Homeschool Philosophies, from Classic to Eclectic Curricula

A quick Google search of “homeschooling” will deliver a dizzying array of approaches and curriculum possibilities. How do you know where to start? What will work for your family?

A more productive search may be “homeschooling philosophies,” which will give you an introduction to the basic categories of alternative education and where your family’s preferences may best fit.

Let’s get started with a cursory overview of the basic homeschooling philosophies so you can get a sense of where to begin your search:

Classical

Classical education seeks to continue the centuries-old method of teaching provided to the educated class and which flourished from the middle ages through the colonial era. It is centered around the Trivium, a tutorial method that is broken into three segments: grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

Children start by learning grammar, which is representative of concrete thinking or learning rules and basic concepts. Next, children learn about logic, or abstract thinking, which they use to make assumptions based on the rules and concepts they learned studying grammar. Finally, in the rhetoric stage, children learn to think analytically and form opinions based on their concrete and abstract thinking.

Classical education is history- and literature-rich with a focus on the arts. It is almost always offered from a Judeo-Christian, Western worldview.

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Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was an English educator in the late 1800s who changed the way education was viewed. She believed that it was supported by three legs: an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. By atmosphere, she meant that one must cultivate an educational environment in the home, where the parents’ example is key. By discipline, she meant teaching children good habits that lead them to become lifelong learners. Finally, by education as life, she meant that learning should be about understanding evolving and inspiring ideas, not static facts.

As part of education as life, Charlotte Mason advocated teaching kids from living books — or books written by a person who is passionate about her subject — in contrast to using dry, dusty, disconnected bits of information as are often found in textbooks.

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Traditional

When you hear homeschoolers talk about the “traditional” philosophy, what they mean is that a traditional school experience is being replicated at home.Traditional schoolers are concerned with giving children a typical school experience, even if they choose not to send a child to school.

Another way to understand this philosophy is to think of it as “third grade in a box.” It is the modern equivalent of correspondence school. This type of education can be completed independently by purchasing the materials and allowing a child to work through them on her own. Alternatively, it can be delivered in the form of a virtual school, complete with materials, teachers, follow-up, and record-keeping online.

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Relaxed

The basic philosophy of relaxed homeschooling asserts that you are a family, not a school, a parent and not a teacher. Rather than trying to replicate school at home, the relaxed homeschooler seeks to celebrate the uniqueness of each family member, work within the family dynamic, and cultivate learning through relationships.

Key to this approach is a commitment to homeschooling as a family affair, and in this light, children are involved in the direction and decision-making process regarding their education and interests.

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Eclectic

The eclectic homeschooling philosophy is, well, eclectic. As the name suggests, resources are drawn from a variety of sources and methodologies, according to the needs of the family, the child, or the changing environment. Eclectic homeschoolers are not afraid to try new things. It is very common to find someone who follows this philosophy purchasing packaged curricula, borrowing heavily from the library, enrolling kids in outside classes — perhaps even through their local school district — and knitting it all together in a way that suits each individual child’s learning style.

You might think of this homeschooling philosophy as a mosaic, in which parents and students together take the best of what is available, break it up into small pieces, and create an education that is completely unique.

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Unschooling

This philosophy, based on the work of John Holt, places the responsibility of learning squarely on the child while parents adopt a supportive role. Each individual family member, whether parent or child, is encouraged to live life on her own terms, pursue what interests her most, and make all decisions about learning and self-care as an individual. Parents trust children to make these decisions for themselves and self-direct in their learning. There is less focus on results and more on process and self-development. Parents, in a supportive role, will help children to draw upon available resources to learn what they wish to.

It may be helpful to think of unschooling as the opposite end of the spectrum from traditional schooling. There exists a range of unschooling ideas and practices, from “radical unschooling,” promoted by Sandra Dodd, to the aforementioned “relaxed” method; it’s an approach that continues to be refined by its adherents.

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Picking a Philosophy

Before you can take a journey, you must know where you are going. Before you can get there, you have to decide which vehicle best suits your family. Are you a Classical, or an Eclectic? A Charlotte Mason, a Relaxed, a Traditional schooler, or do you show up somewhere on the Unschooling spectrum? Are there several philosophies that you identify with?

Discover which methods resonate with you, and be prepared not to fit into a single box. Add to it the details of your particular family dynamic, and you’ll be better equipped to make choices about the logistics. Understanding your preferred educational philosophy will allow you to pass up 90 percent of the marketed homeschooling mumbo-jumbo without a moment of self-doubt, and it will make the 10 percent that fits jump to the top of the stack.

Spend twice as much time defining your philosophy of education as you do worrying about what to teach.

Once you’ve picked a philosophy, it’s time to organize your lessons and teaching materials. Check out: How to Make Your Own Homeschool Curriculum.