Eclectic Homeschooling: Making It All Work for You

Written by contributor Michelle of Lagniappe Academy

photo by Jason Tavares

When we began homeschooling a couple of years ago, I fell in love with the classical method.  I loved the emphasis of teaching history, the three year cycle of teaching, and sharing all those classic books with my children.  I dove in, bought books, followed the schedule, and watched in desperation as everything quickly crumbled around us.  You see, despite loving many aspects of the method, following all the suggestions and guidelines didn’t work for us.  I don’t even know if there is a specific reason for the failure, and I’m no longer concerned with finding the answer to that.  I’m content to say it just didn’t work for us.

So, halfway through our first year, I ditched most of my plans and shifted gears.  I spent the next year and a half reading more about different methods, none of which felt entirely right for us either.  Finally, I came to the conclusion that there was no single perfect method for us.  This certainly didn’t make my life any easier, but it made sense.  My personal interests are nothing if not eclectic, so it is only natural that I would pull from many different resources to create a homeschool that makes sense for us.

Now we mix many methods – Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Unschooling, and even a little Classical – but it’s much easier to say we are eclectic homeschoolers.  The question is no longer “Which method do we use?” but “Which method do we use to accomplish this particular goal or subject?” or even “Which method do we want to use today?”  Some methods may at first seem contradictory (like classical and unschooling), but there are no “rules” you have to follow.  Homeschooling is a delicious buffet.   Take what you like; leave the rest for someone else.

If different methods appeal to you for different reasons, but you aren’t sure how to combine them or you are afraid of trying too many things at once, consider these planning guidelines:

  • Remember Your Purpose –  Why did you start homeschooling in the first place or why are you still homeschooling?  What are your family values?  Some families create a formal mission statement for their homeschool, but I simply remember a few key reasons why we do what we do.  I remind myself of these each year during my planning, and I filter all of my decisions through those values.
  • Set Goals – List a few main goals for each child to achieve over the next year.  These could be begin cursive writing, learn multiplication facts, or read about ancient history.  Make your list short, including only items you absolutely do not want to slip through the cracks.
  • Read, Read, Read – Study up on different methods and materials available, even things you never considered before now.  Something you never though would appeal to you when you started homeschooling might just be the perfect fit for you now!  Jot down ideas you love and anything that sounds like it might be worth a try.  My list includes a crazy mismatched variety of techniques: Charlotte Mason copywork, Waldorf literature lists and art, a chronological approach to history, and unschooling science.  My theory is that if my list sounds a little crazy and all over the place, I’m on the right track!
  • Choose a Method for Each Goal – How do you want to tackle those priority items you listed?  This might include a workbooks approach for one goal, a hands-on approach for something else, and unschooling for another . . . that’s perfectly fine!  Feel free to choose any techniques that seem like the best fit for that child to achieve each particular goal.
  • Choose Materials – Notice this one isn’t at the top of the list?  I find that a lot of us tend to fall in love with a particular set of books or teaching items before we prioritize.  Make sure you match your materials to your chosen methods and goals.  Again, you might choose an open-and-go curriculum for one subject (I need all the help I can get with math!) and only your library card or internet access for another subject.  Mix and match according to your needs.
  • Fill in the Gaps – How do you want to handle the extras that weren’t on your prioritized goal list?  Create a course of study by listing all the subjects you will cover.  Once you fill in those main goals, fill in the blank space.  Address these the same way, by choosing a method first, and materials second.
  • Evaluate and Regroup – Each month, I ask myself what worked and what didn’t work.  You might want to do this monthly, quarterly, or yearly.  Whatever frequency you choose, make a date to be honest with yourself, and consider asking your children (especially as they get older) to chime in with what they think was a blast or a bust.  Pat yourself on the back and keep on with the good.  Ditch what doesn’t work and make a new plan for areas where you consistently struggle.

You might decide to do more detailed planning at this point, or you might choose to wing it with this as your outline. Either way, you’ll be on your way to crafting a homeschooling plan that fits your individual family.  Enjoy this personalized plan for your uniquely eclectic homeschool!

Michelle is a wife, mother, writer, and Cajun who prefers everything extra spicy. Follow along at Lagniappe Academy for more  of their wildly eclectic homeschooling adventures.


Comments

  1. Diapeepees says

    Helpful…common sense tips…I think there are so many of us who can’t stick to just one things when there’s so much great stuff out there…one of the reasons we love the freedom to homeschool.

  2. says

    I can relate to your blog post. I’ve tried to follow the Charlotte Mason approach and it ended up all wrong. It was not a good fit for us. Like you, I’m all over the place.
    Charlotte Mason, Notebooking, traditional and workbooks, unschooling; It’s a jumbled mess but it works for us. :)

  3. says

    Wonderful post! I think this advise offers a lot more freedom – and less condemnation!! – to those of us who can not/not not want to uphold one method.

    I have a public teaching certificate, and one of the pillars even in the public schools is the emphasis on individualized instruction. Homeschool teachers are the ones who actually have the opprotunity to give that level of customization to students! Let’s not give that up!… Even if it means buying it all from one place. :)

  4. says

    I love your satement. “Homeschooling is a delicious buffet.” That so describes how I like to school! I abandoned methods a while ago, and just started teaching. My goal, help my son get to heaven while educating his soul, spirit, and mind while meeting his unique eduational needs. :)

  5. Victoria Smith says

    I have came to the conclusion that any method that doesn’t involve “official” curriculum is the best for us. I am for the first time completely free of workbooks and textbooks. We use a math textbook for lessons as needed and use khan academy for practice and the majority of math lessons. For some reason when I began homeschooling I thought we needed to do grammar every single day and a writing workbook. I’ve since learned that one good grammar handbook and 1 lesson from it now and then within the context of his reading and writing is all we need. The writing, I have deprogrammed the modern writing curriculum from my brain and we use the copywork, dictation, oral and written narrations. We use no more spelling workbooks or list as well. He is reading at a 9th grade level, so now he is learning to spell at the same level he is reading at. I struggled with how to use narrations to teach creative writing and all those schoolish skills they teach, I didn’t want to be bombarded with writing lessons later on, so I searched until I found Lindafay’s blog where she explained creative narrations, that method is perfect to me. The main thing as homeschoolers we need to avoid is too much spiraling that exist in even homeschooling curriculum and also not to rely completely on a textbook, or even too much planned curriculum. Lately I’ve wondered about the list of books people suggest when homeschooling. I think we should concern ourselves more with what is best for the individual child and less what everyone else is doing. I am using the classical method, minus the dead languages and anything else I find unrelevant for now. If he wants to learn those languages later on I will gladly support that. I have also cut out the focus on Rome and Greece. He knows just as much of ancient history as any other history. Back when the classical method was common the only written history was ancient history, so there lies the reason they taught it so much. Sometimes I think we loose our minds a little when we think too much about homeschooling. Oh, and I have NEVER liked the suggestions for homeschooling science the Charlotte Mason way. We use modern field guides and modern animal books. There is so much more available to us scientifically. I let the good literature books I choose for reading be the example of good literature. Then I allow study into scientific areas plenty of room. Sometimes that means using 5-6 easy reading books. After a short time studying a particular subject he usually emerges a child genius in the end. I definately recommend a gentle unschooling nudge in the subject of science and many piles of books. The older kids in the neighborhood have not studied some of the things he has yet. The kids his age and younger can’t even hold a conversation with him about science topics. It’s like Charlotte Mason said you can later use a textbook to cover the subject comprehensively.

  6. William Olsson says

    How to you go about “setting goals”. I am new to homeschooling and I really wish I could find a curriculum that sets out what we need to cover by age or grade with a variety of resources/techniques/ methods for each and the ability to work through it at our own pace.

    • says

      I start with big broad goals, more like a focus for the year. It sounds like you might be looking for something like Home Learning Year by Year, by Rebecca Rupp. I check in with it once or twice a year, but I don’t follow it strictly. She doesn’t suggest specific methods, but she does give lots of suggestions for resources and yearly goals.