Elementary education may seem daunting for those new to home education but it is truly an extension of activities you have already been doing with your child at home. Every child is different in terms of what they are ready for when, but most children are ready to learn what has been called the Three R’s by the age of five or six. A simple Google search will reveal the vast array of choices available to those who wish to home educate. It can be overwhelming! However, as in most of life, taking things one step at a time will bring you day by day to your goals.
Elementary education starts with the basics: reading, penmanship, arithmetic, science and social studies. Most homeschooling families choose to use some form of curriculum in order to help their children learn in these subject areas. Curriculum is very simply the tools you may choose to help you accomplish your homeschooling goals. Think of curriculum as the car you drive during your homeschool journey. It can take many forms depending on the destination you have in mind.
Start With the End In Mind
Determining the destination of your homeschool may sound a bit silly but starting with the end in mind is actually a simple way from which to plan. What is your hope for your children when they leave your homeschool? It could be after one year or twelve. As a family you will decide upon the goals you wish to achieve.
All curriculum has a point of view from which it delivers information. This point of view can be summarized as an educational philosophy. An educational philosophy can be defined as the underlying assumptions about what comprises an education and what the teaching materials should cover in a course of study. It is generally agreed that there are four educational philosophies which are summarized as follows:
- Essentialism: Essentialists believe that there is a common core of knowledge that needs to be transmitted to students in a systematic, disciplined way. The emphasis of this perspective is on intellectual and moral standards that schools should teach. Schooling should be practical, preparing students to become valuable members of society. It focuses on the essentials and is subject oriented. Essentialism can be summed up by the phrase, "Information is the foundation of a good education."
- Perennialism: Perennialists are more idea oriented and believe that the aim of education is to ensure that students become acquainted with and acquire an understanding of the great writing and thinking throughout history. Perennialists believe that understanding is the key to a good education and so cultivation of the intellect is the highest priority in a worthwhile education.
- Progressivism: Progressivists believe that education should focus on the whole child, rather than on the content or the teacher. This educational philosophy stresses that students should test ideas by active experimentation. Education should be practical and applicable to the needs of the student and society and the assumption here is that making knowledge and skills meaningful are the keys to a good education.
- Existentialism: This approach stresses authenticity. In the existentialist classroom, subject matter takes second place to helping the students understand and appreciate themselves as unique individuals who accept complete responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Discovering one’s own meaning and purpose in life is the key to a good education therefore in an existentialist curriculum, students are given a wide variety of options from which to choose.
We all have an underlying idea of what makes a good education and it is these ideas that cause us to prefer specific teaching materials. Once we have a better idea of where we are coming from we will be more equipped to decide where we are going. Taking the time to consider educational philosophies pays off in the long run by simplifying the decision making process. There are many resources to explore when it comes to education and taking the time to do some research will benefit you as a teacher and will give you confidence as take your first steps on the path of home education.
For a great primer on beginning homeschooling, read our start-up guide Getting Started Homeschooling.
From a better philosophical understanding comes a better grasp of the options available to you as a teacher. To simplify the decision making process you will find that most curriculum falls into one of two categories; the traditional approach or the non-traditional approach.
Most of us are familiar with the traditional approach: books! books! books! There is a wide variety of publishers that offer textbook curriculum. One advantage of using the traditional approach is that most of the decisions have already been made for you in every subject area. You simply open a book and follow the directions. For those just beginning home education this approach offers a lot of hand holding and guidance which will get you off to a good start.
The non-traditional approach offers a wide array of perspectives and options for education. Currently there are six non-traditional approaches generally found within home education.
- The Classical Approach
- The Principal Approach
- Charlotte Mason
- Eclectic Approach
- Identity Directed Approach (as proposed by Chris Davis)
There are many books and websites available to learn more about each of these approaches to curriculum and education. A little time spent exploring these educational approaches will help you to narrow the field of choices in selecting the tools for your homeschool.
While it may seem that your first task would be to quiz everyone possible on the subject of how to homeschool and then start buying books, taking the time to invest in teaching the teacher will pay off during the day to day duties of home education. The educator will be better prepared to make decisions about curriculum as well as about how to handle challenges that will naturally arise when working with elementary aged children.
It seems prudent to point out that no curriculum is perfect and many educational opportunities can be found outside of your home. Every field trip, every television show, even every game you play teaches your children something about the world around them and their place in it. Remember that home education is a lifestyle and can be much more than just doing school work at the kitchen table. Take the time to learn alongside your children and you will find that homeschooling, with its ups and downs, is not only an excellent educational choice it is relationship-building family adventure!