We’ll start with the most structured, and proceed towards more flexibility:
- School at home/distance learning
- Classical education
- Charlotte Mason
- Unit Studies
School At Home/Distance Learning Homeschool Style
This homeschool style is structured, comparable to traditional school. A parent might act as teacher, or students might be enrolled in an online platform. Some programs offer 1:1 teaching or personalized classes, while others simply provide material for the student to work through independently.
The school at home/distance learning homeschool style may work for:
- students who eventually intend to go back to traditional school
- students who are homeschooling for a flexible schedule or health reasons, but want an accredited school program
- students who need a lot of structure and accountability in order to make progress
The school at home/distance learning homeschool style may NOT work for:
- students who need a highly individualized curriculum
- students who have left traditional school because it failed to meet their needs
- families with a limited homeschool budget
Classical Education Homeschool Style
If you google “homeschool styles”, chances are that classical education will pop up. It’s popular among religious homeschoolers, but some secular families are attracted to this approach as well.
The classical education method is structured into the Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric stages, known as “the Trivium”. At each stage, the focus is on building up knowledge systematically through direct instruction and attention to detail. This homeschool style is big on memorization and learning through reading and writing.
The classical homeschool style may work for:
- students who enjoy reading, writing, and languages
- students with strong memorization skills
- students interested in literature and historical analysis
The classical homeschool style may NOT work for:
- students who need hands-on or visual activities to learn effectively
- students who hate memorization
- families who want a more diverse, non-Eurocentric approach
- families who have limited time to filter out non-secular material
Charlotte Mason Homeschool Style
Charlotte Mason is a rock star inside the homeschool community, but virtually unknown outside of it. The Charlotte Mason approach emphasizes learning as a lifestyle, with a focus on literature, language, and nature study. Lessons are short, with an emphasis on excellence. Students learn from “living books” written by specialists with a passion for the subject rather than textbooks.
The Charlotte Mason homeschool style may work for:
- verbal students who love reading and listening to books
- students who love to learn outdoors
- families interested in learning as a lifestyle, rather than something to be done “during school”
The Charlotte Mason homeschool style may NOT work for:
- students who need information presented in visual or hands-on ways
- families with time constraints for finding resources or filtering through religious material
- urban families who don’t have easy access to “nature” or safe outdoor spaces
Unit Studies Homeschool Style
A unit study involves crafting a curriculum around a chosen focus. For example, when our family visited Hawaii with my preschooler, we constructed an age-appropriate unit study for him that included:
- how volcanoes work
- ocean zones and animal life in each
- Hawaiian culture, food, key phrases
- geography of the United States, maps, and globes
- time zones and distances between places
- money concepts as they related to planning our trip and buying souvenirs
the Hawaii “umbrella!”
Unit studies can last an entire year or can be as short as a few weeks. They are endlessly customizable!
The unit studies homeschool style may work for:
- students with strong interests
- families with multiple students of different ages who want to learn together
- students who learn through projects and hands-on activities
The unit studies homeschool style may NOT work for:
- families with limited time to write their own curriculum or search out resources
- students who need systematic, direct teaching of skills
- families that feel less confident about “covering” content and skills through a piecemeal approach
Resources for unit studies depend upon the topic of choice. Families might choose a “spine” or curriculum for a specific content area, then weave in the rest of their homeschooling around that. For example, Pandia Press’s History Odyssey study guides offer multiple resources for learning different history topics so students get a well-rounded approach to history. REAL Science Odyssey also offers unit study type instruction for families who like hands-on activities. Students may also use a separate curriculum for math and perhaps early reading, writing, or phonics.
Unschooling Homeschool Style
Unschooling is the least restrictive of all homeschool styles. The premise is that children have an innate desire and ability to learn. Unschoolers believe that students do best when they are given maximum flexibility and freedom.
Families support their children’s learning through helping them find resources and activities. For example, my 5-year-old learned about worm composting from Peppa Pig, and asked me to get a worm bin for our apartment. I developed a unit study about composting and read up on the topic so I could better support my son’s learning.
There are many misconceptions about unschooling, such as that children have unlimited access to video games. It’s important to distinguish unschooling as a philosophy of education from permissive parenting generally.
The unschooling homeschool style may work for:
- self-directed learners with distinct passions or areas of interest
- students with highly specific learning styles or needs
- families who value authentic, lifelong learning
The unschooling homeschool style may NOT work for:
- families meeting strict homeschooling state requirements or who plan to re-enroll students in public school
- students who need structure and accountability to make progress
- families with limited time to find or create resources
Eclectic Homeschool Style
Many homeschooling families find that their preferred approach borrows elements from different homeschool styles. I definitely fall into this category! One of the best things about homeschooling is the flexibility to do what works for you and your children. I enjoy selecting the elements of each homeschool style that work for us!
The eclectic homeschool style may work for:
- families who see benefits and drawbacks to several homeschool styles
- families who are comfortable mixing and matching
The eclectic homeschool style may NOT work for:
- families who need a vetted, structured approach
- families brand new to homeschooling
Lisa is a homeschooling mom, science educator and curriculum developer with classroom experience ranging from pre-K students to 7th grade. After almost 20 years in traditional school settings, Lisa currently works as a curriculum consultant to schools and families. She also teaches weekend, after-school, camp programs, and graduate courses for science teachers at the American Museum of Natural History. Lisa blogs at Inquiring Minds Homeschool.