Homeschooling Styles and How I Screwed Them Up

by Ivory Soap on 04/20/2013

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There are plenty of methods out there, and many are all jazzed about their own way being the best and that anything else is garbage.  Please don’t get waylaid by the propaganda.  Almost anything will work if you stick to it (which I have obviously not done.) The goal is to find something that fits the values and personality of your family.  

One style that you won’t see on here is “Eclectic.”  It’s what everyone does who isn’t committed in entirety to one of the below styles.  I am Eclectic (read: cobbled together hot mess of styles.)  You can’t screw up being Eclectic, unless you are just one of those folks who really can’t help Following Someone’s Plan.  I don’t know many of those folks, but I hear tell they exist.

Traditional Schooling:  

  • This is what you likely grew up with.  
  • Separate textbooks and workbooks for every subject required by the state.  
  • Good if you want your kids to study material in same order as their friends.
  • Good if you and your children love workbooks.

For my family:  I have minimum tolerance for time in the seat and maximum expectation for it’s efficiency.  There’s no reason, in my opinion for writing, comprehension, spelling, grammar, and handwriting to be all separate subjects.  It eats up too much time and puts too many things on my to do list.  But most importantly, textbooks can be really boring and I only have so much DO THIS CAUSE I SAID in me.  I prefer to use it sparingly.  With this method there was LOTS of that.  I screwed up this style of homeschooling with procrastination, rationalization, and hating the material more than my kids did.  Sucks when they’re more mature than me.


  • Child-led learning
  • Parents provide information, books, and enrichment based on whatever the child has decided to pursue.
  • Live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise.
  • When questions arise, they may use traditional textbooks, literature, online schooling, or anything the parent chooses.
  • This is the way we learn before formal school begins and after we leave school.

For my family:  Before the Logic stage (~6th grade), this is how my family does science, world history, home ec, crafts, and art.  My home is a museum of books, collections, and interesting projects.  I grew up with a curious father who kept these things around, and I’m the same kind of parent.  But, ain’t nobody up in here going to learn their times tables because they WANT to.  I don’t have those kids.  I can fail at this method daily by letting them pursue their own interests in hiding the hens under buckets and forgetting about the poor animals overnight, reading Ripley’s Believe it or Not for a week straight, and what about my oldest’s overriding interest in Halo 4?  I think there’s a lot more to this method than meets the eye.  In it’s best forms, I bet it works kind of like Montessori, where there’s a “prepared home environment” full of interesting smart-person stuff and NO awesome video games.

Charlotte Mason:

  • Immersing the child in IDEAS
  • Literature, not text books
  • Narration, or retelling to encourage attention and develop oral skills
  • Many books going at once
  • Focused on good habits, nature study and a WIDE range of interests

For my family:  This again, can be a pretty laidback approach to the 3R’s, which is not gonna fly in my house.  Ideas are great.  But, we already gots lots ’round here.  My kids are natural explorers, questioners, all that.  And I never stop reading and blabbing.  So with this method, NONE of us got around to the 3R’s.  And by reading lots of books, one chapter a week, you have to OWN them ALL.  The library wants them back about 12 weeks before you are done with them.  We still use the Mason booklists a lot, but  we read ONE OR TWO AT A TIME, and only after we’ve done a few HOURS on the 3R’s.  It’s our “treat”.    This method was also hard for us since the book levels are really challenging.  Even really good readers, which mine were not, may still not be reading their school books independently, even in fifth grade.  So, with three kids, it was just too much to juggle for my poor brain, even trying to get them all on the same year in history, blah, blah. Too much!  However, we do use retelling and prefer literature to text books.  I screwed this method up by being addicted to books anyway and neglecting to spend sufficient time on reading, writing, ‘rithmetic.  You can sum up the most popular Charlotte Mason booklists like this:  “Use any math, handwriting schema, or phonics program you like….and now onto the lovely OTHER subjects!  HURRAY!”  I focused too much on the “other” subjects and my kids got behind in reading, handwriting, and math.  My kids aren’t going to easily “pick up” the 3R’s before they’re ten, so this is not a great choice  for us.  Dang it.


  • Follows the stage of brain development
  • Memorization of facts is encouraged.
  • Analyzing those facts is encouraged once the brain can do it. 
  • Sythesizing and expression one’s own ideas based on facts and analysis comes in high school.

For my Family:  I HEART anything that respects child development.  My master’s is in Counseling.  I’m all over child development.  It drives me crazy when people push developmentally inappropriate skills on children…witness the 10-yr-old in tears trying to do the required three-step, multi-operation word problem or analyze the plot and character development in Horton Hears a Who.  Yikes.  Anyway, apart from the structure I mentioned above, Classical education varies WIDELY.  Some schools use textbooks, others use more literature.  Most require Latin and memorization of facts, but the volume of material varies WIDELY.  Laura Berquist’s version is much less intensive and, in my opinion,  is much more respectful of the REAL age at which those developments happen.  Some of them start the Logic Stage too early.  There’s no way a fourth grader is analyzing anything.  Also, the whole thing about studying the whole of human history in order every few years and using timelines isn’t necessarily classical either.  A 2nd grader developmentally CANNOT grasp the breadth of all that and make those connections.  It just doesn’t do for a grade schooler what it does for an 8th grader, or her mom.   My school does go in order, but it’s mostly for convenience.  And, it’s just American History over and over and over until sixth grade.  Kids learn a person’s STORY in the grammar stage, not the order of events and who else was alive at the same time in China and what music they were listening to.  Who is Daniel Boone?  Tell me stories about Daniel Boone.  We’ll evaluate his ideas and figure out if he was a contemporary of Galileo later.  And, like I’ve said, we’re late bloomers on the reading.  We often can’t go in order if I want them to read alone.  Easy readers don’t progress in difficulty according to time period.  So we read them in order of difficulty.  We learn the people.  We place them in history in 5th and up.  I realized that forcing the order of history was pointless in early grades when after years of meticulously following the timeline, my third grader understood that George Washington wasn’t alive when I was a child, but wanted to know “how that cloud in the desert looked” when I was there with Moses.


  • Child-led approach, with child-size materials
  • Really neato manipulatives for every subject under the sun
  • Teaches the child to be independent
  • Develops concentration 

For my family:  I LOVE this stuff.  Again, it’s all about child development.  Maria Montessori is amazing.  I spend hundreds of dollars on Montessori Materials, only to find that my kids had pretty much already out grown them.  But most importantly, this style has revolutionized how I run my home.  I realize now that at almost every age, kids are internally motivated to practice something that they perceive as for “big people.”  A two-year-old will load and unload the dryer ten times in a row, just like the five-year-old will crack 3 dozen eggs in a row, and the ten year old will whittle every stick in the yard.  I’ve learned that “Hey, who want’s to learn to clean the oven?” is met with applause and “Who wants to learn to use the food processor?” can cause a stampede.  And I will never repay the Montessorians for teaching me how to present lessons and make new information stick.  But, apart from the base ten bead set and the US and North America puzzles, I bought a lot of stuff I didn’t really need.  And again, my kids didn’t  naturally CHOOSE to learn to read and add.  They went for the science and practical life activities.  Maybe if I had started at 3 years old, we’d have time for them to get around to it, but we didn’t have that kind of time.

Unit Studies:

  • Central theme
  • Other subjects organized around that theme
  • Art projects, music, writing activities, field trips, and science experiments all about that theme.

I can fail at this method without even starting it.  I am not artsy.  I despise all things made of construction paper.  Anything that ends with a poster board shield, a festive cookie recipe, and a field trip to the metalworks is a special hell for me.

Computer Schooling:

  • Computer teaches child one or more subjects
  • Recorded explanations, activities
  • Could include live web classes
  • Automatic grading and evaluation

My husband works for Compass Learning, so we have access to the learning activities and program.  In its civilian form, the activities are available at There is cartoon teaching, practice, and testing.  I use it for math (and if their written narrations show a major grammar gap.)  If they run out of computer activities on the site and are still “not getting it”, I use Math Mammoth workbooks, which are correlated to the Common Core, to target the troublesome standard.  I haven’t really messed this up yet except I lose faith in it periodically and fall back on worksheets.  My kids grind to a halt.  I get bored.  They get bored. We all cry…

Old School Self-Teaching:

  • Often uses 100 year old texts (which are really awesome, BTW)
  • Children do all the reading themselves after about 2nd grade.
  • Children progress through the materials in an order, but not necessarily by grades
  • 3R’s and no fooling around!

I love, love, love this stuff!  Robinson curriculum, Accelerate Achievement, and all the old manuals from the late 1800’s telling teachers how to run their classes?  LOVE.  We do it this way:  one hour math, one hour reading, one hour writing, and one hour reciting (memory work).  Since my school does American History over and over until 6th, I use this method for history, bible, and literature.   I read aloud to K-2, but once we’re reading at a 2.0 grade level, it’s on to the reading lists!  I have them go through American History, Literature, and Bible in Easy Readers, then Early Chapter books, then novels.  Around and around we go!  They read through the summer; they read through the fall.  However, like all the other methods, I have to tinker with it and mess it up.  First, we bombed out of McGuffey’s Readers AND Saxon Math.  Terrible reactions from both child AND parent.  We both avoided it.  And I have lots and lots of must-read books on my list that were written less than 50 years ago.  But, since I’m an old school marm at heart, I do follow the general daily routine, philosophy of “go read it yourself and report back in an hour,” and the general disdain for mental laziness.  Now, this method can be adapted to several schools of thought, but we use the resources and courses from my classical school.  I just rearrange it to fit a school marm routine.

So, in the end, here’s our hot mess:

  • We don’t do traditional schooling or unit studies.
  • My home is a rich environment as long as I ban the TV, so proponents would probably say that we unschool or Montessori art, crafts, science, world history, and home ec until 5th-6th.
  • I use Charlotte Mason and other literature-based methods to generate book lists, but we read them in series, not simultaneously.  We narrate daily.
  • We use the Classical Method to structure our course of study and developmental expectations.
  • Montessori has changed the way I interact with anyone under that age of 8.  I teach different.  I play different.  I talk different to them.  Love her.
  • Computer schooling has taken the yelling out of math class.  I tutored math for 15 years.  Now I still do.  I’m not the primary teacher.  I drill and I help when Mr. Computer drops the ball.  Sweet.
  • Old Schooling has taken out the chaos.  Everything we do has to fit into one of four boxes: reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, or reciting.  Kids work through a natural progression of those things, whether they are ahead or behind according to grade level.  But, I don’t think we use a single one of their recommended books.

Old School organization, Classical expectations, Mason booklists, Computer School math, Montessori attitude.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie April 20, 2013 at 9:16 am

After years of cyberschooling,I am pulling my daughters out of an online charter school because it is really WAY too much time online. I am slowly outlining our next schoolyear, and getting a handle on books and philosophies. I don’t know if you planned it this way, but placing this topic here in the spring, when many of us are thinking about next schoolyear, is perfect!
(I know a lot of parents can make a good schoolyear in partnership with a cyber school, but I am not one of them!) You are really a great mentor for me. Thank you!

Katie April 20, 2013 at 9:18 am

ps- I would personally love to see some of your ideas for recitation, at different age/stages.

Joy @ Caspara April 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

This post has me cheering! Your techniques/ approach/ whatever sound so much like mine, and you know what? It’s working!! My kids are retaining information, applying it to their lives, growing in knowledge, and becoming very interesting conversationalists! You do NOT have to subscribe to one method/ technique/ curriculum! And I get SO TIRED of people saying you do!
Sorry for the many exclamation points and caps. I just can’t say through typing how much I agree with with this post. 🙂

Emily April 21, 2013 at 8:14 am

Thanks for sharing all your successes AND failures (or less successful efforts, anyway). We’re fixing to start Kindergarten this year after a good year of laid-back (but still a little bit formal) preschool. I love hearing about how your adapt all your different methods. I think I may have a late-reader too, so hearing about your kiddos makes me feel reassured about my little guy. Thank you.

Lindsay April 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Love this post!
Particularly the bit about Unit Studies being their own special kind of hell. Oh yes. It’s taken me 2 years (plus, as we still won’t finish it this year) to get through our art book because I hate the potential mess. Ugh. Anyways.
I cobbled together a curriculum that I felt met the goals I wanted for my kids, and I went to a Classical workshop to learn more about the three brain stages and discovered that I had unknowingly put together a completely classical curriculum. So I guess it fits me? I certainly didn’t try to do it that way. I just saw merits in different curriculums and put them all together. I don’t admit that it happened that way very often. I want to appear that I did it totally on purpose and I’m fully on board with the Classical model. Unless memorization interferes with naptime. Then it’s totally not important.

Kristie Fox April 22, 2013 at 8:30 am

So we too are refining our education approach and have fallen somewhere along the same lines. I am trying to merge this “old school” idea with classical. In addition, I am trying to apply to five different kids. So I have a few logistical questions. I have read other posts on everyone doing memory work together so all hear it. I also read about starting with the youngest first and then moving through each kid. And finally, I read about your weekely assignment notebooks. –
So….do you say ok folks let’s do math and you go at it “releasing” each kid at the appropriate time? (A 4 year old doesn’t do a whole hour of math right?)
Then so ok – let’s do writing – 4yr old you copy these letters, 6 yr old you copy these sentences, 8 yr old let’s do some dictiation….
I am still brainstorming ways to stay focused on each subject while keeping the older kids going with idependent work….How do the kids notebooks apply to that? Does that make sense? (Thanks)

Snezana April 22, 2013 at 6:37 pm

“they get bored. We all cry.”
I have to say, even I haven’t started yet with homeschooling, but I can totally see me just like that, sometime in the future!
My son is 5, he should start kindergarten from September (it’s now obligatory in NY) and I am pregnant with my second.
Until while ago we didn’t have homeschooling in mind. We didn’t like the general schooling system, we tried montessory but my son didn’t like it (after two weeks he just said – “I don’t like this school!!” and he didn’t want to go anymore.)
It’s hard to choose what’s best.
I like what you wrote. It’s so real and open.

Lisa April 23, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Eclectic is what we are too! Sort of, since all that’s left of my homeschooling is a junior in high school. The hard parts done, the reading and writing and math and spelling and all those needed for the “real world.”
Unit studies were very successful for us. And TV was even part of school! When I spent time with his sister (2 years older) on her math, my son would be sent into the living room to watch Between the Lions for “reading!”
Anyone love lapbooks? They were wonderful for us, even into middle school. I have seen some great high school ones as well.

Gina April 24, 2013 at 4:11 am

Hi, we were like this for the first year, just feeling our way. Now we do whatever works at the time. My kids are 5 and 7 but have emotional delay issues so sitting still is no more possible than if they were really 3-4 yrs old.
They do a lot of play, we prioritise this. They do a lot of real world stuff, they love being able to do grown up stuff. We do a lot of mess and craft because I love that sort of thing and they enjoy a squishy mess. We do lapbooks because, oh, yeah, they learn and think they are playing!! It is quite child-led, in that we follow their topic interest.
We let them watch relevant tv shows or dvds as this is a great way for them and we play ‘the fact game’. I say when we are done I want you to tell me x amount of facts and I type them onto the computer for them and they love this ‘game’!
I am so relieved I don’t have the only kids who are not interested in handwriting or times tables (who would be?) If you left it to my son (5) he would have a degree in Star Wars, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean, so I suspect we are not the right family for a completely child led approach! Not sure what my girlie would do, presumably something other than what I had asked her to do, lol, that is her usuall approach!
I think if the knowledge is sticking and they are enjoying learning and asking more questions then whatever mish-mash of approaches you are learning is working. I think, as well, there is a value in having a range of experiences/methods for a child. That they have opportunities to absorb information from different directions.
We did workbooks to begin with because they liked them and I thought it would mean we didn’t miss out but we spent so long do the 3rs they didn’t have much energy left for anything else. I try to incorporate as much of their literacy as possible into everything else and we do numeracy on the computer because they think they are getting one over me, it is great evidence, it is easy and I don’t have to worry about it. In fact, I thought we were way behind in this until I got an online program and discovered we are way ahead of their school year which was a good feeling!
So going with the flow of interest, with whichever technique works and having some targets on paper (for the evidence) is working well for us. So, I guess we are eclectic too. I am more relaxed about it then when we started.

Laurie April 24, 2013 at 5:34 am

I love your post! It could have easily been a recap of my last few years of homeschooling. Thank you for opening up and for your humor.

Jen April 24, 2013 at 9:51 am

This really helps. My husband and I are really considering homeschooling my 6 year old next year because public school is just not working for him. We have a 12 and 13 year old who love and have done incredibly well in public school from the start, but its just not working for the little guy. He is very smart and curious – loves to do things, but sit him down in the classroom and it is like torture for him. I have been reading about all of the different philosophies and am completely overwhelmed. I am so glad to hear that you have taken bits from many and how it has worked for you. This is truly encouraging! Thank you.

Ally @ Om Nom Ally April 24, 2013 at 4:45 pm

I love reading your homeschooling posts, it’s helping me work out what I want to do when I have children in the future. The Montessori approach seems to be the one that calls most to me and I find myself looking at their philosophy and approach more and more lately.

Joel April 27, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Can you please name the “old manuals from the late 1800?s telling teachers how to run their classes”? and other old texts you use for “old schooling”? Are they available online?

Ivory Soap April 28, 2013 at 4:58 pm
Helen March 5, 2014 at 11:21 am

So glad I have a name for our style of homeschooling. It’s a “Hot Mess” but they are progressing. 🙂

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