When trying to decide how you want to homeschool and what you want to use, you’ll come across a lot of terms: Classical Conversations, unschooling, and eclectic are just a few. Some are easy to look up (Classical Conversations, for example), while others seem hard to pin down and describe exactly.
Eclectic homeschooling is one of those that can be difficult to define. This post isn’t intended to create a specific definition, or to say that my version of eclectic is better than someone else’s. What it is intended to do is to give a specific example of what eclectic homeschooling can look like, so that you can have a better idea of what it might mean and whether it would work for you.
Eclectic, as a word, is defined as “selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles; composed of elements drawn from various sources.” For my family, that is also the definition of eclectic homeschooling.
I select the best parts of a variety of ways of homeschooling to create our environment. I draw from various resources to come up with activities, books, worksheets, field trips, lessons, movies, and experiments, among other things.
As an example of how varied things are for us, here’s some of what we do:
- We use Khan Academy for math. The kids simply move forward from where they left off each day.
- Classes that would be considered electives in school (such as art and music) are done in what would be considered an unschooling way. I let the kids explore and do what they want in that regard, going as deep or as shallow as they wish and not laying out specific lesson plans.
- Project-based homeschooling is something that we’ve implemented in small ways, but I plan on going a bit bigger next year.
In cases where I feel we need worksheets for something, I find them online – or make them up myself. I don’t purchase a curriculum, or even part of a curriculum, for the topic.
I have gotten textbooks before, to cover a subject that I felt I needed guidance from experts on. I would get textbooks again, if I felt it was necessary.
We get books from the library to explore subjects we want to know more about. We hike the woods near our home to cover PE. We listen to music in the car, and discuss the bands and the songs they sing for music class. Art for my oldest might be an afternoon spent drawing in his sketchbook, while for my youngest, it might be putting together a model car or airplane.
I use icivics.org to cover some American history, as well as government. We also watch the History channel frequently to cover these things. Discovery channel helps us out with shows like Dual Survival and Sons of Winter for survival skills and an exploration of what kind of life skills we might want to learn that most people wouldn’t think of. It also gives us Mythbusters that covers some of our science.
We read books like Jules Verne’s Journey To the Center Of the Earth and Around the World in 80 Days and then watch the movies after – we discuss the differences between the books and the movies, and which one was better (usually the book). We also watch classic versions of the movies (usually 1970s or earlier) alongside their more contemporary versions with better special effects and discuss which one was better (sometimes the contemporary version wins out with its better special effects, while others it’s the classic with better acting).
We watch cooking shows, and shows like How It’s Made on the Science channel. We spend a day at the lake, searching for tadpoles or toad eggs, checking out the water – or we spend a day at home learning about the algae that’s taken over the lake and prevented us from exploring it. We learn where that algae came from, why humans have made it worse (or created it to begin with) and what we can do to try to make things better.
We follow lesson plans for some things, and others we just wing it. Spelling, Language Arts, Math, and History tends to follow a lesson plan, simply because those are subjects in which it’s easier to learn if you cover things in a specific order, building upon skills or information previously learned.
For us, eclectic homeschooling also means that the kids get a say in what they learn. No, this doesn’t mean I let them make all the decisions. Some subjects, I keep total control and decide what we cover and when. But in others, I let them have input – why shouldn’t I? It’s their education, and just like cooking the meal makes them more likely to eat it, choosing and enjoying what they learn makes them more likely to want to do it and to actually learn it.
Maybe you’ve considered eclectic homeschooling, or even unschooling, because you’ve seen the costs of curricula and wondered if these methods would be less expensive. The answer to that question? Maybe.
Eclectic homeschooling can be as expensive or cheap as you make it. I’ve usually found my resources for free, but now and then, there has been something that I wanted to use badly enough or thought my kids would enjoy enough that I paid for it. Most of those things have been $30 or less.
It is, in some ways, more work than purchasing a curriculum. You have to take the time to seek out your resources, to print them (or buy them, borrow them, etc.) and get them organized and ready for use. Depending on the topic, you may also have to take the time to bone up on it yourself, since you won’t have a teacher’s guide or answer key to help you. This can be a distinct disadvantage, for sure – but the freedom to teach what you want, when you want outweighs it, for us, anyway.
Is eclectic homeschooling for everyone? Of course not. No one homeschooling method is for everyone – homeschooling itself isn’t for everyone. But when you’re a single parent, tight on funds and feeling overwhelmed by all the curriculum choices available, it can be a pretty good place to start. You might find it’s exactly what you were looking for all along. You might find that it’s not a good fit for you and you need something different – or you might find something in your eclectic net that leads you to the right method for you.
The greatest part about it is that there’s no one right way to do it, so you can throw in (or out) whatever you want. Which means if it works for you overall, but you need to buy a curriculum for one subject that needs it – you can do that.
Explore your options. Whatever it is you want to teach, do a quick Google search and see what comes up. You’d be amazed at the free resources you’ll find, the ideas you’ll see, and the ones that will be inspired by what you see. Take the time to explore. You might find this is exactly what you’ve been looking for all along – the freedom to do whatever you want.
That is, after all, a large part of the reason why we homeschool anyway, right?