Homeschool styles are as varied as homeschoolers themselves. But today I’m going to share a few different approaches and styles in homeschooling. This is certainly not an exhaustive list but I can tell you that we have probably been in each of these styles, at least to some degree, over the years.
Traditional Homeschool Style
Let’s start with the traditional style. I start here because many of us homeschooling moms are familiar with this style because this is how we were schooled. Most public and private schools of the past and present use a traditional model in their schools. So let’s start with what the traditional approach is and isn’t.
Traditional homeschoolers don’t come in a standard “one size fits all”. But typically this style is based in a textbook and workbook mode of teaching and learning. This may include more lecture based teaching from the parent and then readings from a textbook followed by a series of questions to access the knowledge absorbed. Additionally most traditional approaches will have a different book for each subject with little or no connecting theme; so literature is separate from history and separate from spelling and vocabulary, etc. I’m sure that there are traditional curriculums that have more linking themes, but I am not personally familiar with them.
Now traditional homeschooling doesn’t necessarily mean that Mom is standing at a chalk board for 6 hours quote unquote teaching. But there are some families that do this and it works wonderfully for them. Think one-room school house revival.
But more traditional homeschool curriculums can still be done in less traditional manners. Have books, will travel to the park, library, the couch, mom’s bed. There is nothing that says a textbook and a line desks go hand in hand!
Why do some families choose traditional? Well it is usually solid educationally speaking and many parents feel comfortable with it because it is how they were educated. Most of the traditional curriculums have been around for decades with some die-hard fans.
Why do some families stay away from the traditional approach? Well many remember their school experience less fondly and don’t want to repeat that. Others want to keep a constant theme throughout their subjects; for instance American History or a biblical characteristic.
No doubt there are many pros and cons to this as with any approach. If this style of homeschooling interests you there is a plethora of curriculums to choose from. The gold standard for many years has been Abeka but there is also Bob Jones, Alpha Omega and Christian Liberty Press. That is a very short list to what I’m sure is available to you.
Also there is traditional with a twist. Many curriculums offer online classes and teaching. Lots of options out there if you’re looking to go this route, even fully accredited schools if that’s what you’re looking for.
Let’s look at the classical method of homeschooling next. The classical method is based on 3 stages of learning – the grammar stage, grades 1st through 4th, the dialectic stage, 5th through 8th and finally the rhetoric stage, 9th through 12th grade.
The classical approach encourages a chronological approach to studying history and science that is repeated every 4 years. In each cycle the depth of learning is increased to match that stage.
The classical method is also about interrelated learning. You will study the science that was being discovered during the period of history that you are focusing on. Add in the art and literature of the time and possible the music as well to round out the curriculum.
Classical is very much about building upon the way a child’s brain is working during that period of time as well. In the grammar stage is great for memorization so this stage has a lot of facts to memorize; like math facts, phonics, grammar rules, etc. Whereas the dialectic stage is about logic; this is when students move from basic memorization to asking the questions…this is the why stage. The final stage, Rhetoric is built upon the first 2 stages of memorization and logic and moves more into expression. This stage is where your student morphs into original writing and speeches. They may find more specialized things that they want to study as well.
Many who choose the classical approach also teach Latin to their children, though it isn’t a requirement. The classical method is about a systematic approach to learning. It is built on the understanding of how a student’s developing mind works and uses that to the best advantage for learning.
Why do some parents love classical? Parents that choose classical methods are usually impressed with its academic prowess. Classical students are given a top-notch education, no doubt. Also this appeals to those who like a chronological approach to history, science and literature versus jumping around through history or not having a congruent theme throughout the curriculum. This definitely draws in the logical, engineering types but don’t be mistaken in thinking that it lacks in creativity or art.
Why do some parents skip classical? Some feel classical is too rigid, especially in the grammar stage with all the memorization. Others are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of work and requirements that it seems to involve; while others don’t agree with the stages as laid out by the classical model.
If you’re interested in reading more about the classical method I’d suggest reading Susan Wise Bauer’s book, The Well Trained Mind. She is the classical homeschool guru.
There are several curriculums that are based on the classical method – Tapestry of Grace and Veritas Press for example. But you can piece this together yourself which is another reason to read The Well Trained Mind.
The Unit Study Approach
The next style we’ll be looking at is the unit study approach. The unit study method is probably the most thematic approach to learning; where all or at least most of the subjects are integrated into one common theme. Often the theme is chosen based on your child’s particular interest as a way to make learning more exciting and interesting to them.
Unit studies tie in history, science, reading, spelling, art and writing based on the topic you’ve chosen. For instance if you decide to study Egypt your history would be Egyptian history, you would study science of mummification or medicinal treatments. You might build a model pyramid, make your own hieroglyphics and read literature based in historical Egypt. You can take spelling and vocabulary words from your readings as well. Math may be a little trickier – and when I’ve done unit studies I’ve let math be its own thing.
Why do some parents choose unit studies? Well, many of the parents that homeschool with unit studies love the all-inclusive aspect of the theme in the curriculum. This approach also allows parents to teach the same topics to all of the children, but at the level of their learning; so this can lessen the work load a bit. Many feel that unit studies are a more natural way of learning and less fractured than the traditional model so that one subject flows seamlessly into another. It is particularly good for the younger years when kids want to do a lot of crafty projects.
Why do some parents shy away from unit studies? Unit studies can be a lot more hands-on than some parents are able or willing to do. Many feel that unit studies fail to cover academics thoroughly, leaving large gaps in areas that the parents or children didn’t find an interest in but should have been covered. Others like unit studies in the early years but as students get older and more independent they move onto more traditional methods.
Konos is the grandfather of unit studies curriculum and is available in large volumes are smaller single units. Others that use a unit study approach, though not as exclusively as Konos, would be Tapestry of Grace, My Father’s World and Sonlight. Also many parents will put together their own unit studies, especially in the elementary years.
The Charlotte Mason Approach
Next I bring you the Charlotte Mason approach to learning. Charlotte Mason was an educator in Britain in the 19th century. And the Charlotte Mason style is modeled after her teachings. Her method was to teach a child with respect at all ages and to approach learning from a more natural real-life way instead of something created for the purposes of learning. Charlotte believed that even the youngest children should be exposed to quality literature versus what she called twaddle or dumb-down children’s books. Ms. Mason never used textbooks and preferred to teach with living books written with an expressed passion for a topic.
Furthermore Charlotte believed that learning must be more than memorizing dry facts for repetition. Rather education should be done through living and sparking new ideas. She also firmly believed that children needed to be outdoors often, exposing them to nature, and its wonder and science, firsthand.
Simply Charlotte Mason says the method can be described in 3 words – atmosphere, discipline and life. Atmosphere because Mason believed that 1/3 of a child’s education is his or her environment. Discipline, Charlotte believed, is the application of good habits which forms character in a child. And, finally life as it applies to education; Mason believed that excellent learning came through living ideas, rich literature and being in nature as opposed to sitting at a desk with a textbook.
So why do parents choose the Charlotte Mason approach? Charlotte Mason believers love the natural approach to learning that this style offers. They want to read more literature than textbooks and feel that tests and rote memorization does not equal academic superiority. Rather learning should happen through reading and discussion or well written material.
Parents who don’t choose the Charlotte Mason approach may be intimidated by it; though it really doesn’t need to be frustrating. Some may feel that the academics are less than appealing without a concrete way to measure what their children have learned.
If this method interests you then you can read A Charlotte Mason Companion or A Charlotte Mason Education for starters. The Charlotte Mason style can be found in the free online curriculum Ambleside Online dot com and others like Winter’s Promise. Also sites like Simply Charlotte Mason can help you put together your own curriculum.
The Unschooling Style
I have to be honest the unschooling or child-directed approach is not one I have used personally in any real capacity. Though I’ve always found it interesting, I’ve been a bit fearful at taking that leap of faith.
Unschooling is definitely the least traditional method of homeschooling. And here’s the thing about unschooling…there really isn’t one definition of it. Unschoolers define their own child-led school as it works for them, their family and each particular child.
Unschooling isn’t really the lack of school or education. However, most would agree that there is little or no formal education. Rather it is based on the interests of the child and their own personal motivation. You won’t find textbooks, workbooks here unless the child specifically requests them. Tests? What’s that?
Proponents of the unschooling method feel that children don’t need to be forced or persuaded to learn. Rather, they are born with the innate desire to seek out knowledge. Instead of forcing a child to learn a specific topic or skill then quizzing and testing; unschoolers feel life is its own education. Through experiences and seeking out information the child will receive a much more natural education.
You won’t find schedules, calendars, rote memorization or isolated subjects here. Most unschoolers allow education to happen throughout the day as it naturally fits into their day. It isn’t to say that math workbooks are never done but may not be presented or taught in a fashion most of us would recognize.
Again it isn’t about not teaching or learning, it is about a different approach to these things.
Why are some parents choosing a child-directed homeschool? Unschooling parents are seeking to get out of the box and want a natural learning environment for their kids. They don’t want to force, plead with or bribe their child into learning. Rather they want to have the child’s own natural curiosity lead the way – keeping the interest and learning more exciting.
It is probably more obvious why parents don’t choose this method. Most that don’t are fearful their child will never learn. That they’ll spend more time playing video games than reading. The opposition are concerned that this style teaches little self-discipline that is required for character and future success. Many believe this method will also not meet their state’s homeschool requirements, while others fear their child will not be able to go to college.
Curriculums – where there aren’t any unschooling curriculums because that would go against the very nature of the style. But you can read about unschooling in books like The Unschooling Handbook, Free Range Learning and Radical Unschooling.
We’re All Eclectic Here
The last method I want to share is the Eclectic approach. This has been our homeschooling approach for many years and we’ve found it works very well for us. I read recently that it is now the most used style in homeschooling today.
Eclectic homeschoolers pull from several different styles and methods to build their homeschool, rather than relying on one particular one exclusively. They may use a traditional math curriculum and phonics program while incorporating a unit study approach to history, science, literature and art. Add in a dose of classical approach to levels of learning and you’ve got a diverse learning environment.
Eclectic is also referred to as a relaxed approach but I am going to say they are not one in the same. Not all eclectic families could be considered relaxed in their style of teaching and expectations. But I think this term also refers to a less rigid philosophy in education. The eclectics find the positives in the methods they like and toss the rest.
Why are parents choosing this method? Well eclectics love choosing from each method as it works for their family. They see that each style really does have positives and several naturally overlap in their approach.
Why do some parents steer clear of this method? I think the main reason is that some are very passionate about their chosen style and feel it offers a superior education. When you’re passionate a particular style you aren’t really looking to bring in other style into the mix.
There are curriculums that incorporate more than one method into their approach. Off the top of my head I can think of Winter’s Promise, My Father’s World, Tapestry of Grace and Sonlight.
I know there are other methods and approaches out there but today I think I’ve covered the biggies. I hope this helps you find your place whether you are just starting out or looking to switch things up. Feel free to leave questions for me in the comments!