Approaches to Home Education

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By World Family Education

As you begin to explore home education curriculum, you will find that there are countless options, especially for those based on the North American educational system. Each option has foundations in one or more of the predominant educational philosophies. Read more about those philosophies at the World Family Education page about Perspectives on Education. Below are brief descriptions of some of the major approaches.

For fun, you can take this quiz at Eclectic Homeschool to get an idea of where your preferences might fall.

Recreate School at Home

Recreate School at Home (traditional or textbook) approaches seek to model the home education experience after the traditional school experience. They usually use a traditional curriculum including textbooks and workbooks (physical or digital), follow a national school calendar, and use a traditional grading system. This often involves special times and spaces for learning, distinct teacher and student roles, and using resources found in traditional classrooms. It is commonplace for families to start the home education experience with this model because it is familiar and makes a lot of sense to most parents.

Some examples of curriculum publishers:

Christian options:

Learn from the Past

Learn from the Past (classical) approaches tailor educational experiences to three developmental stages which can be described as concrete: focused on memorizing facts and vocabulary (K–6th); analytical: focused on critical thinking and forming arguments (7th–8th); and abstract: focused on the art of communicating orally and in writing (9th–12th). There is a strong emphasis on mastery of language (often including ancient languages) and integration of subjects within historical studies.

Some curriculum examples:

Christian options:

Education is the Formation of Habits

Education is the Formation of Habits (Charlotte Mason) approaches consider the environmental influence on development, the acquisition of good habits, and the use of authentic real-life experiences in learning. There is an emphasis on exposing students to great writers, artists, and composers to inspire learning and creativity. Literature that brings subjects to life through narrative are widely used, and retelling of the narratives is a common way of reinforcing the learning. Skills such as spelling and handwriting are often developed by having students write passages dictated from literature.

Some curriculum examples:

Christian options:

Realistic Play to Learn

Realistic Play to Learn (Montessori) approaches focus on real-life play and discovery as a model for young learners to lay the developmental groundwork for acquiring traditional academic skills. These learning approaches prepare creative environments for students to choose their learning experiences. Many stations provide opportunities to explore, move, create, and collaborate in the classroom setting as well as in real-world settings. An emphasis is placed on developing innate curiosity and desire to learn and create, as well as develop character and social skills.

Some curriculum examples:

Fantasy Play to Learn

Fantasy Play to Learn (Waldorf) approaches focus on make-believe play and art as a model for young learners to lay the developmental groundwork for acquiring traditional academic skills. These learning approaches tend to de-emphasize academic subjects until much later in the child’s education, and even then center around expressing creativity. An emphasis is placed on developing innate curiosity and desire to learn and create, as well as develop in character and social skills.

Some curriculum examples:

Organize Learning Around Themes

Organize Learning Around Themes (unit study) approaches put skill and knowledge acquisition in the context of a unit of study with a unifying theme or piece of literature, instead of studying subjects in isolation. This is seen as a better way to learn skills, with more emotional buy-in and curiosity. Focus is put on the practical purpose for learning skills. There are specific curricula set up to support this approach, and free resources online help families design their own experiences. Traditional textbooks and materials are not much help, other than to help a parent see what might be expected skills to learn at a particular grade level. Formalized grading is often rubric based or based on a portfolio or report rather than test based.

Many families design their own unit studies, but here are a few examples of pre-made units:

Christian options:

Mix and Match

Mix and Match (eclectic or relaxed) approaches focus on the student’s individual needs and use a variety of approaches and materials in different subjects. Families choosing this customized approach to learning borrow bits and pieces from different sources for each subject, and it may be completely different for each student. Often the Mix and Match approach is a result of experience with different homeschooling curriculum over time and knowing what works for specific learning styles. For families living in places where learning resources are limited and shared among families, this approach can become the default.

Most families will design their own program, but some curricula are designed to mix and match, such as Sonlight (Christian) and Book Shark.

Free-Range Learning

Free-Range Learning (unschooling) approaches tend to be driven and defined by student interest with very limited set curriculum. There is a wide spectrum of how “free” students are within this approach. Resources used in this approach can also be very diverse, including books, textbooks, online resources, movies, etc. Grading and assessment methods can also vary greatly. This model can create challenges to fitting back into more traditional education models and can make university admission difficult in some countries.

Travel-Based Learning

Travel-Based Learning (roadschooling or worldschooling) approaches use travel experiences as the backbone of the learning process. Locations, people, sights, and culture are used to spark interest in history, science, math concepts, as well as creative expression. In this way, learning is a family process that encompasses the totality of life experiences. Resources used in this approach are very diverse, including books, textbooks, online resources, movies, etc. Grading and assessment methods can also vary greatly. This model can create challenges to fitting back into more traditional education models and can make university admission difficult in some countries.

More Home Education Curriculum Options

Numerous curriculum options are available, and some are listed below. Each has its own approach to home education. (This is not a comprehensive list.)


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