Choosing Teaching Materials, part 3: Common Teaching Approaches
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Continuing with the theme of "Choosing Teaching Materials," this week's ejournal explores the many different viewpoints that comprise Christian home schooling.
Sometimes when you are searching for teaching materials for your children, it's not just the number of products that is confusing, but it's a shock to discover that the products are coming from different ideas of how children should be taught and what they should be learning.
A home school curriculum fair is kind of like an interdenominational meeting, but there aren't just doctrinal differences--there are different educational philosophies, different teaching approaches, and different convictions about what kinds of lifestyles home schooling families should have.
Common teaching approaches
All home schooling materials fall into two main categories: traditional textbook curricula and non-textbook curricula.
The Traditional Approach
In the Traditional Approach, graded textbooks or workbooks follow a scope and sequence that covers each subject in 180 daily increments over a span of 12 years. Teacher's manuals, tests, and record keeping materials are usually available that correspond to each of the texts. Textbook curricula assume you will run your home school like an institutional school.
Worktext programs present textbooks in consumable workbook format. The student learns his lesson, is given assignments, and is tested all in the workbook. The worktexts include tests or checkpoints to ensure that the material in each section is mastered before the student moves on to the next. Worktexts also allow more independent study and require minimal teacher preparation time and supervision.
Video programs are also available that are actual classrooms on video. The child follows along with the video as if he or she were attending an actual classroom, and uses the accompanying textbooks or workbooks.
Traditional curricula are also available on computer. Many satellite schools and well as universities now offer computer courses on CD or through the internet.
Most of the textbook and worktext programs used in private Christian schools are available to homeschoolers. They each share a distinct doctrinal perspective, and usually contain strong elements of essentialism (the view that there is one "right" essential course of study for all children).
Some questions to ask yourself before trying the traditional, textbook approach are listed below. Yes answers indicate this approach may work for you and your child:
1. Did my child perform well in a school classroom?
2. Does my child like to complete assignments and to have defined goals?
3. Is my child academically oriented?
4. Will my child complete assigned tasks with a minimum of prodding from me?
5. Am I the kind of person who will follow through with the lesson plans and pace of the course of instruction?
Some additional questions to ask before using the workbook approach with your child:
1. Does my child read well and have good reading comprehension skills?
2. Can my child work well independently?
3. Can my child learn without a lot of variety to the teaching materials?
Strengths of the Textbook/Worktext Approach
Everything is laid out for ease of use
Follows a standardized scope and sequence
Has definite milestones of accomplishment
Testing and assigning grades is easy to do
Weaknesses of the Textbook/Worktext Approach:
Is geared to the “generic” child. Does not take into account individual learning styles, strengths and weaknesses, or interests
Assumes that there is a body of information that comprises an education and that this information can be broken down into daily increments
Treats children’s minds like containers to be filled with information
Focuses on transmitting information through artificial learning experiences
Is teacher-directed and chalkboard oriented
Different aged students study different materials
Expensive when teaching multiple children
Discourages original, independent thinking
Has a high “burn out” rate
Although there are a number of excellent textbook and worktext programs available, many home educators object to the fact that textbooks are teacher-directed, chalkboard-oriented, and seldom take into account different teaching approaches or the different ways children receive and process information.
John Gatto says, “Real books educate. School books school.” With textbooks, parents may feel they are “bringing the classroom home” instead of educating their children in a way that is uniquely home-based. These parents have found alternative teaching approaches that allow them to tailor their home schooling to their family’s particular needs. Here are the six most common non-textbook teaching approaches:
The Classical Approach is derived from successful courses of study throughout history and recently revived through the writings of Dorothy Sayers.
The Principle Approach is based on the premise that our nation is a unique and vital link in the westward chain of Christianity.
The Living Books and Life Experiences Approach of Charlotte Mason treats children as persons, not as containers to be filled with information.
The Unit Study Approach integrates several subject areas around a common theme.
Unschooling assumes that children are natural learners and gives them resources to do so.
The Eclectic Approach takes a cafeteria-style view of home schooling and chooses suitable teaching materials from all different approaches.
The Classical Approach
The Classical Approach to education has produced great minds throughout history, and has strong elements of perennialism (the view that the core body of knowledge that students should learn has remained constant throughout hundreds of years).
The modern proponent of the Classical Approach was British writer and medieval scholar Dorothy Sayers. As the Nazis rose to power in the 1930s, Sayers warned that schools were teaching children everything except how to think. Because young adults could no longer think for themselves, Sayers felt they could be easily influenced by tyrants. To remedy this, Sayers proposed reinstating the classical form of education used in the Middle Ages.
In the Classical Approach, children under age 18 are taught tools of learning collectively known as The Trivium. The Trivium has three parts, each part corresponding to a childhood developmental stage.
The first stage of the Trivium, the "Grammar Stage," covers early elementary ages and focuses on reading, writing, and spelling; the study of Latin; and developing observation, listening and memorization skills. The goal of this stage is to develop a general framework of knowledge and to acquire basic language arts and math skills.
At approximately middle school age, children begin to demonstrate independent or abstract thought (usually by becoming argumentative or opinionated). This signals the beginning of the "Dialectic Stage" in which the child's tendency to argue is molded and shaped by teaching logical discussion, debate, and how to draw correct conclusions and support them with facts.
The goal of the Dialectic Stage is to equip the child with language and thinking skills capable of detecting fallacies in an argument. Latin study is continued, with the possible addition of Greek and Hebrew. The student reads essays, arguments and criticisms instead of literature as in the Grammar Stage. History study leans toward interpreting events. Higher math and theology begin.
The final phase of the Trivium, the "Rhetoric Stage," seeks to produce a student who can use language, both written and spoken, eloquently and persuasively. Students are usually ready for this stage by age 15.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before trying the classical approach with your child:
1. Does my family like to read good literature?
2. Are my children intellectually oriented and comfortable with a rigorous academic program?
3. Am I a learner? Am I comfortable learning alongside my children so I can teach them things I never studied?
4. Do I like to study and discuss ideas that have influenced civilization?
Strengths of the Classical Approach:
Is tailored to stages of mental development
Teaches thinking skills & verbal/written expression
Has produced great minds throughout history
Weaknesses of the Classical Approach:
Very little prepared curriculum available
Requires a scholarly teacher and student
May overemphasize ancient disciplines and classics
The Unit Study Approach
A Unit Study takes a theme or topic (a unit of study) and delves into it deeply over a period of time, integrating language arts, science, social studies, math, and fine arts as they apply. Instead of studying eight or ten separate, unrelated subjects, all subjects are blended together and studied around a common theme or project.
For example, a unit study on birds could include reading and writing about birds and about famous ornithologists (language arts), studying the parts, functions, and life cycles of birds and perhaps even the aerodynamics of flight (science and math), determining the migration paths, habitats, and ecological/sociological impact of birds (social studies), sketching familiar birds (art), building bird houses or feeders ("hands on" activities) and so forth.
Several fine prepared unit study curricula are available, but it is easy to prepare your own unit studies around areas of interest. History is the logical core curriculum to build ongoing unit studies around. History provides a framework for all the other subjects because it follows a progression and covers every other subject (except possibly math), like art, music, science, literature, etc.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before trying unit studies with your children:
1. Am I a creative person?
2. Do I like trying to make everything interesting and fun?
3. Do my children have a variety of interests and learning styles?
4. Can I live with the fact that there may be “gaps” in my children’s education?
5. Do I have the time and energy to be the driving, creative force behind the development of units?
Strengths of the Unit Study Approach:
All ages can learn together
Children can delve as deeply or as lightly into a subject as they like
The family’s interests can be pursued
Students get the whole picture
Curiosity and independent thinking are generated
Intense study of one topic is the more natural way to learn
Knowledge is interrelated so is learned easily and remembered longer
Unit studies are fairly easy to create
Weaknesses of the Unit Study Approach:
It is easy to leave educational “gaps”
Hard to assess the level of learning occurring
Record keeping may be difficult
Prepared unit study curricula are expensive
Do-it-yourself unit studies require planning
Too many activity-oriented unit studies may cause burn-out of teacher and student
Subjects that are hard to integrate into the unit may be neglected
The Living Books Approach
The Living Books Approach is based on the writings of Charlotte Mason, a turn-of-the-century British educator. Miss Mason was appalled by several tendencies she noticed in modern education: (1) the tendency to treat children as containers to be filled with predigested information instead of as human beings; (2) the tendency to break down knowledge into thousands of isolated bits of information to be fed into “container” children; and (3) the tendency to engineer artificial learning experiences.
Mason believed in respecting children as persons, in involving them in real-life situations, and in allowing them to read really good books instead of what she called “twaddle”—worthless, inferior teaching material. She considered education a failure when it produced children able to “do harder sums and read harder books” who lacked “moral and intellectual power.” Children were to be taught good habits, to be involved in a broad spectrum of real-life situations, and given ample time to play, reflect, and create.
Mason's approach to academics was to teach basic reading, writing, and math skills, then expose children to the best sources of knowledge for all other subjects. This meant giving children experiences like nature walks, observing and collecting wildlife; visiting art museums; and reading real books with “living ideas.” She called such books “living books” because they made the subject "come alive" unlike textbooks that tend to be dry and dull and assume the reader cannot think for him/herself.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before trying the Charlotte Mason method:
1. Does our family love to read, both alone and together through reading aloud?
2. Do we love to go to the library?
3. Am I comfortable with more of a “free-form” approach to learning?
4. Will I follow through with teaching my children good habits and character qualities?
5. Do I trust my children to learn on their own?
6. Will I follow through with exposing my children firsthand to nature and to great art?
Strengths of the Living Books Approach:
Treats children as active participants in the learning process
Exposes children to real objects and books instead of interactions with distilled information
Encourages curiosity, creative thinking, and a love of learning
Eliminates meaningless tasks, busywork
Stresses formation of good character and habits
Weaknesses of the Living Books Approach:
Tends to be very child centered
Very little prepared curriculum
May neglect higher level studies because of its emphasis on art, literature, and nature study
May become too eclectic
The Principle Approach
The Principle Approach is an effort to restore to American Christians three vital concepts: the knowledge of our Christian history; an understanding of our role in the spread of Christianity; and the ability to live according to the Biblical principles upon which our country was founded. The Principle Approach is a way of living life, not just a way of educating children.
Developers of the Principle Approach rediscovered seven Biblical principles upon which our country was founded and by which many of the founding fathers were educated. The seven principles are as follows: (1) Individuality (God has created distinct differences in people, nations, etc.); (2) Self Government (Government starts in the heart of man.); (3) Christian Character; (4) “Conscience is the Most Sacred of Property;” (5) The Christian Form of Government; (6) How the Seed of Local Self Government is Planted; (7) The Christian Principle of American Political Union.
Four emphases are unique to this educational approach. First, there is a recognition of God's Hand (Providence) in history. Second, there is the understanding that God has ordained three governmental institutions (the home, the church, and civil government) through which He unfolds His purposes and manifests Christ on this earth. Third, each Christian is responsible for extending God’s government. Fourth, the student assumes responsibility for learning and for applying knowledge to his own life.
The Principle Approach may be applied to the study of any subject with the use of notebooks to record “the 4 Rs” (Researching God's Word; Reasoning from the researched Biblical truths/principles; Relating the truths and principles discovered to the subject and the student's character; and Recording the individual application of the Biblical principles to the subject and the student).
Here are some questions to ask yourself before trying the Principle Approach:
1. Do I have a real concern for the application of Christian principles to my family and my nation?
2. Will my child assume responsibility for a great deal of learning on his/her own?
3. Does my child like to express him or herself through writing?
4. Am I willing to undertake extensive biblical research and teaching preparation?
Strengths of the Principle Approach:
Students learn to think “governmentally”
Students become self-learners
Students learn to apply biblical principles to the whole of life
Students create their own “textbooks”
Weaknesses of the Principle Approach:
Focuses mainly on American history
May present a narrow view of life and of history
Requires a great deal of teacher preparation
Prepared curriculum available in few subjects
Extremely literal approach to Scripture
The Unschooling Approach
On the one hand, the Unschooling Approach is defined by John Holt, a 20th century American educator who concluded that children have an innate desire to learn and a curiosity that drives them to learn what they need to know when they need to know it. Holt believed that both desire and curiosity are destroyed by the usual methods of teaching.
In his book Teach Your Own, Holt wrote: “What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out.”
On the other hand, unschooling refers to any less structured learning approach that allows children to pursue their own interests with parental support and guidance. The child is surrounded by a rich environment of books, learning resources, and adults who model a lifestyle of learning and are willing to interact with him. Formal academics are pursued when the need arises. Christians who favor less structured schooling, but with definite goals, prefer to be called “relaxed home educators,” not unschoolers.
Some questions to ask yourself before trying the Unschooling Approach:
1. Am I comfortable with few pre-set goals and little structure?
2. Do my children have strong interests in particular areas?
3. Does my family have a lot of natural curiosity and love learning?
Strengths of the Unschooling Approach:
Takes little planning
Captures the child’s “teachable moments”
Children have access to the real world, plenty of time and space to figure things out on their own
Children are less likely to become academically frustrated or “burned out”
Children can delve into a subject as deeply or as shallowly as they desire
Provides a discipleship model of learning
Creates self-learners with a love of learning
Weaknesses of the Unschooling Approach:
May neglect some subjects
Hard to assess level of learning
Lacks the security of a clearly laid out program
Is extremely child-centered
Difficult to explain to others
May be overly optimistic about what children will accomplish on their own
The Eclectic Approach
Many homeschoolers use a blend of the different approaches. For example, they may use traditional math and science textbooks, but build unit studies around historical periods that include language arts, music, art, and philosophy, and then choose a computer program to teach typing.
An Eclectic Homeschooler is one who looks at the different approaches and methods of homeschooling and takes from each, forming his own unique philosophy.
Resources for Each of the Different Teaching Approaches
Key resources for the different teaching approaches are found below and in the left-hand column.
Resources for the Classical Approach
Teaching the Trivium by Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn maintains that the classical style of education is designed to serve Christians well because it was the original model of education that God had in mind for his people to progress from knowledge, to understanding, to wisdom. This is a great book, for two reasons: (1) it takes the whole of the classical method and roots it soundly in the Bible, and (2) it lays out many options for a classical, biblically based course of study that are not overwhelming to the average family. Even if you never intend to use this approach, the many insights into education are well worth the price of the book.
Classical Education and the Home School by Douglas Wilson and others is a brief but thorough overview of Classical Christian education and the basics of Latin, of Logic, of Rhetoric, and of Christian Worldview thinking from a home school perspective.
The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. Teaching history chronologically; reading great books; learning to speak well; mastering another language; focusing on understanding and thinking skills.... these are the kinds of things that produced some of our most influential scientists, statesmen and leaders in the past. Here is THE reference book for people who choose to blend the best of family-centered, home-based learning with a rigorous quest for academic excellence.
The Well-Educated Mind In this "sequel" to The Well Trained Mind, Bauer and Wise help parents seeking
self-education in the classical tradition.
The Story of the World, Volume 1; The Story of the World, Volume 2; The Story of the World, Volume 3; The Story of the World, Volume 4; First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind; The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. These are all teaching materials for elementary ages based on the classical approach presented in The Well Trained Mind.
Until next time....
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What kind of home schooling emphasis does your family have?
As we have interacted with home schoolers throughout the country, we have noticed differing doctrinal positions, and those positions are reflected in the lifestyles the families lead as well as in the teaching materials they choose.
At the risk of reducing homeschoolers to stereotypes or of misrepresenting their views, we would like to share the main convictions/lifestyles we have seen in the home schooling movement: the “currents” within the “river.” There are a broad spectrum of beliefs within each group and the groups tend to overlap; but from our vantage point these are the four main emphases among Christian home schooling families:
Families concerned with social action.
Many home educators long to see our government reflect Christian principles and therefore are preparing their children to become the intellectual, social, and spiritual leaders of tomorrow. These families tend to be involved in a broad spectrum of social concerns. They may be active in the Pro-Life movement or in organizations that address legislative and/or social change.
Their focus may be on the study of America's Christian history and restoring truths that are omitted by secular historians. They want their children prepared to influence the world and therefore want them to understand world views and current events and to be informed about the problems facing America. The study of history and government, particularly the study of America's Christian heritage, is strongly encouraged. These families tend to share Calvinist or Reconstructionist theology and often choose "Principle Approach" oriented teaching materials for their children.
Families desiring a more simple, self-reliant lifestyle.
Many home schooling families tend to be very ecologically aware, and are interested in cooking more naturally and nutritiously, alternative medicines, large families, breast-feeding, home birth, midwifery, home businesses, building their own homes, raising their own food, homesteading, survival skills, and becoming as self-sufficient as possible.
Some of these families have adopted lifestyles similar to the Amish and seek to protect their children from many of the issues facing the outside world. Others are more socially active, but greatly limit outside influences over their children. Preferred teaching materials reinforce biblical order in the home, simplicity of life-style, and the values of hard work and resourcefulness.
Families concerned with restoration of the family and of the Church.
The primary focus of many teaching families is to build strong, capable men who can lead their families well; to develop virtuous women who can succeed as wives and mothers; to create a family unit that nourishes Christian character in the children; and to build churches that are
family-based in their orientation and ministry.
These families believe that because the church is made up of family units, it can be no purer nor stronger than its members, so the restoration of the Christian family is critical to the restoration of the Church to her rightful place of leadership and power.
Family-based churches are built on the godly family units of which they are composed and strive to include the whole family in the various facets of church life.
Families with this focus tend to choose teaching materials that reinforce traditional family roles and emphasize separation from the world. Many lean toward Pietist theology.
Families whose children need special care.
Some of these may be families who have children with handicaps or children who need special care. The vast majority of this group, however, is made up of families who have had disappointing or disturbing encounters with the public school system and no longer want their children exposed to its negative influences. These families tend to take one of two paths: either they choose a prepackaged traditional curriculum and reproduce what their children were doing in the public school classroom, or they reject classroom-style learning entirely and become “unschoolers” or "eclectic home schoolers."
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Home School Resources
Notebooking! Yes! You CAN Be a Binder Queen! Cindy Rushton is the "queen" of education through notebooking and uses notebooking for EVERYTHING! In this resource, she teaches you how to create "notebooks" around each course of study, whether you're working with a toddler or a high-schooler, pouring out all her ideas and tips for heling your children deepen their studies and document learning all along the way. Cindy addresses many of the tough questions that many of us face in a way that will make it easy to for you to apply these ideas TODAY!. Special offer: 30% off! This is the 2005 version that normally sells for $20, but you can get it now for $14.
Books and CDs by the Elijah Company. We have closed down the Elijah company mail-order store, but Home School Marketplace carries many of the products by Chris and Ellyn Davis as well as products we published for others. Here are just a few of our best-sellers.
30% off WIN books
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I Saw the Angel in the Marble
With over 4,000 copies sold in just a few months, I Saw the Angel in the Marble is becoming a home schooling best seller!
This book represents the best of 15 years of Elijah Company articles. Find our more about it HERE>>
Davis Seminar Set (8 CDs)
The Best of Chris and Ellyn Davis, this set contains seminars given by Chris and Ellyn Davis of The Elijah Company at home schooling conventions. The set contains all of the favorites that home schoolers ask for over and over.
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Angel in the Marble/
Davis Seminars Set
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From Home School to Home Business
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If you missed one of our From Home School to Home Business Conferences, you missed a great time.People who have attended tell us that it changed their lives—not only in the area of home schooling, but also in the area of creating their own sources of home income.This set is huge and filled with useful and encouraging information about how to be successful at home schooling and at home business! Find out more about this life-changing set of CDs HERE>>
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More Resources for Teaching Approaches
Resources for the Unit Study Approach
Unit Studies Made Easy by Valerie Bendt shares how anyone can develop unit studies. Cathy Duffy says, “If you have been avoiding unit studies because the work involved sounds overwhelming, this book is for you. This is a do-it-yourself guide for putting together your own unit studies based upon your family's goals and interests.” Many of Valerie's unit studies books are out of print but well worth getting your hands on because she is the best there is at explaining how to create unit studies for your children.
Design-A-Study Guides to History Plus by Kathryn Stout. History is the logical framework to built ongoing unit studies around. This is a complete guide to developing history unit studies for all ages integrating composition, spelling, vocabulary, math, science, music and art.
Resources for the Principle Approach
Teaching and Learning America's Christian History : A Christian Education Guide for the American Christian Home, the American Christian Church, the American Christian School : The Principle Approach by James Rose. This is the big red book that is the encyclopedia of the Principle Approach. It goes into depth about fundamental concepts and suggests beginning steps in the 4R process for each subject area.
Resources for the Living Books Approach
The first three books below are called the “Childlight Trilogy.” They were developed by Childlight, an organization dedicated to making Charlotte Mason’s ideas more well known. They are "must reads" for home school parents.
For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. If you only read one book about Charlotte Mason's approach, let this be the one. In a wonderfully uplifting way, Mrs. Macaulay shares how education can be “the diet that opens doors for each child to build a relationship with God, other persons, & the universe.”
Books Children Love by Edith Wilson is an annotated compilation of “living books” arranged by subject.
Teaching Children by Diane Lopez. An invaluable guide to what children should know in grades K through 6 with teaching suggestions and reading lists of “living books” for each grade in every subject.
Educating the Whole Hearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson is a guide to using whole books and real life to teach and train children at home. Each chapter focuses on a facet of home centered education.
A Charlotte Mason Companion. If you only read two books about Charlotte Mason’s approach, let this be the second. Karen Andreola leads the Charlotte Mason Research Institute and has been responsible for many of Mason’s ideas being introduced to the home schooling community. In this huge, oversized book, she masterfully explains how to adapt Mason’s ideas to the home school.
A Charlotte Mason Education.
Catherine Levison has collected the key points of Charlotte Mason's methods and presents them in a simple, straightforward way that will allow families to quickly maximize the opportunities of homeschooling.
More Charlotte Mason Education. "Catherine Levison takes an in-depth journey offering even more ideas for implementing the popular methods of Charlotte Mason into home schooling. In this concise and practical guide, Levison presents the key points of Charlotte Mason's methods as contained in her six-volume series."
Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series.
This six-volume set is the complete works of Charlotte Mason. It includes over 2400 pages of the finest material ever written on education, child training and parenting.
Resources for the Unschooling Approach
The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith tells how to use the whole world as your child’s classroom. Fun to read, the book is a compilation of input and advice from many families who are unschooling their children.
Homeschooling for Excellence by David and Micki Colfax. The story of California goat farmers whose interesting, encouraging, unorthodox methods of home educating their four adopted sons won the boys scholarships to Harvard and Yale. Contains an outline of the course of study they used.
Christian Unschooling "If you are new to homeschooling - BUY THIS BOOK! It will save you years of frustration and confusion. If you are a veteran homeschooler trying to unschool - BUY THIS BOOK! It will comfort you, inspire you, encourage you, and always be at hand when you need a word of wisdom and an optimistic opinion of what you are trying to do for your children! It will thoroughly explain unschooling to you in an easy-to-understand way!"
And of course, you can't study unschooling without reading books by John Holt, the "father" of unschooling. His books are wonderfully thought-provoking and give you a real appreciation for the natural learning ability of your children. Read all of these! How Children Learn, Learning All the Time, and Teach Your Own .
Also highly recommended:
Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School
Resources for the Eclectic Approach
The Relaxed Home School by Mary Hood is full of ideas for Christians to home school in a more natural and unstructured way. Mary covers how to teach all of the subjects from elementary ages through high school with an eclectic approach rather than by sticking rigidly to prepackaged curricula.
The Joyful Home Schooler continues Mary Hood’s practical, down-to-earth approach from The Relaxed Home School and shares simple, workable solutions to home schooling in an unstructured way.
Also, see the From Home School to Home Business CD set above. In her sessions, Mary explains how to use a relaxed home school approach for all ages.
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