Family Times: Home-school Resources & Reviews for Christians

"Homeschooling Methods in a Nutshell

by Sally Anne Perz

[Editor's note: The following information summarizes various different approaches to homeschooling. Included are links to web sites appropriate for each of the methods discussed.]

School-at-Home (Workbooks & Textbooks)

This is similar to the instruction one might receive in a government school or a private school. There are many pre-packaged materials that make this method attractive and easy to use, particularly for parents who want something that does not require a lot of teacher-student interaction. Publishers such as Rod and Staff, ABeka, Alpha Omega, Bob Jones and others sell textbooks, workbooks, and computer or DVD programs for pre-school to high school. Many like this method because it requires little daily time commitment from the teacher, little pre-planning, and clear grade divisions for subject matter. Unlike other methods, the scope and sequences are clear enough to be certain that the child is learning at his "grade level." Everything is generally laid out by the publisher for the teacher as well as the student. These programs have some non-consumable material, but much of the material is consumable and needs to be purchased for each student. Though it depends on the publisher and materials chosen, this can be an expensive route to choose. Most of these are "religious" in nature.

Charlotte Mason

This is perhaps the only method named after an individual. It is based on the works of Charlotte Mason (1842-1923), using her ideas as a guide to schooling at home and making learning a "delight." This approach is best known for using "living books" (as opposed to the use of textbooks and simplified books which Charlotte referred to as "twaddle"). To fully understand Mason's method, one must read her works, not simply the books written about her works (of which there are many). Mason is well known for encouraging narration (recitation of learned material). This is one of many "learning is a lifestyle" approaches, but is certainly not solely child led. Reading good literature is foundational to the Mason approach. This method requires varying levels of teacher-student interaction and pre-planning on the teacher's part. Depending on how one approaches this method, cost will vary. Purchasing a library of books and materials will make this expensive. Using the public library and Mason's books alone would be rather economical.


This is perhaps the oldest method of schooling. Though it is not child-led, it is geared toward teaching children to learn for themselves. As is obvious from its name, it is derived from the learning popular in ancient times. In its most pure form, it is perhaps the most rigorous and structured of all learning methods. Learning is divided into stages and is quite structured at each stage, increasing with age. The use of quality literature is foundational, and much emphasis is placed on reading classic literature and other quality literature. Writing, memorization, and recitation in abundance are all an expected part of learning. Recently made popular with contemporary homeschoolers by Susan Wise Bauer's book, The Well Trained Mind, this method has seen a greater following over the past few years. Classical learning requires time and effort on the part of the teacher, as the teacher is expected to discuss the material with the student. There are various publishers that offer materials supplementing classical learning: Veritas Press is probably the most popular. Like other methods, the cost will be determined by library use as opposed to purchasing books, and the use of non-consumable materials. Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, Harvie and Laurie Bluedorn and Douglas Wilson all write various articles and books explaining classical learning.

Unit Studies

This method integrates all subjects into one theme or topic. The child studies one topic and covers all desired subjects by looking at them all as they relate to that topic. Proponents of this style of learning believe that this is more effective than studying each subject separately. They also believe that this method is easier to use when students of various grade levels learn together. This method often encourages "hands-on-learning" in place of deskwork. Like other methods, this method encourages using a variety of books, as opposed to workbooks or textbooks. Often unit studies incorporate character studies and religious studies along with academic subjects. These studies can be used to develop an entire curriculum or can be used to supplement other methods of learning. Depending on which route the teacher takes, this method can require quite a bit of preparation, particularly if the teacher is designing the unit studies. However, there are many individual publishers that sell unit studies. KONOS and Weaver sell full service unit study packages.


This is simply a term used to describe those who design their own unique method or philosophy, often using favorite philosophies or ideas from other methods. It describes those who use a variety of approaches, usually picking and choosing what works best for their family after examining the well-known methods. This can incorporate a mixture of several methods or just one or two. It can also incorporate a mixture of well-known methods and "home-made" methods. The possibilities are endless. This method is popular because it allows teachers to take what is attractive to them about various methods and put them together to form their own unique method. One may take a classical approach to certain subjects and another approach for other subjects. Depending on what direction the teacher takes, this can be quite expensive, or quite economical. It is really a "do it yourself" manner of schooling and can be as difficult or as simple as the teacher makes it.


This is a term used to describe child-led learning. This is a way of schooling in which the parent provides a learning atmosphere: books, materials, varied levels of instruction, and assumes a desire to learn on the child's part. This is obviously done on a variety of levels, sometimes only throughout elementary years with structured learning coming later. However, most unschooling "purists" do little but guide their children, even throughout the high school years. They believe that children have an innate desire to learn and will flourish in an appropriate atmosphere. They often take part in extracurricular activities (fine arts, sports, etc) just as other homeschoolers, yet do not encourage structured learning such as following scope and sequences or focusing on grade levels and testing. Unschooling is often given bad publicity because it seems that not much learning takes place. However, many unschoolers have been quite successful. Like other methods, the outcome depends on how much learning is actually done by the child. This is definitely a 'learning is a lifestyle' method, and does not rely on much pre-planning. The cost is fully dependent on what the parent spends to provide the 'learning atmosphere' and to fund any extracurricular activities that may be used. John Holt called it, "growing without schooling."

There are other methods of home schooling, but these are the most well-known. Philosophies and methods are up to individual families and should be respected by others. Though we may choose to use different tools to learn, and different methods to teach, most home educators want to see their children excel academically. There is simply no one method that fits every family best. It is a wonderful blessing to have the freedom to homeschool, but even more of a blessing to be able to do it however it suits us best!


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