Balanced Literacy is cooperative learning, group learning and even individualized learning. It's self-paced and rich in potential for creating a student-guided, student-centered curriculum.
The basis of content for Balanced Literacy can be anything from Sims (and Sims 2) to a newspaper article, a map of anything, or taking care of an animal or plant. As a home schooling family, we enjoyed counting all the subjects intrinsic in whatever activity sprang to mind, while letting the senses mingle with the rest of physicality. A basis, pivot point, springboard-find a source and watch the interest in working and learning develop.
We watched C-SPAN-2 as they debated the nomination and confirmation of Samuel Alito on the Senate floor. Sen. Ted Kennedy gave a very clear speech about the necessity of considering the blue collar worker and voters' rights, among other issues. It was the most appropriate presentation and setting we could have chosen for witnessing the effort to find a Supreme Court justice who really understands the people. And in lieu of the New York State Social Studies Exam for eighth graders, my daughter interviewed a cousin who fought in Vietnam. He stood on both sides of the issue. He'd die for his country, but not for the current U.S. administration. By the end of the interview, she saw him as a hero. And after she read about soldiers and democracy off the internet, my fifth-grader then co-wrote and acted out a play with her sister using the same information. She listened to family discussions about democracy based on the progressive news media and then I interviewed her, taking the cumulative information into account. She thoughtfully described soldiers' lives and feelings and an awareness of the nature of democracy.
My youngest, being mostly a kinesthetic learner, danced his way through the human body. And given enough time to think and process his letters while writing from his own thought-out material, he could spell his way through much more than would be expected of someone his age. He even embraced the challenge.
We found that foreign language, geography and science are subjects where group learning is very workable among different age groups, as is learning the clock. The possibilities inherent with kinesthetic methods can inspire interest and serve as physical education while learning directions on a map. And children are entertained and empowered when researching on the internet to find audio-visual aids they want to share during a presentation.
Children teaching children has always been among the most effective ways for getting started in a subject, especially one as potentially intimidating as science. They are more apt to enjoy science today, but the teacher can still really have an effect on a student's initiative and progress, as can often be said for math. Although as a home schooling parent, the power I was given to adjust each child's math curriculum based on their needs was glorious, and something that couldn't have taken place in the public school system. Pronunciation skills in a new language can turn into more of a game of support and triumph when siblings are allowed to cheer each other on, and take the time to go over the sounds.
Time. I've said it before and I'll say it again. It's important enough. Home schooling provides the space of time and the option to juggle and overlap subjects so that curricula can be covered, together and more meaningfully. More children can be accommodated at once, especially in the classroom structure of the one-room schoolhouse, if only the public school system in the U.S. would provide enough opportunity for students to discover how subjects and ideas connect. It's a question some student will always ask. Why do I need, or should I even care, to learn "this"? If it were connected to another idea, they could, instead, be learning the answer.