Homeschool Teaching Methods

Homeschooling: Which Method is Right For Me

Though there are many methodologies and subsets, we’ve started with the most common teaching methods for homeschooling (listed in alphabetical order). As you read through the list, ask yourself which one most resonates with you and your family.

Charlotte Mason (Living Books / Literature Based) Approach

The Charlotte Mason method is named after its founder who lived in England from 1842-1923. Charlotte Mason put heavy emphasis on teaching children using high-quality literature, which she called “living books.” She believed that education should involve the whole person, not just the mind. According to Mason, education is “an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

This approach to education allows children to read really good books, as opposed to portions of really good books or dry textbooks. Children are given ample creative play time, and purposefully involved in real-life situations.

This approach begins by teaching basic reading, writing and math skills, then exposing children to the best sources of knowledge for all other subjects. Students read real books for subjects such as geography, history and literature. Taking nature walks, observing wildlife, visiting museums are considered vital educational activities. Narration and dictation of passages from books and discussion with parents are hallmarks of this approach.

The Charlotte Mason approach may appeal to you if:

  • You love reading large amounts of quality literature.
  • You want to spread a feast of ideas in topics like art, poetry, music, and nature.
  • You believe it is important to diligently work with your children on developing good habits.
  • You believe that children are born persons and not empty vessels to be filled with information.

Some examples of the Charlotte Mason approach are:

Suggested reading for the Charlotte Mason Approach:

A Literary Education: Adapting Charlotte Mason for Modern Secular Homeschooling by Emily Cook

Author lays out how she has brought Mason’s ideology into the modern age for secular homeschoolers.  You’ll read about: · Living books and how to use them · Reading aloud: the why and the how · Nature study in the 21st century · How to inspire creativity in your children · How to get the most out of the preschool years · How to combine children of multiple ages · And much more! In A Literary Education, Emily shares her 14 year homeschool journey and how she has learned to take Charlotte Mason’s method of home education into the 21st century to give her children a beautiful living books education.

Classical Approach

The aim of classical education is not to create a worker for a specific job, but instead create a virtuous person who seeks to continue learning throughout his or her life.

In the Classical Approach, children are taught tools of learning, collectively known as the Trivium. The first stage, the Grammar Stage, covers ages 6-10 and focuses on reading, writing, spelling, and Latin. Skills are developed in observation, listening and memorization.

At ages 10-12, children’s independent or abstract thought signals the Dialectic Stage. Instead of suppressing the child’s tendency to argue, the teacher molds and shapes it by teaching logical discussion and debate, and how to draw correct conclusions and support them with facts.

The final Rhetoric Stage, at about age 15, seeks to produce a student who can use language, both written and spoken, eloquently and persuasively to express what he or she thinks.

Hallmarks of the Classical Approach are the study of Latin from a young age and “conversation” with the great minds of the past through reading literature, essays, philosophy, theology, etc.

The Classical approach may appeal to you if:

  • You believe that education is curiosity, inquiry, and the formation of the moral imagination through stories and great books.
  • You want a strong emphasis on knowledge, reasoning, and written and oral communication.

Some examples of the Classical approach are:

Suggested reading for Classical Approach:

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise

This will instruct you, step by step, on how to give your child an academically rigorous, comprehensive education from preschool through high school―one that will train them to read, to think, to understand, to be well-rounded and curious about learning. The authors outline the classical pattern of education called the trivium, which organizes learning around the maturing capacity of the child’s mind and comprises three stages: the elementary school “grammar stage,” the middle school “logic stage,” and the high school “rhetoric stage.” Using this theory as your model, you’ll be able to instruct your child in all levels of reading, writing, history, geography, mathematics, science, foreign languages, rhetoric, logic, art, and music, regardless of your own aptitude in those subjects.

Eclectic Approach

Eclectic homeschooling is a highly personalized approach to learning, and it is the most commonly used teaching method amongst home educators. It is not a set philosophy like the Classical or Charlotte Mason methods. Instead, parents pick and choose the best parts of several different homeschooling resources depending on their children’s needs and interests.

Eclectic homeschoolers often use textbooks but are not bound to them. Activities are designed by parents in a way that are especially mindful to their child’s learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses.

The Eclectic approach may appeal to you if:

  • You enjoy lesson planning.
  • You like to focus on only a few “important” subjects at any one time time to leave freedom for other pursuits.
  • You want to choose learning materials that specifically fit your student’s learning style.
  • You like to incorporate the ideas of many different educational philosophies, but you do not want to be bound to any one in particular. 

Quality publishers to create your own eclectic curriculum:

Suggested reading for Eclectic Approach:

Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything by Laura Grace Weldon

From the idea that a child learns best naturally, if parents were able to harness a child’s natural bent toward learning then one can instill not only a love for learning but a curiosity about the world. Children and teens blossom academically when the restrictions are lifted and they are free to learn. This book also emphasizes how homeschooling takes center stage in allowing this type of academic freedom. While the author does an excellent job explaining her position she is backed up by an array of experts from neurologists, historians, child development experts and more. The book is filled with hundreds of stories from the experience of homeschoolers around the world.

The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling by Quinn Cummings

As presaged by the title, her writing is quite irreverent, punchy, and witty yet well researched and highly informative. With her development of the concept of Roam Schooling, she helps me better understand my own family’s efforts to integrate the strongest and avoid the weakest aspects of home, online, public, and private schooling.

Traditional Textbook Approach

The Traditional Homeschooling Approach is essentially doing school-at-home using similar methods to those used in public or private schools. This approach is what most parents will find familiar from their own days in public school. Traditional textbook curriculum have graded textbooks in each subject and follow a scope and sequence that covers each subject in daily increments for a 12-year, 180-days-a-year academic program. Using the same publisher throughout the years will provide a solid, comprehensive education.

You’ll find that teacher’s manuals, tests, and record-keeping materials are available to simplify your job as a parent-teacher. Workbooks allow more independent study and require minimal teacher preparation time and supervision. Many publishers of traditional textbooks offer opportunities for video or online classes.

If your child is used to public or private school, then Traditional textbooks may a good way to start homeschooling. This method provides structure and reliability.

The Tradition Textbook approach may appeal to you if:

  • You want to stick with what’s familiar.
  • Your children may at some point return to either public or private school.
  • You don’t enjoy individual lesson planning.
  • You enjoy checklists and clear, measurable results.

Examples of the Traditional Textbook Approach:

Unit Study Approach

A unit study involves taking a theme or topic and delving into it deeply over a period of time. Language arts, science, social studies, math and fine arts — are integrated as they apply. All subjects are blended together and studied around a common theme or project.

Some advantages in using this method are that all ages can learn together, each at his or her own level. Planning time is reduced because subjects are not taught separately. Curiosity and independent thinking are generated. There are no time restraints. Intense study of one topic at a time is a more natural way to learn and because knowledge is interrelated, it is learned more easily and remembered longer.

The Unit Study approach may appeal to you if:

  • You like hands-on learning centered around a central topic.
  • You desire for all of the children in your family to learn the same topic at the same time.
  • You want to easily follow your child’s interests in a structured way.

Some examples of a Unit Study approach include:

Suggested reading for Unit Study Approach:

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori McWilliam Pickert

Combines children’s interests with long-term, deep, complex learning which is an essential experience for children: to spend time working on something that matters to them, with the support of a dedicated mentor. This book is an introduction and guide to creating the circumstances under which children can teach themselves. The author gives parents concrete tips for helping children do challenging, meaningful, self-chosen work. From setting up a workspace that encourages independence to building a family culture that supports self-directed learning to concrete suggestions for a step-by-step approach to inquiry-based investigation. An important take-away is that project-based learning can be *part* of an overall educational plan and doesn’t have to be a stand alone program.

Unschooling (Child-Led / Interest Based) Approach

The Unschooling Approach is often defined by John Holt, a 20th century American educator who believed children have an innate desire to learn and a curiosity that drives them to learn what they need to know when they need to know it.

Unschooling philosophy is children need access to more of the real world. Children should be given plenty of time and space to think over their experiences and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them. Parents should be on hand to give advice, road maps and guidebooks to make it easier for them to get where they want to go.

This method of schooling does not mean no education is taking place.  It means that parents are choosing to be relaxed in their homeschool structure. They rely on life experiences or specific interests of their children to direct most of their educational goals rather than traditional textbooks or even non-traditional written curricula.

The Unschooling approach may appeal to you if:

  • You want ultimate flexibility in learning.
  • You have faith that given the freedom to choose, children will be self-motivated to learn.
  • You believe that children learn better when they are not forced or coerced, but instead are allowed to choose their own learning topics and methods.

Suggested reading: 

Once you’ve decided on a teaching method, there are still many options for curriculum! A favorite resource for helpful in-depth reviews is Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

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