Approaches to Homeschool: The Summary Post

Dear Reader,

If you have been here a while you will know that I have been doing a series looking at different approaches to homeschool. At this point, there are no more approaches I am planning to tackle (though I might be persuaded if there are one’s you are interested in which I haven’t done). I will follow this post up with one that provides links to all the posts in the series. But for now I wanted to try to give a summary of what I have found for each of the approaches. My hope is that you could use this post as a starting point to get an idea of what the different approaches are about, and then if there are ones that resonate with you that you would pursue them further.

I started out by asking four questions:

1. What do they assume about how learning works?

2. How do they view children?

3. How do they view human nature?

4. What do they believe is the goal of education?

Rather than rehashing each of these, I would like to ask some slightly different question in this post. For each of the approaches I have looked at, I will attempt to answer:

1. What is the role of the teacher?

2. How do the children demonstrate their knowledge?

3. How do they believe education works?

4. Are children seen to have a multi-staged development and if so what are the stages?

5. What do they assume about human nature and/or the nature of children?

6. What are the goals of education?

7. What (if anything) does this approach say about God and His nature?

The methods I have looked at for which I will attempt to answer these questions are: unschooling, unit studies, Charlotte Mason, classical, Christian classical, Thomas Jefferson Ed, the Principle Approach, Montessori, Waldorf, and the Puritans’ Home School Curriculum. These are not going to be long answers. If you are looking for more detail on an approach, you should look at my original post on it (I will also follow this post up with one providing links to all the posts in the series).

So without further ado, here are the answers:


1. In some ways, unschooling places the least burden on the parent/teacher since at its most extreme, it is completely child-driven. The child determines what they will learn when. However, my observation has been that in practice this tends to keep parents on their toes since they might wake up any morning to find that one child wants to know everything there is about pirates and another wants to learn calculus.

2. Unschooling has no formalized methods of assessment.

3. The burden for education is on the child. They learn because they take an interest in things and apply themselves to learn it. The teacher or parent only facilitates by doing things like helping them get the materials they need.

4. There is no inherent view of developmental stages. There is some sort of basic assumption that the child is complete, that they can get what knowledge they need, which would tend to make me think unschoolers do not see developmental stages in their children.

5. There is an assumption that children are basically good and that they will seek and acquire the skills and knowledge that they need. A corollary to this is, I suppose, that the children know best what they need.

6. Unschoolers can be a very diverse group so I think there is no one answer to the question of unschooling’s goals. They vary from family to family. I think we can generalize though and say that the goals of unschoolers tend to be about the development of the person and not about academic or worldly success. Individuality is usually highly valued.

7. My own opinion is that true unschooling is antithetical to orthodox Christianity.  I think its view of the child assumes the lack of a sinful nature. Unschooling is not an inherently religious approach but could be and is embraced by people from a wide-variety of belief systems.

Unit Studies:

1. Unit studies place a significant burden upon the teacher to find ways of linking topics together or, alternatively, of taking one topic and drawing in other areas to form a unit. (Of course in practice, there are many curricula that will do this for one so the burden is on someone but it may not be the teaching parent).

2. There is no one method of assessment used by unit studies. One could incorporate  a variety of methods. Notebooking can work well with unit studies.

3. A unit studies approach assumes that material is learned best when it is linked together for children, when there is a common theme or element to the subjects covered. However, it is the teacher or curriculum preparer that does the planning and linking, not the student who must find connections. I often hear “it’s fun” used as an argument for various unit studies curricula so I think there is an assumption that children will take in material is we make it entertaining or at least palatable for them. How the material is presented is of key importance in unit studies.

4. There is no inherent view of developmental stages.

5. From my point of view, a unit studies approach tends to assume that children are less able than adults; that the adults can make connections where the children cannot.

6 and 7. Unit studies is less of a comprehensive philosophy than the other approaches I looked at so I don’t think it has much to say on questions 6 and 7. Of course, individual practitioners of unit studies may have things to say but I don’t see that the approach lends itself to one view or another.

Charlotte Mason:

1. In CM’s philosophy, the main job of the teacher is to select the best materials. They provide the intellectual banquet but it is up to the child to take in what they will. Charlotte says often that the teacher must step aside and not get in the way of the child’s learning. The parent or teacher would also have a role to play in habit training.

2. Children regularly narrate both to show what they have learned and to firmly cement that knowledge for themselves. Charlotte did give end of term exams but these also tended to be more open-ended essay type questions which encourage narration rather than asking for specific facts which the teacher has decided are important.

3. “Education is the science of relations,” says CM. That is, children learn when they interact with the best materials. They form relations with what they are studying and make connections between different bits they have learned. It is their work to do, not ours to teach them. Ideas are the food of the mind and they are passed from mind to mind not through lectures but through living books, art, music, etc. which allow us to get to know the minds and ideas even of those long dead.

4. CM is very clear that children are fully formed people. She is insistent in this point because she is reacting to contemporaries (like Montessori, see below) who did see distinct developmental stages. She knew children were less informed but also believed that all the capacities they needed to learn were already present in them. In some ways even, she would see them as superior to adults in that they have more capacity for faith and imagination.

5. CM had a very positive view of children in many ways and was insistent that children of all classes could be educated. Given the right materials, she expected the best of children. She also acknowledged, however, that given the wrong materials, children could and would go the wrong way. She was also very big on habit training which acknowledges the sinful nature of children and the need for moral training.

6. If education is the science of relations, then the goal of it is to form as many relations as possible. Charlotte also spoke of setting the children’s feet in a wide room, that is giving them a broad range of experiences and ideas. With regard to goals specifically, she said that at the end of their education we should not ask how much children know but how much they care.

7. To Charlotte, the Holy Spirit is the Great Educator. The work of educating children is His work. All wisdom and knowledge come from God. Children who like adults are made in His image are able to and should pursue wisdom.

Classical Ed:

1. The role of the teacher in classical education is fairly traditional which means that it is large. The teacher chooses and prepares the lessons.

2. No one method of evaluation is inherently classical as far as I know. But it does follow a traditional model of schooling and so I suspect it is not unusual for classical homeschoolers to include school-like tests. Narration is also used though I get the feeling that the point is different than it is in CM schooling. It is more about making sure the student gets the right facts rather than allowing them to process the information for themselves.

3. Again, classical ed is a traditional school model in many ways, only more rigorous. There are stages of development (see #4 below). In the early years the emphasis is on memorization of facts, the idea being that one must get a large body of information first before one can begin to use higher level logic and discern the whys and hows of things. Factual knowledge is the emphasis first, then logic, and lastly rhetoric. Each subject is covered cyclically so that one learns for example the facts of biology and then four years later the whys of biology and then in another four years one might redo biology with an emphasis on the arguments for and against evolution.

4. There are three stages of development: the information stage in which children are believed to be primed to learn, learn, learn the facts of the world, then the logic stage in which they begin to ask why, why, why, and finally the rhetoric stage in which they learn to make and communicate arguments.

5. To my mind, any approach which has a very staged view of education assumes that there is something incomplete, lacking or different about the child vis-a-vis the adult so this would be true of classical ed (among many others). One of the most popular books on classical education is The Well-Trained Mind, the title of which I think also tells us something about the classical view; the child’s mind must be trained. It will not develop naturally on its own (at least not in the most appropriate ways).

6. Classical education is very much an academic approach. Its goals are academic and hopefully therefore later career success. It also aims to teach children to think, to reason, and to be able to present their ideas to others effectively.

7. Classical education itself has no inherently religious basis (but see the Christian version below). It could be adapted to many different belief systems.

Christian Classical Ed:

1. The Christian versions of classical education resemble the secular ones when it comes it methodology so I will say for many of these “see classical ed.”

2. See classical ed

3. See classical ed

4. See classical ed

5. On the question of the nature of the child, Christian classical education still takes the staged approach described above for classical ed with the resulting views of the child as one who needs to grow or be trained in some way. It adds to this a belief that the child is made in the image of God and therefore needs to be respected as a unique individual, though I am still not sure what the practical implications of this are. The need to train the child also carries with it a constant reminder of the child’s sinful nature.

6. In terms of goals, Christian classical ed still resembles its secular counterpart up to a point. It still strongly emphasizes academics and the success they bring. It also stresses the need to learn to think as other classical methods do. But it adds to this an emphasis on the moral component and the need to follow God’s will and to glorify Him. There is often a statement that each child is called to some special purpose by God though the education is still standardized.

7. This is somewhat of a subjective question and I hate to put words in anyone’s mouth. But the impression I get of God from reading  Christian classical materials is that He has high standards. There is a lot of emphasis on training the child in the way he should go which I could see very easily slipping into a legalistic mind-set. Parents may also be tempted to feel that if we just follow this or that program and do things  the “right” way that their children will turn out as the want them to. I also feel that there is some distancing of the child from His Creator. I feel this because the parent or teacher is such a necessary intermediary in classical education (as opposed to Charlotte Mason’s approach in which the parent/teacher steps into the background). The developmental view of the child also seems to put off the child’s purpose until they are older as if one is saying: “God has a unique purpose for you in the future, after you have learned all this stuff first.” Finally, the emphasis on academics (albeit alongside moral training) also tends to allow one to focus on worldly success. I hope this bit doesn’t sound overly critical; I am not saying that all classically educating Christian parents are legalists who care about worldly success only but that these are temptations that I could easily see arising from a classical mindset.

Thomas Jefferson Ed:

1. In the Thomas Jefferson approach (TJEd), the teacher is a mentor. He or she is not so much in the background as in Charlotte Mason’s approach but they have more of  a personal interaction with the child than in classical education. The teacher as mentor must know each student personally. Their job is largely to inspire and they also must continue to pursue knowledge so that the student has someone to follow.

2. In TJEd, learing happens only when children are motivated from within. They must be inspired and want to learn in order for true education to occur. They cannot be forced to learn. Real books are used rather than textbooks, and busy work is shunned.

3. I am not sure how students are evaluated in TJEd, if at all. I cannot imagine that this method would choose standardized tests or even the fill-in-the-blank type tests of a traditional school. But I do not know if they use narration or notebooking or other such means.

4. There are four stages in TJEd:  the core stage (birth-age 8), the love of learning stage (ages 8-12), the scholar phase (ages 12-16), and the depth phase (ages 16-22). In the first, little formal learning is done. In the second formal learning begins but the emphasis is on enjoying learning and having kids soak up the material. The love of learning hopefully  continues but academic rigor begins to set in in the third stage, and finally, in the fourth, the student begins to specialize.

5. TJEd appreciates the individual and believes that everyone has some unique bit of genius that needs to be fostered. The staged approach does view the child as not as able as older children or adults, but the stages actually continue throughout life which makes the stages of development seem more like seasons of life one passes through. This is a very positive view of the child’s nature with no nod that I can see to the sinful side of human nature.

6. The goals are both for the individual and for society as a whole. TJEd is leadership education and so its immediate goal is to train leaders in the model of America’s Founding Fathers. These leaders in turn should, well, lead and thereby transform society into one that promotes liberty, civility, morality, and the pursuit of happiness.

7. TJEd claims to be based on Judeo-Christian roots, but not, it should be noted, a specifically Christian foundation. It believes that there is a divine providence with a specific purpose for each person. It believes that faith is important but does not say what this faith should look like. The god of TJEd seems benevolent but also very unspecific.

the Principle Approach:

1. The role of the teacher in the Principle Approach (or BPA) is, I would say, on the low to middle end of the spectrum. The teacher does guide, but the Bible is the ultimate authority, and the student must do a lot of the processing of the material themselves. However, more so than in Charlotte Mason’s approach there are right answers, at least with regard to the underlying principles, and so the teacher must steer the student through these which also means that the teacher must do quite a lot of thinking about the principles. The teacher is again called a mentor or even a living book through which the child learns.

2. All learning is based upon principles which are derived from the Bible. The Bible is believed to tell us all we need to know about how to live. Fill-in-the-blank type worksheets are rejected. Rather, each student approaches the material on their own. There is a four stage process for this: first research (finding out about the topic), then reasoning (applying the principles), then relating (finding individual applications) and finally recording.

3. The student makes a permanent record of their learning in this fourth stage. They make their own book in some fashion that tells what they have learned.

4. There does not seem to be a staged view of development here. Even younger children work through the four-fold process outlined above.

5. The individual is appreciated. Even in a small homeschool environment, each child will come away with their own unique learning experience because they work through the material on their own. They are also believed to be competent to do so which means there is a high view of the child’s intellectual powers. This is again a very positive view of the child’s nature.

6. As in TJEd, BPA has a goal for the individual and one for the society. The child has a unique God-given role to be prepared for. Self-government is emphasized. But BPA also has a very definite view of government. It basically says that the American form of government is the right form and therefore one goal of BPA is to train people who will promote its ideals,things like individual rights and liberty.  Whereas CM asked how much does the student care, BPA asks what they did to secure freedom.

7. BPA has a very definite view of who God is and what He values. In fact, this is the approach which inspired me to even ask this question. In BPA, God is an individual who imbues all of His creation with the characteristic of individuality. God is also a proponent of freedom and so we glorify God by pursuing freedom in this world. God’s Word, the Bible, is very central to BPA. It is not just His unique revelation, one might think from BPA that it is His only means of revelation.


1. In Montessori education, the child is believed to develop appropriately on their own if they are given the right environment. Therefore the role of the teacher is largely to prepare the environment and perhaps to steer the child through it when needed. Though their role is mainly one of guide, Montessori teachers require specific training in how to guide the Montessori way.

2. As said above, the child develops naturally in the right environment. With the classroom environment, the child is allowed to pursue their interests. If they are focusing on one area, they will not be interrupted to turn and do another sort of lesson. Montessori learning is very hands-on with equipment (for example cooking utensils) scaled down to a child’s size. But it should be noted that such equipment is real; they would not use just cooking related toys.

3. I didn’t find much on methods of evaluation here. I suspect that is because there are none.

4. Montessori does see stages of development. In the first six years of life, the child is very responsive to their environment and is absorbing much. Between ages six and twelve, they are very social and are also developing morally and intellectually. In the third stage, till age 18, there is some psychological instability but also creative development and a sense of self. The last stage, from ages 18 through 24, is when a person begins to influence the world around them and to lead others.

5. While Montessori seems to emphasize the use of real things, it also places the child in a very prepared environment. The net result, in my mind, is a view which seems to say “you can’t handle the real world.” The Montessori education is very controlled. The idea seems to be that we the experts know best how you should develop. It is a scientific approach. The child, then, comes off as a kind of experiment. While there is some degree of freedom and individuality here (not a set curriculum for each student), the view of the child does not to my mind convey wholeness. The child is something to be developed, albeit with gentle molding rather than harsher techniques. It should be noted that Maria Montessori worked first with developmentally disabled children and this I think shows through in her later work with normal children.

6. World Peace. I love this. No piddly little goals here. Maria Montessori lived in the wake of the Great War, the War to End All Wars (WWI). She and her contemporaries were grappling with the question of how did it get this bad? How can we be this way? and How can we prevent this ever happening again? (Charlotte Mason also struggled with this I think; I see a change in tine in her 6th volume that I think reflects the times.) Maria’s answer was to be found in education

7. Montessori has no particular religious allegiance. But more than some others, I think it leaves little place for the divine. If world peace can be achieved through human means, through education, then what role is there left for God? His dealings, if He exists, must not be very significant, rather the emphasis is on what humans can do for themselves.


1. Waldorf teachers, as Montessori ones, are specially trained. In the early years, the parent may be teacher, but in true Waldorf education, the child should have teachers who are not their parents in later years. In the early years, the same teacher will stay with a student through many years. So we see that the relationship between student and teacher is important; it is not impersonal. The teacher leads in activities, things like story-songs and movement exercises. For slightly older children, there is a lesson to be prepared similar to a unit study. But there is a still some burden on the student to organize and record their new knowledge for themselves.

2. This organization of knowledge is done in the form of coursebooks which the student prepares for each unit studied. They in essence make their own textbooks showing what they have learned.

3. Standard textbooks are not used in Waldorf. Learning is done through all the senses. In the earliest years, it is done primarily through the senses and movement. Early learning of academics is discouraged. Around age 8, more academics come into play but the emphasis is still on experiences and feelings. The  arts play a large role throughout Waldorf education. Activity, they say, must proceed understanding. Spiritual things can also be known and understood using our human capabilities.

4. There are three stages of development that focus on the senses (to age 8 or so), emotions, and finally thought (the teen years). Within these there are also other milestones of development. For example, at age 9 a child is seen to become more independent from their parents. The curriculum is geared with these specific stages in mind. Waldorf advocates would also say that their stages are different from those of other approaches, that others see children as less developed adults who need to be apprenticed, but that they see them as completely different sorts of beings with a much stronger spiritual connection than adults have.

5. Children are whole, spiritual beings. Their learning cannot be subdivided because they cannot be subdivided; the whole child must be educated. The individual is appreciated though the education is general and not much specialization happens at this level.

6. The goals are individual and societal. For the individual student the goal is “to produce individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart meaning to their lives” [“Waldorf FAQ, ” Waldorf Answers .com]. But Waldorf also emphasizes social responsibility and the need for its students to contribute to the greater good of society.

7. Waldorf was originally founded upon the philosophy known as anthroposophism. Some would argue that it can be divorced from these underpinnings, others that it cannot. Anthroposophy says that we can use the same intellectual tools we use on science to know spiritual things. It also says that humanity is evolving spiritually and that Buddha and Jesus among others presented leaps ahead in our spiritual evolution.

the Puritans’ Home School Curriculum:

1. This curriculum takes a very traditional approach when it comes to the educational end of things. So the role of the teacher is what one might expect, preparing and presenting lessons. Since this is exclusively a homeschool curriculum, it is assumed that the teacher will be a parent (or parents). In the younger years, they are encouraged to read everything aloud with the children so that they can help form the children’s ideas on the material.

2. The work provided is also very traditional, lots of fill-in-the-blanks and such.

3. While the education itself is very traditionally school-like, the heart of this curriculum is its intention to present every subject from a reformed Christian perspective. As mentioned above, there is a strong emphasis on the family working together on material. Primary sources are used but not often whole living books.

4. While there are not strictly stages of development here, there is a milestone at age 13. At this point the child is expected to be grown in terms of their spiritual knowledge.

5. In this curriculum we see a two-fold belief, that on one hand children are innately sinful and in need of training, but on the other they are to be considered as members of God’s covenant community and to be treated as disciples not as those outside the church. They are also being prepared for a “special role” God has for them which speaks to the uniqueness and value of the individual. Since it is believed that they will know most of what they need to know theologically by age 13, there is a fairly high view of their intelligence as children. They are not spoon-fed parables and other Bible stories but are expected to learn real meaty concepts.

6. The stated goals of this curriculum are to train the child in the way he should go (i.e. God’s way) and to teach him to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Children are also seen to each have a special role God is calling them to for which they need to be prepared. There is, however, a distinction made between the role of girls and that of boys.

7. This is a distinctly reformed Christian curriculum (reformed as in the Protestant Reformation; Reformed as in Calvinist). It is particular about theology and expects its adherents, even at the age of 13, to be able to comprehend some theology. What does that say about God? I suppose that He is particular about what is believed about Him. What one believes matters.

Those are the approaches I have examined (so far). These are of course generalizations. Many homeschoolers take part from one approach and part from another and build their own personal philosophies. Look for the summary post with all the links soon.


6 responses to this post.

  1. […] « Approaches to Homeschool: The Summary Post […]


  2. […] Approaches to Homeschool: The Summary Post by Letters from Nebby […]


  3. […] Beyond what Mr. Horner himself believes theologically, this book is also built upon the assumption that what we believe matters. He spends some time in the first section summing up the various theological or philosophical positions one can take in life and showing how these play out.  What we believe matters.  While we may often think of the ideas present in books and their power, Horner shows us that they are no less important in movies. The questions he asks, the two most important of which are “who believes what and why?” (p. 61) and “what is the nature of humanity?” (p. 82), are not so very different from the ones I asked when I looked at the different approaches to education. […]


  4. […] I began to look at the various approaches to education, I found that they all were founded upon certain beliefs. Some are deliberate and up front about […]


  5. […] and applicable, and why it undervalues or misvalues children at the various stages of life. It has been my contention for years that any philosophy of education makes statements about the nat…. Without necessarily using that language, Ton shows how the classical approach falls short on both […]


  6. […] Last time was for the biggest issues, today I’d like to look at some of the other points I liked as well as those I had questions about. In the past, when looking at various approaches to education, I have asked a series of questions so I’d like to follow that model today. The questions we will be asking are (this is a somewhat modified version of the list I used in this post): […]


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