Many, many moons ago, my beautiful little boy came home from his first day at a new school, crying and asking me to homeschool him. Having had him in private schools since preschool, homeschooling was really not anything that was on our radar; two weeks prior, I distinctly remember telling some new friends who homeschooled, “I’m sure it’s a fine idea, but y’all are nuts.”
Well, back to that fateful day: my son was excited to start a new school, as we had just moved to a new city and state. He loved his old school and teachers and had no reason to think that he wouldn’t love his new one. Then, we walked into the classroom.
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Needless to say, three days later I had taught him how to daydream without getting caught (yes, I was reduced to that), read through no less than a dozen books on homeschooling (everything our library had to offer at the time), and dropped over $600 on homeschool curriculum for a 6-year-old because I had no idea what else to do.
Eventually, we figured out a rather eclectic combination of things that worked for us, but we encountered plenty of roadblocks along the way. Hopefully, I can help you avoid many of them!
Our First Year
Being a teacher’s kid and having grown up helping and tutoring in my parents’ elementary classrooms, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how to teach a 6-year-old. And I did, in a classroom. I had no idea, however, how to structure a day for my newly-homeschooled son.
We scheduled out our day into dutiful little 15-minute blocks. (You can already imagine how well that one worked with an energetic 6-year-old boy!) When that didn’t work, we tried block scheduling. (That lasted all of two weeks before it fizzled out.) We tried everything I could find, since my training told me that he needed the structure of a definite schedule. None of them worked.
As far as curriculum went, we ended up going through four full curriculums before first grade was over…to the tune of around $2,500. My husband told me that if I planned to homeschool for second grade, I was going to have to go back to work to pay for it.
Our Journey to Eclectic Homeschooling
Well, I couldn’t really go back to work, at least not in the things I was trained to do, as I had a 7-year-old at home. (This was 2005, back in the days before much existed for work-at-home options.) So, I started to ask questions. I went to our state homeschool conventions and found a whole new world of curriculum options.
And I figured out that all-in-one packages are not always the way to go. When they work, it’s awesome, but some kids just plain need to learn different subjects in different ways. Mine is one of them.
As I was finding new curriculum options, I was also researching all the different homeschooling methods. For our first year, we pretty much stuck to the traditional text and workbook style, since it was the only thing I knew. There are a lot of great curriculum options for this method, and I’ve used many of them over the years. Implementing the entire thing just didn’t work for us.
Then we moved on to Classical, which at the time (and as far as I could find online) often meant doing everything according to A Well Trained Mind. Again, this is an amazing resource filled with great information…but sometimes, it’s taken a bit too far. It was never written to be a rigid “you have to do everything this way or you’ve failed” type of book, but for several years, that’s how it was widely regarded. So, that’s how I tried to implement it. Again, it was not the greatest success story, although I did keep aspects of it throughout our journey.
After overdosing a bit on (what I thought was) the Classical method, we tried Charlotte Mason. I absolutely adored the gentleness, creativity, and, well, quaintness that I found in books like A Charlotte Mason Companion. I even read Charlotte’s original volumes and absorbed everything I could. I went to Ambleside Online, downloaded the lesson plans, and hit the library. And, overachiever that I am, I probably overdid it a little. Not sure my rough and tumble kiddo was quite into hymn study, and he insisted on taking the lessons that he was interested in far past the 20-minute limit, but we did really enjoy the rest of it.
A couple of years into homeschooling, we stumbled upon unit studies. My son had asked to learn more about the Anglo-Saxons, as we ran across them in his Classical method history book, but I couldn’t find any resources. (It turns out that there was one – one! – book written below college level that gave any substantial information on this culture, and it was published when I was a toddler.) So, I went online and found a unit study. Finding this was purely by chance, as the thought of unit studies scared the dickens out of me at the time, but they ended up becoming a key feature of our homeschool throughout the elementary and middle school years. I even became a convention rep and speaker for a company that made lapbook units for several years and helped produce or manage of their projects.
However, my son’s learning needs (profoundly gifted with severe learning ‘glitches’) required me to add quite a bit to most of the pre-published units that were available. We even managed to have to extend Konos units, which are pretty darn meaty.
When each of these methods proved to “good, but not great” for my son, we would go into Unschooling mode while I researched our next option. Unschooling actually turned out to be a terrific method for him (and it’s one that he uses to this day, even in college), but he likes me to plan out his resources and schedules. He can do it (and will) when he needs to, but he’d much rather dig into the ideas, methods, and knowledge than spend time planning. (And I love the research and planning, so it’s kind of a win-win.)
Enter Eclectic Homeschooling
Eventually, I figured out that while none of these methods was “just right” for us, a mixture that could easily shift to meet our needs was perfect.
I learned to become extremely flexible in my planning. We sat down a couple times a year to discuss and prioritize what he was interested in studying, and then I got to work. I happen to love researching pretty much everything related to homeschooling and learning (which is partly why I now do what I do!), so I would find resources that I thought would meet his needs. Then, I would bring him along to the store or convention so he could check out each option and let me know what he wanted to work with.
We largely ended up with a Classical approach to history and languages and a Charlotte Mason approach to nature, the arts, and literature. For math and science, we often switched back and forth between traditional textbooks and unit studies (or just combined the two). We added in history and literature unit studies whenever they seemed to fit, and used an Unschooling approach toward electives (everything from Game Theory to Philosophy). No two years looked the same…one year, he chose the Hard Drive program from BJU and mixed it with Sonlight, while the year before had been filled with unit studies that were chock full of everything.
It’s a bit weird, but it worked for us. And it still does! Even while pursuing two majors and three minors in college, he still unwinds by digging into anything from political policy to Oscar Wilde. If an assigned project in one of his classes doesn’t spark his curiosity, he politely asks his professor if he can create an extended version, knowing that it’s on him to do it well.
For him, Eclectic homeschooling is a method that taught him to live what he learns. And that’s part of the purpose of teaching our children, as far as I can see.
Which Learning Styles Does Eclectic Homeschooling Work For?
Good news! It works for all of learning modalities and learning styles. Because it is so flexible, it allows you to tailor your curriculum choices and teaching methods to meet your child’s needs. Whether your child needs structure or variety, worksheets or hands-on projects or movies and audiobooks, Eclectic homeschooling has got you covered. (Our Audible Membership has come in very handy for this!)
Implementing Eclectic Homeschooling
The part about Eclectic homeschooling that intimidates many families – and the reason why it took me so long to finally adopt it – is that it requires you, as the parent, to understand several different methods and implement the parts of each that work well for your family. This takes some work! It also takes a bit more confidence to pick from among the different methods and combine the pieces that are most effective.
Honestly, it takes trial and error. It takes being willing to change things up when they’re not working and to forge your own path. But if it’s what will work best for your child, you can do it. Trust me. I’ve been there!
If this is a method that you think may work for your family, I really encourage you to read through the linked information in this post. Look at each method with a critical eye: what facets of it look like they may work? Write those down and play with ways to implement them. What facets are not a good fit for your kids, at least at this time? Give yourself permission right now to leave them alone. It really is ok!
One book that I read every year and have found to be incredibly helpful is The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling. (When my son reached jr. high, I added in The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Teens. Both are among my favorite resources.) These books, written by Debra Bell, are full of information on how to do pretty much everything. The best part is that they’re both written to allow you to flip straight to whatever topic you need. You don’t have to read them straight through! Debra will tell you what worked for her kids and why. She doesn’t approach anything as “you have to do it this way, too.” To me, that was really refreshing and kind of freeing.
Wrapping It Up
I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions about Eclectic homeschooling? I’m here to help – and your questions may help others!