A Brief Overview of Homeschool Philosophies

As much as I loath labels and find it easy to get bogged down or “categorized” by terminology and homeschool philosophies, I do believe, having a basic understanding of educational models can enhance your home education as you discover new ideas and determine what philosophies (or parts of philosophies) you want to incorporate into your vision. Just remember to stop researching if it becomes overwhelming! Ultimately, your homeschool style will be a unique blend of what you have learned over the years, the values your family holds, and the method that works best for each of your children.

It would be impossible for me to list every type of homeschool philosophy as education and educational philosophies are never static. I am discovering many new philosophies and some older philosophies that have become hidden over the decades and centuries. Below is a list of the most common philosophies as well as a few less common ones I personally pull from.

Charlotte Mason Education

Charlotte Mason (1842 – 1923) was a British educator who challenged the concept of a utilitarian education. She believed that children learned best through life and “living books,” rather than rote memory and dry facts. She advocated that students read narrative books, retelling what they read in their own words. Her ideas also favor outdoor exploration, art, music, and a wide variety of subjects, with an emphasis on focus, effort, and a love of learning. While Charlotte Mason was deeply religious, there is a new group of secular CM home educators, many of whom have adapted Charoltte’s teaching for secular learning. And, if you have a kid with special needs, you can join this Facebook group.

Classical Education

The most popular classical education model divides learning into three phases. In the Grammar stage, elementary-aged students memorize and recite the “building blocks” for later learning in a full range of subjects. The second stage, Dialectic, teaches its middle-school-aged students to think through knowledge they have acquired. The third stage, Rhetoric, guides its high-school students to understand the deeper themes of what they already know, communicate to others, and apply those lessons to their own lives.

Eclectic Learning

This is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s when a home learning family chooses to base their home learning on a variety of educational principles – modifying and blending each as seen fit to work for their vision and learning needs. This is a relatively new terms which seems to be catching on quickly.


I recently discovered this term and have been shamelessly incorporating it into our homeschool. It’s exactly what it sounds like: using games to enhance (or teach) concepts. Find out which educational games we currently like and how we have modified them for even more learning!


This educational method was developed by Maria Montessori (1870-1952), an Italian physician. In a Montessori setting, older children and younger children learn alongside one another. Teachers are on hand to give guidance and support while providing access to a large array of learning materials. Children choose their work activities and learn through seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and movement. Knowledge is internalized in a natural, self-paced way. While it’s a little harder to implement this method and create a pure Montessori learning environment at home, it’s becoming easier to do so.

Project-Based Learning

Citing inspiration from Maria Montessori, American educational theorist John Dewey (1859-1952), and even Confucius and Aristotle, this educational method challenges students to solve real-life problems. These projects are not developed for the sake of “enriching” a student’s previous learning; the project itself is the means by which the student learns. Presented with questions such as “How safe is our water?” or “What can we do to protect a special place or species?” students research, analyze, and communicate their own work in a real-life setting.

Reggio-Inspired Learning

Named for the Italian town in which this philosophy originated, the Reggio Emilia Approach focuses mostly on early childhood education. Although no “Reggio-inspired” classroom or home will look exactly alike, they are influenced by a few core ideals. Children are viewed as competent, curious, and interested in connecting to the world around them. Teachers document students’ work (through a variety of means including observations, video, or visual mediums like paint), then track what the students are learning and develop ideas for expansion. The Reggio approach focuses strongly on working in groups, giving equal value to all thoughts and ideas, and facilitating children’s search for knowledge.

Traditional Education

The “traditional approach” to education, mirroring public school classrooms, views teachers as givers of knowledge, and students as receivers of it. The curriculum is designed to provide students with the foundation they will need in order to achieve their own personal goals in life. Parents use textbooks, workbooks, videos and computer programs, tests, and grading systems. This might be a time when homeschool really is an appropriate term, as this is pretty much an attempt to replicate school at home. Many families I know start using this philosophy and model and shift their approach over time, as they understand their child on a deeper level and become more confident in their abilities to guide their child on their learning journey.

Unit Studies Approach

The Unit Study Method builds a variety of topics around a common theme rather than teaching each subject as separate courses. A unit-study homeschool might use pre-planned studies, or create their own based on their children’s interests. This method lends itself to aspects of project-based education, multi-age education, and open-ended exploration and learning.

Unschooling Approach (a varient of child-led learning)

This education model is—in my opinion—often misunderstood. Founded by John Holt (1923-1985), unschoolers believe that children will best learn academics, in the same manner, they learn to walk and talk: naturally. It doesn’t mean that children are uneducated; it refers to the fact that parents don’t use curriculum or formal lesson plans. Unschoolers are encouraged to follow their interests, and learning occurs through daily life experiences and interactions. You may also hear the terms delight learning or child-led learning and, while similar, there are some differences in these approaches. Learn more about the homeschooling vs unschooling debate.

Waldorf Education

Waldorf Education follows the ideas of Austrian philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). This model posits that children pass through the same developmental stages, and it’s the role of the teacher to guide learning during these stages. The earliest stage focuses on creative play and moral principles. The second stage spans childhood to puberty, and focuses on a child’s emotional development by way of creative expression and cooperation. The third stage guides students into independent thinking and their own personal way of interacting with the world.


I grew up partly as a world schooler but only discover the term a few years ago, well into my adult years. I love this term as it applies to anyone who uses the world as their “classroom”. Most people probably picture nomad families adventuring from county to country (as was the case with my family) but other families who embrace this term (such as I do with my son) do so from a solid home base. If you are intentionally and actively seeking out learning opportunities in the world around where you live, you are, at least partially, worldschooling!

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