Homeschool Philosophies - Which One Fits You and Your Child?

As you consider homeschooling your child, you may be trying to decide on which approach or philosophy fits your family.

There are several different main styles of homeschooling and finding the one that aaligns best with your family and your child and their preferred learning style, as well as your own, is an important decision to make.

Scroll down for an outline of the main homeschool philosophies to determine which one fits you and your child.

Choosing a homeschool philosophy that works for your family and fits both you and your child is a key decision as you approach homeschooling and there are many factors to consider.

For example, do you like things relaxed and informal, or do you prefer a more structured approach? 

How much time do you have to devote to homeschooling each day or week?

What is your child's learning style?

These and other questions come into play as you consider what your homeschooling philosophy will be.

How Can I Homeschool My Child?

Homeschooling simply means educating your child at home but this can take many forms, with lots of different aspects and characteristics in different philosophies.

Below are some of the main philosophies and methods that homeschoolers use when teaching their children.

Use this guide to the main homeschool approaches to help you decide which philosophy is right for your home.

Do bear in mind that most people find that a mix of styles suit them best. You can find what may be the best fit for you in this quiz.

And many of us will try out one philosophy or approach and then move on to another either because it's not a perfect fit or as children got older and our homeschool changes.

It's all perfectly normal, no-one has it figured out all the way through from age 4 to 18 from the get-go, and that's perfectly all right!

More reading:

Homeschool Philosophies - Which One Fits You and Your Child?

1. Unschooling

With the unschooling philosophy, parent teachers take their inspiration from their child's interests, passions, and learning style.

Unschoolers believe in their child's inherent instinct and love of learning and nurture that desire day by day.

A lot of learning will happen out in the real world

Unschoolers do not typically use a curriculum, but instead choose to take cues from their child's interests and abilities.

The unschooling teacher / parent may loosely design a curriculum or unit study based on the child's interests.

For example, if the child is interested in ducks and other waterfowl, the parent may purchase or check out library books on ducks, geese, swans, etc.

They would go to look at the birds in the wild and to a local nature reserve. Then they might do art projects based on waterfowl and do a science project recreating a wetland habitat.

Counting, adding, and subtracting ducks and geese on a pond could be a math lesson, or perhaps they would introduce data handling by creating charts and graphs of different waterbirds.

For practical matters like learning math facts and handwriting, many unschoolers find that their child wants to learn to write and tell time - and therefore ask to be taught - when the need arises.

Unschoolers prefer to wait until the child expresses interest, as this is seen as a sign of readiness to learn a concept.

Sometimes the information or concepts are simply discussed; other times, the child might write things down or study the concept using manipulatives.

But unschoolers do not use a scheduled curriculum with set lessons.

They may learn through play, projects, reading, conversation/discussion, travel, life, documentaries, clubs or groups, sports, video games and more.

More reading:

2. Charlotte Mason

If you have googled homeschooling or spoken to other homeschoolers the name Charlotte Mason may have already popped up.

British Victorian teacher Mason is sometimes thought of as a sort of homeschool "founder," or at least an inspiration behind the homeschooling movement.

The key principles of a Charlotte Mason approach are to use 'living books' which bring history, science or geography to life, rather than dull, dry text books.

And the principle of narration, asking the child to narrate back what you have read to them. This is done verbally in the younger years and may become written narration as children get older.

Nature study is also important. We use Lynn Seddon's beautiful Exploring Nature with Children curriculum as a guide.

The Charlotte Mason method also stresses character development and good life habits, and homeschooling teachers are encouraged to look for "teachable moments" in their students.

There is also an emphasis on working with an individual child's learning style and interests, rather than trying to mould the child to the curriculum.

Charlotte Mason methods includes all the core subjects, with an emphasis on classical literature.

Art, music and poetry study is also important, with an approach described as 'spreading a feast' before the child so they can experience all of life's riches and culture.

3. Montessori

Many people don't realize that Montessori is also a homeschool philosophy.

It's based on the work of Maria Montessori, a rare female physician who lived and practiced in the late 1800s.

She opened a children's school and the students, who were rejects of the traditional school system, began out-performing the students of the rich families. Her methods thus gained attention!

The Montessori philosophy encourages the "whole child" to learn; senses, body movements, and so forth are all incorporated in the learning method.

Montessori respects and emphasizes each child's individual capabilities.

Often used as just a preschool curriculum for the early years, the Montessori philosophy can be continued for a child's entire school career, althouggh many parents will find they morph studies into either the Charlotte Mason or unit study styles later on.

4. Unit Studies

A lot of homeschoolers view the unit studies method as more of a challenge as there is no set curriculum or rules around it.

Instead, when you implement a unit study, it's something like a theme.

You decide on a subject or a particular book and learn about it in depth, and learn the core subjects through that subject.

For instance, you might do a unit study on Charlotte's Web by E.B. White.

From this you could study farm animals, food production, spiders, friendship and more.

You would then design a unit study covering maths, science, English / language arts, history, geography, religious studies, art, technology, crafts around the themes you extract.

Learning via unit studies is a way for home educators and their students to delve into a subject in-depth and hands-on.

A unit study-based curriculum takes one broad theme, novel or idea and integrates the core subjects into the main one.

You can easily create your own unit study curriculum; choose a broad subject - art or science, for instance - and design all other lessons to coincide with that theme.

This planner guides you through planning a unit study about something your child is intereted in:

If you prefer to have a guide there are some unit study-based curricula that you can purchase, you don't have to design your own from scratch although it is fun to do so!

5. Classical

The classical approach is based on a "trivium" - grammar (birth to age 11), logic (ages 11-14) and rhetoric (high school) - that are said to be compatible with the natural way the child's brain learns and develops.

Classical education involves learning Latin, maths, world history, the arts, and science.

6. Structured or traditional

This type of home schooling is the closest in style and approach to 'regular' schools.

The subject matter and lessons are divided into grades, and planning is essential so as to avoid gaps.

Parent teachers may follow a national or state stipulated curriculum.

The homeschool class is run much like a traditional school room, even using school textbooks.

Traditional homeschoolers love to follow a strictly structured timetable, even allowing times for 'recess' and a lunch break.

Every subject is covered each day, and students are tested as in an educational institution.

Textbooks and teacher's manuals on each subject are standard with this philosophy.

7. Biblical principle

If a family is homeschooling their children because they want to follow a Christian approach to all subjects, they may opt for a Biblical based program.

This type of homeschooling philosophy bases the core subjects on a Christian world view and Biblical belief and reasoning.

The development of Christian character and Biblical principles are emphasized.

Every day will include some specific teaching on the Bible, and in Catholic homeschools on the Saints.

Those teaching their children from a Biblical perspective may have a Creationist view and look for curriculum, resources and books that echo those beliefs.

Apologetics may become an important part of the child's homeschooling in the high school years.

8. Design Your Own

None of these philosophies geling with you, or do you fall into the 'mixed' categotry like most of us?

Many - I would wager most! - homeschoolers do not really subscribe to one particular philosophy. 

Instead, they choose to design their own curriculum and philosophy, which may or may not be based on one of the main approaches.

You may want to combine approaches, you may want to invest in a boxed curriculum that loosely follows one or more approaches.

You may choose a Charlotte Mason approach for language arts (English), a set curriculum for maths and a unit study or even an unschooling approach for history, geography and science.

Many people describe this as an 'eclectic' homeschool philosophy, i.e. a pick and mix!

You may even prefer a 'relaxed' homeschool approach where you go with the flow, don't follow a particular schedule, pick up bits of curriculum as and when you choose, and follow your own path.

This may even work with a relatively prescribed curriculum like Sonlight, as this video shows.

More reading:

Whatever works for you and your child is the best philosophy and approach for you, so give some things a try, talk to your child and see what works best.

And remember, no-one is going to get into trouble for changing tack, so if something doesn't work, or stops working, try something else.

At the end of the day you are your child's best teacher, so trust yourself - and them - and enjoy homeschooling!

Read on for curriculum, school and state standards and testing...

How to Implement Your Homeschool Philosophy


Homeschoolers may use a curriculum, which they may purchase in its entirety, or just in bits here and there.

There are many options available from downloadable PDFs that you print and bind yourself to full boxed curriculum with everything you need.

A full boxed curriculum usually includes a teacher's guide, books, workbooks, worksheets, and various manipulatives and relevant objects. The lessons are laid out in a semester-based schedule for 36 weeks.

A homeschooling family may use any combination of these things if they don't want to purchase a full curriculum.

Curricula can often be purchased used on eBay or in Facebook groups to save money.

Some homeschoolers, particularly unschoolers, use a combination of the library, the internet, and real life experiences to homeschool without a curriculum.

Standards and Testing

Contrary to popular belief, in most places homeschoolers do not need to follow the program their local school board does.

Check your country or state laws to check if this applies to you.

If homeschoolers decide to they can look at the educational guidelines for their particular county or district to get an idea as to what their child will be expected to know at a certain age or grade level.

Alternatively, they may decide to follow a curriculum for the whole of their child's schooling and therefore follow their guidelines as to what should be learnt year on year.

Homeschoolers may still have to 'prove' to the state or county that their child is being educated adequately.

In the UK an annual report from the parent to the local authority is usually sufficient.

In some US states, homeschooled kids need to undertake annual standardized testing in math and language arts.

In other states parent teachers will need to present a portfolio of their child's work to a certified teacher. 

The teacher then "signs off" on the portfolio and that form is sent to the superintendent.

Again, check with your local school board and look up the laws in your country or state.

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