Homeschool Styles: An Overview

The general consensus in the homeschool community is that there are five basic homeschool styles. This does not mean that you have to choose one and stick to it. Some families do, and that's great for them. At our house, our homeschool style sounds more like a coffee order and may change from day to day. Now that I think about it our family homeschool style is probably a little closer to a Waffle House order - we aren’t that sophisticated. Pull two unit studies and a classical, drop four living books, scattered, with an extra side of our version of unschooling. I think this may be called eclectic homeschooling but I haven’t really delved into what that is yet.


You get the picture. You take what works for your family, mix it together, and modify as you need to.

TRADITIONAL: Traditional homeschooling is very much like classroom schooling. Things are broken into subjects, often fairly rigidly. Think textbooks, workbooks, and testing. I believe this is where most of us default to when we first start thinking of homeschooling. I also think this is where many of us become overwhelmed. Nothing about homeschooling has to be traditional. Or maybe you want some of it to be. Traditional is an option. I urge you not to choose a traditional method of instruction because you fear that your children could not adapt to this style of learning if they returned to public school or that they won’t be prepared for classroom learning if they choose to go to college.

  • We use a traditional approach for math with Math U See curriculum.

CLASSICAL: If you choose a classical approach to educating your child, you will likely follow the Trivium. The Trivium includes the Grammar Stage (ages 6-10), the Dialectic Stage (ages 10-12) and the Rhetoric Stage (ages 13-18). The Grammar Stage places heavy emphasis on memorization. This will include language arts, history, science, math, foreign language, etc. The Dialectic stage will focus on logic, debate, higher level math, and understanding and investigate why what you are learning is true. The third stage of the Trivium, the Rhetoric Stage, continues on the Dialectic tract but becomes more rigorous. Classical education is systematic and explicit with a great deal of emphasis on speech and writing.

UNIT STUDIES: The unit studies approach incorporates all or most subjects into one theme or topic. For example, when studying America, we read books about different people or time periods (history), labeled maps and explored battle grounds and historic sites (geography), determined how many years had passed from one event to another or figured out which of our relatives were alive during an event and how old they were (math), learned about common diseases and remedies (science), read historical fiction books and biographies (literature), wrote a family “Bill of Rights” and made a list of unfamiliar vocabulary words and definitions (language arts), etc. You can really run with a unit study. I have found that it becomes easier and easier to dive into a topic and work up a unit study. This approach also has the added bonus of a flexible timetable. Maybe you study Ancient Egypt for a year, but you only choose to spend five weeks on Oceans.

  • We use this approach a lot for science, history, and topics of interest. I love the Unit Studies available from Gather ‘Round Homeschool. We completed their Oceans study when we found out we were moving to the Florida coast and will do the U.S. Government mini Unit Study this fall prior to the election.

CHARLOTTE MASON: This approach uses short lessons that help hold a child’s interest. Learners demonstrate their understanding through conversation and narration. Charlotte Mason homeschooling uses a varied schedule that spreads subjects out throughout the week. It is rich in literature and offers a generous curriculum across a wide range of subjects. The idea is to foster a love of learning, to build and shape character, and to develop lifelong habits. It is considered a whole person methodology.

  • We use the Charlotte Mason method for Memory Verse, art, poetry and literature. We love living books.

  • Charlotte Mason was a British educator from the 1800s. She will not be a speaker at your first homeschool convention. Don’t ask. Ask me how I know!

UNSCHOOLING: This approach is child-directed or student interest-led. There is no set curriculum or academic schedule. When your child expresses interest in something you let them dive in until they are ready to move on. There are no mandatory subject areas and no academic requirements. Unschooling is experiential learning on steroids. It includes play, field trips, research, reading, read-alouds, experiments, volunteer opportunities, internships, or whatever other methods of learning your child chooses. Unschoolers learn through living life and pursuing interests. Learners may take elective classes as part of their unschooling experience, but they are usually topical and always based on the interest of the learner. Learning is fluid and may cross many subject areas. Parents provide guidance and direction but act more as an educational facilitator rather than a teacher. This is a beautiful way to get to know your kids and see them excited about what they are learning. I am still learning about this homeschool style so I'm just sharing what little bit I know. I love curious minds, so this homeschool styles is so intriguing to me. It is also the one that I have the hardest time embracing across subject areas. #recoveringcontrolfreak

  • We unschool whatever my kids express interest in. If they ask questions about a topic, I grab my phone and login to our library app to reserve a book or two on the subject. When we pick up the books they are just available, not mandatory reading. I may ask if they learned anything cool in the _____ book from the library, but that's really it. I do have to fight the urge to encourage (aka force) them to read all the books we get.

  • Recent topics have included cooking, photography, amphibians, fishing, ocean life, bait farming, gardening, YouTubing, and many other things. Unschooling is why I say we are year-round homeschoolers.

  • We are not radical unschoolers and some seem to think this philosophy of homeschooling is an all-in or not-at-all type of thing. There are some areas of our school that use coercion to get the job done. I think this invalidates our Unschooler Membership Card (there is no such thing) but we’re okay with that. Please do not report us to the Unschooling Police (another thing I just made up). The more I research this homeschooling style, the more fascinating I find it, but I don’t think we will ever be radical unschoolers . It’s just not for us right now. Who knows though?

  • I have read John Holt's Learning All the Time. John Holt it a big name in unschooling if you want to check him out.

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