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When people find out that I homeschool, I often get asked what kind of curriculum do I use. They wonder if all homeschoolers use the same set of textbooks and the same homeschool method.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of 5 Common Homeschool Methods

But as any homeschooler knows, get a group of homeschoolers in the same room and you’ll find the differences between how they “do school” are as vast as a field of wildflowers.

And, of course, that’s the beauty of homeschooling. We can tailor our homeschooling to meet our:

  • Needs and desires
  • Children’s needs and desires
  • Belief system about education
  • and more!

While there is no “wrong” way to homeschool. There are a few common approaches that most homeschoolers take. Of course there are many more, but these are the top five ways people homeschool. 

  • Traditional
  • Classical 
  • Unit Study
  • Charlotte Mason 
  • Unschooling

Every method has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, which we will explore.

Traditional Homeschool Method

The Traditional approach to homeschooling uses textbooks and workbooks. It basically is doing what public schoolers do…just at home. Many curriculum, like Abeka or Alpha & Omega’s Life Pac, use this method.

For the first of my seven children, we used Life Pac. I was just starting out and I didn’t really know what I wanted out of homeschooling and made lots of mistakes. This method gave me a solid outline of what to do. 

Strengths of Traditional Homeschooling

  1. Shows you exactly what to do each day.
  2. Definitive starting and ending points for each grade.
  3. Easily assesses student’s achievements with tests and graded assignments.

Weakness of Traditional Homeschooling

  1. Isn’t tailored to specific student.
  2. Teacher is highly involved.
  3. Expensive.
  4. Can get boring.

Classical Homeschool Method

Classical Homeschooling teaches children in a large group setting. One well-known group for classical homeschooling is called Classical Conversations. It has three parts called The Trivium, one for each age group. 

Grammar 

The Grammar part teaches elementary-aged students reading, writing, spelling, and Latin. During this stage they are learning foundational information on which all the other stages rest.

This done by listening to stories, both about history and general literature. They memorize facts and often recite these facts back to reinforce learning.

Dialectic 

The Dialectic part begins in middle school when children become more independent thinkers. They are encouraged to engage in logical discourse by learning how to support what they say with facts.

In this stage they might start learning Greek or Hebrew, higher math and theology. Instead of reading literature, they begin reading essay and criticisms. Learning about history includes more than just learning facts, but figuring out why historical events happened (and what that means for the current culture). 

Rhetoric 

By high school, students start the final part of Classical learning. This part is all about communicating effectively what they know and believe to others.

By the end of the Rhetoric phase in Classical Conversations, students are capable of complete cartography (map drawing) of the entire world. It’s pretty impressive!

Strengths of Classical Homeschooling

  1. It teaches strong communication skills.
  2. Aligns with natural development of child.
  3. Encourages self discovery and thought.

Weakness of Classical Homeschooling

  1. Information is usually new to teachers as well as students
  2. Rigorous
  3. Lots of focus on history and classics

Unit Study Homeschool Method

Unit Study Homeschooling combines all the subjects by studying a certain theme or topic. Math, English, science, history and art are all taught around a unit of study.

If you are studying the Middle Ages, you might learn about the art, science and math discoveries during that period. You’d read biographies about people during that time.

This is especially useful for children who tend to get obsessed over one topic for a long period of time. A young woman I know loves horses, so studying the history of horses, the science of their body and the mathematics involved in their gait or gallop would all fall under that unit of study.

Strengths of Unit Study Homeschooling

  1. Fun and interesting for students
  2. Intense study of one subject increases learning
  3. Easy to find information around one topic

Weakness of Unit Study Homeschooling

  1. Produces educational gaps
  2. Grading is problematic
  3. Prepared unit study curriculum can be expensive

Charlotte Mason Homeschool Method

Charlotte Mason was a classical English educator in England at the turn of the twentieth century. She didn’t like that modern education because it treated children as “containers to be filled” instead of humans, information was taught in isolated non-contingent bits, engineered artificial learning environment. She hated silly books (I don’t think she would have liked Good Night, Moon) and called them “twaddle” and wanted children to “do harder sums and read harder books.” 

Charlotte Mason learning teaches basic reading, writing and math, but then uses lots of outdoor time and field trips in this homeschool method. She hated textbooks and wanted children to read “living books” that made ideas “come alive.”

Strengths of Charlotte Mason Homeschooling

  1. Eliminates busy work
  2. Encourages a love of learning and studying based on observation.
  3. Treats children as active participants in the learning process.

Weakness of Charlotte Mason Homeschooling

  1. Lots of trips out of the house, which might problematic for large families with toddlers or low-income who can’t afford museums or trips.
  2. Neglects higher education.
  3. Not much curriculum available to guide teachers. (But you can try out our Charlotte Mason themed-planner for $0.99)

Relaxed/Unschooling Homeschool Method

The Unschooling method is two-pronged.

One version is based on the writings of John Holt’s book Teach Your Own which believes that children have a natural desire to learn. Holt encourages children use books to have real world experiences,

The other version of unschooling is used to describe a general unstructured learning environment where a child is surrounded by book and has continual access to learning materials. 

Similarly, relaxed schooling is akin to unschooling but has more clearly defined goals for leaning. 

Strengths of Unschooling Homeschooling

  1. Very little planning.
  2. Children are encouraged to love learning and reading.
  3. Less academic burn out.

Weaknesses of Unschooling Homeschooling

  1. Lack of structure might lead to non-schooling.
  2. It’s hard to assess progress.
  3. It might produce gaps in education.

Where Many Homeschoolers Land

Different homeschooling approaches work for different educators, for different seasons of life and for different children. Many homeschoolers tend to lean hard toward one specific type of schooling. Yet overtime most develop a combo style called Eclectic Homeschooling. The pros and cons of this type of schooling are varied and depend on each family.

For example, while I started out with a staunch traditional schooling (and for the most part am still very traditional in my own schooling), today I have elements of all the different types of homeschool approaches in my teaching repertoire. 

For my family, traditional schooling works because I personally like the structure because my personality tends to be very unstructured. But for my sister, her family is more of a Charlotte Mason family. She’s a little more Type A than me, so the lack of clear-cut rules helps her enjoy her schooling experience more.

Whatever homeschool method you choose, remember to enjoy the process.

About Elaine Mingus

I have seven kids. Having lots of kids falls somewhere between sheer insanity and fun depending on the day. Some days I think I'm a rockstar and some days I ask God why He thought I could handle ALL these kids. If you need help figuring out how to manage all the chaos, join me as I figure it out...or not at SupersizedFamily.com