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So many options!  When you’re just getting started, it can be difficult to picture what homeschooling might be like. To complicate matters, every family does things differently, and no one can tell you exactly how to homeschool your family.

Choosing an approach to homeschooling is a little like choosing paint colors.  There are many options, and even once you choose a color there are so many shades.  They’re all beautiful, you can mix and match, and if you don’t like it, you can change it!

Let’s talk about some of the main approaches to homeschooling so you can begin to decide what might work best for your family. Keep in mind that the methods you choose will affect the cost quite a bit.

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How to homeschool on-line:  This method takes away much of the responsibility which can be a relief, but also takes away most of the freedom. It is a good fit for some families, though.  If you’re enrolled in public school on-line, you’re not technically homeschooling.  If you pay for a private program, it can be expensive.  Make sure you know how much parent involvement is required with the program you choose.

School at Home

How to homeschool with the school-at-home method:  This approach means you’re doing basically what has traditionally been done in school classrooms, but at home where you are able to choose the materials and pace. Textbooks and workbooks are used for each subject, and students work through these page by page. These days, some of the instruction and work is digitally based rather than in a book. This is an easy, comfortable method for some families coming from public school, and it can make records and transcripts more straightforward. This is not the best method for many children, though, and can be boring and may not provide opportunities for creativity, discussion, and making connections.


How to homeschool with the classical education method:  This approach is based on a three stage model of learning called the trivium. Young children in the first stage focus on memorization. Upper elementary and middle school students are in the second stage which focuses on developing logic and reasoning. Older students in the rhetoric stage use what they have learned to craft convincing written and oral arguments. Emphasis is placed on classical texts.  The families I know who use the classical method belong to a Classical Conversations group that meets once a week to study some subjects together. There are homeschool groups and co-ops for every approach, but the CC groups are specifically for those implementing the classical learning method.

Charlotte Mason

How to homeschool the Charlotte Mason way:  Charlotte Mason was an educator who lived in England from 1842-1923. She believed that the minds of children are very capable and that subjects should not be overly simplified (she called much material for children twaddle), but that children should be given the chance to hear rich language and ideas. She thought it was important for children to be outdoors, exploring nature, and reserved the afternoon for free play and investigation in natural environments. She also recommended the use of what she called living books rather than textbooks, giving children the opportunity to experience and learn from quality literature. After reading, children are required to retell what was read which checks for comprehension and enhances memory. Ms. Mason thought it was important to cultivate good habits in children and educate the whole child.

Unit Studies

How to homeschool with unit studies:  This approach to homeschooling revolves around topics of study, aligning all subjects with each topic.  This method makes it easy to involve the whole family and make connections across all areas of learning.  You can also choose your topics based on your children’s interests.  For example, if your children are interested in birds, then you would read about birds, watch videos about birds, do art projects related to birds, learn about bird anatomy, habitats, etc., listen to the songs of various birds and music inspired by their songs, learn about the role of birds in history, examine maps of where birds live in the world, study feathers and flight…Once you get started, you’ll find that the problem with unit studies is not to know what to study, but when to stop!  Studies across a subject can be differentiated for younger and older learners.  Some people create their own unit studies and there are also prepared units available for purchase.  Sometimes a separate math program is used to keep those studies consistent, and the prepared units sometimes stretch the topic in order to cover all subjects.


How to unschool:  Unschooling means different things to different people, but at its heart it means students study what interests them and learn at their own pace. Rather than following a set curriculum, unschooling parents observe their children’s explorations and take note of their questions and then provide books, tools, and opportunities for the child to expand their learning about topics of interest. To do this, you have to be okay with not knowing what you’ll be learning about next month and working with your child to find ways to learn about their curiosities. You have to be comfortable saying, “I don’t know. Let’s find out!” Some unschooling families do follow a plan for math so that understanding builds and concepts are not missed. Some parents also direct their children’s studies somewhat by providing books and materials to facilitate learning, leaving them out for kids to discover.


How to homeschool with the standards:  Families that plan to send their students to public school in the future sometimes choose to follow state and national standards.  Requirements for each grade level and subject are listed, and families find resources or a curriculum that help their children to explore and understand included concepts.  Since standards tell what to teach rather than how to teach, parents are able to use methods that suit their children.  Instruction may need to be adjusted up or down depending upon the ability level of each student.


How to homeschool with eclectic methods:  An eclectic approach to homeschooling means that you pick and choose what you like from multiple methods rather than adhering strictly to one. My family is in the eclectic category for sure!  To learn more about how our family homeschools, scroll further down the page.  As you begin homeschooling and try out different ways of doing things, you have the freedom to choose what works for you and your kids.

Learn more about our H4RL approach to homeschooling:


At the core of what we do, our homeschooling is built around exploring and learning about the world with our kids, inspiring a sense of wonder, helping our kids know how to find the answers to questions they have, and instilling a life-long love of learning.


We respect the extensive research that has gone into state and national standards for education, and we use them to our advantage. The standards help us know what level of understanding public school students are expected to have and what they are learning at each grade level. While we do not feel compelled to do everything exactly the same way as public schools (far from it!), the standards are a useful tool to help us know if we’re “doing enough” and make sure we don’t leave too many gaps in our kids’ education. We also know they are prepared for university studies and will be competitive candidates for the jobs of their choice.


We love to really dive into our topics of study and investigate them in different ways. It just makes sense that we would be reading about, writing about, and watching videos about related topics of interest. Sometimes we’ll look at historical aspects of the topic, often geography is involved, and many times there is some math to go along with it, too. We don’t stretch a topic artificially to make it span every subject, and we do study other topics at the same time and in a prescribed order, so I like to call these topic studies “explorations” rather than unit studies.


Many of Ms. Mason’s principles are woven into what we do. We spend a lot of time outdoors. I much prefer excellent, engaging books to textbooks. We have abundant discussions about what we read and learn, requiring the children not only to review what they gleaned from the reading but also to connect, analyze, and extend. We love to present rich, complicated subjects and allow our kids to jump in and learn at whatever level their readiness allows. And we definitely believe in educating the whole child.


Learning based on our kids’ interests and capitalizing on educational opportunities that come our way is our favorite way to approach education! We could never be called pure unschoolers, but we are going to jump at the chance to learn something intriguing, setting aside planned studies until later. It’s an exciting way to live that ignites curiosity and engages the mind!


Which method is best?

Each family is unique and many factors combine to determine which method(s) will work best; often it changes over time. You are the person most qualified to determine what is best for you and your kids.

That being said, Deborah Taylor-Hough did attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of various approaches in her article, “Are All Homeschooling Methods Created Equal?” (June 2010).  She asserts that “not all methods will produce the same level of personal maturity, leadership, and intellectual capabilities in the students. For the conscientious parent looking to see their children develop into…self-reliant, critical thinkers,…a combination of Charlotte Mason’s methods and unschooling would have the best chance of success.”

Certainly many homeschooling families will use different approaches and have great success, but I was happy to see these methods touted as effective because they play a part in the way my family homeschools.

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