Charlotte Mason, classical, unit studies…
There are so many types of curriculum. How can you know which one is right for your child or family? Where do you even begin as you try to sort through the massive amount of information available to you?
Fortunately, the exploration process can often be made easier when we realize that most curricula fall into one of several educational philosophy categories. Educational philosophy is simply an approach to education. Most curricula lean heavily toward one philosophy or another. So, the first step toward determining what will work best for your family is to explore the different educational approaches, select the one that you feel is a best fit for your family, then narrow your search to curricula that fit within those parameters.
Points to Ponder
Here are the main educational philosophies and some clues you can find in a curriculum that tells you what philosophy it follows.
A traditional curriculum is what is used in public and most private schools. When you visit the main website of the traditional curriculum companies that cater to homeschoolers, you will often see menu options that direct you to home or school preferences. If a curriculum is traditional, you can expect to find textbooks, workbooks, and worksheets. Lesson plans are specifically laid out. The curriculum is usually grade specific, with children working at grade level.
Charlotte Mason curricula are literature-based. Most have an emphasis on regular nonfiction books and novels (also known as living books) rather than textbooks, and tend to use oral and written narration in place of worksheets or workbooks. Lessons are short and based on first-hand experiences. You can expect strategies such as copywork and hands-on activities.
A classical curriculum can be identified by being divided into three distinct educational levels, usually called the grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric stage, with the grammar stage covering PreK to 2nd or 3rd, dialectic from 2nd or 3rd to 5th or 6th, and rhetoric from middle school on. Classical curricula emphasize learning Latin and sometimes Greek, and students read a lot of classical literature.
The unit study method involves learning across all or several subjects while studying an overarching theme such as a science or history topic. Many unit study curricula will require additional resources for math and phonics or reading instruction. Unit studies often include lots of hands-on activities and field trips.
Computer Based or Online
There are several different styles of computer-based curricula. Some can be purchased and downloaded onto a computer, while others are available online only. Some use videos and other pre-recorded media that a student can complete at his own pace, sometimes self-grading and other times requiring the parent to assign grades. Others are taught in real time by an instructor who handles all grading.
A Few More Thoughts
While this will give you an idea of what type of curriculum you are looking at, keep in mind that not all curricula follow these educational philosophies to the letter. For instance, the Montessori approach has a basis in the Charlotte Mason philosophy but is more student directed than most Charlotte Mason curriculum. Then there are those curriculum options that blend aspects of two or more philosophies and are referred to as eclectic. In fact, some families have discovered that different philosophies work best for different subjects, so they pull from a variety of curriculum options and create their own eclectic curriculum. Considerations such as these take parents beyond the limits of curriculum philosophies and merge into the broader category of educational methods, incorporating the concepts of deschooling and unschooling as well.
Exploring the wide world of curriculum can seem incredibly overwhelming. But, if you break it down into these five philosophies, then mix and match as suits your family best, you will soon be on your way to finding a great fit for you and your children!