How Can I Teach You? Let Me Count The Ways

This article was published in SISTERS magazine a couple of years ago, but for those who haven’t read it, I thought I’d share it here. ~ Umm J.

When I first thought of homeschooling, I, like many others, envisioned a prim and proper school room with tables, chairs, a whiteboard and an array of workbooks. I saw myself standing in front of the designated “school room” at nine o’ clock sharp, just as in traditional mainstream schools. I spent many hours online, sifting through web page after web page in an attempt to digest all the information I came across. The diverse methods of Charlotte Mason and Montessori bewildered me – let alone the Traditional method or the controversial Unschooling approach. Cries for help were screaming in my head. How do I decide? Must I choose just one?

If you feel like this, do not despair and please, do not throw a brick through your computer screen! Just grab a cup of coffee and relax. Here is a break down of the various approaches, coupled with helpful insights from Umm Abdullah who hasused many methods to teach her two sons.

Many Approaches, Many Styles

This approach is the ‘school-at-home’ method where all learning is planned and structured, with reliance on textbooks and testing. This method resembles education mainstream schools and children have a set schedule to work through with set subjects.

GOAL: To ensure that there are no gaps in learning by following a set curriculum.

Umm Abdullah says: “At the time I followed this method I wanted a more traditional approach to learning and teaching and I wanted to teach my child how to write. It worked really well and alhamdulillah, my son learnt to write! However, I did not like having a school-at-home setting or grading my children. I personally think that the traditional method should be used in schools only! Nevertheless, I know parents who absolutely love this method.”

Unit Studies
Unit studies offers an integrated, thematic approach to learning. It involves learning several subjects or concepts through one main topic. The actual units or topics can be found in unit studies books, or parents may choose to use various sources to create a tailor-made unit study. This method involves extensive use of the library, community resources and the Internet, and can be as structured or unstructured as families prefer. This method is popular with large families as it allows one topic to be taught at different levels, even in families with large age gaps between children.

Umm Abdullah says: “I think Unit Studies work well at every age and you can choose your own topic, including Islamic themes, for example you can do units on the Seerah of Prophet Muhammad (S) or the Companions (RA).”

Charlotte Manson
The Charlotte Manson method promotes daily reading of good classical books, known as ‘living books’ – books that contain characters which children can easily identify with – and has a strong focus the humanities: classical literature, fine art and crafts. Children are encouraged to spend a lot of time immersed in nature and as such, structured academic lessons are  extremely short, lasting no more than an hour, after which children go out into nature to draw what they observe. The practice of narration is emphasised in this method; children are trained to explain what they learn and emphasis is placed on what they know rather than what they don’t know.

GOAL: For children to develop a lifelong love for learning and appreciation of both nature and classical literature.

The Montessori approach considers learning to be a natural, self-directed process which follows fundamental laws of nature, observation and individual liberty. It aims to control the child’s learning environment rather than the child, thereby providing learning materials at the child’s disposal in an organised, well-kept manner. Original Montessori material can be  expensive, but many families have successfully developed and made their own materials to achieve Montessori objectives while staying within their budget.

Umm Abdullah says: “I love this method because it gives the child the freedom to explore, without restraining them to sit and study from a book. I think that from the Islamic point of view, this is the most appropriate method to use with small children until the age of 5 or 6 years old.”

Also known as the Steiner method, this approach is interdisciplinary and incorporates the intellectual, artistic, spiritual and physical elements of the child. It uses art and creative activities, which are believed to nurture an internal motivation to learn, thereby doing away with the need for testing and grading. The spirit of the Waldorf method is that education should cater for the needs of children, rather than the demands of the government, hence there is no academic learning content during the early years. The Waldorf method makes no use of textbooks or workbooks – children are  encouraged to make their own.

GOAL: To educate the whole child: head, heart and hands; and to produce individuals who are able to impart meaning to their lives.

Unschooling originated in the 1960’s and was the fruit of John Holt’s dissatisfaction of the way children were taught in school. John Holt believed that children learned best through child-led education, where they learn at their own pace, in their own unique ways, guided by their interests. He believed that learning could happen anywhere, at any time and as such, Unschooling involves an adult taking learning cues from the child and not the other way around. Families following the Unschooling method do not have a set curriculum or set materials, and they do not follow any schedules.

GOAL: To allow children to learn by encouraging them to follow their own interests, share in real-life experience and explore concepts at their own pace.

The Eclectic approach allows families to integrate the various different methods. In reality, most homeschooling families are Eclectic homeschoolers because they can select and combine from the various methods to produce something that works for their family.

GOAL: To cater for the child’s temperament, interests and learning style, while developing each child’s individual gifts.

Colours in a Rainbow Spectrum

For first-time homeschoolers who are searching for answers, the spectrum of options may be daunting. As most homeschoolers will tell you, what works for one family may not work for another, and what works for one child in the family may not work for the other siblings. And therein lies the beauty of  homeschooling: that you are not teaching a curriculum, but a child. Taking time to discover your family’s interests, needs and learning styles will help uncover the key to the approach their learning will take. Be prepared to be amazed, and humbled.


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