Austin Area Homeschoolers
Newcomers' Guide
Curriculum Issues
Educational Philosophies
Before choosing educational methods and materials, it is important to think about what goals you have for your homeschool, and what types of learning and teaching are most effective for your individual student. There are many different types of curricula, and the materials that a friend or neighbor recommends may or may not be the best choice for your family. Following are descriptions of some of the major approaches to homeschooling. Many homeschoolers adopt philosophies and methods that combine aspects of several of these approaches.

School at Home. This approach looks and feels much like traditional school, including textbooks, book reports, tests, and grades. The family may designate regular "school hours" and may set up a special room in their home for schooling. Some full-service correspondence schools offer this type of educational approach. Many different books and materials are sold for parents who use this approach; some of these are the same materials used in public or private schools. 
    Depending on which materials which are purchased, it is possible for a student to work at different grade levels in different subject areas. Some families like the structure of such a homeschooling method, and they appreciate the ease with which parents can prepare for lessons. Other families find that this method does not work well for their children's learning styles. Popular school-at-home curricula include A Beka, Alpha-Omega Lifepacs, Bob Jones, and Calvert.

Unit Studies. Unit studies look like the "projects" assigned at traditional schools. Many different subjects are incorporated into an in-depth study of one topic. For example, a unit study on ancient Greece might include reading classical literature and writing essays (Language Arts), studying the political environment of Greece (Social Studies), visiting an art exhibit of Greek art (Art History), and learning the Greek alphabet (Foreign Language). Outlines for unit studies may be purchased, or they may be developed by the parents (guide books are available to help you). This method is appropriate for students who learn best from activities rather than from books. Some parents find that they can use unit studies to teach all their children together, even if the students are of widely different ages. The Konos curriculum for elementary students uses a unit-study approach.

Living Books and Life Experiences. This method is based on the writings of Charlotte Mason, and it includes teaching basic reading and math skills, then focusing on reading quality books and exposing children to real-life learning situations. A favorite parents' guide to this educational approach is For the Children's Sake, by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.

Delayed Academics. Dr. Raymond Moore and his wife, Dorothy, pioneered this approach. They believe that young children are not developmentally ready for much that is commonly taught in the early grades, and that formal education should be delayed until the age of 8 to 10. The Moores have written several books about their educational theories, including School Can Wait and Home Grown Kids.

Unschooling. "Unschooling" is an educational approach that often looks nothing like traditional schooling. The method is based on the writings of educator John Holt, who believed that children have an innate desire to learn all that is important in life. He believed that it is not necessary to "teach" per se, and that children learn best when they are exposed to a rich environment and given access to adults who are willing to share what they have learned. According to Holt, children can be trusted to learn academic subjects naturally, as a part of their real lives, just as they learned to walk and talk. Parents interested in the unschooling approach will want to read several of John Holts' books, and they will also want to read Growing Without Schooling magazine (www.holtgws.com).

The Eclectic Approach. Some families combine two or more educational approaches, sometimes using one method in the early years and another as the children grow older, or using one style for most of their subjects, and another approach for one or two subjects. These families stay flexible, choosing whichever approach best suits their children's current needs. 

Car schooling.  The parent is more chauffeur than teacher, they rely on putting their children into classes taught by others or hiring tutors.  We're not sure if this meets the Leeper definition of homeschooling.  A quick test is to ask the child where they attend school, if they answer with anything other than homeschool, they probably are not homeschooling.

Putting a child into an full-time institutional school or participating in a Texas Charter School, is not homeschooling by Texas law.  All homeschools in Texas are Texas private schools, but not all Texas private schools are homeschools.

As homeschoolers have grown in numbers, more and more they are finding themselves as targets of advertisers, saying their method of home education is the best.  Often it is simply a repackaged version of what they are selling to institutional schools.  You know your child better than anyone else.  Trust yourself and follow your instincts. 

Learning Styles
Some people learn best by reading, while others learn best by doing, Some learn by hearing, others by moving around. If your child's learning style is different from your own, you might need a little help finding the best way to teach your individual child. Following is a list of books that discuss how personality differences affect how people learn. Different authors use different models and descriptions of the types of learners, and few children fit perfectly into just one category. If one of these books does not help you understand your child's learning style, try another book by a different author. Even if you never find a category that precisely describes your child, you will benefit from seeing the range of teaching options that exist.
 

  • Christian Home Educators' Curriculum Manual: Elementary Grades, by Cathy Duffy. Describes several learning types, and suggests appropriate curriculum materials for each type.
  • How Your Child Is Smart, by Dawna Markova. Identifies six different learning styles, with suggestions for teaching each type.
  • In Their Own Way, by Thomas Armstrong, describes seven types of intelligence and learning styles.
  • Learning Styles and Tools, available from Family Christian Press, 1-800-788-0840. (Describes Thinkers, Feelers, Sensors, and Intuitive children. Includes assessment test for determining the child's primary style, and teaching advice for all four types of learners.) 
How to Choose a Curriculum
Homeschooling parents in Texas can choose from a variety of options as they plan their children's academic work. They are not required to submit their curriculum plans to any governmental official or to any private expert for approval. Different students need different approaches; some families use one approach at first, then switch to another method as their needs and interests change. There is no one best way to homeschool-each parent can choose the option that fits the needs of his/her child. Before investing in any expensive or time-consuming curriculum, it's a good idea to talk with other homeschooling parents about the advantages and disadvantages of various approaches and resources. 

After careful consideration, parents and students can choose any of the following options.

(1) to develop their own curriculum based on any books, computer programs, jobs, real-life experiences, and other resources that they want to use. The parents prepare all transcripts, portfolios, or diplomas that are needed or desired. This option can cost a lot or a little, depending on the resources that are chosen. This kind of individualized curriculum is a very flexible way of homeschooling. The course work may be very much like traditional school work, or it may be unconventional (i.e. unit studies, interest-based learning, or "unschooling").

(2) to work with a local or out-of-town umbrella school. The umbrella school handles transcripts and issues diplomas, in accordance with their own standards. Local umbrella schools may provide some on-campus classes such as sports, band, etc. Parents still take a major role in the education of their children, but the umbrella school may offer guidance about curriculum and activities. This option will cost more than option 1, since you will be getting more services.

(3) to purchase all or part of their curriculum from a commercial supplier or correspondence school, while the parents prepare all records, transcripts, portfolios, or diplomas. Most curricula must be mail-ordered. The cost of this option varies, depending on which resources are chosen.

(4) to use a correspondence school that sends lessons to the student. He/she does the work at home, under the oversight of the parents, but the some work is sent to the school for grading. The correspondence school awards grades or diplomas and provides transcripts. This is generally the most expensive option, and it may involve less planning and participation by the parent. Some parents though have found that it requires more participation and time by the parent and student since the classes and home work isn't individualized to the student.  It is often less flexible than other options, since the correspondence school sets all requirements.

(5) to combine more than one of these approaches. For example, a student might enroll in one correspondence course or one course at a local umbrella school, while he/she continues to study other subjects under the direction of his/her parent.

Addresses and phone numbers of various suppliers, correspondence schools, and umbrella schools are listed later in this guide. You may contact the suppliers for a full description of their products and prices. Note: It is important to know that some correspondence and umbrella schools use the term "curriculum" to mean simply the detailed outline of topics to be studied, while other schools use the same term to mean both the outline and the necessary textbooks and other materials. Before paying for a school's services, be sure you know what will be included in the price that has been quoted.

Curriculum Guides and Reviews
If you are wondering what subjects to cover when, and with which materials, these resources will help you explore your options. Some of them review a variety of teaching materials, and others describe ways to keep records of what your children are learning.

The Well Trained Mind by Wise and Wise Bauer, www.welltrainedmind.com/, is a book on classical education at home that gives complete schedules and curriculum recommendations for every grade level. Ruth Beechick's books for teaching elementary to junior high students. You Can Teach Your Child Successfully contains practical ideas for teaching various subjects (grades 4-8) with a moderate amount of structure. For teaching younger children, Beechick has written An Easy Start in Arithmetic, A Home Start in Reading, and A Strong Start in Language. These books give a lot of specific ideas without overwhelming the reader with detailed lesson plans.

Big Book of Home Schooling, Vol. 1-4, by Mary Pride, is like a Whole Earth Catalog for homeschooling.

Christian Home Educators' Curriculum Manual (Elementary Level or Junior/Senior High Level), by Cathy Duffy. The author tells you what is usually covered in each grade, and she reviews a wide variety of curriculum materials, both religious and secular. This book is written with a fundamentalist Christian viewpoint. It is most useful for families that use traditional learning methods.

The Complete Home Learning Source Book, by Rebecca Rupp. A comprehensive and delightful guide to hundreds of learning resources. It is particularly valuable for families that prefer less structured learning methods.

Good Stuff: Learning Tools for All Ages, by Rebecca Rupp. Reviews of books and materials for many subjects, for all ages, complete with ordering information.

Home School Source Book, by Donn Reed. "A comprehensive catalog and directory of learning materials that are challenging, constructive, and fun; with commentaries, notes and essays about a 'liberal arts' education at home, from birth through adulthood."

Senior High: A Home Design Form-U-La, by Barb Shelton. The author loves forms, and she gives us an incredible variety of them for recording high school projects, courses, and transcripts. There is also lots of advice about what a typical transcript includes. What Your Child Needs to Know When: An Evaluation Checklist for Grades K-8, by Robin Scarlata. A detailed outline of topics, listed by subject and by typical grade level. Much more detailed than World Book's "Typical Course of Study."

World Book's "Typical Course of Study" booklet, which gives a list of different subjects and concepts commonly taught at each grade level. This is handy to use when you're preparing a do-it-yourself curriculum. The pamphlet is extremely inexpensive. For a catalog, call 1-800-621-8202 or write World Book Educational Products, Attn: Educational Services Dept., 101 Northwest Point Blvd., Elk Grove Village, IL 60007. See the "Typical Course of Study" online at their website: www.worldbook.com/

Local Sources for Curriculum
A variety of textbooks can be checked out at the University of Texas' Perry-Castaneda Library. Check with your local library to see if you are eligible for a Star Card.  A nonstudent borrower's card costs about $40 per year. Call 495-4305 to find out how to apply for a card. Check local bookstores and teacher supply houses for curriculum and supplies.

The Austin Public Library has a rich selection of books useful for unit studies and curricula. They also carry a large selection of books on homeschooling.

AAH email list subscribers can buy and sell used curriculum through the list. 

About once a year (usually in the spring or summer), the Christian Home Education Association of Central Texas (CHEACT) sponsors a homeschool book fair. Many curriculum suppliers and correspondence schools bring books and materials to sell, giving you a good chance for a hands-on look at items you have been considering. 

Many small local groups also sponsor book sales, and often you will see them announce on the AAH-announce list.

Record Keeping
When planning a record-keeping system, consider who will be using it, and for what purposes. In Texas, government officials do not review or approve your homeschooling records. You might need detailed records if your children plan to return to a traditional school, and if you want that school to grant credit for high school subjects your children have studied at home. Some public high schools will not grant credit toward graduation based on a homeschool transcript, regardless of the detail you include; instead, they might require a child to pass placement exams before they can receive credit. Texas public schools are supposed to use the same standards for homeschool credits that they use for students transferring from other unaccredited private schools. See the "Letter from the Texas Education Commissioner" for more information.
    If you are keeping records for your own use, they can be as simple or as complex as you want. Many parents keep daily or weekly notes about their children's work, using a plain notebook or a lesson-planning notebook purchased from a teacher supply store. Some parents keep only a reading list for each child. Other parents do not feel the need for any formal records. 

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