The Differences Between Various Homeschooling Methods

March 31, 2022

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The beauty of homeschooling is that there are so many different methods available. Your family can choose the one that works best for your children. Or you can mix and match the best strategies from multiple homeschool methods to create an eclectic style that is customized to your children. Embrace the freedom and flexibility that allows you to craft a unique learning experience for your kids. Here’s a run-down of the basics of the different homeschool methods.

homeschooling mom teaching son and text The Differences Between Various Homeschooling Methods

Homeschool Styles

You may have heard about different homeschool styles and wondered what sets them apart. Let’s explore the various homeschool styles so you can determine which one might work best for your family. 

Traditional Method

One popular method for new homeschooling families is the school-at-home or traditional homeschooling approach. This approach most mimics a public school education philosophy where textbooks are used for learning and children are placed in a different grade level each year. 

Many online courses also use a traditional approach. In this style, which most of us experienced in our own schooling, you listen to a teacher explain the material and then read the textbook and answer questions. It is a very cut-and-dried plan.

Traditional Curriculum

Usually,  you will use a set curriculum for each subject area and have to wade through lesson plans to implement the teaching. Your daily schedule will be more strict as your children work through separate subject area classes. 

Many families who pull their children out of a traditional classroom experience tend to start homeschooling using a traditional approach. The reason for this is because the school-at-home approach provides the structure and textbook learning that their kids are already familiar with. 

Using a traditional method to start homeschooling is sometimes helpful until you gain confidence in your ability as a homeschool mom and also gain perspective into the learning styles of your children. Some kids will thrive with a traditional approach. But not every child’s learning style will work well using this method. 

So, even if you start traditionally, you might want to toss the textbooks going forward and look into how these other methods might work better for your family.

Unit Studies

Unit studies provide a wonderful way to teach multiple ages together in the elementary grades. While you will still want core curriculum for language arts and math, you can study multiple subject areas with one unit study. 

Unit studies work by choosing a particular topic and pulling in resources and hands-on learning approaches to study the topic. 

How the Unit Study Approach Works

Here’s an example of how the unit study approach works. If the unit study topic is oceans, your kids will be able to engage in learning across the content areas. For example, they might start with finding the oceans on a map and talking about how specific countries are benefited by their location next to a large body of water. This deep dive into social studies, including physical geography, history, imports, maritime exploration, economics, and politics, is based off of the simple topic of oceans!

Adding Math to Unit Studies

Students can practice their math skills by determining the percentages of the earth’s surface area that is covered by oceans. They can make graphs and pie charts showing the relative sizes of each ocean. How deep are the oceans? You can even create word problems to determine how long it would take to take a boat across an ocean versus fly across. Who knew that math could be so fun?

Exploring Science Topics with Unit Studies

Of course, studying oceans lends a lot to the sciences. Your kids can learn about the creatures who live in the oceans, again tying in geography and the sciences. You can explore the resources that are in the ocean along with modern ocean exploration history. The water cycle provides the perfect deep dive into this topic. 

Language Arts & Fine Arts

Writing an essay about the oceans, or even composing a creative writing story about ocean creatures, will give your kids a fun language arts aspect to this unit study.

Finally, you can incorporate the fine arts by creating a painting or drawing of the ocean or your favorite ocean creatures. If you can, take a field trip to the ocean to be able to appreciate first-hand the color, light, and movement of the water! 

This is just one example of how a unit study can tie together multiple content areas and help you to teach all your children together. Out of all the different homeschool methods available, unit studies are a great way to teach your K-8 kids together and have fun doing it.

Charlotte Mason Method

One of the main approaches of homeschoolers, especially those with children in the early years, is the Charlotte Mason style. Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the late 1800s. Her philosophy emphasized a lot of time in the natural world, using living books instead of “twaddle,” and educating the whole child. She believed that children are not blank slates to be filled with information, but rather that the education they receive should awaken their soul.

Homeschool families who embrace the Charlotte Mason method are known for prioritizing nature studies and wonderful books. The strategy of narration is very popular with Charlotte Mason homeschoolers. 

Families that use Sonlight lesson plans love how the curriculum pulls from the best of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy by emphasizing faith formation, living books, and hands-on learning. Sonlight fits somewhere in between the Classical homeschooling method and the Charlotte Mason approach because of its emphasis on literature-based learning.

Classical Education

Another popular homeschooling method is the classical approach. A classical education divides up the stages of learning into the Trivium:

Grammar Stage

This includes the early years when children are gaining knowledge and learning the vocabulary of each content area. This stage focuses heavily on memorization and recitation. Classical students also begin to learn Latin in the grammar stage.

Logic Stage

Older children and teens learn to understand and argue using logic. Their critical thinking skills are strengthened during this stage and they learn to reason and relate things together using cause and effect.

Rhetoric Stage

Your high school students will learn to apply wisdom as they grow in their communication abilities. 

The Great Books provide an underpinning of the educational goals in a classical model. The Great Books are those that provide the best materials for people to grow intellectually and are considered masterpieces in the liberal arts. These books pass the test of time and deal with fundamental questions that humans face.

Montessori Method

The Montessori method is popular with families of younger children, as the method emphasizes practical skills in a home life and a natural learning environment. Maria Montessori began the first Montessori school in the early 1900s in Italy for children with special needs. 

The Montessori approach encourages a hands-on learning style and is considered a child-centered educational method. This homeschooling method is characterized by these activities:

  • Hands-on learning
  • Collaborative play
  • Self-directed learning
  • Making creative choices
  • Learning social skills
  • Breaking down skills into steps
  • Moving from concrete to abstract thinking
  • More specifically, your younger children would engage in these hands-on activities in a Montessori-styled homeschool:
  • Pouring and scooping
  • Dressing frames – these help students learn motor skills like tying shoes and buttoning buttons
  • Washing the window
  • Gluing paper
  • Watering flowers
  • Sweeping
  • Learning from classification cards
  • Using beads to understand single digits, ten beads, and the decimal system

Montessori Preschool Approach

Because of the natural hands-on approach and home learning environment of the Montessori approach, many homeschoolers of young children find it an enjoyable style for their at home learning.

Sonlight’s Preschool Program takes all the best things from the Montessori approach and combines it with quality literature. So, if you want to use this homeschool method with your young learner, you’ll get the best of both worlds with Sonlight!

Sonlight’s NEW Literature-based Preschool Curriculum

Waldorf Education

A Waldorf education approaches learning from a holistic and integrated point of view so that children develop their intellectual, artistic, and practical skills in tandem. It is a natural learning philosophy that shuns most standardized and quantitative testing. Instead, qualitative assessments are woven into daily life. The Waldorf Educational philosophy is similar to that of the Classical method in that it divides learning into distinct developmental stages. Those stages according to the Waldorf method are termed: early childhood, elementary education, and secondary education. Each of these stages lasts about seven years.

Learning Through Experiences

In the early years, a child’s learning takes place through experiences. Children should be free to play, do artistic work and practical tasks. A Waldorf elementary education uses artistic work, story-telling, crafts, and music to help students connect more deeply with the subject matter. The goal in the early years is to cultivate a child’s imagination with this holistic approach. Waldorf philosophy discourages the use of traditional textbooks and encourages the pace of the education to be based on your child’s pace of learning.

“Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The children themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves.” — Rudolf Steiner, Human Values in Education


John Holt is the most prominent proponent of the unschooling approach, which encourages children to seek as much freedom as they can to explore the world around them. The unschooling philosophy starts with the premise that children are born learning and continue to naturally learn as they grow. Genuine learning happens naturally and adults just need to provide the resources and encouragement. According to an unschooling approach, kids are naturally curious and traditional schooling will dampen their inborn love of learning.

Example of Unschooling

An example of the unschooling method in real-life use might be a family whose boys love exploring nature and trapping animals. Instead of making the children learn from books, worksheets, and traditional approaches, an unschooling family would allow them as much time as possible to go out in the woods and pursue the child’s interests and passions, trusting that they would naturally be learning along the way at their own pace. 

So the basic premise of the unschooling approach is that the interests of the child will dictate the learning that happens. 

Unschooling provides a great transition from public school to homeschool. Of all the different homeschool methods, unschooling helps kids and parents to shed the structure and standardization of a public school education for one that prioritizes each child’s individuality.

Eclectic Homeschooling

Finally, if you don’t feel like you fit into any of these methods, then maybe eclectic homeschooling is the best fit for you! The eclectic approach takes the best of the different homeschool methods and styles and helps you create a truly customized approach for your kids.

The eclectic method might look like this for one family:

  • Nature study for science 
  • Textbook approach for math
  • Classical language arts and history
  • Unit Studies 

Freedom to Pick and Choose

Each of the different homeschool methods and approaches mentioned above have pros and cons associated with them. Once you are more familiar with your child’s needs and learning style, then you’ll gain confidence in finding different ways to bring in the best strategy to fit your kids. The eclectic approach gives you the freedom to pick and choose as needed for each child.

Sonlight fits in well with an eclectic approach because it pulls the best aspects from the Classical method and Charlotte Mason approach. In fact, a good piece of advice for even eclectic homeschoolers is to find a foundation curriculum and then make changes from there. This will save a lot of time and headache from trying to piece together a totally DIY option for your family. Even if you want to make a completely customized learning experience to fit your child’s learning style, it’s okay to start with a ready-made foundation.

Eclectic homeschoolers sitting at a table using Sonlight curriculum

What does finding a foundational curriculum for your eclectic homeschool look like?

After you narrow down a few curriculum options, go ahead and commit for the next school year. It doesn’t mean you have to use this curriculum forever, but go ahead and at least decide to see if it will work. Now take out your pen or pencil and make it yours. If the curriculum you chose includes a schedule you don’t like, then make it fit your family style instead. If the recommended resources are missing a few books you want to include, then go ahead and include them. 

Subtract a few items here and add in a couple other items there and make it your own. But at least having a foundational curriculum will give you the structure or plan that you need. This will save you tons of time from having to create your own curriculum from scratch! Don’t reinvent the wheel. Take what’s already out there and tweak it to fit your family. That’s the way an eclectic style works.

How Do I Determine the Best Homeschool Style?

Not every one of the different homeschool methods detailed above will work for every family. It can be hard to determine a good fit for your kids, but here are some guidelines. Curriculum and methods do go hand in hand. That means that you might discover your homeschooling style by purchasing a curriculum that you just love. Or, you might find a great curriculum by nailing down your preferred homeschool style first. It really just depends. But here are some questions to ask to narrow it down.

What’s your child’s learning style?

First, what is your child’s learning style? If your children thrive with worksheets and a very structured approach, then a traditional style might work for you. But some  children benefit from a very hands-on and experiential learning style. If that’s your child, then you would want to consider a Montessori homeschooling approach.

Where does your child struggle?

Then, determine where your child is struggling. Which style will address this challenge in the best way? Does your child have special needs? The Montessori approach was created for use first with special needs children. But other approaches can work as well, so consider the benefits of each style to fit the special needs of your child. Sometimes a unit study approach can be a good fit for a struggling learner because they don’t even realize they’re learning when they can deep dive into a topic that they love! Again, there are pros and cons for each homeschooling style, so you’ll have to look at each with an eye toward your struggling learner to find the best fit.

What are your goals?

What are your family priorities and goals? If you want to raise life-long learners that love reading, then you will naturally be drawn to a classical or Charlotte Mason approach. These approaches emphasize literature and the great books of Western civilization. 

What’s your preferred teaching style?

How do you teach? Which style fits best with your family approach? What is the family schedule? How hands-on do you want to be as the homeschool mom? If your goal in this season of life is to care for a family member, then you might need something that is less hands-on for you. Or, if you’re a working homeschool mom, your schedule will dictate the types of homeschooling styles that will or will not work in this season. Remember that as your children grow, they also become more independent. So the ages of your children will play into this calculation as well.

Finding Curriculum to Fit the Different Homeschool Styles

The first step is to discover a method that will fit your homeschooling needs. Then you’ll be able to track down a curriculum that will also work for your family. In fact, some curriculum can span across multiple homeschooling methods. 

Just remember that there is no one right way to homeschool. Parents of every stripe are using all of the method above to successfully homeschool their children. The most important aspect in a homeschooling family is the parent-child relationship. Because you are the expert in your child’s life, you are qualified to educate your child. In addition, you can do a far superior job at it! Rest assured, the method or style you use in your homeschool is just a tool. Don’t be a slave to a method, style, or curriculum. You are in charge of your child’s education, not the method.


The public school system treats all students the same and assumes the same approaches will work with everyone. Homeschool families know that isn’t true. With the most popular types of homeschooling styles presented above, you can see that you can easily customized a unique education for the best learning experience for your child. Your homeschool journey might not look like your friend’s, and that’s okay! 


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