Getting Started

Teaching Methods

Options abound for homeschool curriculum.  The choices can be overwhelming! Save yourself from drowning in a pool of curricula by first identifying a teaching method to use in your homeschool.

Keep in mind that there is no perfect teaching method. What works beautifully for one family’s homeschool may be a complete disaster for another family’s homeschool. Every family is unique, and so should be every homeschool.

Many families will start out homeschooling using one teaching method, and evolve into using another. That is the beauty of homeschooling!

Below are the six most common teaching methods in homeschooling. As a resource, we’ve included links to curriculum examples for each approach.

A favorite resource for looking deeper into curriculum options is Cathy Duffy Reviews. Many Idaho libraries carry Cathy Duffy’s print book, 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

As you read through these teaching methods, do any of them resonate with you?




Traditional Textbook Approach

The Traditional Textbook approach is one that most parents will find familiar from their own days in public schools. Traditional Textbook curricula have graded textbooks in each subject and follow a scope and sequence that covers each subject in daily increments for a 12-year, 180-days-a-year academic program. Using the same publisher throughout the years will provide a solid, comprehensive education.

You’ll find that teacher’s manuals, tests, and record-keeping materials are available to simplify your job as a parent-teacher. Workbooks allow more independent study and require minimal teacher preparation time and supervision. Many publishers of traditional textbooks offer opportunities for video or online classes.

If your child is used to public or private school, then Traditional Textbooks may a good way to start homeschooling. This method provides structure and reliability.

The Tradition Textbook approach may appeal to you if:

  • You want to stick with the familiar.
  • Your children might at some point return to a public or private school setting.
  • You don’t enjoy lesson planning.
  • You are the type of person that enjoys checklists and clear, measurable results.

Examples of the Traditional Textbook Approach:

at Home
Accelerated Christian
Homeschool Complete
and Staff

Classical Approach

The aim of classical education is not to create a worker for a specific job, but instead a virtuous person who seeks to continue learning throughout his or her life.

In the Classical Approach, children are taught tools of learning, collectively known as the Trivium. The first stage, the Grammar Stage, covers ages 6-10 and focuses on reading, writing, spelling, and Latin. Skills are developed in observation, listening and memorization.

At ages 10-12, children’s independent or abstract thought signals the Dialectic Stage. Instead of suppressing the child’s tendency to argue, the teacher molds and shapes it by teaching logical discussion and debate, and how to draw correct conclusions and support them with facts.

The final Rhetoric Stage, at about age 15, seeks to produce a student who can use language, both written and spoken, eloquently and persuasively to express what he or she thinks.

Hallmarks of the Classical Approach are the study of Latin from a young age and “conversation” with the great minds of the past through reading literature, essays, philosophy, theology, etc.

The Classical approach may appeal to you if:

  • You believe that education is curiosity, inquiry, and the formation of the moral imagination through stories and great books.
  • You want a strong emphasis on knowledge, reasoning, and written and oral communication.

Some examples of the Classical approach are:

My Father’s
The Well
Trained Mind

The Charlotte Mason Approach

The Charlotte Mason method is named after its founder, who lived in England from 1842-1923. The Charlotte Mason method is based on the firm belief that the child is a person and we must educate that whole person, not just his mind.

This approach to education allows children to read really good books, as opposed to portions of really good books or dry textbooks. Children are given ample creative play time, and purposefully involved in real-life situations.

In this approach, one begins by teaching basic reading, writing and math skills, then exposing children to the best sources of knowledge for all other subjects. Students read real books for subjects such as geography, history and literature. Taking nature walks, observing wildlife, visiting museums are considered vital educational activities. Narration and dictation of passages from books and discussion with parents are hallmarks of this approach.

The Charlotte Mason approach may appeal to you if:

  • You love reading large amounts of quality literature.
  • You want to spread a feast of ideas in topics like art, poetry, music, and nature.
  • You believe it is important to diligently work with your children on developing good habits.
  • You believe that children are born persons and not empty vessels to be filled with information.

Some examples of the Charlotte Mason approach are:

A Modern Charlotte Mason
A Gentle Feast
Beautiful Feet Books
Five in a Row
of Dakota
Higher Up and Further In
Living Books Curriculum
Train Up A Child Publishing
Queen Homeschool

Unit Study Approach

A unit study involves taking a theme or topic and delving into it deeply over a period of time. Language arts, science, social studies, math and fine arts — are integrated as they apply. All subjects are blended together and studied around a common theme or project.

Some advantages in using this method are that all ages can learn together, each at his or her own level. Planning time is reduced because subjects are not taught separately. Curiosity and independent thinking are generated. There are no time restraints. Intense study of one topic at a time is a more natural way to learn and because knowledge is interrelated, it is learned more easily and remembered longer.

The Unit Study approach may appeal to you if:

  • You like hands-on learning centered around a central topic.
  • You desire for all of the children in your family to learn the same topic at the same time.
  • You want to easily follow your child’s interests in a structured way.

Some examples of a Unit Study approach include:

Five In A Row
Homeschool in the Woods
Moving Beyond the Page
Tapestry of Grace
The Weaver

Eclectic Approach

The Eclectic Approach is not a set philosophy, like the Classical or Charlotte Mason methods. In eclectic homeschooling, parents pick and choose the best parts of several different homeschooling resources, depending on their children’s needs and interests. Eclectic homeschooling is a highly personalized approach to learning, and it is the most commonly used teaching method amongst home educators.

Eclectic homeschoolers often use textbooks, but are not bound to them. Activities are designed by parents in a way that are especially mindful to their child’s learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses.

The Eclectic approach may appeal to you if:

  • You enjoy lesson planning.
  • You like to focus on only a few “important” subjects at any one time time to leave freedom for other pursuits.
  • You want to choose learning materials that specifically fit your student’s learning style.
  • You like to incorporate the ideas of many different educational philosophies, but you do not want to be bound to any one in particular. 

Quality Publishers for Creating Your Own Eclectic Approach:

Bright Ideas Press
Rainbow Resources

Unschooling Approach

The Unschooling Approach is often defined by John Holt, a 20th century American educator who concluded that children have an innate desire to learn and a curiosity that drives them to learn what they need to know when they need to know it.

Unschoolers believe that children need access to more of the real world. Children should be given plenty of time and space to think over their experiences and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them. Parents should be on hand to give advice, road maps and guidebooks to make it easier for them to get where they want to go.

This method of schooling does not mean no education is taking place.  It means that parents are choosing to be relaxed in their homeschool structure. They rely on life experiences or specific interests of their children to direct most of their educational goals rather than traditional textbooks or even non-traditional written curricula.

The Unschooling approach may appeal to you if:

  • You want ultimate flexibility in learning.
  • You have faith that given the freedom to choose, children will be self-motivated to learn.
  • You believe that children learn better when they are not forced or coerced, but instead are allowed to choose their own learning topics and methods.

Remember that Idaho education law does require learning in some form to be be taking place from age 7-16. No matter their education method of choice, parents should be prepared, if investigated, to show progress in math, language arts, science, and social studies.

Suggested resources: Growing Without Schooling, Homeschooling for Excellence by David and Micki Colfax, The Relaxed Home School by Mary Hood and The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith.

Homeschool Idaho provides this listing as a courtesy to our website readers. Inclusion of a website or curriculum resources does not constitute Homeschool Idaho endorsement of the author or group represented; parents are encouraged to research the philosophy and practices of any group considered.