Homeschooling Styles

Click on the picture to get the free Homeschool Plan packet.

When I started homeschooling it seemed like everyone I spoke with and every book I read talked about homeschooling styles. Everyone wants to know what “style” of homeschooler you are. Well, I wasn’t sure what style I was until I tried each one on for a bit. Here are a few that you might “try on” as you begin your homeschool journey.

As you read about each homeschooling style, take notes on the Homeschooling Style page.  Check the boxes that ring true for you.  At the bottom, articulate what your style is, remembering that most people are actually eclectic (a combination of several styles).  Remember, this is just for you.  Writing it out isn’t a commitment.  It’s just an exercise to help you think about what’s important to you.

Classical Method

In a nutshell, the classical method involves learning lots of facts in order to create a framework, then learning to express oneself effectively, and finally coming to understand and discuss the great (and not so great) ideas of the past and present.  These three goals are met through a method called the Trivium.

Grammar Stage

The youngest students, about age 6 to 9, are in the grammar stage.  Grammar means the basics, the foundation.  They learn to read, write, and do basic math, but also cover a great deal of history, science, geography and other facts about the world in a broad manner.

Dialectic Stage

The second age group, from about 10 to 13, are in the dialectic stage.  At this stage they continue to read a great deal and learn facts about the world, but they also begin to learn to write persuasively and to discuss what they have read.

Rhetoric Stage

The third age group, from roughly 14 to 18, are in the rhetoric stage, the stage where you apply all the ideas and facts to yourself.  The teacher at this stage is a mentor.  Kids study upper level math, advanced writing and speaking, high level sciences, and the Great Books (which fill the literature, writing, geography and history portions of a curriculum).  The teacher discusses ideas with the student and helps them come to their own conclusions–the student may never know what the teacher thinks.

So Rome fell?  The grammar stage teaches you the facts of the Fall of Rome, the Dialectic stage teaches you how to write and understand what others have written about the Fall of Rome, the Rhetoric stage teaches you how to dismiss what everybody else has written about the fall of Rome, make your own conclusions, and figure out what it has to do with you.

To teach kids this way, you choose basic math, grammar, and writing programs, then you add in the history, science, geography, and arts in a four year rotation.  The first year you teach earth science/astronomy, ancient history, world geography, and drawing skills.  The second year you teach biology, medieval history, world geography, and art and music appreciation.  The third year you teach chemistry, renaissance/colonial history, world geography, and more arts.  The fourth year you teach physics, modern history, American (or your country’s) geography, and again more arts.  Then you repeat the whole cycle for the middle grades and again for the high school years, each time increasing in amount of work and difficulty of subject matter.

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason and Classical styles of homeschooling are close cousins.  There are enough differences though that Charlotte Mason is a distinct style all its own.  Charlotte Mason was a school teacher in England when only the rich were well educated and could afford the best classical education, but she wanted all students to have a fine education.

Charlotte Mason’s goal was to bring out well-rounded, intelligent children who had a love for learning and an insatiable curiosity about the world.  Her students used few text books, they learned from what Mason called living books, books written by authors with passion for the subject.  They spent time in nature, looking at the wonders around them.   Recording what they saw in their notebooks taught them to identify leaves, bugs, flowers, rocks, and birds.  History studies utilized living books and biographies of important people.

Most of Charlotte Mason’s students never studied at the high school level.  For them, eighth grade was the end of their education.  Charlotte Mason homeschoolers tend to turn to the classical style in high school, depending on the Great Books, which after all, are living books.

Unit Study Method

In unit studies you choose a topic and then explore it in every possible school subject you can relate it to.

Unit studies are popular among homeschoolers.  The idea is that you choose a topic and surround your curriculum for a period of several weeks with that topic.  For example, you might choose bicycles.  You could learn about the physics of bicycles: gears, levers and wheels, the history of the bicycle, have spelling words related to bicycles, make a map showing where in the world people use bicycles as a primary means of transport, use bicycle riding for physical education, take a field trip to a bicycle repair shop, read a novel or story where bicycles are an important element, and so on.  All these topics would be delved into with a great deal of detail and would certainly be memorable to the students.

Your core topic could be anything in the history, science, geography, or even character topics.  You could do a unit study around the topic of honesty as well as one around the topic of the pyramids of Egypt.

If you are working with students of more than one age group you simply have everyone do the same study and adjust the difficulty and amount of work for the specific abilities of the students.   Grammar, writing, and math topics are hit upon while using this method, but these topics usually need separate systematic courses for mastery.  So the three “R’s” are learned using separate curriculum choices.  The specific topics you chose depend on educational goals for your children and their own interests.  There’s not an organized framework or “order” to what you should learn.

Traditional School Method

Of all the methods of schooling the traditional school method is probably the hardest to define because usually people just mean whatever the local public school is doing when they say “traditional schooling.” However, this generally means a subject and text book based approach to learning.

Kids are taught from workbooks and text books in the basics from English to math to social studies.  Each study area is separate from the others rather than integrated.

Most homeschoolers using this method do so through an online charter school.  The school usually sends them the books and materials and has teachers that check in with the parents and often even teach class sessions online.  The charter school usually administers standardized tests too.  The online schools also provide official transcripts.  It can create an easier transition for kids who will eventually be returning to public school.  People who continue to homeschool long-term most often drift away from this style.  It is harder to maintain, especially when you’re teaching kids of a variety of ages.  It’s also not individualized to kids’ abilities and interests.

So Which Homeschool Style Are You?

I’d be surprised if you were just one.  Most of us are eclectic, which means we pick and choose the best fits for our family from many styles of learning.  For example, I have found that I need overall structure and a yearly plan, but I also need flexibility built in and want my kids to have some choices too.  I also know that I don’t find joy in textbooks, but I love all the books we find at our local library.  I also have found that we thrive with projects rather than just workbooks.  Classical and Charlotte Mason are the styles I tend to favor.  Knowing this has helped me focus our time and resources on the things that work for us.

Books won’t be your only consideration.  This butterfly kit was an amazing investment for us. We watched the process intently natural curiosity caused my kids to ask about a thousand questions and do their own research.

The printable My Homeschool Plan packet includes a page that lists some 3 R’s curriculum options within each style if you lean heavily to one or the other.  Michelle and I also included our favorite homeschooling resources in “How Do I Choose A Curriculum?” (the next section of this guide).  It takes some experience and trial and error to figure out what the best fit is.  No one else can really do it for you since your family’s needs and preferences will be unique.  It helps to have a feel for your style though.  If you are a creative, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person, you likely won’t be happy or stick with a Classical curriculum, so don’t waste your time or money on it.  Once you see what resonates with you, you’ll be better prepared to make plans that you’ll stick with and wise purchases that you’ll love.

Layers of Learning Style

The Layers of Learning program combines Classical, Charlotte Mason, and Unit Study styles in the science, geography, history, and arts topics.  We borrowed our favorite parts from each style as we created it.

Elements of Classical

We use the four year rotation.  History is studied in order start with ancients in the first year, medieval in the second year, colonial times in the third year, and modern history in the fourth year.  This rotation is then repeated during the middle grades and then again in the high school years.  The science, geography, and arts also follow regular four year rotations.

We chose this method because of its orderliness.  The teacher doesn’t have to worry about leaving big gaps in the student’s knowledge.  It’s very thorough.  Kids really do learn “everything” in each of the subject areas.  The students don’t only read about pet topics like ancient Egypt and the human body, but also learn about ancient Africa, the physics of sound, mushrooms, Rococo art, and dozens of other less trod subjects.  In this sense, Layers of Learning is very academic, also like the classical method.

Some of the books recommended in the high school years fall under the category of “Great Books.”  The classical style demands classical literature. We include the classics, but we don’t demand anything.  You can choose what to read from our library list.

Finally, Layers of Learning emphasizes book learning.  We provide library lists with every unit and expect that teachers and students will pour over books, learning all sorts of information about the topics presented.  Classical education is definitely print heavy.

Elements of Charlotte Mason

There are two ways that Layers of Learning departs from strictly classical style.  First, we embrace the living books philosophy.  The informational text in our units is minimal. It’s purposely left at just enough to get you started, but we really think most of your information should come from authors who are much more expert and passionate about their topics than we could ever be.  Hence, the library list.

Second, we relax the academics of the classical style and make it accessible for “the rest of us.” We link to lots of movies and websites that your ivy league private school down the road might reject.  We recommend books that are definitely on the lighter and more entertaining side.  And we utilize hands-on projects as opposed to learning via reading and writing exclusively.

The living books and the hands-on lighter touch are definitely both in the spirit of Charlotte Mason.

We also approach the sciences in a more holistic way – as natural sciences. In our own homeschools, nature studies are an important part of our science studies.

Elements of Unit Studies

The Layers of Learning Curriculum is organized into individual units.  Parents or teachers can use the units in the order we suggest, but you don’t have to.  This makes it very easy and affordable to design your personal curriculum using exactly the topics you want to cover.  And all of your essential subjects (history, geography, science, and arts) are covered in a single curriculum.

Layers of Learning Unit 1-8 sample page
This is a 2-page spread from Unit 1-8.  Layers of Learning is a thinking curriculum – we ask a lot of questions and encourage exploration and hands-on learning, but provide printables, book lists, and web resources to save you the time and legwork.

We hope you can see your style in Layers of Learning.  If you want to know more about the Layers of Learning style visit our curriculum guide.

Moving On

Now that you know your style, let’s head over to Step 3: Choosing Your Curriculum.


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