The two primary methods are referred to as scholastic and classical. The scholastic (meaning “of the schools” but also refers to the philosophical school represented by St. Thomas Aquinas) method is that which was used in the Catholic school system prior to the educational changes during the cultural revolution of the 1960’s, and is the method most people are already familiar with. This is the method that would best describe the first three home study schools, OLVS, Seton, and OLRS.
Recognizing the validity of St. Thomas’s epistemology, a scholastic curriculum seeks to present a student with prepared information from which the student might most easily abstract universal principles. As such, this method focuses, not on first sources, but on textbooks that present information in a suitable manner. Philosophically, while recognizing that education ultimately depends on the student’s ability to abstract information, the difference between discovery and instruction is the role of a teacher who can arrange the material placed before the student in such a way as to make it more easy for the student to recognize the connections and comprehend how all the information fits together.
Classical education can also be very structured, but generally does not depend as heavily on textbooks, rather preferring to examine first source material. One of the defining features of classical education is its focus on the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. Hence, in many ways, this method differs from the scholastic method in subject matter more than method of instruction. Classical education places a great importance on memorization and the study of languages, particularly Latin and Greek. As far as subjects are concerned, the classical method revolves around the seven liberal arts consisting of the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and the Quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy). Classical education was also present in private schools and the early public schools, and has returned to favor again and again throughout the course of Western history, especially in the Ratio Studiorum of the Jesuits.
This method grew in popularity in the Catholic Homeschooling Movement particularly in the mid 90’s. Kolbe Academy, a Catholic day school focused on classical education, and opened a home school branch in 1993. Mrs. Laura Berquist wrote the book Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum in 1994 which led to the formation of Mother of Divine Grace School-also with a classical focus. It should be noted, however, that MODG has a slightly different notion of the Classical Method, not having the same focus on ancient cultures or even strict adherence to the 7 classical liberal arts that one would expect to find in a purely Classical program.
Unit Studies is a method whereby students adopt a thematic focus and all instruction follows that given focus. The theme then changes after an indeterminate amount of time. If, for instance, the theme was elephants, the student might study the geography of the countries that have elephants, the biology of elephants, the manner in which elephants had been used in ancient warfare, etc.
Charlotte Mason is a method that focuses on learning from life experience. Unlike some other methods, there is no real concept of a unified curriculum with Charlotte Mason. Instead, the focus is placed on “Living Books” which the student is supposed to engage in a more active manner than is possible with a textbook. Nature journaling, narration, and engaging the surrounding environment are all important components of this method.
Maria Montessori, was an Italian educator who did remarkable work improving the condition of children from poor working class families. Although sometimes applied to primary and secondary levels, her method is almost exclusively used for the pre-school ages, and hence could be used as a prelude to another method. It revolves around the use of toy-like educational materials that must be used in a specific manner and order, but the student is never forced to use a particular material or to use a material at all.
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