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Wax On, Wax Off: How To Develop An Educational Philosophy

by Diane Flynn Keith

There is no one "right way" to homeschool. In fact, it may seem as if there are as many ways (and products to help you do it) as there are homeschoolers. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can custom-tailor and self-produce the optimum learning environment — based on your child’s unique learning style and tempered by your own personal educational philosophy.

Developing your own educational philosophy will guide you in choosing from a variety of methods including traditional academics to alternative approaches to learning. Not only that, but a philosophy will guide you in choosing from among the profusion of resources available for the task of educating your children at home.

Developing an educational philosophy will help you articulate what you’re trying to accomplish with homeschooling. It will help you sort out the noise from our culture about things like mandatory kindergarten, testing, and goals 2000. Once you have a philosophy it will guide you in creating the environment in your homeschool that supports your vision of the adult you are trying to raise up. Ideally, the methodology you choose and curriculum you buy will support that philosophy.

I realize that the choices in methodology can seem overwhelming. It takes time to become familiar with it all. Where do you start in order to develop a philosophy that will guide you?

First, take time to spend time with your child. Observe how he or she learns. What kind of learner is he/she? What are his/her learning styles? Knowing this information will help to determine what method your child is most likely to respond to when you present information. (Resources for understanding learning styles are listed below.) During this time of observing your son or daughter, you will begin to discover their interests too. This is crucial because the more you can tailor your "curriculum" (whatever methodology you eventually use) to his or her interests, the more successful you will be.

During this period of observation (and it may take a year or more), read about different educational philosophies. See what hums to you. You may find one that you want to adopt as your own, or you may develop your own philosophy borrowing ideas from several methods. What follows are some descriptions of various philosophies and resources for understanding learning styles (organized alphabetically). I have provided phone numbers, website information, and book titles so that you may begin to investigate those methods that sound interesting to you.

Charlotte Mason Method

Mason was an educator who believed in guiding a child’s natural curiosity and ability as a process for learning. She emphasized Christian morals and values and developing good work habits. She believed children should interact with nature and their environment as they learn -- as opposed to just mastering facts in drill and practice work. To Learn More: A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison, PMB 500, 2522 N. Proctor, Tacoma, WA 98406, 253-879-0433; Website: A Charlotte Mason Education:

Classical Education

This philosophy has a number of interpretations but focus is on a rigorous academic curriculum of reading, writing, math, classic languages such as Latin & Greek, logical thinking and debate. Mastery of the basics of rudimentary subjects are emphasized in the elementary years, progressing to the development and use of critical thinking skills in the upper grades. Below are some links that explain this approach a little more thoroughly and that offer help for those who are using this approach. To Learn More:

1. For an extensive listing of Classical Education Links both Christian and Secular:

2. The Well Trained Mind: A Parents’ Guide to Classical Education by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. Website has extensive info at

3. Trivium Pursuit (Christian perspective)

Learning Styles

Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson Authors of Discover Your Child’s Learning Style developed The Learning Style Model of Education that helps adults and children discover their unique learning needs. They present a positive approach that is based on working with each person's natural gifts and dispositions, rather than applying dysfunctional labels such as A.D.D., Dyslexic, Hyperactive, or Learning Disabled. Mariemma and Victoria help adults and children use their Learning Styles as doorways into their unique ways of learning in order to reach academic goals and to discover their direction in life. To Learn More: Read Discover Your Child’s Learning Style or visit their website at

Montessori Philosophy

Based on the life’s work of Dr. Maria Montessori, the Montessori method has a broad vision of education and follows the natural development of the individual child and their innate directive that freely guides them toward growth and maturity. The children's innate passion for learning is encouraged by giving them opportunities to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities with the specific materials under the guidance of a trained adult. Within a framework of order, the children progress at their own pace and rhythm, according to their individual capabilities. Montessori recognizes a developmental order from birth to adulthood and activities and environment are adjusted to suit developmental needs. To Learn More: Read: The Absorbant Mind by Maria Montessori; Visit Website: Association Montessori Internationale:

Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner

Gardner, a psychologist, has written a number of recent books proposing that every person possesses at least 8 kinds of intelligences to different degrees that include: linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily kinesthetic, interpersonal, musical, spatial, naturalist, and intrapersonal. Since schools typically gear their curriculum toward linguistic and logical-mathematical learners, it is not the best place for everyone to learn. He suggests that curriculum should be custom-tailored to address and emphasize an individual’s strengths and manage the weaknesses. To Learn More: Read Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner, available at bookstores and your local library. Website:

Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory of Learning

Jean Piaget was a Swiss educator who suggested that children go through different stages of cognitive or mental development and that learning activities should correlate to and adjust with these developmental stages:

Sensorimotor Stage, 0-2 years of age, child learns through sensation and movement.

Pre-Operational Stage, 2-7 years, children begin to understand and master symbols (language) and draw from past experiences to make assumptions about things and people in their world.

Concrete Operational Stage, 7-11 years, the child’s ability to reason begins, based on his/her own personal experiences.

Formal Operational Stage, 11+ years, children can speculate, understand abstract ideas, and develop theories.

To Learn More: Check Your Local Public Library or visit these websites:

1. Time Magazine’s 100 Most Important People or the Century – Jean Piaget: or

2. The Jean Piaget Society:

Unschooling – John Holt Philosophy

Holt was an educator who in the 1960s and 1970s spoke out about school reform, and finally abandoned the idea that schools were a good idea at all. He believed that children are born wanting to learn. In fact he said, "true learning only happens when it is desired by the learner." To Holt’s way of thinking, taking a child and plunking them down at a desk all day with a textbook that was of no interest or relevance to the child bordered on psychopathic. He believed that following the child’s natural curiosity about life would lead to learning about every subject typically required by schools – and more. He saw parents not as instructors, but as facilitators of their children’s learning. To Learn More: Teach Your Own by John Holt available from Holt Associates: 617/864-3100 or

Waldorf Education

Based on the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner. Steiner was asked to develop a school for the children of workers at the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Factory. He believed children experience three distinct developmental stages and that learning should be tailored to these stages:

0-7 years, children learn through imitation.

7-14 years, children learn through their emotions.

14+ years, children learn through logic and reasoning skills

In Waldorf Schools traditional academics are delayed until at least age 7. Subjects are introduced creatively through stories, art, and music. To Learn More: Ruldoph Steiner College Bookstore, 9200 Fair Oaks Bvd., Fair Oaks, CA 916/961-8729 or Or Waldorf Methods and Home-schooling 916/961-6923. Or Oak Meadow School Curriculum 802/387-2021, Or Waldorf Without Walls at 740/269-3038.

Also Recommended, though not considered a recognized educational philosophy:

How To Teach Your Baby To Read and How To Multiply Your Baby’s Intelligence

by Glenn Doman, founder of The The Institutes For The Achievement of Human Potential, 8801 Stenton Avenue, Wyndmoor, PA, 19038. Phone: 215/33-2050 Fax: 215/233-9312

Glenn Doman discovered a method for helping brain-injured children through patterning and other forms of conditioning. That success led him and the staff of the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential to ask what would happen if they developed a program for well children – that might help them develop their untapped brain potential. They developed a "program for intelligence" that is used at the Institutes in Philadelphia and is also available to parents to use in a homeschool environment. Doman is a huge proponent of homeschooling. He believes that parents are the very best teachers of children. While the entire method and the assumptions it is based on have created great controversy, the main point of Doman’s program is that kids love to learn and that learning should occur in a joyful environment. That message is the one that critics usually miss or dismiss – and it is the most crucial lesson of all. Doman believes in the potential of every child and in their desire to learn. He is a huge fan of Maria Montessori and her wisdom that "the magic is in the child." If you read his books, you will gain a better understanding of the way the brain works and grows, and you will begin to understand how the way learning is approached with children is vital to their optimal development, whether you utilize Doman’s methods or not.

Also recommended to better understand schooling and how children learn:

Dumbing Us Down – The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling and The Exhausted School and The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto, author and speaker, former New York State Teacher of the Year, 235 West 76th St., New York, NY 10023, Phone: 212-874-3631; Prefers correspondence by Fax: 212-721-6124; Website:

John Taylor Gatto’s writings are filled with 30 years of experience teaching in public schools and should be read by everyone who homeschools his/her children. Here, reprinted with the author’s permission, are some of his ideas about what it means to be an educated person. Perhaps these ideas will guide you in choosing an educational philosophy.

Some Reflections on an Educated Person

By John Taylor Gatto

(Hey, I’ve used the old-fashioned "he", but mean both sexes.)

An educated person writes his own script through life, he is not a character in a government play, nor does he mouth the words of any intellectual’s utopian fantasy. He is self-determined.

Time does not hang heavily on an educated person’s hands. He can be alone. He is never at a loss for what to do with time.

An educated man knows his rights and knows how to defend them.

An educated man knows the ways of the human heart; he is hard to cheat or fool.

An educated man possesses useful knowledge: how to build a house, a boat, how to grow food, how to ride and hunt.

An educated person possesses a blueprint of personal value, a philosophy. This philosophy tends toward the absolute, it is not plastically relative (*altering to suit circumstances). Because of this an educated person knows at all times who he is, what he will tolerate, where to find peace. But at the same time and educated person is aware of and respects community values and strange values.

An educated person can form healthy attachments wherever he is because he understands the dynamics of relationships.

An educated person accepts and understands his own mortality and its seasons. He understands that without death and aging nothing would have any meaning. An educated person learns from all his ages, even from the last minute of his life.

An educated person can discover truth for himself; he has intense "awareness" of the profound significance of being and the profound significance of being here.

An educated person can figure out how to be useful to others, and in trading time, insight and service to meet the needs of others he can earn the material things he needs to sustain a wholesome life.

An educated person has the capacity to create new things, new experiences, new ideas.

You can see from all of the information provided above, that you will need to invest some time in researching these different ideas about learning. Choosing a methodology will vary according to your personal experience with education and your beliefs about how children learn best. It will also be dramatically tempered by your child’s learning style and interests. While you may prefer a methodology that is suited to your learning style, your child may not respond well at all to that particular method. The good news? Your child will give you instant feedback. If the work you have chosen based on a particular philosophy or method is not appropriate -- your kid may cry, have a tantrum, implore, plead and whine. If joy is reflected in the glow of his or her eyes while happily occupied with the task at hand -- that’s a definite clue that what you have chosen is working. Listen to your child. Remain flexible. If something isn’t working -- get rid of it. Try something else. Developing an educational philosophy is the scientific method at work. Eventually, you and your child will develop a method based on a philosophy that is just right for you.

Copyright 2002 by Diane Flynn Keith. All Rights Reserved, except "Some Reflections On An Educated Person" by John Taylor Gatto, which is Copyright 2001, by John Taylor Gatto. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2006 Modern Media