We went to a potluck last weekend for homeschooling families. The first thing that everyone wanted to know from one another was which method/approach did each family use. Which caused my wheels to spin and I began to reflect on where we are at in our approach right now.
Over the summer I spent a lot of time researching and evaluating different methods and curriculum trying to figure out what was going to work best for us this year. Obviously what works right now may not be what works in a year or two years so I'm definitely going into this looking to be flexible and almost planning to be changing course as we go.
With all of the choices and advice out there it was so easy to be overwhelmed. Everything I read seemed like it was the best method. (It's amazing how well things are marketed these days!)I kept finding myself drawn to the idea of what is called unschooling. It goes against all of my background in education and seems so radically different than the structure and academia that I grew up with and thrived in. But for some reason I am continually finding myself naturally following the ideals of unschooling. It just seems to fit the kids' style of learning and has created such a calm, relaxed and enjoyable natural environment for exploring and discovering new things.
The fabulous thing about unschooling is that you are not rigidly set in any sort of plan or curriculum. With this I have found it incredibly easy to weave in strands of so many different methods of teaching and philosophies of learning. The Charlotte Mason method is a fascinating approach to learning. While it is a little heavy to think about engaging in all of her practices I find it extremely refreshing to try and center our learning amongst the general outline of her principles. Immerse children in life and in nature and learning will abound. Guide them gently in the direction that they need to go and they will run ahead of you. Surround children with quality tools for learning and success and they can do nothing but learn and succeed. Instead of flashcards and toys that sing, provide them with good books that are enjoyable and enriching and musical instruments to sing and make music of their own.
In direct contrast to Charlotte Mason, I also love the Reggio Emilia approach. A much more child directed method of learning that focuses on the artist within. One of the pre-schools that the kids attended was a Reggio school and the way that they approached art and self expression has had a huge impact on the way that I now approach those things in working with the kids. I learned from this method how to step back and observe the kids' natural tendencies, to follow their lead and to then be able to mold projects and explorations around things they are already engaged in and learning from. Allowing them to learn from their own experiences and discoveries instead of constantly pouring out more than they are ready to process.
We're also pulling in a little Montessori here and there. Color boxes (ours is paint samples from Home Depot as opposed to the ridiculously expensive ones found here), physical objects used to aid in number recognition/counting/etc., letters to trace/feel/become familiar with, sensory boxes, lacing cards, and beads.
And a little traditional learning through regular journaling, fingerplay rhymes, puzzles, legos, field trips, and hours upon hours of imaginary play.
So I guess our method is this: Let them learn what they love and they will love learning. Let us be a guide in that learning. Let us provide them with tools, supplies, games and resources that will give them confidence, encourage creativity, and push them further. Let nature, an array of cultures and the world around us be the only limits to their learning environment. Let them paint, plant, cook, sew, write stories about whatever they desire, look at the stars, read books they love, visit the zoo, museums, plays and festivals, shop for groceries at the farmer's market, learn to swim at the community center, dance, sing, make music and memories, travel, explore, and above all else know that we support them and love them and that their dreams have no limits. At least that's our method for now. It will grow and it will change, we may even question ourselves from time to time, but as a family we trust that God is guiding us in this direction and we're content with that.