Homeschooling Styles and Methods: Unit study

What are unit studies?

Homeschoolers usually think of the unit study method as a group of lessons that use a variety of approaches.  These approaches can work together to focus on a smaller part of a larger subject (perhaps a multi-media report on the “Lost Battalion” of WWI[1]), or may spread out to look at many aspects of a single subject (George Washington’s political path plus the kind of house he lived in, what he ate, the popular music of the time, etc.).  All the children in a family can take part with each one working at his or her level.  Unit studies can be the main style of the family’s homeschooling (as with the Konos[2] program), a part of each new subject, or a special treat.

Parents can allow the unit study to be as wide or narrow as they or their children wish.  Parents can set aside an amount of time for the project – usually a week or two – or they may allow it to continue until the kids run out of steam.  As with any homeschooling method, no single unit study style is t.h.e. official way of spending time with any material.

The goals people have for a unit study are as varied as there are people using the style.  Pieces of music have different aims; few trendy dance club managers invite polka disc jockeys to perform, even though composers of polka and techno music may all mean to get people dancing.  Likewise, painting the nursery walls using Jackson Pollock’s style could be a workable way to camouflage dirt in a toddler’s room, but most parents prefer room decorations with more structure, such as blocks of color arranged in a design, or nursery pictures.  In the same way, the result of a unit study could be anything from journal entries tracking the study, a completed Lap Book®[3], [4] or a 4H project or Scout badge.

Commercial unit study programs often work ‘across the curriculum.’  A ‘store bought’ program may include writing assignments for English, worksheet activities for handwriting, illustrations for art, physical information for science, and different levels of information for working with children of different ages.

As with most things, people of different levels of creativity and skill put together commercial unit study programs.  Some programs are original, but some are plagiarized information from books whose copyrights have expired and are now in the public domain.  This is a problem within the commercial sphere of homeschooling, not just unit studies. The practice of ‘buyer be aware’ coupled with making only a small first-time purchase after asking around may keep any poor choices, such as ‘unit studies’ that are little more than elaborate worksheet exercises that children paste onto construction paper, from knocking a big hole in a budget or ruining a long stretch of school year as the shortcomings show up.

Where do I find unit study materials?

For homemade unit studies, idea starters might be:

  • the calendar, for notable days, holidays or the birthdays of famous people[5]
  • a history book for pinpointing ‘little known facts’ that hide behind the larger events of history
  • a science project book, for interesting experiments that can be researched as to whether the experiment was famous or significant, such as Galileo’s insight into freely falling bodies
  • children’s interests

Parents can think of any focused area of study as a unit study.

Parents who prefer prepared programs can find unit study suppliers using a search engine.

[1] Blood in the Argonne:  The “Lost Battalion” of WWI, April 2006 review in The Journal of Military History

[2] Konos program

[3] Lap book trademark

[4] “Winter Vacation Book”

[5] “A Birthday a Day,” Rebecca Rupp, Sep/Oct 1997,  Home Education Magazine

Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.


Homeschooling Styles and Methods: Umbrella schools

What is an umbrella school?

An umbrella school is a type of home education support with which parents can register/enroll the children so that the school keeps a record of the children’s progress for the family.

“Umbrella schools” also overlap with correspondence schools, and distance-learning providers.  Any of these providers may use scripted lessons, tests and a log of daily reports, or may just give an outline of recommended studies, but let the families choose how the children will complete their studies, and if that work was satisfactory.  The common function among all the services is record keeping.

Are umbrella schools a homeschooling requirement?

No, although the church school requirement in Alabama[1] comes close.  Umbrella schools are a service available to homeschooling parents.  Fees, the services from the school, and the requirements of the families vary among the providers.

Umbrella schools are useful if you live in a state with cumbersome requirements although Pennsylvania takes exception to the practice.[2]

How do umbrella schools work?

Some schools provide books and workbooks; others let the family choose what to use for the children’s learning.  Usually the family provides agreed upon information so the school can construct records for the children:  hours of study/schoolwork, subjects, and perhaps evaluations.

Umbrella schools can also be a way of coping with a teen’s high school records for those of us who, in Cafi Cohen’s words, “. . . say, ‘I would rather walk ten miles in a snowstorm than write a transcript,’ and happily delegate the paperwork.”[3]

[1] The Code of Alabama 1975, Title 16, Chapter 28 School Attendance

See:  Definitions

[2] Pennsylvania legal attitude towards umbrella schools

[3] “Independent Study/Umbrella Schools.” Cafi Cohen’s Homeschool Teens and College

Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling for continuity

Homeschooling for continuity

During a servicemember’s career, transfers between duty stations interfere in the schooling of his or her children if they are enrolled in public or private schools.  With home education, the children’s schooling is usually upset less by PCSes.  Although the total learning environment of homeschooled children changes after a PCS, just as it does for children enrolled in schools – the house is different, local ‘attractions’ change, the children are the new kids on the block – homeschooled children can pick up their studies more quickly than their schooled neighbors by continuing with their familiar books and methods of instruction.

‘Supporting children,’ in contrast to ‘Get used to it’

In the contexts of PCSing and schooling, military parents thinking about homeschooling may want to consider the different effects of continuing with the lessons the children already started, compared to the value of overcoming adversity.  Is it more important for children to have a stable learning continuum, or is the adjustment to a new learning environment the more part of coping with change?

Among the many outlooks that parents hold while their children are growing up may be either the choice of working to limit the stress of negative experiences, or the viewpoint that coddling children is counter-productive.  Some parents may work to minimize the ‘nails in the fence’[1] of childhood, while others believe that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’

Years ago, I was in a passing-the-time kind of conversation that illustrates the difference of opinion.  When my children were infants and I changed their diapers on cold days, I’d sandwich a wet diaper wipe between my hands for a few moments to try to take away some of the room-temperature wet-chill before laying the wipe on the skin that was so recently damply warm under layers of diaper.  To me it was a kindness because I would not have enjoyed regular chillings.  Do unto others, and all that, although I did not formally state that during the mom-talk.  In the normal give and take of conversations, one of the other mothers replied, “I just slapped on the wipe.  Life’s tough, kid.  Get used to it.”  The mother was a nurse.  Her comment made me glad she had never been my nurse.

Military children and school adjustment

Children who move from school to school have the senior level ‘life’s tough’ lesson included in their unofficial course of study.  This applies whether the children’s parents are military, corporate, or just stricken with wanderlust.  Change is change regardless of why the change happens.

When I was in seventh grade, my Air Force dad transferred overseas, and the family went with him. My science class changed from featuring astronomy to a science class about vitamins.  Both subjects include interesting names – Betelgeuse and beri beri – but they hardly have much in common, other than both apparently being suitable for teaching to seventh graders.  I had to try to play catch-up in order to write a report on vitamins that the teacher had assigned to my new class.  Although the report was not a major trauma, maybe I earned a C on it?, the process did leave a recognizable memory with no warm or fuzzy overtones.  Time passed, I didn’t agonize about the report, about school, or about moving, but the experience roughly repeated itself three years later.  That time, my dad PCSed back to the States, and in my move from school to school, I found that writers of high school geometry texts did not all write the same way.  I went from a class using a book that had not yet presented theorems, to dropping into the middle a class whose students could already prove them.  I was lost. The rest of that year seemed to take longer than usual for me, and probably also for my geometry teacher.

The sum total of the geometry knowledge that stuck with me after the final exam is that, a triangle of three dots means “therefore,” and that A2 + B2 = C2.  The other important thing I learned from the vitamin episode is how to spell ‘pellagra.’  In personal comparative terms, geometry and vitamins are to PCSes, as dragons, and rain dripping off hoods, are to Bilbo, ponies and dwarves.

The Executive Summary of the 2001 Survey of Army Families IV[2] shows that these kinds of experiences still affect contemporary military children.

Q95. Spouses with high school-aged children who accompanied them on PCS moves reported their child(ren) experienced the following problems because of changing schools:

– Difficulty making social adjustments (make new friends, etc.) in the new school (44.0%)

– Timing of move had a negative effect on participation in school-sponsored activities  (29.1%)

– Fell behind in coursework because of moving (28.7%)

– Felt under-challenged because of quality of education at the new school (27.1%)

– Lost credit (no credit given) for a course completed (24.9%)

– Felt over-challenged because of quality of education at new school (17.1%)

– Lost credit because the course was not offered at the new school (and thus could not be completed) (15.1%)

This survey results show that, for some people, the effect of the ‘life’s tough, get used to it’ strategy can be setbacks that have a real effect other than just learning to cope.  Staying strong in the face of life’s problems can be admirable, but bouts of involuntary ‘catch up’ every two or three years can be trials for young people.

How does homeschooling smooth children’s paths?

Homeschooling is not a cure-all for the difficulties of PCSing with children.  The new kid situation attaches itself to a newcomer without regard to where, or even whether, you attend a group school, and homesickness may rise to the intensity of grief. Fitting in to a new community might go more smoothly if the new kid is not juggling neighborhood and school together, which might be why military parents often like moving over the summer.

For homeschooling families the benefits of homeschooling in relation to PCSing could be:

  • a flexible schedule for stopping or starting lessons so that the PCS interruption is not in the middle of a complicated piece of learning
  • less rush during travel in the hope of keeping ‘lost school days’ to a minimum
  • making the travel a part of the children’s studies with planned stops along the way (if Mom can get Dad to allow his foot to push on the brake pedal during the cross-country dash)
  • after they arrive at their new home, the children can keep learning the subjects ‘already in progress’ without the worry of missing an important part of the process
  • the children will keep learning using the methods and outlooks with which they are already familiar*

* Some education authorities are not in favor of homeschooling because of the lack they see in the variety of teachers and materials[3].  Even though learning about subjects from different viewpoints can broaden the mind, the time for changing viewpoints to show different perspectives is not in the middle of learning the first viewpoint.  I understand that the experts who object to homeschooling do not use moving from place to place as the way to provide the changes-in-viewpoint, but for military families the changes caused by moving are just part of the scenery that rolls by as one transfer succeeds another.  What can be helpful for some military children is more continuity in schooling to make up for the gaps caused by a nomadic type of life.

New cultures, new customs and new people broaden the minds of military children as they accompany their parents to various assignments, but children can miss important steps in learning if the family is dependent on schools with differing teaching schedules.  Homeschooling can minimize the gaps in learning caused by the differences in lesson schedules among the various school systems around the country and around the world.[4]

[1] “Nails in the fence” fable about anger, which can also apply to other psychic scars

[2] Page 31, Survey of Army Families IV,

[3] “Through the Lens of Homeschooling:  A Response to Michael Apple and Rob Reich,” 2004, Nicky Hardenbergh

1st footnote:  Rob Reich’s article entitled “The Civic Perils of Homeschooling” (2002) contains his assertion that:  Customizing education may permit schooling to be tailored for each individual student, but total customization also threatens to insulate students from exposure to diverse ideas and people and thereby to shield them from the vibrancy of a pluralistic democracy. These risks are perhaps greatest for homeschoolers (p. 56)

[4] Identities Blur for ‘Third-Culture Kids,’ 9 May 2001, Darcia Harris Bowman, Education Week

“Ms. Carmine said one teacher was concerned about Kent’s math skills, for example, because he was unfamiliar with feet, inches, and pounds. Kent had been taught the metric system.”

Copyright 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling styles and methods: Montessori schooling

Montessori education 

Maria Montessori was an Italian teacher who started work as a medical doctor and then changed to childhood learning after studying psychology and philosophy.  She worked from the early 1900s almost until her death in 1952. Dr. Montessori’s schooling style focuses on children working at learning in a prepared setting, and using small tools and materials that fit a child’s size.

Montessori homeschooling is not a specific curriculum sold to parents.  The Association Montessori Intenationale[i] grants teaching credentials for Infancy, Primary or Elementary level training, and those teachers work in Montessori schools.   Parents, though, can learn about the work and philosophy of Maria Montessori and use this information at home.

[i] Association Montessori Intenationale



International Montessori Society:  What is Montessori?

Montessori homeschooling

Home Ed Montessori Homeschooling


Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling styles and methods: eclectic homeschooling

What is eclectic homeschooling?

As early as the 1980s, homeschool writers applied the term ‘eclectic’ to a style of homeschooling that is non-specific in terms of sticking to the ideas of a particular style of schooling.  Parents who homeschool eclectically may pick the parts they like best from schooling models such as:

  • the replication of mainstream school in the home
  • Holt’s unschooling
  • Montessori’s real work for small children
  • Steiner’s spirituality
  • Mason’s emphatically twaddle-free regimen


How does eclectic homeschooling differ from other specific styles of homeschooling?

The chief marker of eclectic homeschooling is the lack of a single method for schooling children.  Instead of tailoring their days according to someone else’s prepared plan, parents select methods that fit the child, the moment, and the material.  Part of this ‘freedom to choose’ is common sense.  For example, few people try to teach non-bike riders to ride bicycles by having them read about the physics of balance and inertia, friction and momentum.[1]  We just get behind the kid and push.  Just as eclectic homeschoolers may use parts of other homeschooling methods, we all vary our approaches to learning different skills.


What are the benefits of eclectic homeschooling?

Perhaps the best part of eclectic homeschooling may be less stress than with boxed programs.  Parents who use a packaged curriculum may find that while one part of the package works well for their children, another part may be a round hole into which they try to pound their children’s square, rectangular or triangular learning pegs.  When this happens, neither children nor parents are often happy.

The same situation might crop up if a parent feels a connection with the philosophy of an educational visionary, but the child does not.  A highly organized mother with a more … go-with-the-flow … child might feel stressed when they are unable to make it through a full day using the mother’s highly organized series of lessons from the curriculum that works so well for those decades-worth of satisfied parents (according to the advertisements).  Conversely, a highly organized child turned loose in the garden with the instruction to glory in nature and become one with the butterflies could very well stomp back into the house and demand worksheets she can complete and then file in a notebook. 


What are the drawbacks of eclectic homeschooling?

Perhaps the most common drawback of eclectic homeschooling is anxiety.  Parents may feel a lack of reassurance about this non-specific path’s destination, a destination that hides behind the event-horizon of the future, and behind the glare of the rising sun.  Who knows what the new day will bring?  Who knows where this road will lead?  

Our society’s schools come with projected outcomes, and this is the accepted state of things.  Students (a label that is the kids’ job title) study programs assembled by experts and those programs include X, Y and Z.  When the students graduate, they receive diplomas indicating (although never guaranteeing) that they are competent concerning X, Y and Z. 

Unfortunately, for the homeschooling parents who were probably organizationally schooled themselves and thus have a learning model already in place, the path macheted out of the jungle of homeschool advertising, and illuminated only by the light of learning as filtered through the leaves of the syllabus-trees, have no such implied … indications … of competence.  Will that final step along the homeschooling path bring the learner to the gates of a shining city of educational attainment with a fanfare, or, as the critics contend, will the rocks of unaccreditation, strewn by her amateur parents through their choices of books with hokey history, marginal math, spurious science, and wrotten writing, send the innocent child spiraling off the cliffs of ignorance into the roiling sea of unemployment?  As the child goes off into the world, will the parent be praised or prosecuted?

It was enough to keep me awake at night.

Another parental anxiety is the welfare of the children.  More than one parent has asked, in essence, “what if I break my kids?” as if the parents would go wild with power and purposefully teach their children untruths just because they can with the children not knowing any better.  I have read comments from mothers saying, “I like a strict program.  It keeps me accountable.”  I always wonder how these parents nurtured their children through infancy and toddlerhood without “accountability.”

‘Breaking’ kids is unlikely even if you invent a world, populate it with beings whose discovery CNN or Fox News have not yet presented for 23 of the past 24 hours, write its history yourself, and invent languages for it all.  Consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  Children whose parents imbued them with such a mythical upbringing would not make that journey without learning something, but who is likely to do that, even given total power over their children?

A perceived drawback to the eclectic style of homeschooling is the time seen to be lost through the piecemeal choosing of materials and strategies. Some parents feel that taking the time to find the right ‘fit’ wastes time, and that buying an established schooling program presents the least ‘danger’ to their child’s future. But using materials you later discard might be a form of refinement.  Instead of limiting your view to one outlook (adhering to a specific method), or cluttering the forest with too many trees (trying to get it all in), you might be pruning deadwood that restricts your view, and become more aware of why you need to prune. 

Determining what you do not want is as useful as determining what you do, and parents may find that they homeschool themselves in the process of the journey of homeschooling their kids.



Eclectic homeschooling is yet another of the choices available to parents as they work to raise their children well.  To me, this style of homeschooling provides the most flexibility for both parents and children and almost seems to be the foundation that we hope education was meant to be.


[1] How you steer a bicycle


Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.