Are you a new homeschooler? Trying to make sense of all the different homeschool methods and styles? You may think there is one way to homeschool, but you would be wrong. There are as many “flavors” of homeschooling as there are unique homeschooling families. Here’s your essential guide to homeschool methods. We’ll tell you what makes each method unique, which curriculum companies fit that method, and how to implement that method in your home.
Want to read this later? Download this post as a PDF. Or scroll down to listen to the podcast.
My posts contain affiliate links.
The traditional method of homeschooling will be similar to what you’re used to in a traditional classroom setting. Many families start with this method when they’re brand new homeschoolers because it’s familiar and many times you’ll get “school in a box” from a curriculum company. That means you don’t need to come up with lessons or figure out what your child needs to learn in math this year. The whole scope and sequence has been done for you.
While it’s fine to start with a traditional homeschool style, many families do branch out once their confidence builds. That’s because families realize they can embrace the freedom that comes from homeschooling and not replicate public school at home.
Plus, a traditional approach most likely takes much more time than homeschooling should take per day. And if you’re purchasing complete curriculum, it can be pricey.
Here’s an explanation of the educational philosophy of this approach plus a list of popular curriculum companies for homeschoolers who want to use this style.
A traditional method uses textbooks as the main tool and students complete worksheets for the lessons. Many computer-based schools and courses also use this methodology, which has a student listen to the teacher teach the lesson for the day.
Students can tend to have a passive approach with this philosophy, as the teacher has the responsibility to pour all the knowledge into the student. Then, the student has to remember that information to take quizzes and tests.
The benefits of this philosophy are that you know your child is learning “what he needs to learn at this grade level” if you’re purchasing curriculum from a reputable company. Plus, all the lesson planning is done for you.
The challenges are that your child may hate school and not love learning because it can be time-consuming, boring, and dry. Plus, not every child’s learning style will work well with a traditional approach.
This philosophy places your child at a different grade level each year. It is a standardized approach that may not work for children with special learning struggles or children that are advanced.
Traditional approaches tend to use lesson plans and teacher’s manuals that end up replicating a school-at-home approach. There isn’t much flexibility in this approach and it’s not as easy to take days off or customize the lessons.
Again, this isn’t a terrible methodology! Many people use it. But I would recommend a take-it-one-year-at-a-time approach with your methodology. If this is your first time homeschooling, there is comfort in an all-in-one boxed homeschool curriculum. But give yourself permission to learn more about the other ways of homeschooling and possibly branch out to another method that fits your family better.
Here are reputable curriculum companies that use the traditional method in their resources.
For computer-based curriculum and courses, try these companies:
Charlotte Mason Approach
Charlotte Mason was a 19th century British educator whose philosophy remains popular in homeschool circles. She advocated for the use of living books rather than “twaddle,” much time in the natural world with nature studies and a nature journal, plus including music, art, and poetry in the education of young children.
Since living books are a big part in the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy, let’s start there.
What are living books? The easiest way to describe them is to say what they are not. They are not textbooks. You know how textbooks are dry, dull, and written by “experts” who aren’t necessarily passionate about a subject? Now, consider a book about birds written by a birder who is absolutely enamored with the subject. There are beautiful illustrations and pictures and interesting tad-bits. The passion of the author comes through in a living book. Which one would you rather read? Which one would your child rather read?
The Charlotte Mason approach is big on living books, but it also emphasizes things like short lessons, nature study, and the use of narration as a tool of assessment and teaching instead of piles of worksheets.
Narration is simply when the student “tells back” what they’ve just learned from a lesson or read from a book. In this way, you can have a dialogue with your child and immediately know if they understand the lesson.
Charlotte Mason homeschools usually include geography, Bible, recitation, math, dictation, poetry, science, book of centuries, and nature studies.
You can find made-for-you Charlotte Mason curriculum or just learn the philosophy and craft your own homeschool lessons using her approach.
To learn more about this methodology in her own words, you can read Charlotte Mason’s original education series, Home Education.
A few other books that are helpful in understanding this philosophy would be Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion and More Charlotte Mason: A Homeschooling How-To Manual by Catherine Levison.
For curriculum publishers from a Charlotte Mason philosophy, check out these options:
Classical education shares many of the same characteristics of a Charlotte Mason approach, and so some families use a blend of the two approaches.
But at its core, the classical approach looks at a child’s education in three distinct stages, each with their own goals and expectations. These three stages of learning are called the Trivium. They are:
Grammar Stage: In K-6, students are focused on memorizing the facts and information that they will need in each content area. They do this through songs, chants, and rhymes.
Logic or Dialectic Stage: Then in grades 7-9, students are ready to begin reasoning and figuring out the logic behind arguments. They are not just content to memorize information, they need to understand the “why” behind it all.
Rhetoric Stage: Finally, in grades 10-12, students are encouraged to become independent in their reasoning and argumentation. Through effective writing and persuasive communication, students gain wisdom in their approach to life.
A classical education emphasizes the Great Books and focuses on history and language. Many classical homeschoolers include Latin studies.
The best book I’ve ever read that explain the classical approach and how it practically looks in a homeschool day is The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.
Check also The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer and Leigh A. Bortin’s book, The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education.
Classical Conversations is a local homeschool co-op and community that helps walk your family through homeschooling your kids with a classical approach. We spoke to Robert Bortins, CEO of Classical Conversations, on episode 65 of the Homeschool with Moxie Podcast.
Here are curriculum companies that follow a classical methodology:
Unit Studies provide a great approach if you want a hands-on style while also teaching multiple ages together. Since the learning is based around a topic, you can adjust the expectations and learning goals of each child in your home, while still studying similar content.
The unit study teaching style takes a particular topic and then pulls in multiple content areas to study that all relate to that topic.
So, for example, if you use an Amelia Earhart unit study, your kids in grades K-4 will learn geography, science, and history topics from this one study. You’ll have engaging lessons with hands-on learning, plus you can pull in lots of living books. You could probably even teach older kids in grades 5-8 using this unit study by just extending the learning for them, or assigning additional reading, study, and learning. The lessons in this particular unit study are:
- Who Was Amelia Earhart?
- Science Secrets of Flying
- People and Places in Amelia’s Life
- Lessons to Learn From Amelia
- Goodies and Gadgets of Flight
The educational philosophy behind the unit study approach is to provide the joy of discovery for children and instill a love of learning. By using your kids’ interests to your advantage, unit studies allow you to engage your children in their learning. Plus, you can teach multiple content areas with one topic. You can also teach multiple ages together more easily.
Check out these companies for homeschool curriculum that follows a unit study approach.
The Montessori Method is used primarily with younger children to help them gain independence in the learning process. Its focus is on the learning environment and helping children to learn at their own pace. It is named for its founder, Maria Montessori, who began a Montessori School in Italy in the early 1900s using the methodology that now bears her name.
The Montessori educational philosophy believes that children are naturally curious and excited to learn. It aims to harness these natural capabilities to nurture growth. A carefully prepared learning environment with materials and resources is key to a Montessori education. A Montessori learning area is a stimulating environment that fosters a child’s independence.
Montessori education emphasizes self-directed learning, hands-on experiences, and collaborative play. This philosophy gives independence and choice to the child, because if the child initiates the learning, he will be more likely to learn.
Here are the types of items and resources that you will find in a Montessori Homeschool:
- math manipulatives
- sensory materials
- natural learning materials
- trays to define work areas
In short, the Montessori methodology promotes child-centered, hands-on learning to foster a natural independence, curiosity, and love of learning.
Here are additional places to find Montessori curriculum and resources:
The Waldorf methodology began with Rudolf Steiner in Europe in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.
The main tenets of this methodology are:
- holistic liberal arts education
- subjects are not separated from each other
- goal is to cultivate child’s imagination
- follows your child’s pace of learning
- natural learning philosophy
- discourages standardized testing
- learning through experiences
Early education that follows the Waldorf education method uses primarily experiences and activities rather than textbooks and worksheets.
It can be harder to track down Waldorf Curriculum, but here are a few resources to check out.
Many, many homeschooling families land on an eclectic style of homeschooling after several years. Why is this? Well, most of us try a little of this and a little of that. We buy curriculum that we think will work for our family. We toss curriculum that doesn’t work for us, even when our friend says it’s the magic bullet. And then we finally learn about our kids’ learning styles, our homeschooling style, the priorities we have for our families, and…
You may like some aspects of several styles of homeschooling, but you wouldn’t consider yourself “all in” with a particular style. You may like the living books and narration components of Charlotte Mason, then jump in on the emphasis of Great Books of Western Civilization from the Classical method, but still love a traditional textbook approach to math – so you’re an eclectic homeschooler.
There’s no shame in pulling the best from each method you resonate with. And your eclectic homeschool may look different for each child or in each different season of homeschooling.
The benefits of an eclectic homeschool is that you can have the best fit for your child’s needs. By combining several methods, you can use different approaches depending on your child’s learning style.
In all honesty, eclectic homeschooling is not a style in itself, but a combination of styles. But it works for a lot of families!
There really aren’t specific curriculum options here, because in an eclectic approach you use what fits from other methods and leave the rest.
So, you might throw in unit studies sometimes but use video courses for your high schoolers. You might homeschool your younger children using a Waldorf or Montessori philosophy, then turn to Classical-based curriculum for your older kids.
So, research and look into the other styles that resonate most with you, and if you can’t see yourself going “all in” with one method, then choose what you like best and create your own eclectic homeschool plan. You can still purchase done-for-you lessons and curriculum if you don’t want to DIY it all.
Unschooling was popularized in the 1970s by educator John Holt, who said: “I broadly define unschooling as allowing your children as much freedom to explore the world around them in their own ways as you can comfortably bear….”
This educational philosophy is child-led. Unschoolers believe that children are born curious and ready to learn, but traditional school squashes that natural learning desire. John Holt believed that children don’t need to be coerced to learn, but would naturally want to learn if given the freedom.
As you can probably guess, unschooling has no formal curricula. Instead, the daily schedule and daily life learning follow the child’s interests and own pace of learning. It is completely hands-of education by the parent and child-led learning at its core.
Conclusion & Additional Resources
If you want to read this later, please download the PDF below.
Have you checked out Cathy Duffy Reviews yet? Cathy is the queen of curriculum reviews and she has helpful quizzes on her site and in her book to help you figure out which type of homeschool method would be best for your family. Listen to our chat on episode 116 of the Homeschool with Moxie Podcast: How to Choose Homeschool Curriculum with Cathy Duffy.
Want ongoing homeschool support? Do you ever wonder: “what should I be doing right now in my homeschool?” Then the Homeschool Mom Collective is for YOU! Join our community and get a monthly step-by-step guide to help you accomplish the most important things to keep your home and homeschool peaceful, productive, and enjoyable.
Free Homeschool Resources
Do you love FREE resources? Join my mailing list to take part in Totally Free Tuesday, Giveaway Wednesday, Tip Thursday, and Freebie Friday each and every month. I join forces with nearly 25 other homeschool bloggers and we all surprise our subscribers with massive lists of homeschool freebies monthly. Join us today.
Podcast Episode 29 about Homeschool Planning
On episode 29 of the Homeschool with Moxie Podcast we talked about the main topics related to beginning homeschooling – like budgeting, planning, curriculum, best tips, and scheduling ideas. Listen to the podcast below!
In episode #28, we tackled the mindset shifts necessary for a good foundation. Now that you’re ready to move forward, this episode gives you all the practical information you need for starting out.
Here’s a list of resources mentioned on today’s episode:
- Members-Only Resource Library
- Homeschool Budget Worksheet (direct PDF download)
- How to Homeschool on a Tight Budget
- Professional Development for Homeschool Moms
- Homeschooling for Beginners (The super simple guide to Homeschool Your First Year)
- Yearly Homeschool Plan Sheet (PDF download)
- How to Plan Your Homeschool Year Like a Pro
- The Only 2 Things You Need to Start Homeschooling Tomorrow
- How to Homeschool Multiple Ages Without Losing Your Mind
- A Day in the Life of a Homeschool Middle Schooler
- Learn How to Plan Your Homeschool Year on Trello
- How to Organize Your Homeschool Schedule on Trello (even if you’re not techie)
Podcast Episode 158 about Homeschool Methods
There is no one right way to homeschool. In fact, there are as many “flavors” of homeschooling as there are unique homeschooling families! In this episode, we’ll talk about 8 of the most common homeschool methods, how they work, and which curriculum fits that style.