Homeschool 101: Which method will you choose?

You’ve chosen to start homeschooling

Welcome to homeschooling. There’s a lot to learn and it may seem overwhelming. Between the legal side of homeschooling, and deschooling yourself and your kids, where do you begin?

Choosing a method of homeschooling can be just as overwhelming as choosing curriculum, a schedule or planning out your days.

How do you homeschool, anyway?

There are as many ways to *do* homeschool as there are people. How you homeschool is largely up to you and your family. It will depend on your reasons for and your priorities in homeschooling.  However, your method of homeschooling will largely be dictated by your family’s lifestyle.

This is a brief overview of some of the major methods of homeschooling.

8 General Types of Homeschools

The method of homeschooling varies on its approach. I liken it to a continuum of sorts. On one end, you have the most-like-school approach. We’ll call it “school-at-home”. On the other end, you have the least-like-school approach.  That is known as “unschooling”.

1. Just like school

The school-at-home method takes the public school format, and tries to recreate it at home. This usually includes a set school-room, complete with desks, bulletin boards and shelves. Families may use some combination of online public school, tutoring, or textbooks.

The parent-as-teacher spends a significant amount of time preparing lesson plans and teaching them. They will assign school work, mark and grade it. And they gather supplies for all the activities.

Depending on what kind of school-at-home you choose, this can have either the most amount of parent involvement, or the least amount. Either way, your child’s day will probably follow the same school schedule as their public-schooled peers, both daily and yearly.

(As a side note, many homeschoolers start out here, and morph into one of the other approaches as they settle into homeschooling).

Go Online?

Another option for “school-at-home” is an online version. There are many charter virtual public schools. These will often give you the same grades and report cards as public school. Graduation will result in a state-recognize and state-certified diploma.

Online schools don’t avoid the government-sponsored curriculum, of course, but your child is still at home with you. So for some, this may be the best option.

Another online option is to pay a monthly (or yearly) fee for online learning. For example, try Khan Academy or Time4Learning.

As a parent, an option like this is much less work for you.

Someone else takes care of the planning and grading for you. You do need to check on completion and understanding. And it does mean that your child sits in front of a screen for a few hours every day.  There may also be a need for supplementation, to give some practical experience of the subject. After all, it’s hard to learn how to write/print from a computer.  

Generally, experienced homeschoolers recommend using online school options for middle and high school, not early elementary students.

2. Nothing like school

Unschooling takes the opposite approach to just-like-school homeschooling. Rather than trying to recreate public school, these homeschooling families want to avoid anything that could remind them of it.

So there will be no set-aside school room. Learning takes place anywhere and everywhere. There won’t be any set time for school, either. Instead, families may find themselves learning at odd hours of the morning or evening, or even on weekends.

Unschooling lends itself nicely to a year-round school year, without scheduled breaks.

The philosophy here is to “strew” the child’s environment with things that will stimulate curiosity. And children then will learn the skills they need when they need them.

Unschoolers tend to see things like grades, schedules, tests, and lesson plans as unnecessary. Again, depending on your child and your involvement, this can have a great deal of parental involvement, or very little work required.

For parents leaving a public school system, this also requires the greatest amount of adjustment in your thinking. That may or may not be a good thing, depending on your reason for homeschooling.

Radical unschooling

Unschooling sometimes will branch out into a style of parenting known as “radical unschooling”. Radical unschoolers tend to manage all aspects of life — meal times, sleeping, discipline, etc — based on the child’s needs or wants.

This is a lifestyle often followed by those who embrace “attachment parenting”, and may include more unconventional aspects, such as co-sleeping or family beds, vegetarian or paleo or other unconventional diet, extended breastfeeding (often beyond the WHO recommended 2 years), and more.

3. Child-led/Interest-led

An offshoot of traditional unschooling is “child-led learning” or “delight-directed learning”. This is where the parent design their educational planning around their child’s interests. At the same time, parents don’t completely let go of schedules and plans. Parents may choose to use notebooking, lapbooking, unit studies and nature journaling as a vehicle to follow their child’s lead.

Rather than sticking to a more artificial determination of “what your child must know by x age”, child-led educators believe learning happens best when you follow your passion. School can be very fluid and flexible with this kind of homeschooling. Students immerse in a content theme, and learn all their skills through exploring the theme.

For example, if your child seems currently obsessed with dinosaurs, they may learn their math skills by counting dinosaurs or comparing lengths/heights of various species. You could teach language arts through reading dinosaur themed books and writing reports on various species.  And even art or phys. ed. can be included with a dinosaur theme. Your child could act like dinosaurs, create them out of modeling clay,  or go on a dinosaur track hunt.

This method lets families get very creative with their schooling.

4. Alternative methods

In the middle of the homeschooling method continuum are the alternative approaches to education. These are based on methods taught by Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner (also known as Waldorf education). Each of these people were pioneers in the education field, and experts in child development.  And each advocated for a different kind of education than is traditional in public school.

You can find brick-and-mortar examples of each of these types of education. But all easily adapt well to a homeschool setting.


Waldorf education begins with a holistic approach to people, based on the ancient Greek philosophers. It divides a child’s education into 3 stages, known as reverence, artistic and scientific. This mirrors what Waldorf followers believe is historical human development.

In the reverence stage, parents guide their children into exploring the world around them, through play. The focus is on creating a relationship between child and teacher.

In the artistic stage, children use the tools of the fine arts to learn the academic skills. Using color, rhythm, melody, repetition, form and movement, children will understand and relate to the world and each other.

In the scientific stage, education takes a more formal attitude. Children use the methods of inquiry: hypothesis, observation and theorization. Students then determine information about the world around them.  Waldorf is the closest guided approach next to unschooling.  This method allows for a great deal of freedom for students. But still parents provide more guidance and tools than just unschooling.


Montessori education looks to support children’s natural development. It emphasizes independence, respect and freedom (within limits) to learn. Here, children are provided with choices of learning centres and tools, as pre-determined by the educators. Teachers encourage the kids to spend as much or as little time as they like with each learning station. Many stores and manufacturers have created quality supplies, materials and toys to support Montessori schooling.

This style of homeschooling is ideal for young children, for special needs children and for those who are very hands-on learners.

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason is an education approach that is much more structured than the other two. It is based on the idea that children must be educated as a “whole person” rather than separating information into subject areas. The three main tenets of Charlotte Mason include atmosphere, discipline and life.

So Charlotte Mason followers believe that surrounding a child with the right tools and ideas will help learning.  According to Ms. Mason, one-third of a child’s education is based on their environment.

With discipline, Charlotte Mason advocates cultivate good habits in children, particularly habits of good character (ie. responsibility, self-discipline, etc).

Finally they connect facts to living information — the stories and observations that our human life is made up of. Charlotte Mason-style educators think that children learn best when learning is based on real life.

5. Classical Approaches

Growing closer to traditional public school, yet still alternative, are the classical approaches. For example, some use the Trivium, especially made famous by the book “The Well-Trained Mind“. There’s also a co-op method known as “Classical Conversations”. And there are lesser known approaches such as the Robinson curriculum, or Thomas Jefferson Education.

In classical education, the best way for children to learn is with a good knowledge and understanding of the ancient, historical figures and their writings. The different methods vary in which historical figures and writings they emphasize, but all have a great deal of reading included.

The classical approach doesn’t use grade levels to divide children. Instead classical homeschooling divides children into 3 levels, based on an understanding of child development.

In the Grammar stage, children learn a great deal of information. They absorb and memorize, without much comment on the content.

In the Logic stage, parents teach their students to think critically and manipulate information.  Students learn to make connections and judgments based on what they have learned.

In the Rhetoric stage, students are asked to express themselves. These adolescents develop coherent arguments of their own, and learn to analyze and master the subject areas.

6. Project-based

Project-based homeschooling, which is another option, can take several formats. In a Unit Study, the student learns about all the subjects tied to a theme. In that, it’s similar to child-led learning methods.

The only difference is who picks the topics: the child or the parent.

For example, one can teach language arts, math, science, history, and art all under the umbrella theme of studying Ancient Egypt.  The student would read stories based in Ancient Egypt. Then they work on geometry and geography from the pyramids.  Students study astronomy for science, as the pyramids were aligned with the stars. Or they study human anatomy from the viewpoint of the mummies. They would look at hieroglyphics and Egyptian architecture for art. And then they obviously would learn about the pharaohs and the impact of Egyptian history on western civilization.

In a lapbook, the students create a poster or folder with different components related to their subject or topic. There are many packages you can find online. For example, homeschoolshare is a great option for free lapbooks.

Lapbooking allows for children to learn about different aspects of the subject. Then they can more easily see the connections for themselves. And it gives a hands-on component for the crafty. Lapbooks make a great keepsake or portfolio piece when completed, as well. Plus, it’s very easy to add in or take away from lapbooks. You can use this as a short review project, or a semester-long study.

Another, similar, choice is notebooking. Like lapbooking, it makes a great portfolio piece or keepsake, only with a smaller storage footprint. It does involve much more writing and less scissor work. Check out Donna Young for tons of resources on how to notebook for homeschooling.

7. Traditional homeschooling methods

Traditionally, homeschooling will involve a parent actively teaching their child(ren). There are a few different ways to do this. You could take a literature-emphasis approach, a history-emphasis approach, or a traditional subject division approach.

A literature-based approach means that parents use fiction or non-fictions stories as the “textbooks” of school, rather than traditional textbooks. For example, Sonlight curriculum is a Christian, literature-based boxed curriculum. It includes all books and workbooks necessary for your child’s education.

A history-based approach teaches all the necessary skills while studying history. Usually, history is studied chronologically, but some programs begin with national history, rather than ancient history.  For a good example here, look at Tapestry of Grace or Mystery of History.

And a traditional approach can include worktexts, textbook-workbook combinations, DVDs, and online courses, with traditional subject divisions. Abeka is a Christian based traditional school program, often used by private schools. And a secular version would be Calvert.

8. Eclectic

Finally, there is the eclectic approach. Here, the family chooses from all the varying styles and approaches the best things that suit them and their lifestyle and goals.

For example, math may be studied in a traditional school-at-home method, with a textbook or work-text.  But they’ll use a literature-based or classical method to study science, history and art.  And language arts may have a Charlotte Mason flavor.

The varying materials and styles will probably change as the children grow or circumstances change.  And as the parent-teacher becomes more comfortable with their role as their child’s primary educator, families settle in to what works for them.


With all these options, you may consider having or joining a co-op. In a homeschool coop, parents organize and help teach children in larger groups various subjects or topics. It may or may not look like a school classroom, depending on the format your co-op has chosen.

But the greater numbers allow for discounts on resources you may not otherwise have access to, or be able to trade specialties like bartering.

For example, some parents watch other parents’ infants and toddlers while their child gets music lessons from a trained teacher.  One parent can lead science experiments and another can coach a volleyball team. In this way, co-ops let parents trade specialties in education.

Check with your local support group, or create your own!

The possibilities are endless

You can change your method at any time.

Whatever you choose, be aware that changing from one style to another is never as big a change as bringing or keeping your children home from traditional school. You don’t have to pick one now and have it last for the rest of your child’s education. Nothing is ever set in stone.

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1 thought on “Homeschool 101: Which method will you choose?”

  1. This is a super explanation of the homeschooling methods! I ended up using the eclectic style – it worked best for me and my kiddos. I think I would have enjoyed unschooling, but not sure all of my kids would!

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