8 Types of Homeschools (Classical, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, Montessori and More!)
By Jessica D. Lovett
Whether you’re just starting to homeschool, or are an old pro, learning about different ways to homeschool will help you ensure your practices line up with your educational objectives.
How do you learn best? Is it through reading, listening or touching? One of the best parts of being a homeschooler is that you are not tied to one option. You have the freedom to choose between the learning styles of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. There are as many distinct homeschooling styles as there are families. However, seven main classifications form the basic foundations upon which most families build their homeschools: classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, university style, unit studies, school at home, and eclectic.
While some families use undiluted forms of these seven types of homeschooling styles, most wind up using a combination that works best for their particular family dynamic. Some may even use a different homeschool style for each particular child in their household. Just performing a web search of one of these styles can make you feel adrift in a sea of conflicting and unverified information.
What is your homeschool philosophy?
To give you a deeper understanding of each of these approaches to homeschooling, we have developed this reference guide! Bookmark it and refer back to it to better understand your own preferences and to build better relationships with those in your homeschool community by speaking their homeschool curriculum “language.”
History and Concept
The classical model of homeschooling was used by many of the great thinkers of the past, such as Aristotle, Plato, C.S. Lewis, and Thomas Jefferson. One main differentiation between classical homeschooling and the other main styles is that it separates learning into three stages, collectively called the Trivium: grammar, logic (or dialectic), and rhetoric. Originally featured in Plato’s writings and used extensively in ancient Greece, these were only named the Trivium in the Middle Ages. Trivium means “the place where the roads meet” in Latin. The stepping stones are to teach children the mechanics of language and to use their own five senses (grammar), use complex thought and analysis (logic), and finally to instruct and persuade others with that gained wisdom (rhetoric).
Who might this work best for?
Home educators who are “less concerned about whether students can handle iPads than if they can grasp Plato” might enjoy the classical education model. It emphasizes truth, goodness and beauty over rote memorization of facts and leads educators and their students to explore classically regarded books and resources. It also gives the learner a palpable feeling of continuity with other students through the ages. Classical education’s main goal is to cultivate a passion for lifelong learning, to seek sound logic over chaos, and to focus on depth of learning over breadth.
Great Minds on Classical Education
The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful. – Plato
Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. – Aristotle
The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled. – Plutarch
The renewal of classical education is not a nostalgic return to the past – it’s a recovery of those ideas and methods that have always created the future. – Dr. Christopher Perrin
One Parent’s Testimony about Classical Education
I feel like classical education’s emphasis on building the powers of reasoning is like giving the child a well-built mental ‘home’ within which they can furnish with facts and knowledge they love and enjoy. If a child hasn’t been taught to think properly and use facts well, then the quantity of facts is irrelevant. – William L., Salado, Texas
2. Charlotte Mason Style Homeschool
History and Concept
Charlotte Mason was a British educator who lived from from 1842-1923. She envisioned a world where all children were given a broad-based education regardless of their wealth or class, which was definitely not the case during the 1800s. Her lectures were later published into stand-alone topical books and were accepted by educators all over the world.
“The Charlotte Mason method has at its core the belief that children deserve to be respected and that they learn best from real-life situations. According to Charlotte Mason, children should be given time to play, create and be involved in real-life situations from which they can learn. Students of the Charlotte Mason method take nature walks, visit art museums, and learn geography, history and literature from ‘living books’; books that make these subjects come alive. Students also show what they know, not by taking tests, but via narration and discussion.”
Who might this work best for?
Families who relish a cheerful, beauty-in-simplicity approach might be drawn to Charlotte Mason. Time-pressed families might also benefit, as her books recommend spending 5-15 minutes per subject with elementary grades and extending to 45 minutes with older children. It would also work for families of children with an auditory learning style. The Charlotte Mason method stresses oral narrations of information and book summaries over handwriting, which can cause children to get bogged down in the mechanics of the letters rather than getting the beauty of the words into their hearts. Nature and music studies are also a big part of Charlotte Mason’s teachings.
Charlotte Mason Quotes on Education
Education is an atmosphere.
The question is not, how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care?
Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.
Let children have tales of the imagination, scenes laid in other lands and other times; heroic adventures, hairbreadth escapes, delicious fairy tales, even where it is all impossible, and they know it, and yet they believe.
One Parent’s Testimony about Charlotte Mason
I love that by leaning on Charlotte Mason principles, I can allow my children to be children. They are encouraged to learn through play, and learn they do! It takes the pressure to achieve XYZ milestone by a specific age off. And by feeding them with living books and encouraging learning through play and nature, my children have thrived. – Kathryn B., Brenham, Texas
3. Montessori for Homeschool
History and Concept Montessori environments emphasize kinesthetic and sensory learning materials that teach children how to function in real-life situations, closely tying movement to creativity and brain development. Philosophically, the Montessori method places importance on giving children the opportunity to choose their schedules, books, snacks, and so on. By making choices early on, children gain a sense of mastery over their lives, which prepares them for the challenges of adulthood. Montessori homeschooling also discourages giving children extensive rewards for desired behaviors (like money for doing well on a test)—because, according to its proponents, the child may become dependent on rewards to get the validating feeling that comes with success.
According to Montessori.edu, “Maria Montessori, M.D. (pronounced MON-tuh-SORE-ee) was the first woman to receive an M.D. degree in Italy. She has inspired people around the world, for over 100 years, basing education on observation of children to discover their needs, rather than on a curriculum. She discovered that long periods of concentration on purposeful work involving both the mind and the body (real work, not TV or computers) heals the child mentally and physically.”
Who might this work best for? Plan-ahead families who like a quiet, balanced environment might be drawn to Montessori principles. According to The Montessori Notebook, “If you are laissez-faire at home where your child can do what they like, eat what they want and go to bed as they wish, they may find the limits of the Montessori classroom too constraining. And if you are strict at home, and your child is used to cooperating via rewards, stickers and time outs, they could find it difficult to control themselves with the freedom in the Montessori classroom.
“Montessori schools are most suited to children in families where there is respect for the child, the parent set few but clear limits, and the child learns to respect and follow these limits.”
Dalai Lama Endorses Montessori Education
I believe that our main purpose in life is to find happiness, and helping others is a sure way to fulfill this purpose. The human infant first experiences love and compassion through its mother, and people who receive maximum affection in these early years have less fear and distrust for the rest of their lives, and are more compassionate toward others. Montessori is wonderful in this way. – The Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, India
The greatest sign of success for a teacher … is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’ – Maria Montessori
To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom. – Maria Montessori
We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit. – Maria Montessori
One Parent’s Testimony about Montessori
Early on, we made the decision to incorporate Maria Montessori’s ideas in the toys we chose for our kids and the kinds of stimuli we allowed into our household. I believe that sticking to her guidelines – though it may have annoyed a couple of grandparent gift-givers – gave our children the gift of more well-developed imaginations that may not have come about without Montessori. It also taught them to appreciate simplicity and the beauty of careful craftsmanship. – Jessica L., Salado, Texas
4. University Model Homeschool
History and Concept More of a structure than an educational philosophy, the University Model is like a hybrid homeschool. Students attend a private school-type classroom for 2-3 days a week, then complete schoolwork at home under the supervision of their parents 2-3 days a week, depending on the schedule of the local University Model school that one chooses to attend. Tuition costs are higher than traditional homeschool styles, but the students are well-equipped for college by professional educators and advance at appropriate levels for their age. This style also offers extra-curricular activities, which can help students grow emotionally and socially. Since class sizes are generally smaller than those of public or private schools, the students receive more one-on-one attention from teachers. University Model schools may or may not require uniforms. Most University Model schools use classical style learning techniques.
According to one school, “The University Model combines the best attributes of traditional schooling with the best attributes of homeschooling and integrates them into one model. The result is quality, cost-effective, college-preparatory education that gives parents more time for imparting their own faith and values to their children.”
Who might this work best for? The University Model suits families who are drawn to homeschooling but cannot afford for one parent to daily teach the kids due to scheduling issues. In this method, parents receive the assurance (and the extra accountability) that professional guidance can provide.
One Parent’s Testimony about University Model
The University Model is also a ‘best of both worlds’ approach to homeschooling and formal/private education. I personally love how every subject points to our Creator and often to the other subjects, and the richness of the content affirm our decision to classically educate. My sixth-grader is learning things I learned in my senior year of high school or college. – Krista K., Belton, Texas
5. Unit Studies
History and Concept Unit studies are another popular homeschooling style. The home educator takes a subject that the student finds interesting and integrates that into multiple learning subjects. They live with that theme until the topic is fully explored. For example, a unit on farming might include a read-aloud of “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, a construction paper shadow box of farm animals, a field trip to a farm or petting zoo, learning about the science of classifying farm animals, writing a poem from the point of view of being a farmer, and learning about how farm-based products are produced.
Who might this work best for? Unit studies benefit families with multiple children in different age ranges: they can learn about a subject together, yet have flexibility to be customizable to their own learning levels. However, there may be more time investment in creatively expanding on certain interests.
A Voice of Experience on Unit Studies
I first heard the term ‘unit study’ several years ago, but hadn’t seen one until the day a client gave me a study to edit. Within minutes, my preconceived notions of complexity and time-consumption were banished. I realized unit studies were an incredibly flexible and interesting educational tool. – Gail Kappenman, The Old Schoolhouse
One Parent’s Testimony about Unit Studies
I am thankful for how [my curriculum from My Father’s World] uses unit studies to allow me to teach my seven-year-old and my 10-year-old at the same time. We get to study science, history and the Bible as a family using books and hands-on activities. Then, later, each child has the freedom to go deeper depending on their interest and abilities. – Ronica C., Bryan, Texas
History and Concept The school-at-home approach mirrors a public school or private school experience inside the home. For example, households have a dedicated school room stocked with a bulletin board, a dry erase board or chalkboard. School-at-home is the most structured of the seven styles, incorporating a daily schedule based on traditional school hours and holiday schedules. Families also might choose to use an online public school in order for kids to do exactly what their public school counterparts are doing (including taking part in state testing) in order to make sure their students do not lag behind.
Who might this work best for? Families who get comfort from predictable schedules and curriculum that is already made in advance might enjoy this type of schooling style. It also might be a good method to help families who are new to homeschooling transition from being in a public school environment until they are able to establish their own schooling rhythms. School-at-home could also be helpful for parents who have backgrounds in teaching at public schools and help them to impart knowledge to their kids in the way that they excel and have personal experience in.
Quotes on School-at-Home
School-at-home is often employed by families who do not have a problem with the methods of instruction in public schools—only the content or the environment. – Pam Barnhill
That being said, some kids just thrive in [the school-at-home] environment. I have one of those myself. I personally loved learning in that environment. Some children are drawn to workbooks, to bookwork and tests and paper and writing. For those children, this might very well be an effective method of homeschooling. – Rebecca of HomeschoolOn.com
One Parent’s Testimony about School-at-Home
When our family situation changed and we had to move, school-at-home style gave my high schooler the freedom to not only finish high school faster and with some credits for college in place, but it gave her the ability to relish learning in a less stressful environment. She also made many happy memories during the extra family time it allowed before going to college. – Julie W., Smithville, Texas
7. Eclectic Homeschool
History and Concept Eclectic homeschooling is a broad term that merely means a style of homeschool that mixes and matches from various resources to create one whole learning environment. Math may be from one publisher, reading from another, and science from another—none are necessarily related in style, learning approaches, or grade levels. Eclectic does not mean unorganized or chaotic, but is a highly specific and deliberate plan created for the learners by their home educating parents. Eclectic homeschooling is also not related to unschooling—eclectic homeschoolers commonly use definite curriculum resources.
Who might this work best for? If you find yourself feeling passionate about different resources, borrowing from different styles, but not wanting to settle down with one particular school of thought, you might be an eclectic homeschooler. Instead of being a full-fledged style of homeschool, eclectic homeschooling is more like a philosophy of using a variety of sources to carefully and directly pinpoint your family’s learning needs. It takes more time than some of the other styles since it is self-directed by the home educator. It may be useful for parents of children with learning difficulties in certain areas so that the parent can cater to the child’s strengths and weaknesses. Eclectic homeschooling is also the most cost-effective of all the methods since it can be designed to fit any budget.
Quotes on Eclectic Homeschooling
There isn’t any known way to bulk-educate; it’s all custom work. – John Taylor Gatto
Expecting all children the same age to learn from the same materials is like expecting all children the same age to wear the same size clothing. – Madeline Hunter
One Parent’s Testimony about Eclectic Homeschooling
The eclectic style has worked for my family. With 9 children, I wanted the freedom to develop their uniqueness. Each of them had learning styles that were different. I was able to tweak the various materials to suit their personal style …that’s what is so good about homeschooling! – Anne H., Georgetown, Texas
History and Concept Unschooling is not a specific method of teaching or set of curriculum tools, but rather a philosophy of living that encourages the unschooling parent to avoid too much structure in their home environment in order to let learning occur naturally.
“John Holt was actually the first person to use the term unschooling in 1977 in his newsletter, ‘Growing Without Schooling’. However, at that time he used the word unschooling to refer to people simply taking their children out of school. Holt had worked in the school system for many years and felt that it was so fundamentally flawed that the best thing parents could do was to remove their children from the traditional school setting. Holt didn’t want parents to just re-create school at home with their children, though. He believed that children did not need to be coerced into learning; they would learn naturally if given the freedom to follow their own interests and a rich assortment of resources. This line of thought became known as unschooling.”
Who might this work best for? Parents who believe that learning should be child-led, who dislike routines, and who have varying schedules that cannot work with more traditional homeschool styles might be drawn to unschooling.
“A child may learn something from—or in spite of—the adults in his world, but learning is centered within the child himself. Learning is not the result of teaching; therefore parents should not focus on being teachers. Instead, the parent’s role is to closely connect with the child, noting his/her interests and then providing opportunities for the child to pursue that interest. This does not mean designing an integrated unit on spiders for a kid who’s into bugs (let’s count the legs, let’s learn how to spell spider, let’s read a book about them!). Instead, the parent brings as much as possible into the child’s world to support that child’s passion—however long-lasting or brief it may be. This may mean borrowing books and videos, setting out a magnifying glass, or capturing that hairy guy on the ceiling in a glass jar instead of squishing it … get the idea?” – Unschoolers.org
Is George Bernard Shaw Referring to Unschooling?
What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child. – George Bernard Shaw
Kids are not born lazy. They are inherently curious, energetic and excited about the world around them. Unschooling uses that curiosity to develop somebody who is self-reliant, a critical thinker and independent—someone who in essence creates an education, rather than someone who is given an education. – Roland Legiardi-Laura, Odysseus Group
Before I talk about what I think unschooling is, I must talk about what it isn’t. Unschooling isn’t a recipe, and therefore it can’t be explained in recipe terms. It is impossible to give unschooling directions for people to follow so that it can be tried for a week or so to see if it works. Unschooling isn’t a method, it is a way of looking at children and at life. It is based on trust that parents and children will find the paths that work best for them—without depending on educational institutions, publishing companies, or experts to tell them what to do. – Earl Stevens
One Parent’s Testimony about Unschooling
Unschooling offered my kids fabulous childhoods! Exploring their interests took them down paths filled with opportunities to learn. No doors were closed to them because of our unconventional approach—now they are happily off on their own young adult adventures building careers, growing families, [and] enjoying their lives. – Sue Patterson, Unschooling Coach
A Final Word on Homeschooling Styles
I believe it would be much better for everyone if children were given their start in education at home. No one understands a child as well as his mother, and children are so different that they need individual training and study. A teacher with a roomful of pupils cannot do this. At home, too, they are in their mothers care. – Laura Ingalls Wilder from “Farm Journalist: Writings from the Ozarks
Whatever the style, we believe homeschooling is the best way to educate a child. If you do too, would you join us in Keeping Texas Families Free to homeschool? Join now!
Jessica Lovett is the Lead Writer and Editor of THSC. More of her writing can be found on her site, jessicadlovett.com.