10 Homeschool Methods, Styles & Approaches: Which is Yours?
Out of all the homeschooling methods and styles, what’s the best one? The answer isn’t always the same for every family as different people have different tastes. Furthermore, parents and children have educational preferences about the way they want to home educate which will mean every homeschool looks a little (or a lot) different from the other. Indeed, we’ve identified 10 different ways to homeschool in this article! But, the best way for you will depend on what you like!
There are plenty of homeschooling methods, but in this blog, we’ll be looking at the main ones outlined below, namely the:
- Classical method
- Charlotte Mason method
- Montessori approach
- Waldorf/Steiner approach
- Unschooling style (and its radical unschooling version)
- Unit Studies
- Traditional method(school-at-home)
- Natural Learning approach
- Multiple Intelligences theory
- and Eclectic Approach
Let’s dive in and check out these different methods!
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The Most Popular Education Methods
Out of all the home education methods, what is the most popular one? The Home Education Association (HEA) also asked this question and conducted a survey that noted the diversity of approaches and curricula choices among home learning families. They found the following:
- 31% preferred natural learning
- 27% were eclectic homeschoolers.
- 15% of families unschooled
- 11% used the Charlotte Mason approach
- 8% adopted a school-at-home approach and
- 8% used the classical approach
I thought these percentages were an accurate representation of Australian parents’ choices, but I wasn’t convinced it was a good reflection of Americans. So I did a quick survey of American Christian homeschooling mums, and here were my results:
Pretty different. These results, I believe, reflect the difference between Australian and American homeschoolers. From what I’ve read and heard, more Australians tend toward homeschooling because they have ‘hippy’ tendencies. But, I suspect more Americans are homeschooling because they have Christian convictions. This may also explain the disparity between the number of unschoolers in the U.S. compared to Australia.
The Classical Homeschooling Method has three stages that teach according to the stage the brain is at naturally. When children are young, they tend to think about things using concrete ideas and forms. (This is stage 1)
But, when they get older, they begin to integrate their thoughts and synthesize their learning more. (This is stage 2) Finally, when they enter their teenage years, they begin to think very deeply about things, and are able to think abstractly. (This is stage 3)
The Classical Method of education capitalizes on the different ways a person’s brain thinks in these different stages. It uses the Trivium to do this. The Trivium consists of:
In the Grammar stage, children focus on the tools of learning. They learn how to write, and how to use grammar properly. They may do things repetitively to cement the ideas they’ve learned.There is a video of this stage here.
In the Logic Stage stage, children deepen their knowledge and add layers to the elementary teaching they were taught in the Grammar stage. This is a good time for educators to introduce debating, as debate makes children think about and synthesize the things they’ve learned. Debate also has a plethora of other benefits. There is a video of this stage here.
In the Rhetoric stage, children are ‘becoming independent, forming their own opinions and starting to separate from their families’. Now is a good time for educators to teach children about persuasive and loving ways to confer their opinions – again this is done in many ways including teaching more advanced debating techniques. There is a video of this stage here.
The Classic approach focuses more on reading and writing and accomplishes learning through written and spoken works rather than TV, videos, and pictures. The amount of reading is one of the advantages of this method for people who love books. However, if your family isn’t into books in a big way, you might consider another method.
If you want to know more about the Classical method, A Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home has been a very popular book among parents.
But, if you’d like to go straight to looking at homeschool curriculum, check out Memoria Press.
The reason many people choose homeschooling is that they would like a gentler education than schools offers. The Charlotte Mason (CM) method is quite a gentle approach.
The Charlotte Mason approach was founded by the British educator, Charlotte Mason. A homeschooler herself, Mason believed educators should teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills to everyone. To Mason, everyone deserved a good education – from poor housemaids to the sons of noblemen.
CM homeschooling is a delightful way of teaching children as it takes the good parts of Classical Education and makes them work in a less rigid and arduous way for students. For instance, CM advocated short lessons, nature walks, and field trips.
Apart from reading, writing, and arithmetic, CM believed other learning should be conducted by exposing children to different sources of knowledge through nature and living books.
Exposing children to real-life situations and giving them plenty of time to play and create, makes happy learners who love learning so much they learn to educate themselves.
Mason also advocated testing children in a non-confrontational way. For instance, when testing comprehension of a book that a parent has just read to their child, the child should narrate back to the parent (in different words) what they have just heard.
This way the child is tested on what they know, without the stress of feeling like they are being examined. Consequently, many CM students show adults what they’ve learned through narration (telling parents verbally or with art, dancing, or writing).
If you want to know more about the Charlotte Mason homeschooling method, it’s best to hear it from the horse’s mouth. That is, Charlotte Mason wrote a 5 Part series on Home Education as you can see in the Amazon list below. I’ve read the first volume and it is superb, entertaining and extremely enlightening.
When I think about the Montessori homeschooling approach, I think about a really hands-on method of learning.
Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms, children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process. Children work in groups and individually to discover and explore knowledge of the world and to develop their maximum potential.
- Respect for the child
- The sensitive periods
- The absorbent mind
- Mixed-age groupings
- The prepared environment
- The curriculum areas
- Montessori materials and
- The Role of the teacher
Maria Montessori believed children learn best when the environment they learn in supports their natural desire to learn and acquire skills.
A hands-on approach is especially great for younger homeschoolers, who aren’t quite ready for heavy formal study.
If a Montessori education is something you love, perhaps you will consider setting up your own Montessori house, a friendly environment that encourages independence, order, and coordination in the home.
Rudolf Steiner’s education theory (also called Waldorf education), has some great elements to it, such as its advocacy for hands-on, creative play and it’s the use of a monthly learning theme called the Main Lesson.
Furthermore, it seems Steiner students are well-behaved and in-touch with the world. This has meant Waldorf education has grown in popularity and more homeschooling parents are considering it for their children.
Personally, I love some elements of the Waldorf/Steiner approach, in particular:
- it’s avoidance of technology early in children’s lives
- the deliberate mentoring relationship teachers form with their students
- using natural materials for play
- doing tasks as a team, and
- how teachers encourage students to learn hands-on skills they’ll use in life.
As a Christian, I wouldn’t be choosing to use all aspects of a Steiner education in my homeschool. However, I’m keen to use some tenets of this method as it has so much to offer!
Unschooling is education through daily experiences. It is one of the best ways to promote interest-based education in your homeschool!
If a child expresses an interest in learning something, parents can unobtrusively facilitate that learning through life.
For instance, they could go shopping and learn about:
- geography – as they learn to use the bus timetable and figure out a map
- mathematics – as they learn to add the cost of products with the amount of money they have and
- business – what’s a good deal in life and what’s not.
With the unschooling method of education, learning happens as a part of life. It is not a separate area of life where ‘now we’re learning,’ or ‘now we’re playing.’ Rather, learning in an unschooling environment is what happens when you live life.
The term, ‘unschooling’ was coined by John Holt, a schoolteacher who became so frustrated with the school system because of its rigidity. As a result, Holt said unschooling should allow children as much freedom as the parents can bear so they can learn unfettered by unnecessary rules, procedures, and busywork.
Radical Unschooling Style
Radical Unschooling is when children are encouraged to follow their interests completely and whole-heartedly. Parents give children complete freedom to learn what they like.
They let their children make all the decisions – no chores, no rules, no bedtime, no exams and no meal times. Parents don’t tell children what to eat, or when to go to bed or how much television or video games they can watch.
Some claim radical unschooling is unparenting because parents, in the words of Lorraine Devon Wilke, seem to ‘abdicate their role of parents‘.
Radical Unschooling is about as ‘free’ as ‘education’ gets…if you can call it education.
Personally, I’m hesitant when it comes to radical unschooling, because of it’s extreme philosophy.
This educational approach is a fantastic choice for large families. This is because you can teach all your children at once with the same curriculum. It’s also very hands-on, meaning younger children who struggle to sit still, can learn by moving around, thereby maintaining their interest.
Older siblings also teach younger siblings with this curriculum meaning older siblings will learn leadership skills while learning the topic particularly well.
If you’re interested in this homeschooling method, check out this article on Unit Studies as it tells you a little more about it and shows you different curriculum options for this educational style.
The school-at-home method is the one people think about when they hear that someone is homeschooling. Having been raised in the school environment, many of us can’t imagine a method (like the ones above) that’s different from the method that’s used in schools.
This is also why many people start homeschooling by replicating the educational methods used in schools.
That is, children start work at 9 am and some hours later. They:
- sit in chairs and listen to the teacher
- get homework and must submit their papers
- are tested using exams.
In reality, this method is used more by inexperienced homeschooling parents, and less by experienced homeschooling parents.
This is because using this approach, if done in a strict manner, at home has been linked to causing burnout. In short, it’s too hard and doesn’t suit home well. (Besides, many people are homeschooling to get away from school!)
This said some parents find it easier to use a relaxed traditional homeschooling method in the formative years. They find it easy to purchase a boxed curriculum and start with a method that’s familiar to them. If this is you, consider looking into the following curricula:
- Easy Peasy All In One free program (online program and printouts)
- Abeka Academy curriculum (video or paper-based)
- Bob Jones University curriculum (video or paper-based)
- Switched-on-Schoolhouse or Monarch (an offline or online homeschooling curriculum)
Many people also object to traditional home education as it can make the cost of homeschooling quite high. However, as mentioned above, there are some great free options out there if you’re interested in a free home education curriculum.
8. Natural Learning
Natural Learning has a fuzzy definition.
Indeed, some say it is really radical unschooling. Others say it’s interest-based learning.
Like it’s title suggests, the Natural Learning approach encourages children to follow their curiosity and learn from their environment.
That can’t be a bad thing. But, to me, it seems like an incomplete educational approach.
Consequently, many people use the Natural Learning approach in conjunction with another method – this is called relaxed eclectic homeschooling.
The theory of Multiple Intelligences says that everybody differs in intelligence in different ways according to the different intelligences they possess.
We all have strengths and weaknesses in specific areas. Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory says there are 8 main intelligences (with perhaps more that are undiscovered) including:
- Intrapersonal MI,
- Interpersonal MI,
- Bodily-Kinesthetic MI,
- Naturalistic MI,
- Musical MI,
- Visual-Spatial MI,
- Logical-Mathematical MI, and
- Verbal-Linguistic MI (read more about them here)
Learning can be changed according to our intelligence area, but that doesn’t mean we should exclude trying to learn using other intelligences.
MI theory also says our intelligences can differ according to our experiences and our practice at strengthening different intelligences.
However, MI theory also says we will find using our strongest intelligence easier and more natural than using other intelligences that are not so strong.
As such, we could use MI to show us the easiest way to learn new concepts. This theory might also help us determine how children with special needs learn best.
This said MI is not really a homeschooling method that we should base all our learning on. But, it may be used in conjunction with another home education approach.
The Eclectic home education method takes ideas from different homeschooling methods and forms its own style of education.
It tends to get information from multiple sources, styles, and theories to gain a complementary understanding of a subject.
Eclectic learning can include attending school part-time and doing distance education.
It can be a way of incorporating unschooling activities into a Classical form of education.
Many Christian home educators choose an eclectic approach that mixes the Classical Approach with the Charlotte Mason Educational Approach.
The eclectic homeschooling method gives educators the things they love in a Classic education plus gentleness and flexibility as seen in a Charlotte Mason approach. That’s what I’ll be choosing!
This approach reminds me a little of the classical and Charlotte Mason methods in that it values using good and interesting books in education. Ideally a literature-based course uses living books where it can, instead of dry textbooks.
But, you can read more about this approach here.
Lapbooking is a homeschooling method you’d use in conjunction with one of the other homeschooling methods.
That’s because lapbooking is a little like creating an organizational system for the things you learn.
You get a big folder and you create small books about the things you learn to go in the larger folder.
If you want to know more about this method, check out this link.
Tapestry of Grace is an example of a curriculum that uses lapbooking.
Of all the homeschooling styles and approaches, I think the eclectic method is the best. While all the methods of education have good parts and bad parts, tying yourself down to one approach can be dangerous. But, taking the good parts from each approach and applying it to your home education is a good idea. As such, my homeschool will be eclectic with a bit of Classical, Charlotte Mason and Montessori education.
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