Different approaches fit different families, and many parents find that they begin with one approach and move to a more eclectic style, picking and choosing elements from a variety of methods– creating an assortment of “best practices” for your particular family. Below you’ll find a very brief overview of some of the more popular homeschooling approaches.
A Charlotte Mason approach is based on the writings of Charlotte Mason, a 19th century educator. She advocated short, focused lessons and a great deal of time spent outdoors and in nature study. Few, if any, textbooks are used and real, “living” books and original sources are the center of this literature-based method. Narration, copy work, and dictation are key components and she encouraged parents and educators to avoid “twaddle” (graded readers, etc.). There is a wide variety of support available for this approach, ranging from books to free online curriculum.
A Classical Education approach is based on the Trivium, an educational philosophy used in ancient Greece and Rome. Education is divided into three stages: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric. Grammar (grades 1-6) is at the heart of the Grammar stage, as well as memorization of facts, figures, and basic skills. The Dialectic stage (grades 7-9) deals with logic, or understanding the why and how behind all the facts they learned in the grammar stage. The final stage, Rhetoric (grades 10-12+) focuses on reasoning and applied logic, explaining and using this learned knowledge to create new ideas and also applying them to real and hypothetical life situations. Lessons in Greek, Latin, and logic are key components of a classical education approach.
A Montessori approach is based on the writings and teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori. The Montessori learning environment is very different than the traditional model. Instead of information passing from the teacher to the student, the teacher is skilled in creating a prepared environment and giving the child freedom to interact with a variety of self-teaching materials.
A Waldorf approach is based upon the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, who believed all children pass through the same three developmental stages at about the same time, with few exceptions. Early introduction of academic work is discouraged and there is a strong emphasis on sheltering children from influences and knowledge that are beyond their current developmental stages. A strong connection to the natural rhythms of life and nature are emphasized and teaching technique focuses on an imaginative, artistic presentation that aims to integrate the head, heart, and hands. Children create artistic main lesson books that illustrate (and later narrate) the concepts they are learning.
The Unschooling approach is tough to define. John Holt, an early proponent of the modern homeschooling movement, invented the term, and he simply meant any learning that took place outside of a conventional school environment. Unschoolers frequently avoid traditional curriculum and focus on providing an environment where learning is fostered and appropriate materials are available. Parents support that effort more as facilitators than as teachers. A child’s interests chart the course of his or her education rather than following a prescribed set of studies.
The Unit Study approach, sometimes called thematic units or integrated studies, uses a central topic or theme to link multiple subjects rather than studying each subject as a separate effort. This method lends itself very well to hands-on learning, teaching several different ages at once, and creating a natural atmosphere for exploration and learning. You can use a unit study approach to organizing the studies of many educational philosophies– so you could use a unit study approach with a classical or Charlotte Mason curriculum, etc. Many packaged unit studies are available, and some parents create their own units based upon their children’s interests.
An Eclectic approach combines different philosophies or styles. Eclectic homeschoolers select whichever materials and methods best fit their children, and frequently adjust to suit changing needs. An eclectic combination of techniques and materials can allow you to make your own toolbox of “best practices” for your particular family.