The Ultimate List of Homeschool Methods & Styles

Posted in Just Starting Out on September 27, 2016 - by

One of the things I enjoy the most about homeschooling is the freedom that it gives the parent. There is a never-ending stream of books to read, educational methods to try, supplemental internet resources, informational podcasts -- the list goes on and on. This freedom can be both liberating and terrifying.

Most homeschool parents first decide on a method & style of homeschooling that best fits their needs. You can choose one method, or a set of methods -- there is no limit! -- (although some will clash). Next, with their shiny new method in hand, the parent usually starts exploring additional resources, curriculum, and niche groups.

Educational methods frequently correlate with specific target audiences that best utilize or implement the style. For instance, some methods have a strong religious aspects, while other methods are primarily directed towards a lifestyle such as world-traveling. Ultimately, the choice you make is a declaration of your orientation towards both education and life.

For this reason, I usually prefer to call this your personal homeschooling philosophy.

You will discover that most homeschooling methods and philosophies are associated with a curriculum or type of learning material. While curriculum and methodology are often closely married, I will do my best to focus on the methods and philosophy and not just the curriculum. Because this page is quite lengthy, the table of contents below allows readers to jump to specific sections of this article.

What is the difference between homeschooling methods and homeschooling curriculum?

It will be very rare for a homeschool to discover a curriculum that fits their every need. No, you will most likely need to find a curriculum that best matches your needs and then make modifications along the way. I always supplement my curriculum in some way.

Related: Free online resources and curriculum

Curriculum does not define you

Your curriculum does not define you. Your homeschooling defines you. Your philosophy and approach truly define you. When you pick out a curriculum you are searching for books and structure that reflects your philosophy of education and your personalized homeschooling approach.

Philosophy is at the core, and everything else is a realization or decision based on the "why."

Every homeschool is unique, but there are many styles that have been popularized. This page is going to attempt to list all of the most popular ways that parents homeschool.

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Most Popular Homeschooling Methods

Here we go! Starting out, I am going to list the most popular methods for homeschooling. The "Big 5" are Classical Education, Eclectic education, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, and Unschooling. I will go into detail on each of these philosophies. After these five, I'll try to do justice to the less popular (and lesser-known) methods.

Classical Education

The Classical Education learning approach is also known as the Socratic Method. Having just referenced philosophy, I think it is fitting to begin here. The origins of classical education are not only found in ancient Greece and Rome but in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Classical education has been present through the earliest centuries. Here are the hallmarks of classical education.

One mantra of classical education is to teach people how to learn for themselves.

Logocentric

Greek philosophers used the word 'logos' in different ways. It often meant "the argument" or reasonable discourse. While it means "word," it does not mean "word" in the literal grammatical sense. Logocentrism emphasizes the importance of language as a fundamental way of expressing reality.

Logocentric for classical educators means that they believe we can make sense of the world. The 'sense' that we make of the world is what makes it 'knowable.' The philosophy behind their approach is rooted in discovering that sense. The classical approach seeks ideals of virtue and Plato's eudaimonia (flourishing).

It might seem weird that the mainstream educator would deny that the 'world makes sense.' But, this is actually the case. They either deny or remain silent. Why? -- It is actually a great burden of responsibility to make things knowable in the "logocentric sense."

Mainstream education focuses on what is practical. Classical does not obsess over what is pragmatically useful. As a nation, the United States has always been known for its pragmatism. Pragmatism (the philosophical movement) originated in the United States Most and the majority of famous American philosophers are Pragmatists.

Classical education pushes against this pragmatic notion. Classical advocates claim the classical approach is the only practical approach because it is not pragmatic.

Classical education holds a high view of humanity

Although the ancients were not Christians, they held mankind in a similar view. Christians believe that humankind is made in the image of God. The ancients believed that mankind had a divine spark. Classical schools seek to develop students so that they appreciate humankind, wisdom, and virtue. The goal of classical education is never vocation. Nevertheless, this does not mean classically educated students are not prepared for vocational careers.

The Trivium - Three phases of learning

Classical education teaches children based on developmental phases. A child's development comes in three main phases. They are concrete, analytical, and abstract. These homeschoolers believe that younger students in K-6th grade should spend their time learning facts, knowledge, and strong foundations.

Once they make it into the 7th and 8th grades they learn to become argumentative. In this phase, they learn logic and reasoning. In the final 'high school' grades, they learn to become more independent. In these last years, they usually learn more advanced rhetoric -- oral and written.

Language focused

Finally, it's worth noting that this method is heavily rooted in language. This could be surmised from earlier sections, but it is worth explicitly saying. Language forms links between all other subjects and ties them together into one.

There is much more to classical education than just this.

Eclectic Homeschooling

The classical method of homeschooling ties all subjects together through language. Eclectic homeschooling has no single defining medium or discipline for bringing education together. Instead, it's a collage of multiple styles of learning, methodologies, and curriculum. For this reason, the eclectic style's most defining characteristic might actually be its lack of definition.

The eclectic style is often referred to as "relaxed" homeschooling (although sometimes this comes with connotations). Eclectic homeschooling is the most popular and frequently practiced method by homeschoolers today.

Highly individualized

The hallmark of eclectic homeschooling is flexibility and personalization. Families often gravitate towards eclectic homeschooling because they are able to meet the specific needs of their child. Furthermore, sometimes what works for one year or one semester might not work the next. Eclectic homeschooling families often want a more robust methodology than a structured or packaged curriculum offers.

Families with several children might discover that each of their children learns very differently. The approach, style, or method that allows their first child to thrive may not work AT ALL for the next kid.

Note: the discussion of individualized learning does not exclusively refer to changes in curriculum. The true philosophy behind eclecticism is that one set-in-stone path is not always right for the student.

Picking and choosing, torn between multiple resources

Stereotypically, an eclectic homeschool mom is the first one to search out curriculum reviews. Eclectic families often pioneer the frontiers of new learning hypotheses. Their usual willingness to try new things is rooted in the eclectic style that encourages them to do so.

Characteristically, eclectic homeschooling is a very American style. American culture is so democratized and individualized that one should expect a branch of homeschoolers to follow in similar pursuit.

Sometimes eclectic homeschooling is unintentional

It is not unusual for a parent to arrive at an eclectic method without intending to do so. Eclecticism evolves over time. This can be for a number of reasons. Maybe the child has special needs. Subsequent family members may not thrive under the 'first' curriculum/method. The eclectic method is a compilation, the result of constant tweaking.

Thoroughly covers what is most important

Many parents use this method to give additional attention to the subjects they believe are the most important. This is not a requirement of the eclectic method, but it is quite common. Of course, subject preferences and the depth of study will look different in every household.

Eclectic does not mean unorganized

Just because:

  1. The curriculum is not clearly defined.
  2. The method does not have a name with centuries of historical credit.
  3. Some home educators term it "relaxed homeschooling."

does not mean the eclectic method is unorganized or lazy.

The eclectic homeschooling method is often achieving one (or more) of these three things:

  1. It seeks to provide the best possible educational system for a specific child.
  2. It seeks to create the parent's unique vision for what the best possible system might be.
  3. Or, it seeks to accommodate for a large household of homeschoolers.

The Charlotte Mason Style of Homeschooling

While it is possible for eclectic homeschooling to be rich with religious and moral teachings, the Charlotte Mason style was founded and defined by Christian belief. The Charlotte Mason approach holds that the highest form of knowledge is Biblical knowledge of God.

The founder, Charlotte Mason, was a British educator who died in 1923. She envisioned that one day there would be a method of education that accommodated all genders and all social classes. Her method holds that children learn from real-life situations and have the capacity to wrestle with knowledge themselves.

Emphasis on rich literature and 'living books'

The Charlotte Mason style believes that students are capable of digesting high forms of literature at a young age. The approach does not use 'dumbed down' versions of literature. Instead, her emphasis is placed on "living books."

Make the subject come alive

When shopping for books, Charlotte believed that the book should make the subject come alive. In order to form a real connection with a concept, the idea needs to touch us emotionally. Charlotte was not a supporter of bare-bone facts because they rarely unlock the doors to true knowledge. Knowledge is vital and vibrant and best found in living books!

Search for great ideas by great people

This point is a plea for ignorance. We must realize that while we are tasked with teaching and instructing our children, we do not know everything. We should be actively seeking out great people who have produced equally great works. Our children should be learning from the best minds of the present and the past. Once again, the best way to access these ideas is through books.

These books should be the best you can find. And they certainly will not be any childish twaddle. Yes, Charlotte called some books, "childish twaddle" and others "little pills of knowledge mixed into weak diluent."

Teach children that knowledge is attractive and that reading is wonderful

Educators should do everything in their power to ensure that their students develop a love for knowledge and reading. This is best accomplished when the books themselves are excellent. How can a child learn to love true knowledge when they are given "childish twaddle?"

Children learn naturally & broadly

Charlotte believed that children have a knack for learning on their own when they are presented a broad array of subjects and books. Her approach placed emphasis on many arts and appreciations that are often neglected in mainstream education. These include nature study and handicrafts.

Atmosphere, Discipline, and Life

These are the three pillars of the Mason approach. Charlotte Mason's philosophy was not just concerned with educating the mind of a child. Mason wanted to educate the entire child. The home atmosphere has a great impact on students. Habits are also formative. Therefore, children should be directed towards good discipline. Both of these facets of development are fostered by life, not just the classroom.

Charlotte Mason homeschoolers habitually give their children time to explore the world through nature, embark on camping trips, plan new field trips, and explore new museums.

Emphasis on excellence and quality

While Charlotte Mason lessons are usually short, they strongly emphasize excellence. Attention and focus are key. This philosophy believes that the brain should not become overly devoted to one task.

The Unit Studies Method

This method takes advantages of a specific area of interest and then uses it to incorporate all disciplines of study. Unit studies are also known by another name -- "cross-curriculum."

Complete immersion into a subject

If your child is interested in Greek mythology, a unit studies approach would tie this interest into subject areas like reading, math, science, art, spelling, and history. The student could write about the history of a particular Greek myth. There would be many books to read on the subject, cultural history, and other writing opportunities. Then the student could do a hands-on project about a Greek temple. Or the student could learn about Greek culture, traditions, architecture, and artifacts.

There are an infinite number of doors that unit studies can open.

The core philosophy behind the unit studies philosophy is to completely immerse the student into a specific topic. Support for this method? Most people recognize that learning is easier when we are interested and fully engaged.

Large families gravitate towards unit studies

Unit studies are popular among large families. Using a single unit of study allows for different depth of study to be achieved based on different ages while at the same time allowing the entire family to stay on the same page.  Unit studies can easily be modified to meet the different needs and capabilities of each student. Flat out -- it's easier to teach one subject on multiple levels than multiple subjects to multiple individuals.

This can also be an excellent opportunity for older children to teach their younger siblings.

Versatility

The unit studies method is extremely versatile and can be an over-arching framework for the Charlotte Mason method, literature based, or other methods of homeschooling.

Investigation and learning tools

When children research they learn. Unit studies provide an opportunity for primary research on the part of the student. At the same time, it allows the student to develop different skills. Students normally develop skills in a systematic order. Nevertheless, this does not mean the student must apply these skills in an arbitrary topic order. Students find more passion in reading and writing when they enjoy it.

Unschooling

Unschooling is a less conventional approach to learning. Other names for unschooling are "Natural Learning," "Child Led Learning," "Independent learning," and "Interest led." My personal favorite and the less commonly used phrase is "delight directed." The unschooling movement usually credits John Holt as their founder. Holt was the first person to coin the term.

Develop a passion for learning by following interests

Unschoolers claim that they learn in the most natural way -- by following and researching their interests. There is a lot of room for interpretation as to just how much freedom the student should have. In a true student-led learning environment the parent's (or teacher) role is primarily that of a facilitator. The teacher helps the student find the resources he or she needs.

The philosophy of unschooling

Unschooling philosophy is rooted in a number of beliefs, that most commonly include the following:

1. The parent is not the teacher

The paradigm of unschooling philosophy is that learning is not the result of teaching. Parents should not try to 'teach' their children. Instead, the parent should provide opportunities for their child to further develop their passions.

Unschooling does not use 'curriculum'

When a parent discovers that her child has a passion for something, it is her job to support the child in every way. This does not mean designing a unit study about the topic. Instead, this means providing the child with every resource possible.

2. Learning always accompanies interest

When a student is interested in something, an unschooling parent believes that learning will take place. Unschoolers back up this belief by citing adulthood experiences. Reflect upon your own life for a second -- what are the things that you know the most about or use most frequently? Are these things not also, coincidentally, things that you were interested in? Or, you may be an expert in a field because you discovered the benefit or necessity of learning about this subject. ...and so, you became an expert through your own motivation and interest.

Learning rarely feels like a task or a chore when you are motivated.

Interests may be short lived

The unschooling parent is often faced with supporting a child's interests just for the child to quickly move on to another niche. This is the nature of unschooling and something that the parent must still support.

3. Children are naturally inclined to learn

Following the previous belief, unschoolers believe that children are naturally curious and hard-wired to learn. Children discover, explore, and learn from everything around them. Unschoolers believe that it is important to foster this 'love of play' throughout a child's life.

4. Learning is the side effect of passion and play

This 'love of play' produces learning. When people 'play' they engage in behaviors and activities that they enjoy. It is the nature of reality that they will experience conflicts and problems. Unschooling philosophy recognizes that humans are always 'perfecting' themselves. Therefore, learning will come naturally in order to better understand and communicate through passion and play.

Children learn language at an early age because it benefits their condition. Children do not think of language as a chore because it furthers their ability to engage in what they enjoy.

More Homeschooling Methods and Philosophies

Now that the big 5 are have been described in-depth, what's left? Quite a lot actually.

The School-at-Home Approach

This style is easily recognizable in the media because it is the easiest to portray. Its just "school" at "home." The parent attempts to re-create a mainstream school classroom environment within the home.

This method is usually less of a philosophy and more of a curriculum. Parents normally buy a boxed set of curriculum and have their children do the work at home.

Parents enjoy additional control over what the student learns. Nevertheless, the parents must also spend (on average) more money and more time. Oftentimes the student does not enjoy the lessons any more than if they were in public school.

Characteristics of the school-at-home approach

To the chagrin of many homeschoolers, the general attitude towards education is often quite "schoolish." There are always daily and weekly schedules and textbooks used to teach subjects. The goals and the learning tracks are usually traditional and mimic the public schools. Furthermore, these homeschools usually follow traditional 'class hours.'

The Montessori Method

The essential philosophy behind the Montessori method is that learning is errorless. Children should learn at their own pace because that is the best way for them to reach their potential.

This method may sound similar to Unschooling.

Emphasis on tradition and anti-technology

The Montessori method critiques some types of technology, like television and computers. Avoiding these is particularly important for young students.

The Waldorf Method

This philosophy is based on the work of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner believed that educating the "whole child" was of ultimate importance. He achieved this by directing early grades to receive an emphasis on arts and crafts, music, and nature. Older children develop self-awareness, independence, and reasoning skills.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Waldorf method is that standard textbooks are not used. Instead, children are instructed to create their own! Similarly to the Montessori Method, the Waldorf Method is anti-television and anti-computer. Such technology negatively impacts creativity and well-being.

Internet Homeschooling

This is a recent phenomenon. Taking advantage of the internet, some homeschoolers depends entirely on the internet and digital media for teaching their children. There are plenty of online curriculum available, a million websites, and hundreds of free educational videos. Some homeschoolers also employ digital teachers or review services online.

On the internet, an expert is only a click of a button away. Internet homeschooling is less of a philosophy and more of a method for education. Most families that use the internet do so in a supplemental fashion. Nevertheless, some families do believe that the internet provides the best medium for education. However, in practice, internet homeschooling is rarely an exclusive method.

Most notably: using internet resources, online lectures, and online courses is a great way for parents to share the responsibility of teaching subject materials they dislike or feel unprepared to teach.

DVD/Video Homeschooling

While DVD and video homeschooling is not necessarily 'internet' homeschooling, the philosophy behind it is the same. Some parents use DVD and video materials as supplemental learning materials. Other parents use them as the primary learning tool. This method is less of a philosophy and more of a dependence on technology for teaching.

Powerful movies inspire and instill interest

What is a critical aspect of this philosophy is the ability for film mediums to inspire interest and creativity. Good films can cement understanding in students or create an area of interest.

Multiple Intelligences Homeschooling

This style is derived from Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner's theory forces us to re-think how we understand education. In particular, Gardner's argument claimed that modern children need to learn real-world problem-solving skills, not academic mastery. Information literacy and information processing are what is most important to be productive.

Gardner claimed there are multiple styles of intelligence that, in colloquial terms, include

  • word smarts
  • number smarts
  • picture smarts
  • body smarts
  • music smarts
  • people smarts
  • self smarts
  • nature smarts

Students have multiple intelligence pathways and some instructors believe they should be accommodated. This is one take on learning styles, but certainly not the only one.

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About Sarah Tippett

Sarah is the editor for Homeschool Base, a passionate writer, and teacher. When she isn't writing she is homeschooling her youngest son.

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