As I was preparing for my talk, I searched online for the phrase "getting started homeschooling" just to see what was out there. Imagine my shock when one of the main sites was PBS! Homeschooling really IS becoming mainstream. Woohoo!
One of the central points of my talk was that homeschool is different from having School at Home, even if you use a traditional curriculum, simply because you don't have 20 children all in the same grade. (I think that would be physically impossible, anyway. Ouch!) Because of this, even if you have only two children at home, if you use a traditional curriculum, you can't possibly do it all. Traditional curriculum was designed first for classroom use and has about 7 hrs of work in each day's lesson plan.
If you have two children, you end up trying to cram 14 hrs of teaching, plus housework, cooking, yard work, errands and outside classes into 24 hrs. Wait.. I forgot time to sleep! See the problem? Simply look at your curriculum and eliminate the stuff that's just busywork. The average schoolteacher tells me she only gets about three hours of direct instructional time in one day, so you're doing great if you try to cut down to about 3-4 hrs of work. This eliminates the school at home aspect and risk of burnout.
Traditional school is only one form of homeschool method, however. At the opposite end of the spectrum, with regards to structure, is unschooling. This is probably the most relaxed form of homeschooling. It's also probably the most misunderstood. The motto of unschoolers could be this:
“Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.” ~ Katrina Gutleben
Of course, the reverse is also true. No unschooler, (contrary to popular opinion) plunks her child in front of a TV and waits for learning to mystically unfold. Unschooling is simply learning in life, but it emphasizes a fuller and richer life, filled to the brim with things the child is passionate about. Thus an unschooling parent will offer a buffet of possibilities to the child and allow him to snatch up and drink deeply of those that capture his heart and mind- from books and movies about his topics of interest to outside classes and field trips, scouts, and even textbooks! The one thing you won't be likely to see is this child sitting in front of a TV all day!
Similarly, a Charlotte Mason education focuses on spreading a feast of great things to feed the child's mind, heart and soul. A Charlotte Mason education is more parent led and more structured than unschooling but far more flexible than a traditional school approach. This is the method I use, though I tend to the more relaxed side of Charlotte Mason.
Charlotte Mason emphasized allowing a child to savor great works of art, literature, music and of course the greatest of all works- nature. Instead of asking questions to lead a child to certain conclusions, she encouraged the child to tell back or narrate what he learned from his lessons. Thus the child is freed to make his own connections, which we now know from a neurological standpoint deepens the connection of neural pathways in the brain and from there, the learning itself.
There are many other types of educational methods used in homeschooling, of course, but time and space prevent a detailed analysis of each one, so I'll briefly summarize the rest. A classical education, like Charlotte Mason, emphasizes great works of literature, art and music but from a more analytical and structured approach. It tends to tell the child which connections should be made and relies much on training the memory.
Unit studies are again more laid back, but still make the connections through studying one topic from all angles. While great literature and art may be studied, it is as likely to draw upon the commonplace writings of ordinary people. There are likely more hands-on activities than other methods typically include (with the exception of unschooling). Even more hands-on is Montessori, which would require at least a whole post of its own just to scratch the surface.
Finally, there are those who enjoy aspects of many of these methods. They choose components of each style that appeals to them and draw them all together into a cohesive whole. Most of the experienced homeschoolers probably fall into this category.
It's important to realize that all of these educational options are valid and each has its own strengths, reaching different types of learners. In fact, you may find yourself drawn to different methods at different seasons of your homeschool life. Just follow the whisperings in your heart.
If you'd like more information on the Charlotte Mason method, you can find many of her books here: