ENID, Okla. — When Mariah Smith discovered the Charlotte Mason Method of home-schooling, all of the pieces fell into place.
Smith and her husband made the decision to home-school their now-9-year-old son four years ago to give him an environment in which he could flourish, but the first year, using a “go-at-your-own pace” workbook and online curriculum,” was a “train wreck.”
They pushed through, though, and were introduced to Charlotte Mason the next year. Smith knew this was the right method of home-schooling for the household, and she has been able to see her son progress in his education and become more empathetic over the last three years.
“It’s really cool to see how his empathy has progressed over these last few years and how he can really dive into a story,” Smith said, recalling how her son read a book a couple of weeks ago that brought tears to his eyes when one of the main characters died. “That was just one of those moments — I don’t see him having that moment in a public school setting, and that just reaffirmed that the decision to home school was the right one.”
Many different home-school methods exist and include Classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Unschooling, School-at-Home, Unit Studies and Eclectic.
Smith was introduced to Charlotte Mason by Kayla Nichols, who has been home-schooling her 15-, 13- and 10-year-olds for their entire lives because she wanted to approach their academics from a biblical standpoint at all times.
She eventually landed on the Charlotte Mason method, a Christian learning model that utilizes short study periods for elementary students and longer periods for high schoolers, incorporating nature walks and journals, history portfolios, observation practice, memorization and narration and reading.
“(Charlotte Mason) gets that education is important, but it’s more than just the schooling,” Nichols said. “I always wanted my kids to be really well-educated. I wanted them to read Homer and Plutarch, but I didn’t want to just make trivia champions, so Charlotte Mason just showed how it can be the child’s life — not just a checklist for them to brag about.”
Smith said her son’s learning doesn’t just come from books. It comes from everywhere, from cooking in the kitchen to learning yard work.
“Education is an atmosphere,” she said.
Lori Duncan, who always has home-schooled her eight children, ranging in ages from 24 to 7, said whenever a newborn was added to the household, the home-schooling style had to change because everybody had to adapt, and each kid had a different learning style.
Duncan eventually landed on Eclectic home-schooling, which typically is child-directed, resourceful and non-curriculum based, with no built-in loyalties to a particular method, and “treats curriculum options life a buffet instead of a set meal plan.”
“I just pull different things at different times,” Duncan said. “It’s neat to see where their interests are and (to) tailor their learning toward that. … Really, the goal in our home-schooling is to help them develop a love for learning.”
Nichols added there is no shame in struggling in any subject. If the kids do the work but don’t understand the questions or get them wrong, they will go back to learn and fix it.
“They don’t know what grade they have or even what grade they’re in,” Nichols said. “They just know that they’re learning, so there’s no shame in what they don’t know.”
Whenever kids do find something they’re good at, Nichols said they’re able to “run with it and go as far and as deep as they can with it.”
‘Not afraid to learn’
Classical Conversations in Enid is designed to teach required subjects while instilling a desire for learning in students and finding “the fingerprints of God” in all subjects. Students meet once a week as a community for grade-level tutoring, and for the rest of the week the tutors are the parents, said Brian Tonnell, a Classical Conversations director.
Although Tonnell’s two home-schooled sons — taught by both Tonnell and his wife at different points — are now in their 20s, Tonnell still tutors students in the group because he believes that strongly in Classical Conversations, having graduated about 40 kids.
The goal, Tonnell said, is to master the material being studied and “to foster a love of learning.”
“Several years after my eldest was out of college … he was at our house and had a big, fat architecture book with him, and I said, ‘Where did this come from,’” Tonnell said. “He goes, ‘I thought architecture is something interesting, so I thought I wanted to learn about it.’ I almost jumped up and down. He’s not afraid to learn.”
Tuning in to students’ needs
Having options for home-schooling is critical, Tonnell said. What works for one family, such as meeting once a week like with Classical Conversations, may not work for another family, who, for example, may travel a lot.
Additionally, all children learn differently, said Savannah Holmes, who uses the Montessori method — a student-based approach utilizing free movement, large, unstructured time blocks, multi-grade classes and interest-based and individualized learning plans — to home-school her 7-year-old daughter.
That’s another reason why it’s important for families to have a variety of home-schooling styles form which to choose, Holmes said. The Montessori method works best for her daughter, who likes having more independence in her studies and being able to solve problems on her own.
“If you can really tune in to what your individual child needs and tailor your home environment to that … children really just absorb it all,” she said. “They’re more likely to remember it. They’re having fun.”