One of the first questions a new homeschooling family needs to answer for themselves is what homeschool method or methods they will use.
When we first decided to homeschool, I was fortunate to find a local class to help families get started homeschooling. One of the topics they covered was the different homeschool methods.
Over the years, we have tried pieces of most of these methods and I would now describe us as eclectic homeschoolers as we incorporate ideas from different methods. Here is an overview of each homeschool method and several links to help you learn more.
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Traditional Homeschool Method
In its truest sense, traditional homeschooling looks similar to a traditional school. You are just bringing it home. It incorporates purchased curriculum. Sometimes families purchase all of the curriculum from one company and sometimes they pull different curriculum together for each subject.
Reason to Use #1: You want to be able to pull out a book and follow explicit directions.
Reason to Use #2: You are hesitant about homeschooling and not sure where to start. This can be a good way to organize your day.
Con: Traditional homeschooling can be expensive and does not give you the flexibility in your day that homeschooling often affords you. It also doesn’t allow you to individualize curriculum to your children as well.
To look at different curriculum: Curriculum Reviews by Cathy Duffy
Classical Education Method
A classical education divides the 12 years of school into three sections.
The first stage covers grades 1-4 and is called the “grammar stage”. During this stage the foundation for the later stages is set. Children focus on the learning of facts in each subject area rather than focusing on self-expression and self-discovery.
The second stage, which covers the middle school years, is called the “logic stage”. It is focused on cause and effect and how information from different subjects fits together into a logical framework.
The high school years are called the “rhetoric stage” and are built upon the previous stages. They are focused on writing and speaking. Students start to specialize in different areas at this stage.
Many families enjoy this method of homeschooling, but for the most part I did not feel it was a good fit for my boys. However, we loosely use this approach to writing. We focus more on spelling and grammar in the early years before tackling actual writing in the later elementary years. This differs from traditional schools, which have the children start working on original writing in kindergarten.
Reason to Use: You want a systematic, rigorous approach to education allowing children to see patterns and make connections easily between lines of reasoning.
Con: This method may not work if you or your children prefer a more relaxed approach to learning. It also relies heavily on memorization and would be a challenge for children who may have difficulty memorizing information.
For a Christian approach to the classical method: Classical Christian Curriculum
For a more secular approach to the classical method: The Well-Trained Mind
Charlotte Mason Homeschool Method
The Charlotte Mason method has a three-pronged approach to education.
The first prong is ‘Atmosphere’, which refers to the natural environment created for children by their parents.
The second is ‘Discipline’ or instilling good habits in children.
The third prong is ‘Life’ or academics.
Ms. Mason believed that children should learn from living books instead of dry textbooks and that handwriting and spelling should be learned from works of good literature. She also promoted time outdoors and learning about art and music.
We incorporate the idea of ‘living books’ in our history learning, using lots of biographies and historical fiction. The Life of Fred series of math books is another set of living books that we have used. We tried to incorporate more of the Charlotte Mason method in the beginning and it seemed overwhelming to me, especially because I was also trying to figure out the best way to work with my children’s learning differences.
Reason to Use #1: You want a well rounded approach that introduces your children to the beauty of the world around them.
Reason to Use #2: You love books!
Con: This homeschool method is a bit harder to schedule. You don’t do each subject every day, but rather stagger them through out the week. It may take longer to fully incorporate this method into your homeschool than some of the other methods.
If you are interested in this method, the Simply Charlotte Mason website is very comprehensive and a great place to start: Simply Charlotte Mason
Montessori Method of Education
Montessori is an educational approach developed by Maria Montessori where children learn by working with materials rather than by direct instruction. Children choose their activities from a set of specific options and then have large blocks of time to work on them. We were lucky enough to have a friend gift us several Montessori math materials and we have used them to assist in our math instruction, but we do not structure our school day as you would in the Montessori approach.
Reason to Use #1: You want to individualize your child’s learning.
Reason to Use #2: You want to foster independence in your child.
Con: Because of the amount of high quality materials one needs to use this homeschool method, it can be a particularly expensive method. It is also requires time spent learning how to present the materials and structure your physical space. You will need a dedicated school area where the materials can be presented.
The Waldorf method divides child development into three stages. During early childhood education, it focuses on hands on activities and creative play. During the elementary years, the focus is on artistic expression and developing social skills, and the secondary years are focused on developing critical reasoning skills and empathy. This is the homeschool method I know the least about, but the website below is full of beautiful resources.
Reason to Use: You would like a more hands-on, creative method to learning.
Con: It can take some time to familiarize yourself with this method and implement it in your home.
Unschooling is an approach to learning that does not use a fixed program as all the others methods above do. Rather, the child directs the learning. This is an approach we often use on weekends, vacations, and in the summers, but “true” unschoolers use this approach as their main method of schooling.
So, for example, we may work in the garden and learn about plant and bug identification and the plant life cycle and change of seasons (science), pulling in resource books as needed (reading) and then drawing or writing some of this information (art/writing/spelling/grammar). We could incorporate math when planning how close to plant seeds in the spring and determining when each plant will mature.
Reason to Use #1: You want to encourage your children to be curious and love learning.
Reason to Use #2: Your children do better when they can learn at their own pace and pursue their own interests.
Con: Children may miss out on developing certain skills and/or learning critical information.
The “founder” of unschooling: John Holt
This is an interesting read about one family’s approach to unschooling: Home Grown by Ben Hewitt
An eclectic approach is when you pull from a few or more different homeschool methods to guide your schooling. This approach best describes the way our family homeschools.
I enjoy using traditional curriculum for the basics like reading, spelling, and math to make sure we are covering those well. We have used the living books and nature study ideas from Charlotte Mason and some of the math and geography materials from the Montessori method. And we enjoy unschooling or learning through life when we are not involved in our more structured school day.
It took us a couple years to figure out how we wanted to incorporate each method and it is possible that this will change again. I would love to be able to have more “unschooling days” as the basic fundamentals are learned and we move more toward applying them to real life situations. So don’t feel like you have to pick a specific method and stick with it for all of the school years. Try what seems best for your family, see what works and adapt as needed.
Reason to Use: More than one of the above methods resonates with you or you don’t feel you want to be limited to one approach.
Con: It may mean learning multiple methods and/or purchasing more materials.
Next in Getting Started Homeschooling: What is Your Child’s Learning Style?
Christian, Neutral, or Secular
Another decision families need to make is whether they want their curriculum to be faith-based or not. Some homeschoolers decide to homeschool BECAUSE they want their children to have a faith-based curriculum. Then, there are some homeschoolers desire a faith-based curriculum even though this was not their main reason for homeschooling. If you relate to either of these situations, then Rebecca at How Do I Homeschool has a great list of Christian homeschool curriculum options for you.
Other families may feel strongly that they do not want any religious bias in their curriculum. They are open to learning about world religions, they just want to do so from a neutral, investigative standpoint. If this is you, then check out this list of secular homeschool curriculum from How Do I Homeschool. Secular curriculum will also teach evolution as scientific theory.
Neutral resources also do no have religious bias and also avoid the science vs. religion debate. You often will not see a difference between secular and neutral resources except in the case of science resources. Therefore, non-science resources labeled “neutral” work well for secular homeschoolers, but also can work for Christian homeschoolers.