Last Updated on October 10, 2023 by Sarah McCubbin
You may be wondering about the different methods of homeschooling. My own image of homeschooling was a direct reflection of my childhood. I was homeschooled in Kindergarten and then again in 6th & 7th grades. In Kindergarten, my mom was all about workbooks and flash cards. In middle school, it was more of the same. So my image of homeschooling was pretty dry. It got the job done, but it was boring if I’m really honest.
Maybe you have an image of different methods of homeschooling based on your experiences or conversations with friends. Maybe you have been scanning Facebook marketplace and Craigslist hoping to score a school desk so you can do school at home. After all…a desk must be required right??
Homeschooling can be an overwhelming if you try to recreate school in your home.
You may be wondering…if I’m not supposed to do school at home, what exactly should homeschooling look like?
And for that, I want to invite you to a starting place. I want you to think about all your educational experiences…school, church, sports, clubs, college etc. What were your favorite experiences there? What activities did you do that you LOVED and which ones did you DREAD?
Which experiences made you feel empowered, unique and special…and which ones made you feel weak, invisible or unworthy?
This is important because it will help you as you look at the methods of homeschooling to see which methods make you feel empowered…which ones are exciting and make you WANT to spend quality time with your kids?
Table of Contents
1. E-schooling or Online Schooling
Online charter schools are nothing new and are not truly homeschooling in the legal sense of the word. However, for many, they are a bridge from public school classroom education to true homeschooling. I want to mention this option for families who are on the fence about homeschooling and are not yet confident that they want to take on the full responsibility for educating their child.
Online charter schools are publicly funded schools that offer classes online, that can be taken from home. They offer the support of a live teacher who teaches and grades student’s work and keeps a record of their grades. It is the truest version of doing “school at home.”
Obviously, this has a lot of benefits for families who want to keep their students out of the school building for any reason. Because it is publicly funded, it is also a free option. However, this option has a lot of teacher oversight which means there is little flexibility for parents to actually choose what is best for their child. Having everything online also has its limitations and can lead to screen fatigue for some students. If a family has multiple children taking classes online, many parents also find it very time-consuming.
These programs require the parents to function as the “learning coach” which means they need to be available to help the students figure out what they should be doing, communicate regularly with the teacher, and navigate tech issues as they arise. Again, this is not a true homeschooling option as you enroll in an online charter school, but it is an option that is on the table and may be best for some families navigating their options.
My Favorite Homeschool Books!
2. Unschooling Method
If you have never heard of unschooling and have only ever done traditional school options, you might be surprised to hear about this one. Unschooling fundamentally believes that we will learn the things we need to learn to survive and meet our goals in life. It is interest-driven education based on the idea that you learn what you are interested in. It is often referred to as experiential learning or nature-based learning. What you call it isn’t really important.
Unschoolers will often let their children choose what to learn about. That may seem contrary to normal education methods. However, as a child picks what they want to learn about, other subjects will naturally be woven in and little rabbit trails can lead to new areas of interest and study. Unschooling works well for large and small families if the parents are intentional about supporting learning in all its many forms.
If you like the idea of teaching your child fractions while baking and cooking or catching tadpoles and then going to the library for a stack of books on frogs, you might enjoy some of the ideas behind unschooling. Unschoolers often choose to use their own learning tools to promote learning and rely less on traditional curriculum, courses, and testing.
Unschoolers learn through a wide variety of life activities. That might include books, hobbies, personal interests, family, friends, travel, work experience, volunteering, play, and any other activity where you can learn. Rather than confine learning to a classroom with defined learning subjects and activities, unschooling supports the idea that learning is happening all the time and that children learn best when they are interested in what they are learning.
Unschooling resists the idea that a standard curriculum, standardized tests, age-based classes, and traditional assessment methods are the most effective.
Of all of the different methods of homeschooling methods, it is the most unstructured, and gives children the most responsibility in their own learning
3. Classical Method
Classical Homeschooling is based on the idea that the way children learn best changes with age and development. It has three stages of education called the Trivium. The first stage is Grammar. The second is Logic, and the third is Rhetoric. These are natural stages that children progress through so the learning that they receive at each stage is tailored to how they learn and process information the best.
The Grammar or Knowledge stage lasts approximately 6 years and is divided into the early and later grammar stage. It begins with the early grammar stage where children are like sponges. They are learning all the time. Learning individual subjects is not as important as the skills of observation and inquiry. Subjects may be combined as children learn how to read, write, listen, make observations and measure results. They are learning how to gather facts and then process or comprehend that information.
Because children learn facts so easily, Classical curriculum for this stage will often have a heavy emphasis on memorizing facts. This is done through songs, rhymes, poetry and chants. They may not yet understand what they are memorizing but as they move to the next stage of development, they will have a bank of knowledge and facts to reference.
The second stage is the Logic or Understanding Stage. In the first stage, students learned a lot of knowledge and facts. But in this second stage their ability to understand becomes a much more predominant facet of their development. This makes formal academic study and the focus on individual subjects much more productive. In order to facilitate understanding, students at this level are taught critical thinking skills to carefully discern things likes motives, meanings, causes and effects.
Students will develop skills that help them learn to analyze, compare and contrast in information they are studying. The second stage lasts approximately 3 years and then students are ready for the final part of the Trivium.
The third stage in Classical learning is called the Rhetoric or Wisdom Stage and it also lasts about three years. Students will continue to acquire knowledge and understanding but are now ready to really focus on an academic study that supports the development of wisdom. It will have a heavier focus on topics of philosophy and values and places a heavier emphasis on discussing ideas in groups and asking good questions.
Students are taught to assimilate all those individual subjects back together in a way that they can apply that information to life in a way that supports their goals and values.
Classical learning takes a structured approach to teaching children and chooses to focus on certain types of content at different stages for the purpose of developing well-rounded adults who are able to live with purpose and intention and make sound decisions.
4. Waldorf Method
Waldorf education is based on the idea that people are body, soul, and spirit. It focuses on the development of a child through an understanding of their humanity and place in the world.
The lower grades place a heavy emphasis on the arts and hands-on learning through drawing, music, outdoor play, and movement. It also has a lot of learning based on imagination and fantasy in the younger years. In the upper grades, there is an emphasis on developing a scientific attitude and learning what is true based on personal experience.
The goal of Waldorf education is for children to develop into adults who have the freedom to choose their path through life.
Two of my sons attended a private Waldorf school for one year. This was my first exposure to Waldorf education. As a parent who had homeschooled for over 10 years, I thought I “knew it all” when it came to the different styles of learning. But their approach was really different. It challenged some of my educational philosophy and caused me to go back and look at how I was educating and homeschooling my other kids at home. They had a very distinct philosophy of education. It made me wonder if I actually had my own philosophy…or was I just making it up as I went along!
Things that I learned in their time there are that Waldorf education prizes experiential learning at a pace a child is naturally able to absorb depending on their development. They believe teaching social skills is as important as any other subject and they give the children plenty of opportunities to practice interacting, problem-solving, and apologizing when necessary. They value outdoor play and exploration and limited use of technology. Our children had 3 outdoor recesses a day when they attended a Waldorf school.
Having appropriate outdoor clothing for ALL weather was absolutely necessary. That year our school supplies included rain pants and snow pants, heavy coats, and quality boots. They spent a lot of time observing nature. And then they would spend time drawing what they observed. It was interesting as well how a Waldorf education prized a slower start to the true academic subjects. They believed that children would more easily learn to read when they were a bit older so they didn’t really start to learn letters until 1st grade and more formal reading until 2nd grade.
In the homeschool environment, the Waldorf approach to learning would pair well with several other methods. I especially like that the children do not use traditional workbooks but instead make most of their workbooks as compilations of their artwork and writing that they do in each subject.
5. Montessori Method
Montessori education is child-directed to some degree. The child’s interests are paired with resources and curricula to build an educational experience that supports their curiosity. It is based on a method first developed by Martha Montessori in the 1900s.
Montessori learning is largely student-led and self-paced, but guided by a teacher or parent. Students learn concepts at their own pace in a way that meets their own learning goals. The child-directed nature of learning is guided by the desire to help children develop self-awareness, feel connected to others and become productive adults. Parents may function more as guides and models than directive teachers.
An interesting hallmark of Montessori education is the “work period” where children choose what to work on for 2-3 hours per day. Their work is monitored and guided by the teacher, but this extended period of work helps them develop focus and attentiveness as well as a deep knowledge of subjects that are interesting and relevant to them.
The learning environment is created to facilitate children being able to easily access resources. Materials and books should be at their level as should tables and chairs. Additionally, Montessori education has many specialized learning tools that help children learn in a hands-on way. Montessori classrooms have many ages in the same class, so this method translates nicely over to the homeschool environment where parents are often schooling several children.
6. Charlotte Mason Method
Charlotte Mason was an educator in the late 1800s and early 1900s. After being orphaned at age 16, she went on to become a teacher. In her early teaching years, she developed a philosophy of education that would change the way many poor children learned. At the time, if you were born into a lower social class, the education you received was something in the trades. But wealthier families were able to provide their children with a more well-rounded liberal arts education.
Charlotte’s vision was that all children should have access to a well-rounded, diverse education regardless of their family status. Over the years, she began to teach and lecture in colleges and to education groups on education-related topics. She knew that for the education system to change, parents would have to be educated on the benefits of a more diverse education and child development. When she was nearly 50, she moved to Ambleside, England, and began a teacher training program and college. She would continue to develop these for the rest of her life. It became the tool she used to help reshape education for all children.
Charlotte believed that one must educate the whole person…not just his mind, through academics. She once said, “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.” From this, a 3 pronged approach to education was developed. She taught that a child’s environment or home was the place for 1/3 of their education. Their environment or “Atmosphere” was a place where they could absorb what their family believed and valued. The next 1/3 of their education would be from “Discipline.” She believed in the cultivation of good habits and character. The last 1/3 would come from “Life” or academics.
She is famous for believing in a living education and encouraging children to read “living books” that both stimulate curiosity and teach about the world. Living books make a subject come alive. They are not textbooks but books written by someone who loved their subject and was excited to communicate that to the reader.
Because of her focus on a living education, the Charlotte Mason method will often include really good literature. Parents may read aloud to their children and encourage their kids to read a variety of good books. They will often enjoy nature studies and spending time learning outdoors.
I hope that quick overview gives you an idea of this method and if it is something you might want to investigate for yourself further.
7. Ecclectic Method – Different Methods of Homeschooling Combined!
The last homeschooling method we will talk about is the Eclectic Method. This is really for a mom that likes a little bit of this and a little bit of that. When you are an Eclectic homeschooler, you will choose to mix and match methods and curriculum.
So if you enjoy your children learning writing in a Classical way, but you want to do science following Unschooling methods, that is fine. Maybe you like the Waldorf method with a lot of hands-on and outdoor learning, but you also appreciate the emphasis on living books in Charlotte Mason. That’s fine. You can pick and choose what works best for your family.
Potentially the only downside to this method is the fact that you do have to piece this together by yourself. You won’t be able to buy a boxed curriculum that is going to have just the right mix. Being an Eclectic homeschooler means that you value choice and should probably enjoy research too!
It is easy to find bloggers who cover the curriculum that fits with a specific method. You can find Charlotte Mason blogs or Montessori or Waldorf. You will also find Eclectic bloggers to show you what that kind of homeschool looks like. They will share their curriculum with you but it will be a much broader offering than if you look at single-method bloggers. You will likely spend a lot more time researching if you go this route…but in the end, you can really pick what works for you and your kids and not be stuck with someone else’s definition of a “good” curriculum.
I have been an Eclectic homeschooler from the beginning. Having this eclectic mindset really helped in a homeschool co-op, because it allowed me to have a more flexible approach to curriculum use. Our co-op was both an academic and elective co-op. As such, we used history, science, and language arts curriculum in our classes. In a co-op, the leaders often pick curriculum that is easy to teach in a co-op setting.
What might work well in a home does not always work well in a co-op. We used a Classical history curriculum, a variety of language arts curricula with some Charlotte Mason elements, and a pretty traditional science curriculum. Our electives were very hands-on. Some were more Unschooling…and others were more structured.
When you join a co-op, you don’t always get much of a say in the curriculum they are using. Maybe you join so that your kids can make friends, but you then need to use their curriculum. If you are flexible in what you are willing to use, it will give you more options as far as finding groups that are close to you or line up well with your beliefs and general philosophy of education.
So, as you can see, being an Eclectic homeschooler has pros and cons just like any other method!
Choose from different methods of homeschooling based on your values & goals
As you think about how you want to educate your children at home, it is important that you know what the big goals are that you are shooting for. Maybe you want to spend more time together doing field trips and less book work. Maybe you want a chance for your student to be challenged academically. Or maybe you want to make sure that you impart your values and faith to your children.
Here is a Free Simple Worksheet to help you figure out your Educational Philosophy & Big Goals
When you know why you are homeschooling, it will be easy to pick the method you want to use that supports your big goals. And don’t worry, you aren’t locked into a method for life. You can always shift gears and change if something isn’t working!