Understanding Child Centered Education
Catholic homeschooling and a child-centered education
In the homeschooling world, you will hear a lot about child-centered education. In a certain sense, the very concept of homeschooling itself is child-centric because it places the needs of your particular child above the regimented system utilized in institutional schools. Homeschooling is the alternative to a one-size-fits-all education.
There are many ways you can adopt a child-centered approach to homeschooling. In this article, we’ll review what child-centered education is (and is not) and how it can utilized in your Catholic homeschool.
A Child-Centered Approach
For some of us, hearing the phrase “child-centered education” evokes ideas of wacky progressivist educational experimentation, where teachers abdicate their roles and yield control of the classroom entirely to students, who run amok instead of being taught anything—all chaos and no structure.
Fortunately, that is not what child centered education means. Child centered education means using the child as the starting point for lesson planning and curriculum development, and allowing children to make constructive contributions to their own education.
For example, in a child centric approach, your child will be part of the planning discussions of what classes he or she will be taking during the school year. If possible, the curriculum is molded to his own interests and talents so that what he is studying is reflective of his own curiosity.
The child centric approach also has students playing a much more active role in the classroom. Rather than viewing children as passive vessels that need to be filled with information, they are treated as active learners who master concepts by engaging with them directly. This is what I personally like most about child centric education—the emphasis on the child as an active learner. Concretely, this might entail siblings doing research on a topic together, a group of students working on a drama, or your child coming up with the parameters for her own science experiment. There is still place for traditional lecture and study, but there is a strong focus on the student’s own initiative.
The Parent’s Role
In this model of homeschooling, what is the role of the parent? Rather than just impart information, parents in a child centric approach provide structure and nurturing to the student’s learning. The parent acts more as an educational mentor than a traditional teacher.
Parents must strike the right balance between challenging and supporting their student. Without sufficient challenge, students won’t be driven to grow or stretch their minds; without necessary support, they can get discouraged in their studies. A parent’s job is to challenge the student to develop perseverance, while buttressing them with support when they need it. When children complete something that was genuinely challenging to accomplish, it builds their self-esteem and their sense of value in a job well-done. Similarly, appropriate support lets them know it’s alright to mess up; everybody fails now and then.
Whole Child Education
Most child centric approaches advocate taking a “whole child” view of education. This is similar to the Charlotte Mason concept of educating the whole person—in other words, a student’s education is not simply academic; it extends to their character formation and the development of their creative faculties. Child centric programs place high value on subjects like art, music, and physical education. These subjects focus on filling the heart, not just the mind. They give children opportunities to shine beyond those that are merely academic. A child centric program will generally treat art, music, and P.E. as core subjects, rather than “electives” or add-ons, as in conventional educational programs.
Keeping it Christ Centered
Finally, as Catholics, we want to make sure that whatever educational model we use is Christ centered. Within a child centric framework, this might include having your child occasionally lead the family in prayers, lector at Mass, volunteer at the parish; anything where the child takes initiative to engage with the faith is ideal.
As with any educational method, you don’t need to adopt the entire child centric approach in toto. You can pick and choose whatever suits your situation. After all, homeschooling is all about options and customization.