homeschooling methods: an epic comparison chart

Recently I followed a link to a quiz entitled “What Kind of Homeschooler Are You?”  (Now that you’re curious, you can go take the quiz for yourself.)  Among others who took this quiz, there was much discussion on the ideals behind these various styles of homeschooling, the questions chosen to sort homeschoolers into these categories, and the accuracy level of the results.  After noting that my top results included Classical Education, Charlotte Mason, and Unschooling–an interesting assortment–I began to wonder what elements of each of these truly attracted me.  This led me to do some reading in order to create an Epic Chart of Homeschool Philosophies.  (If you’d rather cut to the chase, see the link at the bottom of this post to access the chart.)

This epic chart shows the origin of each educational philosophy, any age or educational divisions inherent in the method, the spiritual or philosophical underpinnings of the approach, and the educational methods used.  Please know that I have done my best to represent each philosophy fully, fairly, and briefly.  Obviously I can’t include every detail in this chart, and different educators will have different flavors to the different approaches; this chart is merely to help me (and anyone else who finds it beneficial) to have an at-a-glance idea of what is implied by each of these terms.  I included most of the styles listed on the quiz above: Classical Education, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Thomas Jefferson Education (TJED–which I’d never heard of before), Unschooling, and Waldorf (Steiner).

You’ll note that I did not include Traditional Schooling or Unit Studies on this chart.  Regarding the former, I think most if not all of us have a clear understanding of its methods and ideals; the latter has, to my knowledge, no or figurehead or proscribed methods, but is more a stylistic/presentation preference.  If I were to summarize it, I think the philosophy of the Unit Study approach is that life is not truly divided into separate subjects and thus should not be studied in that way.  Students learn by making connections between ideas; the Unit Study approach seeks to promote those connections by making them more obvious, choosing a topic of study and pondering all its facets, thus incorporating many subject areas into one cohesive unit.  Since this is the essence of the idea, however, I’m not going to try to squeeze in an entire column just for this information, so you’ll have to take it as it is.

Unfortunately, since this Epic Chart of Homeschool Philosophies is enormous enough that it struggles to fit on 11×17, it renders terribly on this screen.  Thus, if you want to view it, you’ll have to check it out via the Word attachment.  (Apparently WordPress won’t let you upload PDFs.)  If you want to learn more about any of these educational philosophies, you’ll note that I’ve listed a few resources at the bottom of each column.

Click here to access the Epic Chart of Homeschool Philosophies.


the science of sound

My kids adore science.  I don’t think I ever had the love for it that they have, but perhaps it helped that their initial exposure to science was very hands-on–mixing colored water, making vinegar-and-baking-soda volcanoes, and the like.  When determining our path of scientific learning, I chose Bernard Nebel’s Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding to be my spine.  It was highly reviewed by folks with a scientific background and lauded for digging deeply into concepts, laying logical foundations, interweaving scientific topics rather than keeping them separated into categories, and not underestimating the intelligence of kids.  Having received the book and read through it, I do appreciate all those things about it.

Nebel’s one lack is in activities.  His book is excellent for laying out explanations and discussions to lead kids to solid scientific understanding, but while he includes lots of observation and discussion elements, he doesn’t suggest many demonstrations or experiments.  While plotting out our studies, I found myself unenthusiastic and uncertain.  I finally realized the problem: my science plans were missing the key element my kids love about science–hands-on discovery.

Thus, I started over again.  Using Nebel’s book as a topical guide, I looked for additional resources from our library (Nebel does include resource lists for each topic, but our library didn’t have many of the suggested books) and hunted online for activities to flesh out the concepts I wanted to teach.  I specifically searched for activities that were easy to orchestrate with inexpensive materials, and preferably without even a trip to the store.  I decided that instead of leading with discussion, I would lead with the activities and let those spark the discussions naturally.  Thus, all of these are simple, inexpensive activities designed to go along with Nebel’s discussions, but they are intended to generate those discussions organically rather than making them parent-driven.

(You may notice that this first science unit of the year is appearing mid-April.  That, dear readers, is a tale for an entirely different post.  For now, suffice to say that I’m sure glad this is only kindergarten.)

And now, without further ado, the science of sound, taught in activities.

Discovering Sound
Demonstration 1:
Plastic wrap
A large bowl
A rubber band or tape
Uncooked rice
Drum (or large pot lid and spoon)

Stretch your plastic wrap across the top of the large bowl and secure it with the tape or rubber band.  Be sure it is taut.  Sprinkle a handful of uncooked rice on the top of the plastic wrap.  Hold your drum or pot lid nearby and hit it.  Can you see the rice dance?  You’ll have to get pretty close to make it work.

Demonstration 2:
Put your fingers on your voice box.  Make high and low sounds.  Discuss what’s happening in your throat.

Demonstration 3:
Hold a blown-up balloon against your cheek.  Have someone else press their mouth against the balloon and hum.  Can you feel the vibrations?

Demonstration 4:
Using a slinky, demonstrate longitudinal or compression waves.

NPR’s “What Does Sound Look Like?” on YouTube  (We only watched the first 30 seconds–the actual sound wave.)

Understanding Sound
Activity 1:
Have a child knock on wood.  Then have them press their ear to the wood as they knock.  What do they notice about the sound?  Repeat this experiment using your voice and water.  Put some water in the tub.  Try talking/listening above the water and under the water.

Activity 2:
2 tin cans, yogurt containers, disposable cups, or similar
Several yards of string, preferably a compact string like dental floss
Something to poke a hole in the bottom or each container

Make a good ol’ fashioned tin can telephone.  The longer your string, the more impressive the demonstration seems to the kids.  Make sure it’s pulled nice and tight and that you use good string, though.  As a kid I tried this once with yarn and was sorely disappointed by the result.

Activity 3:
Play with rubber bands of different lengths and thicknesses.  How do they compare?  What can you learn about the vibration of long things vs. short, thick things vs. thin?

Activity 4:
Play with a funnel.  What happens when you speak into it?  When you put it up to your ear?  (Refer back to the old ear trumpets of yore.)

Activity 5: 
Stand a few feet behind the child and whisper something to them.  Why is it hard to hear?  Have the child cup their hand in front of their ear while you whisper again.  What is the difference?

After taking a few lessons to work through all these activities, I asked my kids to create a page of a book to show some of what they learned about sound.  Each of them plotted what they wanted to say, labored to write neatly, and drew elaborate illustrations.  We’ll continue to create pages for all the topics we study so that they have something they can proudly look back on to remember what they’ve learned.  (They love writing books!)  They can’t wait for our next topic–electrical energy!

a change in routine

My three-year-old is extraordinarily stubborn.  Not surprisingly, one of the things he flips his lid over is tooth brushing.  He has never liked this necessary task, and for as long as we’ve been doing it, I’ve dreaded the nightly struggle.  Now, abruptly, he is standing nicely and opening wide for brushing–albeit with the occasional gagging noise.  What has made the difference?  A kiss.

One evening I blew him a kiss, pretending two of my fingers were the kiss drifting toward his cheek–and he swatted my hand away.  I made the kiss squelch onto the carpet, which he thought was hilarious.  He requested another kiss (to swat elsewhere), and I said he could have one if he let me brush his teeth.  It’s been a week now, and all I have to say is, “Open your mouth so you can get your kiss!” and he stands nicely with mouth agape and submits to brushing.  He almost forgot to wait for the kiss tonight.  It isn’t as if this is the first time I’ve tried a creative tactic for brushing teeth, but for some reason, this tactic at this moment was just the right thing.  Isn’t it strange, the little things that can break our routine approaches and change our perspectives?

cleaning: my daughter’s solution

Goodness.  It’s been quite a trip since I’ve last written–literally and figuratively, since we sold our beloved house and moved 1,100 miles late last summer.  However, lately I’ve been craving the catharsis that comes from blogging, so I’m back!

Today’s topic: house cleaning.

I must admit, cleaning is not one of my favorite tasks.  I like a clean house, but I don’t like the process of getting there.  When my kids were small (smaller than they are–I’m sure in a few years their current ages will seem “awww” worthy), I managed to keep up with things by assigning myself one task (or series of tasks) a day to complete during the first 20-30 minutes of naptime.  (I even blogged about this glorious system in my post the mediocre housewife (part 2)!)  This system served me well for several years…but recently it fell apart.

Much of our house looked something like this for the first month after our move.  It was not a very relaxing way to live.

Much of our house looked something like this for the first month after our move. It was not a very relaxing way to live.

It happened after our cross-country move.  First of all, it’s very hard to clean a house which is completely and obscenely cluttered by stuff which you are failing to unpack because a) you are trying to paint your entire house and would rather not get paint on everything and b) your new carpet will arrive in four weeks and it doesn’t make sense to put everything away just to have to pack it all up again and have it shifted from room to room as the carpet is replaced.  In addition, kids tend to be very needy while settling in after major life events such as these.  And to top it all off, about the same time we finally got our carpet, I dove into homeschooling.

So, there we were, a family of five living in utter chaos.  I tried to return to my cleaning schedule–I really did.  But my youngest gave up napping, and somehow three is not a good number for playing, so there is almost always someone looking for my attention.  At the end of a week, I counted myself lucky if I had completed ONE day’s worth of cleaning tasks.  One week I remember rejoicing at having cleaned the toilets during the week.  We were at an all-time low.

And then, at the least likely possible moment, genius struck.  It was a Friday.  The kids were finishing lunch, and I was surveying my disaster of a house.  One of the kids started in with, “Mommy, after lunch will you–” and I interrupted.  “After lunch, Mommy is CLEANING!  I keep putting it off over and over to do things with you kids, but this house is a wreck and it has GOT to be cleaned!”  And then came my daughter with her perfect solution:  “What if we help you, Mommy?  Maybe if we all help, it will get cleaned faster.  Maybe we can even get a prize for helping!”  Querying suspiciously, I investigated the “prize” aspect.  “Maybe like a special snack or something,” she suggested.

And The Friday Cleaning Blitz was born.  Almost no cleaning happens in my house on any other day.  Sure, the dishes get done, we wipe up spills, we put away our dirty laundry–but the big cleaning all happens during The Friday Cleaning Blitz.  Every Friday while the kids finish up their “work” and play some computer games, I make our list: toilets, sinks, and floors cleaned in the bathrooms, toys and craft supplies picked up and put away, rugs rolled and shaken outdoors, floors vacuumed and washed, laundry sorted, bedrooms returned to some semblance of order…  After lunch, we start our blitz.  The kids each choose a task (potty cleaning is the favorite!) and go to work, writing their name next to it when they finish so I know who to call if something is not satisfactorily completed.  While they do their work, I sort through the accumulated junk mail, switch loads of laundry, wipe down the kitchen, keep them motivated, and do other things better suited to Mommy.

One of Mommy's Special Snacks, invented using whatever we happen to have in the house at the time--usually including some sweet treat.

One of Mommy’s Special Snacks, invented using whatever we happen to have in the house at the time–usually including some sweet treat.

It’s quite a process, and by the end zeal is usually flagging, but the Special Snack makes it all worthwhile.  It doesn’t have to be anything amazing–a snowman made of two oatmeal cookies with a few M&Ms for details, a pretzel-winged butterfly with colored goldfish filling the wing spaces and a Dum-Dum for a head–but the knowledge that it is somehow special is enough.

It’s not a perfect system–often I wish I were one of those people who naturally kept their homes clutter-free and spotless at all times–but it has solved our immediate cleaning crisis admirably and allows me to feel like my house is an acceptably un-disgusting place to raise my kids.  In addition, my kids are learning skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.  And you know the best part?  Everyone loves Cleaning Blitz Day.  “Yeah!” squeals my three-year-old at bedtime.  “Tomorrow is Cleaning Blitz Day!”  Chimes in my five-year-old, “Yeah, Fridays are my favorite, too.”