Homeschooling Methods and Resources: Part 2

Last week I talked about using Charlotte Mason resources and methods. This week I explain the Thomas Jefferson Education method and give lots of ideas for other homeschooling resources, some of them free or very cheap!

Thomas Jefferson Education

As our children get older, we will shift more toward the Thomas Jefferson Education style (or TJE). We love so much about this! The purpose is to create a “love affair” with learning. Since our main goal is to teach our children to love to learn, this is a wonderful resource! The main difference we will have from TJE is that we will “require” certain topics, whereas they don’t make any requirements. I’ll explain how we will mesh the two after I describe their method.

TJE is based on “Seven Keys” to educating:

  1. Classics, Not Textbooks– They promote leaning from original sources (think Aesop’s Fables, The Federalist Papers and Treasure Island). There is a special page devoted to Math resources. Here is their index for book lists. We have read The Chronicles of Narnia and are currently reading the original Winnie-the-Pooh in the evenings as a family.
  2. Mentors, Not Professors– Instead of a teacher with a preset agenda who tests and then either rewards or punishes, they advocate a mentor-style educator. This person helps the child to assess their abilities, interests and goals and then come up with a game-plan for meeting their educational needs.
  3. Inspire, Not Require– This is about teaching the child to love to learn. “You WILL read this and give me a full report” is “requiring”. We need to learn how to “inspire” our children to want to learn. I wrote about this in my first three homeschooling posts, if you’re interested. 🙂
  4. Structure Time, Not Content– This is part of the “mentor” style role. As a mentor, the parent helps the child to learn and apply time-management. At least, that’s my basic understanding. There are four phases, which correspond to the child’s maturity and development. Up until around the age of eight, you have the “Core” phase. The parent schedules work and play times and the child chooses what toys to play with (we love to have Montessori-style activities, like this one, available for this!). The “Love of Learning” phase, around ages 8 to 12, allows the child to set the amount of study time. The mentor helps the child learn accountability for the choice. The third and fourth phases, “Scholar” (ages 12 to 16) and “Depth” (ages 16 to 22), have the child increasing study time and going further in depth into topics of interest.
  5. Quality, Not Conformity– Rather than grading a paper or project, the mentor gives an evaluation. Under the age of around 12, it is mostly (sincere!) positive feedback, but after that, it shifts more towards constructive criticism. If the child hasn’t done the work to the best of their ability, they are “coached” on how to improve and then are told to do it again. This happens until they achieve “excellence”.
  6. Simplicity, Not Complexity– I’m just going to quote from the website: “Complex systems and/or curricula usually lead to student frustration and teacher burnout as personalization is at a minimum and performance requirements are pre-determined.” Enough said!
  7. YOU, Not Them– Again, they said it best: “A parent or teacher doesn’t have to be an “expert” to inspire great education (the classics provide the expertise), but he does have to be setting the example.” “Focus on your education, and invite them along for the ride.” If our children see us loving to learn new things and pursuing self-education, they will be inspired to learn, too! I’ve even seen this in my three-year-old. Even if you’ve never read a classic before, it’s okay! It’s not about what you already know, it’s about the children seeing you in the process of learning. It’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you’re doing. Pick one classic. Read it. There, you’ve started! 😉

As I mentioned, we won’t be following either of these methods 100%. We are doing what works for us. We will be spending some time every school day learning about history, starting with Creation. As we go, we will be using classics and tons of other resources to branch out into related topics. You can learn the details here. I see this as a platform for the children to jump from. They will be exposed to all of the typical “school subjects” so that they can delve deeper into whatever sparks their interest. My vision, at the moment, is for something like this…

We will spend an hour in the morning learning about whatever point we are at in world history. Then, each child can spend the rest of their school time learning more about whatever interested them. In the evenings, we will have family reading time, which will often be from a classic that relates to whatever time period and culture we’re studying. It will be very, very flexible. If we spend an entire month on Ancient Egypt, that’s great! Personal reading of the classics won’t be limited to a particular topic, though.

Other Resources

The Great Courses: These DVDs and CDs are excellent! If an older child has a real interest in a particular subject, you might want to consider getting the DVD set about it. The best professors in the given field are recruited to teach. We have a set about CS Lewis, which is fascinating. These would be an especially good resource if an older child has an interest in something that you aren’t very knowledgeable in (for me, that would be most math and science!). There are over 300 courses to choose from! They’re pretty spendy if you buy them new, but they can be found used at used bookstores and at


  • Discovery Channel: Plant Earth has tons of great videos of animals (Pumpkin loves watching Mountain Goats!) and is a great way for teaching your little ones to love to learn!
  • Discovery Science has great resources for all kinds of science topics. Pick an interesting one to put in the search box and see what you get.
  • The Encyclopedia Britannica … need I say more? It is $69.95 per year, but I think it would be a very wise investment. Rather than spend $70 bucks on one or two textbooks, you can have all the latest info on any subject you want!
  • Top 100 Educational Websites of 2011 is full of sites that you can explore. They are (mercifully) divided by topic, so you won’t have to sift through for the right subject.
  • The Home School Scientist This brand new website is dedicated to making science fun and reducing the intimidation factor for us moms who aren’t natural scientists. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us!

Local Library: Check out the book lists and pick a few up for free! See what they have on whatever topic your kiddos show interest in. Studying Italy? Get some books on speaking Italian or grab a pasta cookbook. See if there are any DVDs about Italian history or travel. Find some CDs with Italian music. The possibilities are endless!

Museums: There are art, history, science and natural history museums all over the place. Your area may have smaller museums focused on a particular topic, such as aviation, local history, music or even a special museum just for children! Do some research on the topic with your children before you go and get them excited about learning more!

State Parks, Zoos, Planetariums and Botanical Gardens: These places often have classes just for kids! Again, learn some things before you go and get them excited about the experience.

Montessori Activities: I have already shared one Montessori activity, tracing shapes, and I will be adding more on what I will call “Teaching Tuesdays”. Some are traditional Montessori, but many will be our own ideas.

Do you have any creative homeschooling ideas to share?



2 thoughts on “Homeschooling Methods and Resources: Part 2

  1. KatieC says:

    Loving these posts! Thanks for describing your philosophy and giving we newbies some jumping off points for our planning!

    • I’m so glad to hear that they have been helpful, Katie! Keep your eyes open for fun learning activities for little ones on Tuesdays. Thanks for commenting!

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