Does method matter? Traditional vs. non-traditional (MI theory, Reggio Emilia, Project method, etc.)

In this final part of the series, Does Method Matter? we continue to examine the educational philosophies that govern the world’s best schools (private or public). So “why does the educational method or philosophy matter”? Philosophy comes from the Latin word philosophia which means “to love wisdom”; philosophy is the explanation for the cause of things; the body of wisdom, laws or principles which govern any phenomena in any department of knowledge.

A school’s philosophy of education is very important for the parent to study and understand, for the philosophy of education—the internal, the source, the reason, the cause—governs the effect or what is produced in the classroom, in the curriculum, in the programs, within the individual student! Any parent concerned about his child’s education, should always seek to understand the internal body of wisdom that governs a school’s policies, decisions, and methods for doing things and be certain he is in agreement with it. Every parent should seek to know what seeds are being planted and watered daily within the heart and mind of his child.– Stonebridge School welcome statement

In this issue, we compare and contrast the Traditional (Textbook) Method vs. Non-Traditional Methods. We also look at the past decade’s radical learning theories such as Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and how they have impacted educational practices. Please check in a few days, the Online Resource Guide which is being updated by Kat Combs with all new info and resources related to this series.

Traditional schooling places an undue emphasis on the logical/mathematical and linguistic intelligences, often neglecting other kinds of skills and abilities. IQ testing was developed early this century (attributed to Benet), to predict the scholastic success of children. It was devised in a school system that relied primarily on the logical and linguistic intelligences. But it discounted those who succeed in life without the sole use of these intelligences such as artists (whose skills were spatial and kinaesthetic) or entrepreneurs (for whom success depended on their interpersonal skills).
On the other hand, homeschooling educators have always argued that schooling methods and materials that incorporated the Four Modalities: Auditory, Visual, Tactual, Kinesthetic were superior. Most of these advocated non-traditional methods such as the use of thematic/unit study approaches.

A number of brain-based theories in the past decade have taken the four modalities further. Two notable theories that have redefined what constitutes effective learning and that help us understand the value of non-traditional methods are Multiple Intelligences and 4MAT model of learning:


The theory of Multiple Intelligences was researched, developed, and published in the eighties by a team of researchers at Harvard University, led by Dr. Howard Gardner. Dr Gardner for many years conducted two streams of research on cognitive and symbol-using capacities–one with normal and gifted children, the second with adults who suffered from brain damage. His effort to synthesize these two lines of work led him to develop and introduce the theory of multiple intelligences in his 1983 book “Frames of Mind.”

In scientific terms, the theory is recognized as “intellectual windows for acquiring knowledge” – which means learning styles in layman’s terms and “intellectual domains for application of knowledge” – applied knowledge or wisdom in layman’s terms. Gardner’s studies in cognitive science, developmental psychology and neuroscience suggest that each person’s level of intelligence is actually made up of multiple individual faculties (hence multiple intelligences) that can work individually or in concert with other faculties. The MI theory recognises that people can own several intelligences:

1.Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence: language-related/abstract reasoning ability.

2. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: scientific (deductive/inductive thinking, analysis, numbers, recognition of abstract patterns thinking and puzzle and problem solving ability) thinking

3. Intrapersonal Intelligence: (self-knowledge, feelings, emotional, intuitive, spiritual skills)

4. Interpersonal Intelligence (Ability to work cooperatively in a group as well as the ability to communicate, verbally and non-verbally with other people)

5. Visual/Spatial Intelligence(Gifted at illustrating or conceptualizing mental images especially in the visual arts, navigation, map-making, architecture and interior design fields)

6. Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence

7. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence: Ability to use the body to express emotion as in dance, body language, and sports. The ability to learn by doing.

8. Naturalist Intelligence: Ability to recognize plants, animals, and other parts of the natural environment, like clouds or rocks.

9. Existential Intelligence:??

(Intelligences 8 and 9 were added later, with 9 still being hotly debated)

The value of MI theory is in how it provides eight different potential pathways to learning. If a student appears to have difficulties grasping information/ knowledge/skills presented in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning. The homeschool teacher might want to try to connect the subject-matter with “words (linguistic intelligence), numbers or logic (logical-mathematical intelligence), pictures (spatial intelligence), music (musical intelligence), self-reflection (intrapersonal intelligence), a physical experience (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence), a social experience (interpersonal intelligence), and/or an experience in the natural world. (naturalist intelligence)”. (See Thomas Armstrong’s article “Multiple Intelligences: Seven Ways to Approach Curriculum” )

I HIGHLY recommend for your reading two of Howard Gardner’s NEWEST books Intelligence Reframed : Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century (ISBN: 0465026109 (pub. Nov 1, 1999))and The Disciplined Mind : What All Students Should Understand (ISBN: 0684843242)

— In the former, Gardner elaborates on the MI theory, and its applications in scholastic settings as well as in the wider world. He debunks the standard notion of intelligence currently equated with a specific type of measurable scholastic performance as being too narrow, explores the relationships among intelligence, creativity, and leadership and ruminates on the provocative question “who owns intelligence”. He considers the possibility of the existence of (non-IQ) “new candidate intelligences”: naturalist, spiritual, existential, and moral. His ideal educational plan is restated emphasizing the need to achieve a deep understanding of key subjects following from a variety of instructional approaches.

— In the latter book, Gardner locks horns with existing ideals of education. He shies away from constraining lists of “core knowledge” and challenges E.D. Hirsch’s notions of “cultural literacy,” and comes up with his own formulation of the “ideal education”. Gardner claims convincingly that any curriculum that races from “Plato to NATO” merely stuffs students with facts they will rapidly forget. What is needed is an “education of understanding,” that not only encourages students to “determine what is worth knowing” amidst the barrage of information available in this information age, but also enables them to apply their understanding to new situations. Toward that end, Gardner proposes a new K12 curriculum, grounded in the traditional disciplines and based on just three areas of study (about the “deepest questions about the world”) : evolution, to illustrate the concept of truth; the works of Mozart, to illustrate beauty; and the Holocaust, to illustrate morality and the depths of evil.

In these two books Gardner shifts from the scientific plane of his earliest book Frames of Mind to a philosophical one. Gardner believes that the ideal education must be able to address the key questions of life, which according to Gardner, are: What is Truth? What is Beauty? What is Goodness? The answers thereto are “Truth” equated with scientific knowledge, “Beauty” with creative efforts of humankind, and “Good” with morality (recognized only as the contrast to evil). In Gardner’s view the study of the “disciplines serve as points of entry” for answering these questions. More details at

If Gardner has his way…IQ tests, SATs tests will become a relic of the past.

The theory’s educational applications have had far reaching impact on teaching styles in classroom lessons as well as the creation of whole new schools called “Multiple Intelligences Schools” (for examples of such schools see

The Reggio Emilia schools in Italy, one of the best schools in the world, are a good example of MI at work in education. Reggio approach is radical in that it follows the children’s interests, rather than a set curriculum of academic goals. The children learn principles of science, math and language through hands-on projects directly related to those interests. There are no teacher’s manuals and the teachers have complete autonomy to plan a curriculum usually characterized by real-life problem-solving among peers, with numerous opportunities for creative thinking and exploration. Teachers often work on projects with small groups of children, while the rest the class engages in a wide variety of self-selected activities typical of preschool classrooms. The project ideas derive directly from teacher observations of children’s spontaneous play and exploration or out of an academic curiosity or social concern on the part of teachers or parents. Reggio children are given access to diverse materials — in addition to the more common paint, watercolors and clay they also use wire, wood, sequins, feathers, cans, corks, fabric, shells, pine cones, etc. Reggio teachers believe that children have many languages (intelligences?) besides words, and that these languages can be expressed through visual representations in many media.

For more information on the Reggio Emilia Approach read these articles:

– “Environments that Inspire” by Susan Friedman at (type title into search function box to retrieve article)

– “Different Media, Different Languages” by George Forman

– “Reggio Emilia : Some Lessons For US Educators”

Another valuable theory on what constitutes effective learning is the 4MAT System. This theory attempts to describe the processes and whole range of the learning experience. The 4MAT theory offers a cyclical model of teaching that reflects the differences in the ways people learn. It explores the process of learning itself – how we encounter, perceive and absorb information; how radically different our methods can be; and how those differences affect the ways we deal with one another.It postulates that all learners engage in one or more of 4 types of learning, most: Imaginative Learning (Feeling and watching, seeking connections, meaning)/Analytic Learning (seeking facts, thinking through ideas, formulating ideas)/ Common Sense Learning (Thinking and doing, experimenting, building, tinkering, applying ideas)/ Dynamic Learning (doing and feeling, seeking hidden possibilities, exploring, learning by trial and error, self-discovery, creating original adaptations.) The 4MAT model entails the use of right and left-brain strategies within four distinct phases of the learning cycle. The theory has had an impact on education, management, problem solving and communication.



The most commonly used method in formal school institutions, its ultimate goal is the learning of factual information and knowledge. Textbooks (a package of lessons with facts and information to be taught) are produced for different subjects and grade levels. The curriculum is a highly structured one following a scope and sequence (prescribed objectives and goals) that spans a full academic year. Tests and record keeping are an inseparable part of this approach. The student learns his lessons, is given assignments and is tested in the Workbooks.

Pros of the Traditional Approach:

— It is an efficient method for the teacher, well-organised and laid out; Many text suppliers also come with optional correspondence school support and services such as (grading, testing and recordkeeping) which can make homeschooling a very reliable undertaking;

–Workbooks allow for independent study and minimal teacher preparation and supervision;

— It is a coherent approach allowing for progressive monitoring of the student (through testing and grading); it has definite milestones of academic ahievement for the student;

— It provides the homeschooler a sense of security in that the teacher knows the sum of all information that the student needs to know, that there are no “gaps” in the student’s knowledge as opposed to some other methods such as the thematic /unit approaches.

— There is a well-ordered hierarchy of knowledge, and according to Lisa Van Damme “The Hierarchy of Knowledge, the most neglected issue in Education” (see also An Interview with Lisa Van Damme, the maintenance of traditional studies under this traditional hierarchy when combined with Ayn Rand’s ideas of Objectivism: i.e. Reason—the faculty that operates by means of observation, concepts, and logic— is how you have is a sound education. Van Damme also says that abstract ideas or concepts such as in higher science or difficult literature shouldn’t be introduced unless built upon what students already know. (see Van Damme’s How to Teach Your Child: A Necessary Order to Knowledge part 2 | 3 | 4 )

Cons of the Traditional Approach:

— Textbooks are “second hand” interactions with distilled information. This can be significant especially regarding textbook biases in the area of study of subjects like history and geography (as illustrated by the famous debate surrounding the errors of Japanese history textbooks regarding WWII);

— Since the school institution has its origins in the Prussian model of education, a model which has as its premise that a child’s mind is a passive receptacle to be filled with concrete facts. We know now from many studies about how a child learns that this premise is a faulty one.

Traditional textbooks are geared to the average child. They do not take into account the individual learner’s interests or strengths and weaknesses. They do not feed facts and information to a child in a way that children learn (either developmentally inappropriate or not delivered according to student’s learning styles). The approach is not conducive to producing a motivated lifelong independent learner.

— The emphasis of the textbook approach is usually on drill and testing. Mastery of the subject is falsely equated with the results shown upon testing and examinations. The focus is on transmitting information, not on applied knowledge. The method has a tendency towards high “burn-out” rate in children;

— Most traditional public school texts teach the facts in various subjects without any attempt to integrate the disciplines or to show their students how the factual data related to other knowledge… this discourages independent learning and creative and critical thinkers.

What does a steady diet of random facts do to the ability to think? It cripples the mind. If all a child gets is factual content without understanding how it goes together, he will inevitably develop a method of thinking that is concrete-bound. He will learn that events are isolated from each other, that each is an end in itself, that knowledge doesn’t come together into a comprehensive whole, that he is incapable of making sense of the world—that he can’t depend on his mind. Since thinking is understanding how things interrelate, a concrete-bound mentality cannot think on an abstract level. He can’t independently choose to pursue his life, he must be told what to do, or copy what someone else has done. He becomes a follower, ready and willing to be led by whatever authority crows the loudest.

This is the type of mentality fostered in the government school system today—the grooming of an obedient citizenry who beg to be ruled.

– The Objective Approach by Gail Withrow (see an Interview with Gail Withrow; Unschooling or Homeschooling? and (the link to her website is currently broken)

— Seatwork can be difficult for kinaesthetic learners, especially active boys. Texts may be too boring to capture the attention of visual learners.

— The method is less conducive to teaching multiple children in the home environment, and is expensive too.

These criticisms notwithstanding, unless you have an aversion to textbooks in general, sometimes the only way some of us can even conceive of homeschooling several children and getting the housework done at the same time is to use packaged textbook curricula. It is efficiently organised, workbooks allow our children to study independently.

Textbook learning can be paced in the homeschool and the institutional feel can be softened in the home environment as long as the parent does not try to reproduce “school” to the T in the homeschool. Since homeschooling is a one-on-one tutorial method, parents who provide close supervision would know if their child wasn’t understanding the material presented. However, to obtain the optimum benefit out of traditional prepackaged curriculum, parents should increase supervision, or at the least, discuss with children the things they’re learning. Or have them write about what they’ve learned as a way to seal the facts and knowledge in their minds. Read Steve Moitozo’s article to see how you can use “Textbooks as Tools” at

Many homeschool publishers have been progressive and are taking into account the various account learning styles. Overall, math programs have been the most innovative with the introduction of manipulatives, in other fields textbooks have become more visually attractive, some curricula supplement with videos. A very few homeschool curriculum publishers have taken great pains to integrate the subjects/disciplines.

It used to be that all schooling materials fell neatly into two categories: Traditional Textbook Curricula and Non-Textbook Curricula. This is no longer the case. There are now text/curriculum guides that combine with the unit/thematic approach to overcome the limitations of the traditional approach.

It is hard to find a perfect curriculum supplier that is consistently outstanding across the different subject fields. There are many outstanding texts in specific fields since real experts tend to be specialists in a particular field. I personally prefer an eclectic approach that puts together the best of different programs. (For the best picks of textbooks in a particular subject, see reviews and recommended individual texts in the individual subject fields of my Resource Guide at


include unit/thematic studies ; Great Books Studies ; Historical or Time-chronological (including Classical Approaches); the Carden Method ; Delight-led/Unschooling Approaches; the Principle Approach.

Homeschooling parents have always been innovative. They want the security and coherence of a traditional textbook curriculum but also all the fun and motivational aspects of learning for their kids. Homeschool teachers used to spend time and effort juggling both kinds of materials together in their homeschool. As a result today, there is an emerging supply of homeschooling resources that are a combination of the two categories of curricula.

This method involves the study of a chosen theme or topic (ie. unit of study) at a time and picking up all manner of factoids, information about it within a chosen frame of time. The study has no real boundaries and easily integrates language arts, science, math, social studies and fine arts. For the unit study purist, instead of studying separate subjects, the student studies only one at a time and all subjects are blended together. A modified approach is where parents teach math, reading and writing separately with texts and then use thematic units for everything else. True Unit Study Approach calls for the total immersion of the student into a specific topic. Studies on a topic typically last 6-7 weeks or even beyond.

A unit study on oceans for example, could involve reading classics like Moby Dick or Old Man of the Sea, interesting Dorling Kindersley visual guides on Oceans and Sea Animals, research a project on aerodynamics of/seaworthiness of ocean-going vessels, writing an essay about the impact of the sea on coastlines, or an excursion to a maritime museum or aquarium. The depths of information to be plumbed are virtually limitless and the studies can take different a direction from that originally planned, thus making for exciting study. There is usually a very “hands-on” real-life feel to all the learning that takes place.

The real value of the hands-on, project-oriented approach lies not just in the facility of integrating the various disciplines but also in taking account of the different learning styles of individual children.The child learns by actually experiencing or discovering through different methods and activities, rather than just reading a chapter from a textbook. Studies show that children using unit study methods retain 45% more than those using a traditional approach. Thematic studies are usually employed as enrichment courses in schools, especially with gifted child programs. (Note: There are slight distinctions between the Project Approach and Thematic /Unit Approach) See The Project Approach website at URL:

CAVEAT EMPTOR — BUYER BEWARE! First of all, the search for a suitable unit study resource can be a time-consuming one. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Unit curricula are hard to evaluate without buying and examining. They are nearly expensive. And while implementing activity-oriented curricula may have learning benefits for the student, they really are for the most energetic of parents. But undeniably they are FUN for our kids, they get to eat, make a mess of the house and to go places. The teacher gets incredibly tired out and can’t remember what day of the week it is!

I love the ideal of units and have purchased several unit-style programs (used). But along the way I found I neither had the energy nor the predisposition to do the plethora of activities suggested. With the first preschool unit…I did not appreciate being told to make jello on Monday, mold cookies in the shape of letter C on Tuesday read a book whose title began with C, etc. Using Montessori methods, my son learned in a few minutes of purposeful play what was supposed to have been learned in several weeks of the program’s proposed activities.

Activity-oriented guides can also be simplistic, and often the goals and objectives may not have been too well thought out so that the program accomplishes very little. The second preschool program I surveyed was much better in that it was obviously very comprehensive in covering all subjects and listed many useful projects, ideas, even poetry excerpts.That however was my downfall… many of the books on the booklists were outdated and the lengthy booklist was not much use since I do not have any access to (English) libraries where I live. I also tried out Konos a popular and PRICEY program upon which many kids have been homeschooled successfully and happily all the way to college. But I found I did not like having to look up each proposed activity’s goals and objectives in a separate book called the Compass. With a lot of activity-oriented curricula, you have to trust the author’s predetermined set of objectives and selection of learning activities. Preparation time gathering materials can take hours, I could not see myself completing any one day’s worth of lesson plans.

In my forage through various materials, I did find activity guides based on the multiple intelligences theory to be extremely valuable. For example, the Fundamentals preschool program works like this: a teacher’s guidebook teaches what to fish(ie teach), how to fish, and why you fish using which method (multiple intelligence theory at work explained). And then the tools to fish are given — activity cards (containing project ideas/teaching tips) arranged in order of the skills they were meant to teach such as sensory motor skills, vocabulary, reading, writing, math, nature & science, thinking, music, creativity, etc, and within those divisions cards were arranged according to the child’s developmentally appropriate stages (approximate ages given). Thomas Armstrong’s article “Multiple Intelligences: Seven Ways to Approach Curriculum” provides more ideas on this.

My experience notwithstanding…what will work for anyone is to add depth and dynamism to any chosen curriculum with unit ideas on any topic that our children show an interest in, or for illustrative purposes by a quick search on one or two of the best Internet unit study resources websites. This I have found to be less time-consuming and heavy on the pockets! Otherwise, a complete units resourcebook like The Super Yearbook might be useful to have in your library.

Pros of Unit studies:

— The studies generate the child’s curiosity and interest, consequently encouraging depth of study, generates independent thinking;

— Knowledge is interrelated across subjects/disciplines so that the child gets the bigger picture;

— Truly efficient method for the home educator who is teaching more then one child. A parent teaching four children each seven different subjects using textbooks and workbooks – that translates to twenty eight subjects to manage, prepare and teach? Not impossible, but certainly a daunting task embarked upon only by the most dedicated of homeschooling parents. With unit studies, the different subjects can all be taught together to all ages, with younger ones learning from older ones. All children can go on field trips together, many projects can be done together, writing assignments vocabulary words will be about the same topic, just on different levels

— Self-paced so burnout is unlikely, each child studies the topic at his level.

— Unit studies work well for all types of children with differinglearning styles. Most unit studies give several options to learn about a topic.


— Planning is necessary so that there are no educational gaps with regards to future college entrance exams. Not all subjects can be naturally integrated all of the time. Some skills or knowledge may be neglected to be taught;

— Hard to assess the level of learning occurring with informal activities; apart from single theme units, unit study guides can be cumbersome to use;

— Prepared unit study curricula are pricey;

— D-I-Y units/themes require a great deal of planning and preparation gathering materials and resources, although the Internet is now a great resource. The method requires an energetic homeschooling parent: too many activities or projects may not “burn out” the kids, but it sure will burn out the parent!

— Critics suggest that unit studies should be used as optional topics supplemental to a more in-depth study of the traditional disciplines and not as the primary method of teaching. “Units focus on separate entities, not on developing the mental tools or skills which apply to learning about all things (i.e., the traditional disciplines). A child who learns about the world in unit form will implicitly learn that every “thing” is separate; that knowledge is an assortment of facts about each individual concrete thing; that knowledge is not an integrated whole, but a slew of facts about disconnected things.” Used exclusively as the primary method of teaching, then concrete-bound thinking will be the likely result – says Gail Withrow, proponent of Objective Method of homeschooling (her website is at URL:


These approaches are related in that they either share the same goals or the same medium by which they achieve their differing educational goals.

The Goal of a Common Cultural Understanding:

Cultural Literacy/Core Knowledge as a Goal: E.D. Hirsch believed that if people are to effectively participate and succeed in the economic, political, social, and cultural life of America, they must be familiar with America’s “cultural legacy.” In the pursuit of academic excellence and higher literacy, Hirsch deemed that a solid, specific, shared core knowledge curriculum was needed in elementary and middle schools in order to help children establish strong foundations of knowledge, grade by grade. Consequently, he developed the Core Knowledge curriculum on the premise that there is a determinable body of lasting and essential knowledge (key historical events, the significant persons, movements, groups and ideas that have shaped the culture) that should form the core of a Preschool-Grade 8 curriculum. The curriculum comprises Hirsch’s Core Knowledge series of books “What Every [First Grader/Second Grader, etc] Needs To Know containing from the basic principles of constitutional government, important events of world history, essential elements of mathematics and of oral and written expression, widely acknowledged masterpieces of art and music, excerpts, lists of books, to stories and poems passed down from generation to generation, etc. (For more details see the Core Knowledge website (You can download the CK sequence here).

A most popular reference and sourcebook for parents for this approach is E.D. Hirsch, Jr.,’s bestselling work, “Cultural Literacy” (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1987). Classical/Historical/World View Approaches (in contrast to Hirsch’s cultural literacy view), seek the liberation of students’ minds from the cultural biases and thinking of their generation. Classical schools such as Calvert School emphasise the study of classical periods in Western Civilization, and important ideas and events from other traditions with the view that children can be interested and should be interested in their place in time and space. Science, music, and art are “taught to open the child’s eyes to the worlds without and the world within and to enlarge his view of his environment”. See

The Importance of History Studies In Forming A Worldview:

According to classical educator Wes Callihan, the goal of a classical liberal arts education is to enable the student:

• to comprehend his position in space, time, and culture and his relation to other places, times, and people;

• to appreciate and learn from the difference between his own and those other places, times, and people;

• to construct and defend a coherent, biblical worldview as a result of his education.

Wes Callihan said that one absolutely critical role of classical education is teaching a student the relevance of the past: “And knowing oneself also depends on knowing history–where we came from and why we are who we are. The twentieth century has decided that the past is irrelevant, and in an excess of mind-boggling arrogance it considers our age to be the definition of reality, truth, and value.But if we teach them that our age is just one in a long series of ages, that our culture will pass and another succeed it, that ours is not intrinsically more right about what it believes or valuable in what it has produced than any other, they will be far better equipped to learn the lessons of the past.

– Wes Callihan, Preparing Younger Children For A Great Books Education by Wes Callihan (Callihan a former Classical Literature educator at secondary and university institutions, co-author of “Classical Education & the Home School” and currently the sole tutor of the Schola Classical Tutorials given over the Internet)

Sonlight Curriculum suppliers, for example, while stating that they place a premium upon cultural literacy, advocate that “children must be made aware of these books and their content so that they have a foundational base of knowledge and, more importantly, so that they will be prepared to RESPOND TO THESE CULTURAL INFLUENCES” and become “world-changers: people who will make a difference—for good—within their culture”.

David Quine author of the award-winning high school curriculum “World Views of the Western World” believes: Because ideas have consequences, the major views of God, the universe, human nature and morality are examined. Philosophy and theology serve as the basis on which all other disciplines derive their thought and are therefore expressions of philosophy and theology. The Quine curriculum is a rigorous study of a diverse array of philosophical and theological ideas of Homer, Virgil , Plato, Augustine, Socrates, Aristotle, Augustus, Aquinas, Dante, John Wycliffe, John Hus, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, William Tyndale, John Milton, John Bunyan – In it Bunyan, John Locke, The Federalist Papers, Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Darwin, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Hegel, Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, John Maynard Keynes, John Stuart Mill, Frank Knight and Hazlitt.

Source of quote from the Cornerstone Curriculum website

According to Christine Miller, through classical and chronological history studies, children will see the flow and continuity of history so that “History, for them, is not merely a series of disjointed facts and places and persons to be remembered, but a series of relationships that make sense” and they will further gain “increased understanding of the hows and whys of historical events”.

History in the Grammar Stage by Christine Miller

“This is another reason for using primary sources in studies as much as possible and for reading the Great Books: if all our studies of the past are from modern books, we are still stuck in the present. A child needs to form an increasingly focused mental map of history and of the world in order to comprehend his place in space and time”.

Preparing Younger Children For A Great Books Education by Wes Callihan

Christine Miller author of “History Through All The Ages” (a classical education guide) states these reasons why the use of literature is superior to textbooks for teaching history:

— Interest: children are more interested and fascinated with what they are learning when learning it out of real, “living” books rather than textbooks;

— “Living books”, literature, makes historical figures come alive, giving them depth and character and thoughts and feelings and struggles and joys in ways that textbooks cannot possibly do.

— Literature paints us a picture of a time and place, of customs and society and manners. With literature we get local color and the big picture.

— An understanding is planted which begins to grow over time of the cause and effect nature of history, how an event can snowball and lead to other events, how choices an individual makes for good or ill can set mankind on a path from which there is no turning back, [and also} the “why underneath the events”.

— We begin to see that history is not just a separate subject in its separate compartment, but that history has had an effect on science, and math, and politics, and economics, and geography, and grammar [and the other way around as well].

These quotes were taken from “Using Literature to Teach History” by Christine Miller

Finally we see the Use of Great Books as the key to the Supremacy of Ideas: British Charlotte Mason advocated that children should be fed a steady diet of quality literature or “Living Books” as she called it.

Exposure to real biographies and great classics will impart ‘living ideas” to our children and help them have an encounter with great minds. Charlotte Mason stressed that depth of learning through reading was desirable: “Let him, on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age.”


Mae Carden was sort of a cross between Charlotte Mason and Rudolf Steiner. An outstanding educator, Mae Carden opened the first Carden school in 1934 at 24 East 68th Street in New York City. Although Mae Cardon passed away, the Carden Method and Curriculum continue to be used by a number of private schools in the US and elsewhere in the world. On the key purpose of education, in Carden’s own words,

“The process of education should equip the individual with the ability to analyze, evaluate and classify all of the information that comes to him/her. The purpose of education is to teach individuals to THINK and develop good judgment. A sound education enables one to understand, organize, and apply everything he/she knows. Real education develops sound judgment and requires practical application of knowledge in all aspects of learning and in every phase of life. A collection of miscellaneous facts is NOT an education.” — Mae Carden

Source of quote: Rusty Mason on Education‘s Carden Method

The Carden method seeks to foster thinkers through its special curriculum, that interrelates all of the subject matter in a sequential manner that is continued from grade to grade. The Carden curriculum uses good classic literature, and incorporates language, rhythm, music, art appreciation, drama and playlets. Carden educators also take a firm view of the need to master the academic basics. The earliest years in school are considered the foundation on which to build future scholastic achievements. Carden believed that for the student with a sound academic background, good work habits and the will to succeed, there would be no limit to the opportunities readily available for him/her in the continuation of his education.

The above information is gleaned from the Carden Educational Foundation’s official website at (with their express permission). A Homeschool Carden Curriculum is available from their website.


Unschooling (or Delight Directed Learning, all the above terms are used interchangeably) places the student in charge of their own learning, helping them find something they want to accomplish. The delight directed method uses natural curiosity to motivate the student. The student acquires basic concepts of learning (reading, reasoning, writing, researching, etc.) during the process of examining the topic of interest. Less control can lead to more learning (however, the parent still maintains responsibility for steering the studies and ensuring learning meets educational goals). The Charlotte Mason and Waldorf methods (examined in two earlier issues of the newsletter) are largely a delight-directed approach to homeschooling.

Interest-Initiated or “Unschooling” Approach: Unschooling families prefer that children learn from real life experiences, in the course of the natural routine of daily life of the family as well as in the real world. Children are allowed to pursue their interests with encouragement and resources provided by their parents. But parents refrain from teaching when unschooled children do not feel like it or when they are not interested. Child-led or interest-initiated learning or Unschooling ways are not considered homeschooling because the parents are not teaching the children…the children are “teaching” themselves. The main criticism about this approach is that unschooled children receive an incomplete education without the benefit of systematic tutorials.

Unschooling at the extreme end of the spectrum is usually a reaction against formal schooling and formal school institutions. Unschooling has had a long movement in the States, first started with disillusioned parents pulling their children out out of the public school system and putting them into co-op style “free schools”, then eventually bringing the kids home to “unschool”. It could indeed become a trend here in Japan, with the many free schools having already sprung up all over the country. In the context of our own little newsletter community here, where many of our kids attend local public schools, there is already a strong tendency to use the “Unschooling” Approach at home in supplementing with a Western style education.

There appears to be interest among educators in starting schools that use the UNSCHOOLING methods. Working Mother Magazine says “These days, Reggio schools are the hottest topic in early-education circles. No educational approach has caused such excitement since the advent of the Montessori method …” This is why… Reggio approach is radical in that it follows the children’s interests, rather than a set curriculum of academic goals.

There are no teacher manuals, curriculum guides, or achievement tests. The curriculum is not established in advance. Teachers study the ideas expressed in children’s words, drawings, and play to help them learn how to scaffold further learning. Teachers become skilled observers of children in order to design and implement their curriculum which is often characterized by real-life problem-solving among peers, with numerous opportunities for creative thinking and exploration.

Teachers often work on projects with small groups of children, while the rest the class engages in a wide variety of self-selected activities typical of preschool classrooms. The children learn principles of science, math and language through hands-on projects directly related to their expressed interests. Reggio children are given access to diverse materials paint, watercolors and clay they also use wire, wood, sequins, feathers, cans, corks, fabric, shells, pine cones, etc.) Reggio teachers believe that children have many languages besides words, and that these languages can be expressed through visual representations in many media.

“The projects that teachers and children engage in are distinct in a number of ways from those that characterize American teachers’ conceptions of unit or thematic studies. The topic of investigation may derive directly from teacher observations of children’s spontaneous play and exploration. Project topics are also selected on the basis of an academic curiosity or social concern on the part of teachers or parents, or serendipitous events that direct the attention of the children and teachers. Reggio teachers place a high value on their ability to improvise and respond to children’s predisposition to enjoy the unexpected. Regardless of their origins, successful projects are those that generate a sufficient amount of interest and uncertainty to provoke children’s creative thinking and problem-solving and are open to different avenues of exploration. Because curriculum decisions are based on developmental and sociocultural concerns, small groups of children of varying abilities and interests, including those with special needs, work together on projects.”

“Projects begin with teachers observing and questioning children about the topic of interest. Based on children’s responses, teachers introduce materials, questions, and opportunities that provoke children to further explore the topic. While some of these teacher provocations are anticipated, projects often move in unanticipated directions as a result of problems children identify. Thus, curriculum planning and implementation revolve around open-ended and often long-term projects that are based on the reciprocal nature of teacher-directed and child-initiated activity.”

For more on this method, see Interview with an Unschooler


Reggio Emilia schools seek to replicate the home and communal spaces in their environment. Classrooms have huge glass window panels that open out onto a central piazza and with a large, centrally located atelier and a smaller mini-atelier — clearly designated studio spaces for large-and small-group activities. There is an effort to create opportunities for children to interact in the piazza and classrooms; classrooms are connected with phones, passageways or windows; and lunchrooms and bathrooms are designed to encourage playful encounters.

Source of excerpts: “Reggio Emilia: Some Lessons for U.S. Educators” by Rebecca S.New

Note: Relaxed Approach is not equals to Unschooling — “Do not make the mistaken assumption that you are necessarily unschooling just because you use a “relaxed” approach to learning. Families, like mine and many others, try out homeschooling in the Kindergarten year. They don’t have a strict format for learning; they go by the young child’s interests, let him set the pace, and teach a little on the side depending on how much structured learning the child can handle. Does this mean they are unschooling? No, it doesn’t. These families are developing a structure that works for the age and ability of the child. At a later point, whenever the child is conceptually ready (usually around 7 or 8), these parents will have to decide whether to continue developing the structure by setting specific curriculum goals, planning how best to teach and achieve those goals (homeschooling)—or to step away and let the child proceed to control his own education, to study whatever he wants, or not at all if he doesn’t feel like it (unschooling). The crucial difference between homeschooling and unschooling is whether the parent takes an active role in leading the child’s education, or backs away and leaves the ball in the child’s hands.” – Gail Withrow

Read Ann Zeise’s story of how her family went from packaged ” Curriculum To Unschooling ”


This educational philosophy has three major concepts:

(1) knowledge of American Christian history,

(2) an understanding of the role of US in the spread of Christianity, and

(3) the ability to live according to the biblical principles upon which America was founded.

The Principle Approach studies how God ordained three government institutions– home, church and civil government to unfold His purposes. Unlike the historical/classical/worldview approaches to homeschooling, history is not studied for history’s sake, nor for the purpose of obtaining an interdisciplinary perspective. History is studied to evince the seven Biblical principles upon which Principle educators say the US was founded and which govern all areas of our lives (politics, business, recreation etc).


2.Self government

3.Christian character

4.Conscience is the most sacred of property

5.Christian form of government

6.How the seed of local self government is planted and

7.The American Political Union.

To develop strong powers of abstract thinking, students record a lot using the Note Book and the 4R methods:

1. Research–God’s Word to identify God’s principles

2. Reason–from the researched material the importance and significance of a subject

3. Relating–the truths studied into the student’s life

4. Record–the individual application of the Biblical principles.

Is it defensible to design curricula based on Principles/morals/ethics/character etc? Should education be kept separate from matters of morals and religion? Steve Moitozo in his article “The Real Goal of Education” makes a compelling argument that if you believe education should prepare a child to move from childhood to adulthood to take his proper place in society, then that preparation process should involve the mastering of five essentials: morals, values, ethics, problem-solving, and decision-making. Read the whole article The Real Goal of Education


It is my hope that this survey of the “best of the best” educational methods has benefited each reader in some way. Perhaps it will give some of us some yardsticks or direction to choose schools (for those of us who do put our kids in school institutions) and homelearning curricula and materials (for those of us who homeschool and afterschool our kids).

Or for others, it may have helped us see areas where our children’s education is currently lacking, so as to better guide and supplement it. Should we be inclined to take the responsibility upon ourselves to guide our child(ren)’s education, there will surely be one method, if not an eclectic combination of methods that will work for our family.

You will find a mindboggling array of homeschooling materials, nevertheless, do remember there are many ways to use curriculum and educational materials at home:

1–Use one complete subject-oriented curriculum with textbooks and/or workbooks in each separate subject following the curriculum supplier’s scope and sequence;

2–Mix and match different textbooks and/or workbooks in each separate subject following a self-designed structured long term educational plan or ED Hirsch’s Core Knowledge scope and sequence;

3–Follow a “unit” curriculum wherein the traditional subjects are integrated around topical studies. Use choice quality books, notebook/scrapbooks or do activities and projects, or a combination of these. Variation: Follow texts for key subjects such as grammar, language, math and/or science and units for the rest.

4–Follow a liberal arts classical/chronological history/world view curriculum

5–Plan your own studies using “real” books rather then textbooks.

6–Use one of the curriculum packages or miscellaneous materials based on various educational philosophies such as Montessori, Waldorf, Carden schools.

7–Take a truly Eclectic approach to schooling. (Read the article “Putting Together an Eclectic Curriculum” by Cafi Cohen . Mix and match, tweak curricula and materials to your own liking. You might like to apply principles gleaned from various learning theories.

8–Let children study whatever they become interested in. Just make accessible to your children all kinds of interesting and stimulating books, videos, cassette tapes, games and other educational material.

In short, the possibilities are limitless!

A final word for those of us who may be worrying about college possibilities for our kids, we can take heart that there are many parents who HAVE succeeded in homeschooling their children through to colleges.

Take the story of Joyce Swann who, using a highly STRUCTURED and traditional approach who home-taught her ten children from first grade through master’s degree programs (correspondence schools and external degree programs offered by major western universities). The Swann children typically received high school diplomas at age eleven, bachelor’s degrees at age fifteen, and master’s degrees at age sixteen, all this with a daily three-hour homeschooling schedule (Accelerated Education ; Swann’s Homeschool Tips)

At the other end of the spectrum, Cafi Cohen “UNSCHOOLED” her two kids (Grades 7-12) using an eclectic mix of materials and a relaxed self-directed learning approach to select colleges (Stanford among them). For inspiration or to find out how they did it, read their inspiring stories. “Putting Together an Eclectic Curriculum” is Cafi Cohen’s story of how she unschooled her children to college.

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