There are probably as many homeschool styles or approaches to education as there are homeschoolers, but here’s a quick look at the most popular methodologies. You can find a link to an article more fully describing each educational approach beneath each description.

As you read about these educational philosophies along with sample curriculum and homeschooling schedules, see which seems like the best fit for your family’s “Homeschool GPS” by asking, “Does this approach resonate with my current habits or values for our lifestyle?” And then start there!

If you don’t find your heart beating in anticipation as you read through an approach, no matter how much you believe it’s a good idea, it may not work for your family.

You are as much a part of the formula for success as your child, so we encourage you to find an approach that works well for all of you!

After you check out the educational approaches below, you can take this helpful homeschool style quiz or this one to see which ones you most resonate with.

What are some of the most common educational approaches or philosophies?

Traditional or “Textbook”

What is it?

  • “School at home”

How does it work?

  • Textbooks
  • Parent teaching “to” the child
  • Classroom set up at home
  • Follows grade level on most subjects

Schedule?

  • Routine and schedule similar to traditional schools

Learn more from our 8 Educational Approaches Series:

A Traditional or “Complete Package” Educational Approach (Video and resources)

Box Curriculum or “Complete Package”

What is it?

  • Homeschool curriculum already assembled for you—you can use it right out of the box!
  • For use “as is”
  • Complete curriculum—covers all subjects (usually for a specific grade level for one year)

How does it work?

  • Planned for you
  • Simply open the curriculum and follow the provided lesson plans

Schedule?

  • Routine and schedules set by curriculum publisher for daily and weekly goals
  • Weekly tests, drills, and guided plans provided by publisher

Learn more from our 8 Educational Approaches Series:

A Traditional or “Complete Package” Educational Approach (Video and resources)

Classical

What is it?

  • Ancient three-part process of training the mind called “The Trivium”
    • Early years or Grammar Stage: Absorbing facts
    • Middle grades or Dialectic Stage: Learn to think
    • High school or Rhetoric Stage: Learn to express thoughts

How does it work?

  • By studying classical history, great books, western philosophy, Latin, science, math, and fine arts.

Schedule?

Learn more from our 8 Educational Approaches Series:

A Classical Educational Approach (Video and resources)

Charlotte Mason or “Real Books”

What is it?

  • “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.” —Charlotte Mason
  • Atmosphere—a cultivated home life
  • Discipline—developing good habits and character
  • Life—academics characterized by living books and ideas vs. learning raw facts

How does it work?

  • Using “living books” to guide and teach subjects
  • Very limited use of curriculum or textbooks
  • Nature, composers, handcrafts, and artist studies
  • “Build relationships” with great authors, composers, thinkers, etc., through “living books”

Schedule?

  • Short lessons
  • Varied lessons
  • Lots of read-alouds and individual reading
  • Relaxed with emphasis on refreshed minds for each subject and using home life as an important part of the atmosphere

Learn more from our 8 Educational Approaches Series:

A Charlotte Mason Educational Approach (Video and resources)

Montessori

What is it?

  • Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori
  • Child-directed
  • Prepared environments that promote learning
  • Hands-on learning
  • Incorporate home life as a part of learning
  • Mixed-age collaborative approach

How does it work?

  • Carefully prepared child-centered home design to promote learning
  • Hands-on learning alongside all ages
  • Uses Montessori materials such as these.
  • Typically focused on preschool through elementary years, but can be adapted for upper levels

Schedule?

  • Gentle & relaxed, mixed with consistent and predictable routine
  • Incorporates home life as important part of daily routine
  • Emphasizes including all ages in learning routines, with children teaching each other

Learn more from our 8 Educational Approaches Series:

A Montessori Educational Approach (Video and resources)

Waldorf

What is it?

  • Created by Rudolph Steiner
  • Emphasis on spiritual and child as a whole person
  • Topics and skills taught on seven-year cycles as child development affects learning
  • Experience should be facilitated before the learning of concepts
  • Teaching must be creative and artistic

How does it work?

  • “Main lessons” guide other subjects which are built off main lessons
  • Teacher introduces concepts through lots of stories and examples
  • Lots of hands-on learning
  • Lots of art, handcrafts, and songs
  • Mythology and storytelling

Schedule?

  • Rhythm of days and seasons important anchor for schedules
  • Seasons and holidays celebrated and emphasized
  • Often combined with Montessori or Charlotte Mason approaches which all offer relaxed but predictable daily routines

Unit Study

What is it?

  • Incorporates several subjects together while exploring a specific topic/theme.
  • Integrates a range of learning activities and materials—from field trips, medieval banquets, and costumes to model-building, timelines, and science projects to books and curriculum—unified around a main theme.
  • Parent- and/or child-directed/interest-led.

How does it work?

  • Capitalizes on kids’ natural bent towards patterns, themes, and interest-driven learning motivation.
  • Adaptable to different learning preferences and challenges.
  • Stretches curriculum dollars: kids learn same topics together, but each child is assigned work to fit their age and ability.
  • Lots of creative hands-on activities make learning more memorable.
  • Use for a season, semester, a year—or just supplement specific subject.
  • Easily integrate into other educational approaches.
  • Options: use a complete curriculum package based around unit studies, choose individual unit study curriculum or create your own!

Schedule?

  • Ideal for teaching multiple ages and levels simultaneously.
  • Maximizes parent’s prep and instruction time.
  • Many unit study curriculum packages rotate through specific subjects/topics or a specific historical timeline regularly (such as every 3–7 years) so that children usually get to interact with a topic first at an introductory level and later at a deeper level.

Learn more from our 8 Educational Approaches Series:

A Unit Study Educational Approach (Video and resources)

Unschooling/Delight-Directed Homeschooling

There are many names to this approach—it's even called self-directed—its definition can vary and it can take on your own family’s flavor! You can do a quick internet search to find a number of helpful descriptions.

What is it?

  • Child-directed/interest-led learning
  • “Life without school”
  • Trust children will be motivated to learn

How does it work?

  • No curriculum
  • No tests
  • Supports natural learning and facilitates learning of topics child is interested in

Schedule?

  • No set schedule
  • Freedom to set any schedule that works for child and family

Learn more from our 8 Educational Approaches Series:

A Delight-Directed Educational Approach (Video and resources)

Mixed or Eclectic

What is it?

  • Integrates many different educational philosophies and curriculum approaches
  • Freedom to choose favorite parts of different educational approaches

How does it work?

  • Review other educational philosophies and curriculum approaches
  • Choose what works for you from each philosophy—and discard what doesn’t.

Schedule?

  • Freedom to set up schedule that fits the educational philosophy being followed for each subject

Learn more from our 8 Educational Approaches Series:

An Eclectic Educational Approach (Video and resources)


Hopefully the summaries above have given you a helpful idea of the most common educational approaches. To dig a little deeper, you can visit this website for more on these approaches or methods and sample homeschool schedules.

While the freedom to choose your approach to homeschooling and create a customized educational environment is freeing and exciting, it can also feel intimidating sometimes. The options are so different and may seem overwhelming!

HSLDA’s educational consultants are just a phone call away and specialize in helping you as a member clear the fog of decisions to make the best choices for your family. So, please feel free to call us if you’re needing some guidance.

Want to get started on selecting your child’s curriculum? Click here!

Setting up your Homeschool GPS?

You can navigate through the steps here:

Start Here

Ready? Set Your Homeschool GPS!

Step One

Explore and identify your child’s learning preference.

Step Two

Check out several ways to figure out your teaching style.

Step Three (You are here!)

Take a quick tour of some of the most common learning approaches (aka educational philosophies). There’s a wide variety and you might be surprised at your options!