What Are the Different Styles of Homeschooling?

A woman sits with her son and daughter at a dining room table covered in craft materials

When I first decided to jump into homeschooling my two children (6 and 8), I sat clueless. Honestly, I feel silly admitting this now, but I had no idea there was so much research behind it. But as an educator myself, I quickly began nerding out on all of it. First and foremost, there are many different homeschool styles that families can choose from to best suit their children’s needs. When I first started researching, I was very overwhelmed. But after tons of research (and this helpful quiz), I landed on what worked best for my kids and my family. To help you make up your mind, here’s a layout of the major homeschool styles and how they work — so you can get started on your own homeschooling journey.

What Is Charlotte Mason Homeschooling?

Charlotte Mason was a homeschooling pioneer who valued living books (books written in a passionate and conversational style) and the time children spend in nature. Veteran homeschooling mom Sara Dutilly said to POPSUGAR, “A Charlotte Mason education can mostly be boiled down to reading quality literature and having good conversations to spark a love of learning in children.” Further, nature journals, history portfolios, and lots of practice in observation, memorization, and narration play a large part in the Charlotte Mason philosophy. Mason herself said, “The question is not, how much does the youth know when he has finished his education, but how much does he care?” Dutilly said this quote helps keep her focused in her family’s homeschool journey. Many parents, like Dutilly, realize they prefer the more natural way of education instead of fabricating learning from worksheets (though she said her children love worksheets and do sometimes use them as a fun way to practice what they’ve learned), which is how the Charlotte Mason approach thinks of education.

What Is Classical Homeschooling?

Many families choose to homeschool using the classical method. Essentially, it stems way back from Greek and Roman teachings where classical books are used heavily. This method is broken up into the “trivium,” where children start in grammar school, then move onto logic, and finally, the rhetoric stage. Critical thinking is an emphasis where they use the Socratic method, which involves asking students open-ended questions. Some classical homeschoolers use Biblical teachings as well, but it is almost always taught from a chronological standpoint so students can see the cause and effect of events. Overall, families choose the classical model so they can mold lifelong learners by teaching their child how to learn.

What Is Unschooling?

Unschooling is the most unconventional homeschooling style, but that doesn’t mean children don’t learn — they most certainly do. Unschooling was pioneered by John Holt and is strictly child-led. Students thrive because they choose what their lesson plans and projects center on. Brynn Spence Burger has been unschooling her “extreme” child for three years and said, “Unschooling empowers him to feel he has some responsibility over what he is learning. I am a licensed teacher, but my husband and I switch teaching so our kids can see the varying gender dynamic in our home.” Stevie Swift has been unschooling her son for three years as well. “We came to unschooling after researching intrinsic motivation while I was in the process of developing a curriculum to match my unique child,” she told POPSUGAR. “After a lot of reading, we settled on no curriculum at all.”

What Is School-at-Home or Traditional Homeschooling?

The traditional homeschool method is essentially the opposite of unschooling because it resembles the education kids would get in a public or private school. Parents typically buy a complete curriculum (there are many to choose from) and mimic the school atmosphere. These programs are often pricey and follow grade levels for each child.

What Is Waldorf Homeschooling?

The Waldorf method was developed by Rudolf Steiner and aims to gently educate the whole child: mind, body, and spirit. It is grouped into phases of about seven years for the child from early childhood into young adulthood. Waldorf may also include a foreign language, gardening, art, and music. During the early years, there are no textbooks and no grades given; rather, this style is more geared toward progress. Another notable aspect is that it educates by the seasons, so for example, families may have a nature table where they gather seasonally relevant objects to study.

What Is Montessori Homeschooling?

This method was developed by the late Maria Montessori and is geared more toward preschool and elementary-age students. While Montessori created this style out of her work with special-needs students, it is widely used among all young learners. Families who choose this method give their children a lot of free time, free movement, and the ability to learn at varying levels at once. This style is interest-based and uses a lot of manipulatives like toys, blocks, buttons for counting, and more. Keep in mind that Montessori is often left off of many homeschooling style lists because it’s geared toward little ones, but it can be a great option for that age group.

What Is Eclectic Homeschooling?

Eclectic homeschooling tends to be the most popular because it doesn’t lock families into one method of teaching and learning. You can choose bits and pieces you like from the various styles. For example, this year I am doing a nature study with my kids and pulling from Charlotte Mason teachings while also doing some traditional math and Socratic inquiry from the classical method. Another veteran homeschooler, Julie Kieras, said, “I do a blend of classical model with Charlotte Mason. I chose it because it gives me a structure to guide my planning but flexibility to follow child-led interests; the Charlotte Mason aspect also focuses on nature, which adds wonder and beauty to our studies!”

Choosing to homeschool can be an overwhelming and exciting time. Trust yourself and your kids. And as Kristin Brenner, a mom who has homeschooled for 11 years and has successful kids in college today, told POPSUGAR, “Let go of the worry that your kids are ‘behind,’ and put your energy into creating a loving learning environment where your kids can become curious, open learners. The problem-solving skills they will hone while homeschooling will serve them well in college (if that is the road they take) and beyond.”

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