Making the decision to homeschool your child is both exciting and empowering! But the logistics of the whole thing can be overwhelming at first. Many new homeschoolers understandably begin by attempting to choose a curriculum. Unfortunately, this often leads to more confusion and frustration.
That’s why I recommend starting somewhere a little different: by figuring out which homeschool style (or philosophy) is right for your family. Doing this first is the single best way to ensure that your homeschool aligns with your family’s beliefs and needs, while simultaneously minimizing the universe of homeschooling choices you will have to make.
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What Homeschooling Style is Right for Me?
Homeschooling philosophies are quite literally all over the map. You may lean toward a less-rigid, hands-on learning style. Or your schedule may be more eclectic by necessity. You may need to transition from a formal schooling environment and feel the need for a period of Deschooling or Unschooling. You may have a background with Montessori or Waldorf that inspires you. Alternatively, a classical, literature rich Charlotte Mason approach may resonate with you more authentically. Truly, the range of homeschooling style options is vast and I recommend being open to the majority of them at first.
Choosing a Homeschooling Style
As you explore your options, you may find yourself surprised to learn what works best for your children, your family and yes - even for yourself. You may find your child reacts well to pre-designed homeschool options that use similar structures to public or private education. Conversely, they may like more child-directed learning; there is no one-size-fits-all model. In truth, that’s why there are so many homeschooling options - people’s needs vary widely and homeschooling aims to customize learning as much as possible.
I urge you to think of this process as one of delightful investigation and exploration. Yes, it will be time consuming, but it will also set the stage for the tone, pace, design and structure of your homeschool; it’s one of the most mission critical decisions you will make as a homeschooling parent.
Don’t get caught in the idea trap that says you must strictly adhere to any one educational philosophy. There are many different styles of homeschooling that can be borrowed from freely, intertwined and modified as needed in order to design a homeschool that best fits your family’s needs.
State Homeschooling Laws
A word of caution: although this blog post is about figuring out which homeschooling style is right for your family, all of us homeschoolers must follow our state’s homeschooling regulations. Not only that, but your state homeschooling laws may affect your choice of homeschool philosophy.
The good news is that homeschooling is legal in all 50 of the United States. However, there are a variety of differences between requirements related to:
- homeschool hours
- guidelines for parents
- required subjects
- attestation (proof of completion)
- reporting and testing
There may also be differences in the appropriate ways to withdraw your child from school. All of our homeschooling guidelines are state- specific, so please make sure you understand what is required in order to ensure that you are homeschooling legally.
The HSLDA has a great resource on finding out your homeschool laws by state.
Don’t stress yourself out about how your homeschool laws will affect your personal homeschool and children. But DO take it into account when choosing the best fit for a homeschooling philosophy. For example, if you’re concerned that your state requires a rather large number of homeschool hours, consider that the same 5 hours of study in an outdoor, Charlotte Mason-style nature walk and learning environment will feel different than 5 hours of rigid structure in school-at-home. Only you know what will work best for you and your children - and you will only know when you understand your state’s homeschooling laws.
Regardless of how or why you’ve decided to homeschool, there’s no doubt you arrived here wanting to give your children the best possible education. Though the school-at-home method, which mirrors public curriculum, might be the first thing you think of, there are many alternative homeschooling styles to evaluate.
Understanding the different homeschooling styles is a big step forward toward finding which homeschooling style is right for you. As you uncover a deeper understanding of your child’s learning style, you can bring in aspects of other teaching styles that benefit them, and let go of parts that don’t. Homeschooling means more freedom, for you and your children. Let’s look at some of the more prominent styles of home education for kids, their strengths, and their weaknesses.
School-at-home, Virtual Learning, or Virtual School
Because of the pandemic, school-at-home has had some automatic intrusion into the general populace by virtue of remote learning. Though remote work out of necessity isn’t the same as school-at-home, the structure is similar.
This method is taught via packages that follow state and federal guidelines and expectations. If you as a parent went through a private or public school system, this will feel the most familiar. There are many companies that make these pre-packaged systems to choose from, but the structure will be similar since they are all based on the same set of requirements.
School-at-home is very linear, organized, and feeds well into the traditional college system. It also integrates well into public school systems, so if you find that homeschooling is not a good fit for your family, your children will easily acclimate into public or private schools.
Pros to school-at-home
This style of homeschooling is easy to understand with milestones and targets that fit into state and federal guidelines. Teaching tools and methods are identical and rigid, including aspects like common core.
School-at-home also provides a recognizable and comfortable structure, to which some children respond well. These highly organized curriculums work well with private and public schools, making it an attractive option for short-term teaching at home. Finally, the conventional nature of this teaching method is easy for parents who went to public school to understand and use.
Cons to school-at-home
While this style of teaching is structured, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Veteran homeschoolers will tell you that this approach is definitely not for everyone. The amount of hands-on learning and teaching can easily lead to stress and burnout. This is especially true since it mirrors the 6-8 hours of a “normal” class day.
It can also be difficult to scale-down class activities designed for 20+ students to only 1 or 2. The modules for school-at-home can be prohibitively expensive as well for many parents, though there are low cost and free resources available online.
The school-at-home method is also very inflexible, which simply doesn’t work for some students. If you have an asynchronous learner, who excels in one subject but is on grade level or even behind in another, these programs will likely lead to dissatisfaction and frustration quickly.
Ultimately with this style, you’re trading flexibility for structure and familiarity.
The Classical Method
One of the oldest structured types of education in the world, the Classical Method, has roots in ancient Greece and Rome. This homeschooling method focuses heavily on reading, rhetoric, logic, philosophy, and Socratic dialogue. When put together, it has the potential to create highly critical thinkers and extremely advanced readers.
The Classical method focuses intensely on classic literature, and may over-emphasize the Grecco-Roman origin by teaching Greek or Latin to students. It does, however, create a respect for language and reading that is difficult to beat with other methods of instruction.
One brilliant aspect of this style is the focus on languages beyond English. While the structure directs you more towards Latin/Greek, you can sub in any language to get the same result. Many teaching methods undervalue learning multiple languages, but the Classical method certainly does not.
The reading curriculum focuses on important books with historical context, and era-focused learning to accompany those texts. This is in contrast to other styles that keep topics as separate areas of study - the classical method focuses on how subjects work contextually with each other. Development is less linear than with school-at-home, but there is definitely more structure here than with Montessori, Waldorf and other homeschool styles.
Pros to the Classical Method
This is the oldest homeschooling method for a reason - it works very well. Students of this method are great critical thinkers and logicians, with an appreciation of classic literature and history.
Reading - especially classic works - is the undercurrent with this homeschool style.
Logic and critical reasoning are hugely important here, too. Socratic dialogue encourages children to think of different reasons and solutions to complex problems.
Though this method of teaching isn’t as flexible as Waldorf or Montessori styles, it’s less rigid than school-at-home. This flexibility can be attractive while still providing structure.
Cons to the Classical Method
Because this method is so reading-focused, it can be difficult for very young children or children with disordered reading conditions to handle. Additionally, the emphasis on reading and history makes it difficult to spend a significant amount of time learning other topics like math or science.
This method of learning also isn’t as hands-on as others; its structure is more akin to school-at-home. The reading component also makes it less flexible in the same way.
The Classical Method focuses to an extreme on Western culture as well, which gives students a less diverse outlook over time. If one of your goals is to provide a global perspective in your homeschool, it may be hard to achieve using the Classical approach.
Classical teaching is a great way to instill a love of reading and logic into your children. It shines best by being somewhat flexible and developing logic skills while still providing structure.
Rooted in a Christian approach, the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling is focused on short intervals of dedicated learning coupled with nature walks and journaling.
Like the Classical Method, the Charlotte Mason (CM) approach focuses on reading, particularly classic literature. The Bible is a main component as well are other works that emphasize life lessons and moral dilemmas. Similar to the Classical Method, CM teaching seeks to create children who are eager to learn, think critically, and use logic.
The nature-focused aspect of this style of homeschooling gets kids outside, discovering and writing about what they see. Journaling and self-reflection are core components here, as it’s less structured and more learner-directed. If you like the idea of biblically based lessons brought to life through nature/forest school, this is an approach to seriously consider for your family.
Pros to the Charlotte Mason method
If you’re looking for a Christian homeschool style, this is a wonderful option. Charlotte Mason herself was Christian and wanted a gentle approach to teaching kids with faith as a backdrop. This style is highly flexible, while still focusing on reading and all core curriculum targets like math, science, and history. Teaching is student-directed and exercising in nature is a focal point.
Costs for this method are extremely low compared to other systems, as quite a bit of information is free online along with relevant coursework. Charlotte Mason’s journaling and nature-based approach integrate well with other teaching styles, too, like Classical, Montessori, and Unschooling.
Cons to the Charlotte Mason method
The biggest drawback to this method of homeschooling is the age of the students for which it is designed. Mason herself designed this framework for K-6th graders, when experiential learning is more profound. Preschool aged children, as well as older students in grades 7-12 may not, therefore, be best served by this approach. Moreover, Charlotte Mason teaching in preschool and high school is largely weak and usually needs to be supplemented with other styles.
A Christian basis might not work for everyone, either. Even though the religious nature of the teaching style is subdued, it’s still present and pervasive. Particularly for the life-lesson reading material, quite a bit is grounded in Christian texts. Math and science are taught through the natural world in a way that is ok for elementary aged students, but again drops off substantially for younger and older students.
With all of that said, however, if you are adaptable enough to incorporate another learning style as your children age, Charlotte Mason’s teaching style is good for K-6 aged children. It offers a range of self-directed exploration and reflection, things that traditional methods of school don’t focus on.
The Montessori Method
Maria Montessori was a physician and pioneer in whole child education in the 20th century, establishing her first schools in the 1920s. She used her own scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood in developing the model. Her work is focused on indirectly and gently pushing children towards learning outcomes, while allowing broad exploration of their environment. Children are often in mixed age groups and given individual learning outcomes and lesson plans. This fits well when you’re trying to teach a household of children at different ages and with different interests.
This learning method is highly specialized for each child, catering to their needs and allowing them to explore at their own pace. It’s especially ideal for younger learners, who learn best through movement and often dislike sitting still for long periods of time. Montessori teaching is hands-on, tactile, and collaborative in the best possible way. Dr. Montessori’s method has been around for over 100 years. It has been successful in virtually all cultures as well as in both short term and longitudinal studies.
Children who are taught using the Montessori Method are often collaborative, confident, and naturally curious. Studies show that they experience better academic outcomes, social awareness, and executive reasoning skills than their peers. They tend to be more creative and mature as well. This is, at least in part, due to the fact that they are able to learn at their own pace and of their own interests. Naturally, the teacher gently guides learning, but there is far less structure than with the previous entries. This self-directed learning is one hallmark of the Montessori approach.
Pros to the Montessori Method
Montessori teaching is arguably the best method for teaching young learners, who want to explore and investigate their surroundings. Children are natural scientists, and giving them self-directed learning objectives caters to this curiosity.
Homeschooling in this way is also extremely beneficial for both highly gifted students and those who have special needs. Due to the fact that the learning is self-directed at the student’s own pace, there’s no pressure to meet milestones. This results in more confidence and increased love for learning in the student.
This method of learning is very flexible and adaptable as your child and their needs grow. It also allows students to explore what they love, be it reading, art, music, or whatever other topics they enjoy.
Cons to the Montessori Method
Though the benefits of this method are profound, there are a few things to consider before using it to homeschool.
Like the Charlotte Mason method, Montessori is most commonly utilized for younger children. While it’s profoundly beneficial for them, older children may require a different direction or methodology.
Setting up a traditional Montessori school at home (which I don’t suggest) would require very expensive manipulatives, tactile objects and spatial structures that other learning models don’t. Were you to try to create a Montessori classroom in your home, it would be easy to spend a small fortune.
There are alternatives to spending a lot of money and needing a lot of space, but you will need to be practical in your approach. You don’t have to break the bank to set up a Montessori-style homeschool, but you’ll need to be more aware of what is accessible to your young learners and get creative with your approach.
If your students crave a rigid structure, Montessori learning might be hard for them to thrive within. Montessori homeschooling is child-led, so while a general structure is in place, there’s no “must do” each day. This is great for most kids, but it’s not for everyone.
For younger students, the Montessori method encourages their involvement, creativity, and curiosity. It brings out the best in children while giving them the confidence to explore and learn from their surroundings.
By far the most unstructured method of instruction, Unschooling is a direct opposite to Classical and school-at-home styles. Created by education pioneer John Holt, this method focuses on allowing students to pursue their education as they desire.
Unschooling provides some structure for basics like math, reading, and writing, but it encourages students to pursue what interests them for the remainder. This means your child can dive deeply into their passions while still learning other topics at a slower and more superficial pace.
Pros to the Unschooling Method
Learning in this style is extremely flexible and adaptable. The tools available allow you to tailor experiences to fit your children’s learning needs. For instance, if you’re going on a vacation, you can use the experience as a teachable moment that doesn’t feel like school.
This method of homeschool also allows your children to get excited about learning by giving them the space to explore their true interests.
One of the most unique aspects of Unschooling is how intentional it makes you as a parent and as a teacher. You will learn to incorporate mindful learning into how you parent, and mindful parenting into your teaching.
Cons to the Unschooling Method
One huge drawback to this way of teaching is simply how different it looks from any of the other models. This can make it feel alien or just uncomfortably unstructured to many people.
This unstructured approach can require more input from you as the teacher, as you’ll have to work on productive ways of learning without the structure of other styles.
Additionally, this lack of structure can require you to play catch-up in some categories so your children aren’t behind the curve.
While unstructured learning can be a big benefit to a lot of students, a lack of structure isn’t right for everyone. Some young minds thrive on competition and exceeding expectations, so keep that in mind.
Finding the Right Homeschool Style
Though these are not the only homeschool styles that exist, they represent the most profound differences in approaches. Your homeschooling experience can be as structured as public or private institutions, or as freeform as the Unschooling principles of John Holt.
What matters is that your children are thriving, exploring, and have a passion for learning. Homeschooling provides you with the ability to cater your lessons to your ideals and your child’s passions.
School-at-home is a great alternative to putting your kids into the school system, while still using the same metrics to measure their progress. It can be extremely time-consuming, however, and is very rigid, disallowing time for passion-based or child-led learning.
The Classical Method is a time-tested way to teach logic, critical thinking, and a love for literature. Socratic dialogue and contextually based education ensure that your children understand the interconnected nature of everything. It is, however, often too focused on training kids classically, and might need some updating or course swaps to make it more contemporary (as a homeschooler, you have the flexibility to do Classical homeschooling at home, and send your kids to a robotics class at the local co-op, so don’t discount it as an option if it interests you!).
Charlotte Mason’s teaching principles are rooted in Christianity and a love of nature. It’s well-suited for younger learners, emphasizing journaling and self-reflection. It’s not good for older students, however, and it often lags behind in math and other coursework.
The Montessori Method is one of the best ways to encourage young learners and to build confidence. It provides a strong base for future learning and collaboration, creating leaders at the same time. This method is also great for gifted children and those who need special attention as well.
Finally, Unschooling offers a free-form method of instruction. It can falter on certain subjects, and it might take extra time for you to fill in educational holes. It does, however, encourage your kids to pursue their passions, and more importantly, teaches them that their passions matter.
Whichever style you choose, homeschooling is a powerful way to build up your children and invest in their future.