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If you’re a homeschool parent, it’s likely that two of your first questions, when you started out teaching your own children, were something like “what kind of teaching methods should I use?” and “should I focus on curriculum designed for my child’s current grade level?”  If you choose one of the following three methods and base your teaching goals and objectives on your selected method, you’ll likely find it easier to build a structure for positive academic achievement for your children.

GRADE LEVEL LEARNINGThis is simply the idea of either testing your child for the purpose of identifying their grade level as measured against public school levels or accepting the grade level they achieved when last registered in public school.  When a child, for instance, is reading “on grade level,” this means he/she has mastered the skills necessary to read at the “expected level of difficulty.”  Although grade level is often determined by reading level, the concept is based on taking the basic maximum required thirteen years of education (Kindergarten through Grade 12) that occur between the ages of 5 to 18 and simply dividing those years into increments we have all become accustomed to calling “grades.”

The same kind of incremental “grading” is then applied to the range of educational materials and achievements a child must accomplish to be college or career ready by age 18.  The result is that a child can then be identified as belonging in “Grade 5” or “Grade 8” and so on. Once the grade level is determined, it becomes the home school parent’s responsibility to purchase “grade-appropriate” curriculum to utilize in the day-to-day business of schooling their children at home.  (NOTE:  For a great source of grade-level curriculum visit Global Student Network at this link.) 

Many education researchers believe that age is not the best way to determine academic placement or ability and recommend that a mastery-based learning program should be used instead.



This is the structure most often used in brick and mortar schools.  It’s what most of us are familiar with and can often lead to student placement on a grade-level scale.  Most curriculum is actually mastery-based which just means that a student is required to completely comprehend the assigned learning materials and concepts before being moved forward to the next conceptual level.  The idea is that humans tend to learn sequentially, or through a series of logical steps, wherein one step must be completed before moving to the next, and so on.

Mastery based learning can be supplemented with periodic self-tests as students move along through the material.  This provides a method for both parents and students to track concept mastery in real-time.

A mastery-based program teaches at your child’s pace instead of at a rigid pace set by a curriculum.  As a parent/teacher, you are able to concentrate on your child’s ability rather than on their age or grade level. The goal is to assure that the lessons will be stored in a retrievable fashion in the brain for later use.  The end goal is long-term learning.

Spiral Learning

Finally, Spiral learning is an idea that is generally less familiar to homeschool parents.  When using spiral learning, the teacher presents a concept (without worrying too much about specific details), then moves on to the next concept.  When the second concept is completed, the teacher will circle back to the original concept and present further details, allowing the student to keep progressing even if they did not entirely master the first concept before moving on.  It’s almost as though the first concept “pulls” the student into the second concept and then “spins” them back to the first and on to the third, back to the second, and so on and so forth.  Information is revealed to the student in a piece-by-piece fashion and goes deeper and deeper into the subject matters as the curriculum progresses.

Spiral learning often creates an interactive learning experience in a classroom.  As learning progresses and more and more detail is offered to students, the opportunity for student-directed learning and review of already introduced materials is presented, which tends to help in moving those concepts into each student’s long-term memory. 


Overall, using any or all of these teaching and learning methods will assist your homeschool students in making facts easier to remember, which will make their learning experience less complicated and less frustrating.  A happy ending for both parent/teacher and the homeschool student!