill for many people because you’re able to mix and match pieces of different curricula and styles that fit your needs. You’re not held to getting a certain amount of pages or chapters done every day, but you are able to see on paper some of the things the kids are learning. It can take a while to find the homeschooling style that works best for you, and eclectic homeschooling is a great place to start.