by Kimberly Miller
Since shortly after the modern homeschool movement began, there have been a variety of philosophies of (and approaches to) home education. Those differences led to an array of methods for homeschooling. Whether you just started homeschooling, or you have been at it for years, it’s always good to have an understanding of the various homeschool methods available.
From done-for-you curriculums to an eclectic mix of styles, and everything in between, there is a homeschooling method to fit every family. If you choose to do your research and try to discover the method that suits your family best, you may just find that having the right approach could be the key to making homeschooling a success for everyone in your family.
In this post, I hope to share a basic overview of the most common homeschooling methods and some of the benefits and drawbacks of each one. (This is by no means an exhaustive list of every single approach used in homeschooling circles. It is just a highlight of the most commonly used ones.) Hopefully, this will help you get an idea of which method might work best for you and your children. Having a handle on how your kids learn best, as well as what will suit you best as the homeschooling parent, can give you a better insight into what method could be the right one for your family.
An approach many brand new homeschoolers tend to gravitate toward, the school-at-home approach, usually consists of a full textbook style curriculum, along with workbooks, tests, and graded materials. It is essentially a curriculum-in-a-box, taking the guess work out of putting together all the educational materials you might need for your children. It is familiar both for many homeschool parents and new homeschool students who are coming out of a more traditional school setting. There are both Christian and secular curriculums available, so homeschooling families from a wide diversity of backgrounds can find something in this method.
The leg work is done for you. Many homeschooling parents like the feeling of having a safety net, knowing that they have covered all the subjects in a systematic way.
This method does not leave much room for individualizing the curriculum to fit the student’s needs. It is a one-size-fits-all approach that some children find too labor intensive. Curriculums in this approach also tend to be rather expensive in comparison to other methods.
Unschooling/Delight Directed Learning
On the other side of the spectrum is what is commonly known as “Unschooling.” Closely related to Unschooling is an approach known as Delight Directed Learning. Both are more child centered approaches to education, in which the child’s interests and natural curiosity often guide the choices in what the child will study. In this method, the parent as educator trusts that children, having an innate love of learning and a natural desire to understand the world around them, will gravitate toward those things he or she wants to learn about most. It is the parent’s role to provide resources and opportunities for the child to learn.
There is very little burnout or overwhelm happening in this method because it follows the interests of the child and allows them to study as much as they like in the topic they desire to learn about. It tends to be very relaxed and flexible and can fit in with any kind of lifestyle. It also takes into account the natural rhythm many children develop in their intellectual and educational growth.
Because of the lack of formal structure to this method, it can be frustrating for parents who are looking for a sequential, skills based progression to their children’s education. It is difficult to test this approach as well because much of the learning takes place in a highly individualized way that is specific to a particular child.
Bridging the gap between the previous approaches, the Classical approach traces its roots back to the ancient Greek approach to education, which views learning as having three phases (grammar, logic, and rhetoric—known as the Trivium) with an emphasis on the study of language and history. Students in a Classical educational model memorize useful information in the early years, learn how to think through ideas and issues in a systematic way in the middle years, and move on to learning how to articulate and express their views and thoughts in the upper grades. Elements of Classical education can be applied to portions of other methods or approaches.
The Classical approach provides a vigorous education that prepares students well for further education in the liberal arts. It is a time honored educational approached used by scholars in the medieval period as well as being the mode of education experienced by many of the founding fathers of our country.
It can be very intensive and may be too challenging for some students, especially those with learning differences. Some parents may find it a bit overwhelming to implement effectively.
This approach is largely literature based and utilizes what are known as “living books” as a mode of teaching much of the curriculum. Living books are books written on a subject by a single author who is an expert on the subject and usually very excited or passionate about that subject, which comes through in the writing. Much of what is considered classic children’s literature would fall under the category of living books. This method also uses nature study to help children learn about and understand the world around them, as well as encouraging the study of arts and culture by means of exposure to great works of art and music.
This method works with the natural desire of children to learn and understand the world around them. Entry level to this method is easy, as much of it requires simply reading good books with your children, which can be done largely with the use of the library or online sources for free books. It is a child centered approach to learning in that it does not bore the child with useless facts but invites them to discover new things through interesting and enjoyable means.
May not be as rigorous (especially in the early years) as other educational methods. There are few already packaged curriculums to choose from, so parents looking for an open and go method may not feel this one to be a good fit.
The eclectic approach is exactly as it sounds. Parents who take an eclectic approach to homeschooling often choose what they like best about several different methods and combine them to make an educational experience for their children that is truly individualized. This can be appealing for homeschooling families who do not want a one-size-fits-all approach but are willing to put in the work of finding the methods that work best for various parts of their homeschool.
An eclectic approach can be tailored to the needs and desires of the homeschooling family/parent/child. It is a highly individualized approach that suits the needs of many different types of homeschoolers because it plays on the strengths and interests within the family and children.
This method can be labor intensive for the homeschooling parent because it involves researching and often trying out various methods to see which one works for which subjects. There may be some trial and error involved in discovering what works.
A unit study approach combines several school subjects into the study of one central topic. Operating on the understanding that most of life is interconnected, and learning can be as well, the unit study method focuses on one topic (such as the American Revolution or whales) and expands that study into other areas not commonly included (such as learning about medicine in the late eighteenth century in order to cover science of the Revolutionary War period or the history of whaling when studying the biology of whales). It is a natural and immersive approach to learning and most students respond well to it. (HOME has a growing number of unit study guides available in our store.)
This method can be an enjoyable way to study a new topic. Most homeschooling families who use this method find it to be a fun and highly immersive way to learn. It is flexible and can be used in mini units to study a topic for a shorter time when taking a break from another method, so it can easily be integrated into other approaches.
Again, there are few done-for-you options in this method. It can require some prep work on the part of the homeschooling parent. There may be perceived educational gaps when using this method. Sometimes a family will enjoy studying a particular topic so much that they find it difficult to move on to something new (which could be considered both a benefit and a drawback).
I hope you find this brief overview of the more well-known homeschooling methods helpful. Maybe you have found something in this list that appeals to you. I would encourage you to do some research into these methods and find the one that you think might be a good fit for your family. Don’t be afraid to experiment a bit as well and try out some other methods to find one that works best for you and your children. And don’t hesitate to change things up and try something new if the method you’ve used in the past is no longer working. As our children grow and life circumstances change, it can be a good idea to reevaluate what we are doing to see if it is still working, and then change it if it is not.
Remember, this exploration of homeschooling methods is not meant to put pressure on you. It is meant to help you learn more about how to best homeschool your children, and hopefully both you and they will find it a benefit as you travel along on your homeschooling journey together.
Kimberly Miller is the mother of nine children and has been homeschooling them for over twenty years. She has served HOME for almost fifteen years as the Publications Coordinator and a Regional Representative. In addition to those roles, Kimberly is also a freelance editor and a published author of several books, both fiction and nonfiction. In her spare time, she loves reading good books, sipping tea, working in her garden, and enjoying the animals on her family’s hobby farm in Western Maine.