Methods of teaching in Homeschool, a beginner's guide.
19 November 2018
By Michael Cole


So after all the brain wracking and deliberation, not to mention the research, you have decided that homeschool is right for your child.
If you have not checked into the legal requirements to homeschooling in your state, please read this comprehensive state by state guide
Now the fun part starts.
Curriculum and teaching styles.
You cannot just look up some websites, find some youtube videos and start teaching. If you could, teaching as a profession would be easier.
It takes extensive planning and coordination. There are long-term planning and short-term planning. All of which must be set and placed with care given to the final goals of the class and the lesson. There must be effort placed in the final result.
I could go into much more depth just on picking the curriculum. That is something for another time and another article.
So, let's assume that you have decided on your curriculum and are settling into your teaching style. There is a whole dilemma in itself. 
Not so much for the reason that you will lean towards a style that you are comfortable with.
That is pretty much a given.
The difficulty lies in another direction altogether.
How does your child learn?
Does he or she have learning disabilities?
Is the child naturally inquisitive?  Reasonably applied (if not, here is a great guide to fight procrastination for your child)? Are they a visual learner? An audio learner?
All of this and more must be taken into account when deciding on the best teaching method for your homeschool student. Not only that, as stated above, it must also be a teaching method that you are comfortable with or at least one you can adapt to with some ease.
Teaching methods at home will differ to some extent with classroom teaching methods. After all, the classroom teacher must apply methods that work with their subject, with their grade level, and most importantly, with their personal teaching philosophy and what works.
The classroom teacher must also deal with the added layer of multiple students and no real outside connection with the student. You, on the other hand, will need to adopt a method geared to maybe at most a few students; you will also need to adapt to the fact that after the lessons are over, you are still their parent.
Your relationship with your student does not end after the dismissal bell or the last day of the school year.
There are several methods out there. Experts have written volumes of books, web articles, and done hours of lectures on teaching methods on many different methods to use or pick from.
Despite all of that there are about five basic methods out there. The traditional, the classical, the immersion method, the unit studies method, and the "unschooling" method.
The traditional is just as it sounds, this one is the closest one to a traditional school setting. The teacher(you) prepares lessons in the form of worksheets and studies; the student reads the lesson and listens to your lecture. That is followed up by tests and other demonstrations of mastery.
The drawback to this method is that it requires the educator or parent to stick to a rigid lesson plan to teach the objectives. For a student with a learning disability, this might not exactly be the best solution.
The classical method draws on older styles of classroom education and homeschooling theory. There was once a time in which students in schools were not grouped into grade levels as much as they were grouped into age groups. The theory was that students of close age ranges learn or should at least be introduced to the same material.
The major drawback comes with learning disabilities and homeschooling, multiple students. A student with learning disabilities might be learning below his age group and need to be taught differently. Also, if there is a student that grasps the lesson quickly, they may become bored, or might feel left out if the lesson goes too fast.
The Association method combines real-life experiences as reading to the more traditional learning to have the student associate things that they have experienced or read about with what they are learning.
 The theory behind the association method is a student that has built a bond or some other connection with the subject matter being discussed is more apt to retain the factual knowledge he or she learns.
On the downside is that if a student cannot find an emotional bond with the subject, then it is much harder to connect that lesson to a person or event they have read about.
Unit Studies is both a new and old method. It combines multiple education disciplines into one single lesson so the student has a better understanding of how it all comes together.  It has its roots in the classical educations and in many older European universities.
The downside to this method stems from the idea that students might have advanced in some areas while struggling in others. This possibly leads to the student lagging in overall studies and this leading to frustration with the lesson, or the inability to completely learn the lesson.
And finally, there is the "unschooling" method. This one is a very untraditional method as it does not stem from a teacher-centric education and more of a student-centric education.
This method is still fairly new and controversial.  The theory behind this method is that it allows the student to focus their studies on the events and knowledge that they have an interest in. They express an interest in a subject and you merely help them learn as much as possible on the subject.
Critics have questioned the effectiveness of relying on student interest to guide education.  They cite the possibility that students will ignore certain subjects they dislike in favor of subjects they enjoy.
They each have their strengths and their weaknesses.
I would urge that whatever teaching method you decide to go with not only fits your comfort zone, but it is something that you feel that your student or students thrive in.
traditional homeschooling The traditional method is good for those wanting a mini-school


Traditional teaching is exactly what the name implies. Pretty much it is the practice of taking a page from the public and private schools and shrinking them down to your kitchen table.

Traditional homeschooling essentially means “playing school”. It means taking a traditional school setting and trying to mimic it in your homeschool.

This is by far the most teacher-centric of the methods. The lessons, the material, and even the material and subject matter will be chosen by the teacher.

The student has very little input in what and when things are taught.

Just like the school down the street, you will have a structured classroom method. Math will be taught at its times, English at its own times, and so on.

You know you’re a traditional homeschooler if:

  • You love to teach TO your kids
  • You have little desks for each of your children (and maybe even a teacher’s desk for you!)
  • You love workbooks
  • You love schedules and have a little planner for both you and the children
  • You have a regular homeschool day that you try to never sway from 
  • You pack your kids little lunches in the fridge so that they are getting the full experience
  • You want your kids to be completely on track with their school-aged friends
  • You focus on curriculum that aligns with what the schools are teaching (at least concerning ability and concept)
  • You love tests and evaluations to track your progress
  • You are drawn to a curriculum that has a teachers planner and very well laid out lessons

It also means that you will grade papers, make tests, and teach for understanding and test for mastery.  I would suggest that this method is best for OCD and ADHD learners and teachers.

For instance, if you are doing a unit in History about the American Revolution. You would do lessons on the leaders of the British, French, and American leaders. A lesson about the background of the reasons for the American Revolution, its causes and such, would be done with worksheets and other assignments to give feedback for progress.

There would be a map to label,  possibly one that would be marked with important battles, major cities, and the names of the colonies. Followed up with studies on the living conditions, the battles, and the Declaration of Independence and the final Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

Of course, the unit would conclude with a study of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and the conclusion of the War. 

So it would look something like this:

  • Introduce the lesson, key vocabulary terms
  • historical lesson on the causes of the Revolution
  • key geography of the time
  • learning about key leaders
  • learning about key events
  • test for mastery

All of this would be learned in the traditional method, written assignments, quizzes, tests and other checks for mastery.  

Now after reading that list, some of it may be a bit of an exaggeration to you, but you may be sensing that this is not the most effective homeschool style, and for many people that is the case. But it is a common approach, especially for new homeschoolers.


There is a pretty logical explanation for it, if you went to a traditional school, it is how you learned.  Everyone sees this method done everywhere, so people assume that it works for everyone.

Traditional homeschooling has its pros and cons, but it can (and often does) breed burnout, discouragement, and a feeling of failure. Because home life is different than school, it is messy, it is busy!

You have multiple grades you are working with at the same time! You have good days and a lot of bad ones, and you have such high expectations that when it doesn’t work you feel like an utter failure.

It is important to remember that there are so many other ways we can approach homeschooling now that may work better for you if you are willing to learn about them.

That being said, some kids just thrive in that environment.  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.

Quick Look at the Traditional method, pros, and cons

Pros of Homeschooling with Traditional School at Home

  • Traditional school at home is very structured. Both parents and kids will learn how to train themselves to be disciplined. I would like to say, it is like being in a military authority.
  • Fewer creativity needs, so it might be suitable for families that don't have any interest in hands-on things that need creativities.
  • This system will enable parents to measure the children's benchmark based on the public school standards more easily.

Cons of Homeschooling with Traditional School at Home

  • It will have a highly structured style that will not fit the family's lifestyle with customized needs.
  • The use of dry textbooks might lead to the boredom if the family adopt it without any space for flexibility and creativity at all.
  • Since traditional school at home method use the textbooks, a family has to make more budget more to purchase textbooks more than other hands-on materials. The textbooks used might be different from year to year, the same as what the public schools use. It might make more expensive expenses.
  • The number of graded paper and assignment might make parents burnt out as well.
  • Playing catch up and test remedial to achieve the benchmark will give another stress if a family cannot adapt well.
  • The use of uniforms and formal appearance (if you adopt it in the traditional school at home method) might make everyone more stressful than the use of pajamas and sandals.


Picture this.

A nice spring day in Athens. A cool breeze coming off of the Aegean Sea.  The smell of freshly pressed olives. Birds singing as they fly by. You are part of a group of young people listening to a teacher talk to you about the importance of questioning the world around you.

He teaches the importance of critical thinking. He preaches the need to not just accept the world as the way you were told, but to question authority.

His name is Socrates.

And his way of teaching is what we today call the classical method of teaching.

The classical method uses real, living books and hands-on experimentation rather than relying on textbooks and canned presentations, classical education is a matter of exploration, of reading, thinking, and talking, and of discovery – not of rote memorization and regurgitation.

Classical homeschooling involves teaching based on the three stages of learning: the Grammar stage, the Logic stage, and the Rhetoric stage. The Grammar stage involves learning facts, memorization, and knowledge gathering. The Logic stage is when reasoning and logic begin to be applied to the knowledge. The Rhetoric stage completes the Trivium and is when the student learns the skills of wisdom and judgment.

The classical method might be for you if:

  • You like to allow the student to understand the why behind things.
  • You prefer a child seeing the application of his or her knowledge
  • You think that a philosophical education is paramount
  • You prefer developing critical thinking skills about all else.

A classical education is more than simply a pattern of learning, though. Classical education is language-focused; learning is accomplished through words, written and spoken, rather than through images (pictures, videos, and television).

Why is this important? Language-learning and image-learning require very different habits of thought. Language requires the mind to work harder; in reading, the brain is forced to translate a symbol (words on the page) into a concept. Images, such as those on videos and television, allow the mind to be passive. In front of a video screen, the brain can “sit back” and relax; faced with the written page, the mind is required to roll its sleeves up and get back to work.

A classical education, then, has two important aspects. It is language-focused. And it follows a specific three-part pattern: the mind must be first supplied with facts and images, then given the logical tools for organization of facts, and finally equipped to express conclusions.

So let's build on the unit we described in the last section, The American Revolution.

We have already touched on the what part of the Revolution; now we will discuss the why and how.

The student will now tackle such things as:

  • Was the American Revolution inevitable? 
  • What could have happened had the French not intervened?
  • What if Parliament and King George III gave into to Colonial demands before the Declaration of Independence?

Every one of the above prompts requires a basic understanding of critical thinking and most of all, the scientific method.  A student with a classical education will be expected to not so much as having memorized lesson, as to have the ability to research, to question, and to come to a conclusion based on observation.

Quick Look at the Classical method, pros, and cons


Pros of the Classical Method of homeschooling

  • Love for the classics and living books (which makes it easier to use your library)
  • Strong emphasis and foundation in Language Arts
  • Appreciation for the Arts and for beauty
  • Appreciation of values and morals, as well as wisdom
  • Emphasis on critical thinking and logic
  • Encourages mental rigor
  • This method of teaching often helps the parents to fill in the gaps in their own education.
  • It encourages an integrated view of life and the world.

Some of the cons of the Classical Method would be

  • Emphasis on memorization, narration, and dictation. This can be too rigorous and repetitive for some.
  • Often times parent intensive (discussions and heavy involvement in the teaching)
  • Emphasis on ancient Languages such as Latin and Greek.
  • Strong emphasis on History. If you or your child does not enjoy it, it might become a drag.
  • Can be weak in the sciences, if not intentionally taught.


Association (Charlotte Mason) Method

Everyone likes to learn about the people they have already read about or seen movies about.   It's like seeing a friend in the newspaper, a way to identify. This is the idea behind the association method, or what is more commonly referred to as the Charlotte Mason Method.

Charlotte Mason was a 19th-century educator who believed “the souls of all children are waiting for the call of knowledge to awaken them to delightful living.” Some of the characteristics of a Charlotte Mason education are using living books, keeping a nature journal, and introducing music, art, poetry, and great literature among other resources.

Living books – books which are well-written, engaging, and invite the reader inside –  teach not through the dull imparting of facts but through the lives and events of the characters. They include genres such as historical fiction, nature books, and twaddle-free fiction stories such as those of Holling C. Holling. The terms “living books” and “twaddle” are commonly used by those following Charlotte Mason’s educational theories, although they are quickly being picked up in other homeschool circles.

Here are some ideas behind her method of education

  • Twaddle is what parents and educators today might call “dumbed down” literature. It is serving your children intellectual happy meals, rather than healthy, substantive mind- and soul-building foods. Charlotte Mason advocated avoiding twaddle and feasting children’s hearts and minds on the best literary works available.
  • Living Books are the opposite of dull, dry textbooks. The people, places, and events come alive as you read a living book. The stories touch your mind and heart. They are timeless.
  • Whole Books are the entirety of the books the author actually wrote. If the author wrote a book, read the whole book. The opposite of this would be anthologies that include only snippets from other works—maybe a chapter from Dickens, a couple of paragraphs from Tolstoy, etc.
  • Narration is the process of telling back what has been learned or read. Narrations are usually done orally, but as the child grows older (around age 12) and his writing skills increase, the narrations can be written as well. Narration can also be accomplished creatively: painting, drawing, sculpting, play-acting, etc.
  • Short Lessons Charlotte Mason recommended spending short, focused periods of time on a wide variety of subjects. Lessons in the early years are only 10-15 minutes in length but get progressively longer as the children mature. 
  • Nature Walks In spite of often rainy, inclement weather, Charlotte Mason insisted on going out once-a-week for an official Nature Walk, allowing the children to experience and observe the natural environment firsthand. These excursions should be nature walks, not nature talks.
  • Daily Walks In addition to the weekly Nature Walks, Mason also recommended children spend large quantities of time outside each day, no matter what the weather. Take a daily walk for fun and fresh air.
  • Nature Notebooks are artist sketchbooks containing pictures the children have personally drawn of plants, wildlife or any other natural object found in its natural setting. These nature journals can also include nature-related poetry, prose, detailed descriptions, weather notes, Latin names, etc.
  • Art Appreciation/Picture Study Bring the child into direct contact with the best art. Choose one artist at a time; six paintings per artist; study one painting per week (maybe 15 minutes per week). Allow the child to look at the work of art intently for a period of time (maybe five minutes). Have him take in every detail. Then take the picture away and have him narrate (tell back) what he’s seen in the picture.
  • Journaling There’s great value in keeping a personal journal, encouraging reflection and descriptive writing. Record activities, thoughts, and feelings, favorite sayings, personal mottoes, favorite poems, etc.
  • Copywork Daily copy work provides on-going practice for handwriting, spelling, grammar, etc. Keep a notebook specifically for copying noteworthy poems, prose, quotes, etc.
  • Dictation Each day choose a paragraph, or sentence, or page (depending on the age of the child). Have the child practice writing it perfectly during his copy work time. Have them look carefully at all punctuation, capital letters, etc. When the child knows the passage well, dictate the passage to the child for him to recreate the passage.
  • Book Of the Centuries is a glorified homemade timeline; usually, a notebook containing one or two pages per century. As children learn historical facts, they make notes in their book on the appropriate century’s page about famous people, important events, inventions, wars, battles, etc.
  • Free-Time Handicrafts Charlotte Mason’s schools finished daily academics in the morning, allowing the afternoon hours for free time to pursue crafts and other leisure activities or areas of personal interest.
  • Habits  Mason believed that habits (good or bad) are like the ruts in a path from a wheelbarrow going down the same trail again and again. As time goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult to run the wheelbarrow outside the rut, but the wheel will always run smoothly down the well-worn rut in the path. By training children in good habits, the school day (and home life in general) goes more smoothly. Focus on one habit at a time for 4-6 weeks rather than attempting to implement a long list of new habits all at once.

The Charlotte Mason Method asked students to take from books and to associate them with the lessons being taught. That this association would allow the student to connect certain fun activities with the lesson and associate it with facts being taught.

Let's go back to our lesson on the American Revolution.

The student would begin by perhaps reading an age-appropriate biography of George Washington, or perhaps one about Valley Forge (it could really be any book about the American Revolution). The student will now begin to associate the man George Washington with the legend of George Washington in history. Or perhaps they will associate what they learned about the bitter winter at Valley Forge.

To this day, I remember a book I read in the sixth grade about the Colonial Army at Valley Forge. I cannot tell you much about the dates and the years, but I remember the stories of the bitter cold, the troops without enough to eat, or warm winter clothes. I remember reading about the Prussian General in that book who came to America to help train the army.

That book, I remember every time I read about the American Revolution.

 The Association (Charlotte Mason) Method at a GlancePros and Cons


  • Short, interesting lessons will keep both the homeschooling parent and his or her children happy.
  • Living Books are never boring
  • Emphasis on experience rather than dry texts; the hands-on method usually leads to better retention of what is learned
  • The Charlotte Mason Method allows for a lot of creativity
  • This methodology could be heaven for young artists, aspiring writers, and linguists


  • Costs: Good books can be quite expensive
  • Daily walks in the sunshine are nice but might be a lot less fun in the heavy rain or cold, stormy weather
  • Some people may feel overwhelmed at the whole idea of using a curriculum consisting of Living Books and are uncertain as to whether or not their choice of books would be the right one

Unit Studies

Unit studies,  sometimes called thematic units or integrated studies, are very popular with homeschoolers. Unit studies usually use a hands-on approach to effective learning. The child learns by actually experiencing or discovering through different methods and activities, rather than just reading a chapter from a textbook. Studies show that children using unit-study methods retain 45% more than those using a traditional approach.


The “unit” or “theme” part refers to the idea of studying a topic as a whole instead of several “subjects.” Thousands of years ago, the Greeks decided to break whole topics into subjects. For example, most people think of water as a science subject. One way to look at water is as H2O—a chemistry subject—but, it is also art (a beautiful waterfall), history (the Red Sea), economics (water bill), theology (baptism), language arts (babbling brook, which is a metaphor), geography (the location of bodies of water), etc.

A unit study takes a topic and “lives” with it for a period of time, integrating science, social studies, language arts, math, and fine arts as they apply. For example in the lesson of dealing with the American Revolution we could:

  • The war mostly took place in the 13 Original States. (Geography)
  • The American Army was always trapped for food supplies, uniforms, and other items like guns and cannons (economics and paying for items)
  • The Declaration of Independence (history)
  • Washington Crossing the Delaware and the Surrender at Yorktown (the paintings, an art lesson)
  • the vegetation and climate of the 13 States (nature)
  • newspapers and first-hand accounts (literature)

That list could go on and on, bringing in different subjects and studies to create a well-rounded education of one subject. 

Here I have to admit that I am biased somewhat. I do tutor several students and use this method. Currently, my students are talking about Mars. So I have put together a lesson guide.

A trip to Mars

  • What is the distance to Mars? (measurements and astrophysics)
  • How would we get there? How long would it take? (chemistry and physics)
  • What supplies would we need? How much? (Biology, mathematics)
  • Write a proposal to Congress to fund the trip (persuasive essay)
  • Draw a picture of the spacecraft and possible a mission patch (art)

As you can see, the unit method allows a creative parent to tie in every subject into one lesson. I have also seen it works to counter the question,

When will I ever use this in my life?

Quick Look at the Unit Studies method, pros, and cons


  • Unit studies are flexible and can be used with children of multiple ages. 
  • This method is a great way to include your child’s interests in their learning.
  • It is much easier for most children to retain learning when it is all-encompassing


  • This method does take a bit more preparation than your typical school-in-a-box curriculum.
  • It can be very tempting to over-do a subject area.
  • It can be hard to let go of a subject area that has lost your child’s interest but has kept you enthralled. 


Unschooling is also known as natural, interest-led, and child-led learning. Unschoolers learn 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.

Pretty simply unschooling means not sending your kids to school, and not creating a school-at-home environment either. Unschooling is a complete rejection of the concept of traditional schooling.

All homeschooling was originally called unschooling by John Holt, one of the pioneers of the movement. Gradually the term has come to mean those who use no formal curricula but make liberal use of the learning opportunities that present themselves in daily life. Without outside intervention in the form of forced teaching, learning naturally happens. Unschoolers attempt to provide the best environment to allow that natural learning to take place. It is often called child-led learning.

So going back to our lesson on the American Revolution, we would cover areas of interest that the student had. If they had an interest in learning about Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, we would take a more coaching role that a teaching role. We would help the child research and find out what they wanted to learn about the subject for as long as they were interested in it

Quick Look at the Unschooling method, pros, and cons


  • Freedom and Flexibility- Unschooled children are free to explore and learn about any subject matter that interests them within a flexible schedule.
  • Natural Hands-On (Real World) Learning- When a child is allowed to learn through hands-on, real-life situations, he or she learns the facts and not just how to manipulate a process.
  • Less Stress Knowing they do not need to prove themselves as professional, certified teachers by following the imposed demands of a curriculum relieves unschooling parents of a great deal of stress.
  • Time and Money Saving In a traditional classroom setting, a lot of learning time is taken up with crowd control methods such as roll call, collecting assignments and other administrative duties. Unschooling can be done inexpensively or even for free.
  • Builds Relationships Unschooling creates an environment where children are nurtured and allowed to grow and learn naturally.
  • Love to Learn. The learning may be child-led, but the parents still become quite involved in their child's education through guidance (not control), by placing learning opportunities within the child's path.
  • Multi-Level Teaching  Unschooling allows every child to learn at his or her own level without competition. It works extremely well with parents of multiple-grade-level children.


  • Lack of Structure (Confusion/Chaos). Because unschooling does not spell out when and what needs to be learned, it can seem chaotic for a parent who is looking for more instruction and guidance on the precise ways to teach and keep order.
  • Lack of Proof (No Standardized Testing). Unschooling provides very little guidelines in terms of standardized testing results. What the child is actually learning may jump around from the first-grade level to the fifth-grade level and then back to kindergarten level.
  • Critical Eye of Others. Homeschoolers deal with negative or critical comments and questioning from others, but unschoolers tend to get this reaction even from their homeschooling peers.
  • Spoiled Child and Learning Gaps.  There are critics of unschooling who say it is nothing more than out-of-control chaos and educational neglect within an environment the child controls, like something out of the book Lord of the Flies.
  • No Traditional Rites of Passage. While some homeschooling groups organize ceremonies and functions such as proms, yearbook signings and graduations, these are typically smaller, less formal affairs than in a traditional school.
  • State Requirements. Homeschooling, which includes unschooling, is legal in all 50 states, but some states require more paperwork than others. Some require testing. Most require some form of keeping track of the child's work or logging a set number of credit hours for required subjects.
  • Subjects ignored. Using this method, a parent runs the risk of certain subjects being under taught or ignored altogether. If a child never shows an interest in math or science, this could potentially stunt educational growth as the child ages.


Image by Amber McAuley from Pixabay

Wrapping the methods together

Students are people.

So are the instructors.

That means that there will never exist a one size fits all solution to teaching or learning.  A human is not like a computer where whatever coding you pick the computer operates the same way, every time, for every computer.

Just as we are not completely identical, learning methods and teaching methods will differ from person to person.

Not every student will blossom under every method every time. It might end up that you move between methods depending on the circumstance. A student while studying about the American Revolution might go through all of the methods.

And you know what?

That is perfectly okay.


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