Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Brief Description of Homeschooling Methods

A brief description of homeschooling methods

There are a variety of methods and teaching styles that a family can use to homeschool their children. The ultimate goal is to choose the one that works best for both the parent and the child.

Here are some of the more common methods used in homeschooling...

1. Charlotte Mason

A method created by British educator, Charlotte Mason, who believed that education is a combination of three areas: Atmosphere, Discipline, and Life. She stated that children

• learn from their home environment or surroundings (Atmosphere)
• should be taught good habits of character (Discipline)
• should be taught using living thoughts and ideas (Life)

Charlotte Mason homeschoolers rely on books written by authors who are passionate about the subject, as opposed to dry textbooks. The goal is to inspire and retain, rather than indifferent memorization.

You can find a more in-depth description of the Charlotte Mason method in our post, Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason Way.

2. Classical

A principle that centers around the idea that children develop in three different stages called the Trivium. The first stage, or grammar stage, recognizes that children are born with the capacity to absorb and store tremendous amounts of information. Next, they progress to the dialectic stage where their abilities to reason are refined. And finally is the rhetoric stage, which focuses on self-discovery and creative expression.

According to the Classical Christian Homeschooling page defines the trivium as “instructional stages that correspond to cognitive development… and as a natural process that is followed anytime any person of any age learns something new.” You can learn more about the Classical method here.

Waldorf method
Photo by Rounien & Rjabinnik

3. Waldorf

A holistic approach to learning that views the arts, humanities, and sciences as interwoven with one another, not as separate fields of life or experience. This method focuses on a true liberal arts education where the student takes all subjects and not only those in which they excel. There is a strong emphasis on rhythm and balance in the child’s life, beginning in early childhood.

Again, three stages are identified, but the philosophical approach is different from Classical and C.M. The first stage focuses on the early years (birth through age 7), with a relaxed approach that emphasizes rhythm, balance, opportunity for unstructured creative play, and no formal teaching.

The second stage (ages 7 – 14) takes an artistic/imaginative approach to engage the child’s emotions. Teaching is divided into 3 - 6-week lesson blocks. The child is taught to create Good Books - or Main Lesson Books - that display the activities, essays, poems, drawings and other work created as part of understanding the topic.

The final stage is the high school years. Students continue the development of Good Books, but the work intensifies.

To explore the Waldorf method more in-depth, check out this excellent article by Donna Simmons from Christopherus Homeschool Resources.

Montessori method
© Can Stock Photo / halfpoint

4. Montessori

The main goal of the Montessori Method is to promote the joy of learning through a hands-on and step-by-step approach that emphasizes repetition. The method is based on the belief that children should be free to succeed and learn without restriction or criticism.

In the early years, children are taught to develop their observation skills through a variety of hands-on activities that explore the senses, movement, and coordination. The child is provided with a safe but stimulating environment where they can explore and learn without fear of harm.

Grade school children are allowed to proceed at their own pace, exploring the subjects of math, science, reading, and writing in such a way as to develop their abstract thinking ability. There is a great emphasis on encouraging the child to absorb their environment and culture.

For more information on the Montessori Method, please check out the Montessori Mom.

If you'd like to read a fabulous post about Montessori in the Latino home, check out Stacie's post Homeschooling the Montessori Way here on MommyMaestra.

5. Unschooling

Unschooling is hard to define as there are a number of ways to interpret it. It is based on the research of John Holt as described in his book, “How Children Learn” as well as the research done by John Taylor Gatto. In his book, John Holt describes unschooling the following way:

"Birds fly, fish swim, man thinks and learns. Therefore, we do not need to motivate children into learning by wheedling, bribing or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we need to do, and all we need to do, is bring as much of the world as we can into the school and classroom (in our case, into their lives); give children as much help and guidance as they ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest."

There is a greater emphasis on internalizing concepts rather than mindless memorization. Check out my post on unschooling and how to get started.

For more information, visit Unschooling.com

6. Traditional Textbook

Parents buy a complete curriculum provided by one of the many companies tailored to homeschooling. The complete set includes all the books and tools needed to complete the school year and tend to be textbook oriented.

7. Unit Studies

Parents focus on one single topic and cover the core subjects (math, science, reading, social studies, etc.) using lesson plans that revolve around it. For example, you could choose to focus on the Middle Ages and teach the subjects with this theme.

There are hundreds of unit studies available on the Internet, simply Google your topic and add the term “Unit Study.”

8. Delight Directed/Interest Led

In this approach, parents structure their child’s curriculum around the child’s interests. By incorporating complementary materials, parents can foster and develop their child’s interest. For example, if my daughter was fond of butterflies, I would use lesson plans that talk about the life cycle of butterflies, maybe do a science experiment raising caterpillars, start a garden with plant species that attract these little bugs, read books about metamorphosis, and so on.

9. Eclectic

I think this may be the most common style of teaching among homeschoolers. Eclectic is a mix of philosophies, methods, and curricula tailored to best suit your child’s way of learning. Parents can focus on themes and lessons that interest their child and use them to teach concepts across the table (i.e., math, reading, science may all revolve around the Civil War or Ancient Egypt). Your curriculum may be a mix of textbooks and living books, Montessori activities, and Waldorf Good Books.


Believe it or not, this is only a brief introduction to some of the teaching philosophies and methods in use by homeschooling families. Keep in mind, that each practice presented here could and should be ultimately molded by each homeschool family to create the best environment for them. So although Montessori may emphasize the embracing of culture, this does not mean that if you choose the Waldorf method you can’t teach culture, traditions, and language.

Ultimately, I think each family should choose the method – or methods – that work best for them AND their children. This can be difficult, but like any good recipe, when a chef gets the ingredients just right, the result is spectacular!

Did you enjoy this article? Are you thinking about homeschooling your child? Let me help! My book - The Latino Family's Guide to Homeschooling - covers everything you see here and more. 

top photo credit: © Can Stock Photo / EkaterinaMo


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