Approaches to Home Education

natural learningCurricular Approach

It is not uncommon for families to commence Home Education by replicating as closely as possible the traditional school environment in the home. Most families who follow this approach purchase a boxed curriculum that comes with textbooks, study schedules and record keeping.

Some are workbook based, question/answer and age-graded. Some families use the school-at- home approach but make up their own lesson plans and find their own learning materials. The advantage of this style is that families know exactly what to teach and when to teach it. Many find the familiar school structure very reassuring, especially those just starting out.


Natural learning is sometimes known as unschooling, interest-led, delight-directed and child-led learning.

Natural learners acquire information from everyday life experiences and do not use school schedules or formal lessons. Instead, unschooled children follow their interests and learn in much the same way as adults do—by pursuing an interest or curiosity. In the same way that children learn to walk and talk, unschooled children learn their math, science, reading, and history. John Holt, schoolteacher and founder of the Unschooling movement, advocated using minimal structure, instruction or intervention in order to allow children maximum time, freedom and creativity. Unschooling influence is noticeable in home education models that allow children to pursue their own interests with parental support and guidance.

The distinctives of this approach include: free access to good books and learning resources; a trust in the child to learn; interaction with adults and real life; formal academics only when the child indicates interest or need. True Natural Learning, as opposed to “doing nothing” is characterised by heavy attention and involvement of the Natural Learning parents who engage in active projects and outings of all kinds, from their children’s infancy onward, often anxiously selecting the best possible educational resources and often strictly controlling TV consumption. Proponents consider that it encourages the child to become a natural, self-motivated learner, captures the child’s “teachable moments” and safeguards their love of learning. Unschooled children have the time and research abilities to become experts in their areas of interest.

Unit Study 

Unit Study integrates and relates several subject areas of study around one common theme, subject or project and is often “delight directed”. One topic then can be studied intensively over a period of time covering language arts, math, science, nature, history, social studies, fine arts and whatever other subject areas might apply, or be made to apply.

Unit study advocates believe that it is more natural to study one topic from several related perspectives, than to study several unrelated subjects in isolation from one another. It is argued that knowledge is more easily learned and remembered when interrelated. Unit study is said to work well in home educating families because it can be easily adapted for age-integrated learning where each child can learn at his own level. Unit Study also can be used to supplement other approaches (e.g., doing a 2-week unit on the human body).

All ages can learn together and family interests can be pursued, children can delve as deeply or as lightly into a subject as they like and they get the whole picture as knowledge is interrelated, making learning easier. Curiosity and independent thinking are generated as intense study of one topic is a natural way to learn.

Classical Home Education

The Classical approach revives and updates a medieval form of education that taught children under 16 years of age the tools of learning in a three-stage process known as The Trivium. The goal is to teach children methods and habits of rigorous, scholarly thinking. Its distinctives include Latin at an early age, rote memorisation, and “conversation” with great minds of the past through extensive reading of great literature. This method produces young people with extremely sharp reasoning skills and an encyclopaedic grasp of the history and philosophies of Western culture.

Grammar Stage (age 6-10): Mastery of the Facts – the student studies the fundamentals of reading, writing and spelling; Latin; memorisation and thinking skills; historical dates and names; Maths. These studies lay the groundwork for future studies.

Dialectic Stage (age 10-14): Study of Logic – the student learns to discuss, debate, interpret, draw out correct conclusions supported by facts, and discern fallacies in an argument. He continues Latin study and adds other languages; interpretive history; higher Maths; theology.

Rhetoric Stage (age 14+): Use of Language – the student develops proficiency in the use of the written and spoken language to express himself with eloquence and persuasion.

Living Books Approach

The Living Books Approach is based on the writing of Charlotte Mason, an early 20th century British educator. She believed in respecting children as persons, in involving them in real-life situations, and in allowing them to read really good books instead of what she called ‘twaddle’ – worthless, inferior teaching material.

Mason’s approach to academics was to teach basic reading, writing, and Maths skills, then expose children to the best sources of knowledge for all other subjects. 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 high quality 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. Sonlight is an example of a Charlotte Mason-style curriculum.purchasedchildtree

The Waldorf/Steiner Method (and Montessori)

The Waldorf method is also used by some home educators. Waldorf education is based on the work of Rudolf Steiner and stresses the importance of educating the whole child—body, mind, and spirit.

In the early grades, there is an emphasis on arts and crafts, music and movement, and nature. Older children are taught to develop self -awareness and how to reason things out for themselves. Children educated by this method do not use standard textbooks; instead, the children create their own books. The Waldorf method also discourages the use of television and computers because they believe computers are bad for the child’s health and creativity.

Montessori materials are also popular in some households. The Montessori Method emphasizes “errorless learning,” where the children learn at their own pace and in that way develop their full potential. Montessori emphasizes beauty and avoids things that are confusing or cluttered. Wooden tools are preferred over plastic tools, and learning materials are kept well- organized and ready to use. The Montessori Method also discourages television and computers, especially for younger children. Although Montessori materials are available for high school students, most home educators use the Montessori Method for younger children.

Delayed Academics

Dr Raymond Moore was a leading educator and advocate of “better late than early” home education. His research led him to conclude that children are not emotionally, physically, spiritually or mentally ready for the stress of academic studies until around 8-12 years of age (different times for different children).

He advocated delaying formal academics until the parent discerns the time is right. Until then, parents should focus on balanced development of “head, heart, hand and health” by reading good stories and literature, and developing good habits, routines, and responsibility. Children need lots of love, discipline, real life experiences and time to explore and learn. When ready to learn, Dr Moore recommended using multi-sensory learning resources and unit studies, in addition to drill and review type material. According to Dr Moore, children will catch up on learning in a very short period of time once they signal their readiness to learn. He believed every child has a specific area of genius or giftedness that needs to be nurtured and encouraged.

Internet Home Education

Computer-based education utilises the Internet to access virtual tutors, virtual schools, online curriculum, and quality websites.

There seems to be a growing interest and this approach appeals to parents concerned about things like their own ability to teach higher Maths, Physics, etc. There is a wealth of cutting-edge online curriculum programs, private distance learning schools, home school support academies and more.

“Eclectic” Home Education

“Eclectic” Home EduGboysew.jpg.w300h457cation is the method used most often by long-time home educators. Basically, eclectic home educators use a little of this and a little of that, often using workbooks or a more structured approach for math, reading, and spelling, and taking a Natural, Unit and/or Living Books approach for the other subjects.

This method also allows the family to choose textbooks, field trips, and classes that fit their needs and interests. The parent feels that the subjects they believe are most important are covered thoroughly.

Helpful Hints About Choosing Curriculum