The J. Family's approach
When we first began to home educate it was definitely "school at home". We were compelled by South African law to follow an approved curriculum. We used ACE workbooks in the prescribed manner. Since moving to the U.K. we have had the freedom to try various approaches. I saw many advantages to 'unschooling' and willingly tried it.
Unfortunately, it didn't work for us. With any one child I would have continued, but with three of different ages, interests, and personalities, we were all frustrated. The children decided that they preferred a more structured approach. For a long time we didn't follow any particular curriculum and they had freedom to choose what they wanted to learn.
I wish it wasn't so, but it is easy to take a child out of school but it is very difficult to take the school out of the person. The children are used to 'achievement' and feel that if there is no measurable achievement they are not doing anything. School culture got to us all and we are having great difficulty letting go of it.
For a while we used different books and our eldest son, particularly, liked the fact that he could choose whether to answer all the questions in the book, write them on a piece of paper, or not write them in at all. He was beginning to enjoy the freedom he had in learning what he wanted to learn, although he still insisted that I write some sort of guideline for him to follow, albeit that he first chose the subjects himself. Some subjects had workbooks, some didn't and I have given him other books to read and work through. He likes order. He doesn't want to have to decide every day what to do because, he says, he doesn't feel like it then. He wants to have a schedule and to feel he has to do it, because he wants to make goals and meet them, but without a fixed commitment he feels he does nothing. I think that makes sense. I am like that too. I am not very self-motivated, but like to meet my goals. I would gladly pay somebody to nag and cajole me into keeping my resolutions on a daily basis. Ahh, for a personal trainer, dietician-cum-chef, personal study guide …. ! Tim not only wants one, he has one who is all those things and more! His goals were not to reach a certain "level". They were "to study, Biology, Geography, Different cultures, …..etc"
Things changed for him when he turned 14, however. Suddenly we had to seriously think about the future. He wants to go to university so we looked at the options available to him. He began a Biology course through correspondence but as soon as he sent in his first assessment it came back with a letter saying they could not accept him as a student as he was under 16. This was a big disappointment to him and he decided not to continue with any other correspondence college, even one that would take younger students. He said he found it boring. I don't know the real reason, but he was adamant he no longer wanted to go that route.
He has chosen to follow another certification programme with a completely different syllabus to the National Curriculum. Quite a few students have completed their certificate course and been accepted into even the best universities. Unfortunately this means he no longer has the freedom to choose his subjects and has to follow a set course, but it was his choice to do this and he is doing well. He likes working on his own and as I said before prefers a fixed curriculum where he knows exactly what has to be done. Personally I find the concept and method boring, but he is the one who has to choose, not me!
Our daughter, now 9, also prefers to work in workbooks. (As I write this, she is reading with me and is nodding her head vigorously). She understands what is required and likes the idea that she can control her own work. She, too, finds that a structured learning time suits her. Sometimes she finds a section she doesn't like for some reason. It is usually maths and the repetition is boring. If she understands the concept I tell her to jump ahead.
Our other son, (12), is a kinaesthetic, auditory, social learner … which, in a nutshell means that he likes company, likes to 'do' things and hasn't been much of a reader. Reading is something you do on your own, after all. I usually work individually with him. He likes reading to me and having me read to him, and seems to remember more that way, so that is what we do. I have never forced him to read literature on his own, trying to take it slowly and just show him the joy of books. Imagine my sheer joy when he first read a long book, of his own accord!
Of course this structured work is only a very small part of their education. I see education as a life process and this bit is simply helping us to cover some academic goals. We also exercise together, have bible time most days, work in the garden, do loads of art and craft, as well as woodwork once a week with a group we have set up. We get materials and plans from Opitec and love them!
I enjoy the children's spontaneous poetry and stories, their incredibly vivid imaginations and their growing sense of humour. There is no shortage of delight in them from us in all areas of their growth. They need not "do" workbooks to gain approval.
One advantage of following a structured (well, semi-structured) approach, is that many times they discover interesting facts which lead them to further research and discussion. For some reason they like the "school time" as they call it, but at the same time say "Yaaaay!" when we have an "off" day. I guess that would be no different to somebody like Oprah being pleased when her personal trainer allows her have a day off, but she still retains him to keep her fit and in shape. Well, it's my analogy anyway!