When we first started to explore homeschooling, I had a very set picture in my mind of what homeschooling is. I imagined a mom at a table reading bible versus to mop-haired children scribbling in notebooks with worn textbooks stacked in a corner and everyone wearing some version of natural-fiber, hand-woven, pioneer-era garb. My enthusiasm, therefore, was low.
I suppose that is what homeschooling looks like for some people out there, but the vast majority of homeschooling looks very different. There also isn’t one representative picture of homeschooling that I can share with you because there isn’t one way to do it “right”, which is something I never knew until I really started to dig deep into unexplored territory. So, in case you’re at the beginning of this journey, I thought I’d do a really fast introduction to some different types of homeschooling.
Fair warning: this is the quick and dirty version and I’d recommend doing your research on at least a few different types before making a decision about which one would work for your family (or whether homeschooling would work at all). This is intended to be a jumping off point and to give you an idea of how these different methods compare to each other.
Different types of homeschooling:
Eclectic homeschooling – This pieced-together approach is the most common type of homeschooling that I’ve seen “in action”. The idea is that you pick and choose which curriculums and learning styles you want to use for each subject and build a homeschool that works for your kids, family, and teaching style. It’s almost not fair to include it as an actual homeschool “type” because it’s hodgepodge that looks different from family to family, but I wanted to start by pointing out that most people aren’t all-or-nothing about homeschool styles.
Packaged curriculum – This “traditional” method of homeschooling is very close to regular school. It’s a set curriculum that is built to cover one year at a time and have all the subjects use similar teaching methods (usually through text, workbooks, and possibly videos depending on which curriculum you purchase). The parent is responsible for buying the curriculum every year and making sure the student sticks to a schedule that lets them finish the work on time to stay on grade level.
Unit Studies – Similar to eclectic homeschooling, this curriculum is pulled from lots of different styles (or purchased as a unit from people who have pulled it together for you) with the distinction that each unit focuses on a theme that extends across all subject areas. For example, if you were doing a unit study on Ancient Rome, you would read books on the subject but you might also do a list of new vocabulary words connected to that time, math problems drawing on situations Roman citizens would have faced, science experiments dealing with growing crops in that time period, art projects depicting Roman buildings, etc.
Classical homeschooling – Built on the Socratic method, this method of teaching is built around 3 phases of learning and thinking that children move through as they age. It’s language-focused with lots of reading/writing and a particular emphasis on world history. New technologies and learning methods are generally discouraged in “pure” classical education. Parents can purchase a classical curriculum but have a fair amount of responsibility in teaching and organizing lessons, particularly in the early years.
Charlotte Mason – This bible-based method of learning stresses the importance of learning from real-life situations. The set curriculum is literature-based, using “living books” with lessons meant to bring concepts from text to life. Parent are responsible for purchasing and implementing the curriculum but also facilitating learning experiences with lots of time spent outdoors.
Montessori – This child-led system of learning allows the child to freely move around in a controlled environment filled with materials designed to encourage learning. The Montessori philosophy is focused largely on maintaining peace and educating the whole child so this type of homeschool becomes a lifestyle in which parents are responsible for buying materials, maintaining the environment, being available for guidance, and continuing to live by those peaceful and socially-conscious philosophies in general.
Waldorf – Another child-led system of learning that focuses on education the whole child, Waldorf homeschooling generally has the same type of controlled environment but without the specific materials dictated by Montessori. Heavy emphasis on exploring/sustaining the natural world and restricting exposure to technology (television isn’t recommended at all for the younger student) tends to make this type of homeschooling a lifestyle choice for the whole family.
Distance learning – This is similar to a traditional packaged homeschool curriculum, but with distance learning you are actually enrolled in a 3rd party school but taking classes at home. Textbooks, workbooks, and other learning materials are mailed to the student and lessons are completed and graded with the help of a remote teacher (through video chat, postal correspondence, etc.) with the parent acting as facilitator to make sure students stay on schedule. Costs range from free (through some public or charter schools) to typical private school tuition.
Part-time homeschooling – Students who are only homeschooled part-time attend regular school for some subjects and learn at home for the rest. This has been a solution for students who struggle/excel in particular subjects, for parents who want to try homeschooling but feel overwhelmed with taking on all subjects at once, or for students who can’t attend school on a regular schedule such as students with medical needs or intense extracurricular activities (like being heavily involved in competitive sports).
Unschooling – This free-range schooling approach is completely child-led with the idea that learning will occur naturally as children follow their interests. Parents don’t organize any curriculum but need to be available to provide opportunities and experiences to allow children to explore whatever they’re interested in at the moment. There is generally no adherence to “grade level” as the philosophy is that each child learns what he or she needs to on their own schedule.
As you can see, even if two families are homeschooling, their day-to-day could look completely different. A distance-learner will still be adhering to the same relatively restricted schedule that someone in regular school would follow while an unschooler would have no schedule restrictions at all and a Waldorf student might live in a world completely free of televisions and smart phones while someone using a packaged curriculum could be spending an hour each day working on the tablet watching videos and playing games to complete lessons as part of their education.
Our family is still deciding which homeschool style will work for us. The current plan is to do a sort of eclectic part-time homeschool for this first official year of grade school since Eva is enrolled in a regular school (although half-day Kindergarten theoretically covers all subjects). The planned curriculum for our work at home is based on classical homeschooling but we also use technology like iPad apps (not recommended) and we’re planning to study the bible as a classic text instead of making our lessons faith-based (not discouraged but also not the norm for classical homeschoolers). I’m worried about how time-intensive this plan is for me since we’re also welcoming a new baby this year, but Kindergarten is kind of a soft start year in that there isn’t a lot expected to keep a student on grade level.
Although a certain style may sound appealing, lots of factors go into determining the ultimate success of a new homeschool program. As you consider which type of homeschooling is right for you, you might want to ask yourself these questions:
- Do we have the space and resources to start this homeschool plan? How much prep will I have to do?
- How much is this going to cost? If I have to buy a lot of materials and teaching supplies, how much money am I saving compared to a packaged curriculum? Compared to distance learning?
- What are the financial risks if this doesn’t work out? Will we be ok to “eat” the costs of trying this program or will I need to try to sell these materials after the fact?
- If I’m teaching multiple children, which materials can be reused?
- Do I have the time to organize lessons?
- Do I have the time to organize learning experiences and outings?
- Do I have to be home for all of the homeschooling or is it possible for someone else to facilitate at least in part (such as with distance learning or packaged curriculums)?
- How much of a culture shock will this style be for our family?
- How much support/resistance will we have from our community if we try this one?
- How will we know if this type of homeschooling is working for our family?
- How will I incorporate social experiences into this homeschool program?
- How is this method better than the other options I have available (including public school and non-homeschooling options)?
- Are we incorporating faith-based lessons into our curriculum?
- Are we incorporating practical life skills into our curriculum?
- Are we incorporating lifestyle choices (such as green living or technology-free play) into our curriculum?
- Can everyone get on board with this method including my partner, other children, and anyone who might be helping me care for and educate the kids?
- Who is going to carry most of the burden of homeschooling? (One parent, both parents, children, 3rd party, etc.?)