There are many different approaches to home education. An exploration of the teaching methods (and non-methods) adopted by other homeschoolers can help you decide what you’d like to try with your own family.
Many homeschooling parents change their approach as they go along, adjusting where needed and experimenting until they find what works best (at any given time) for the family’s lifestyle and schedule, the parents’ own educational goals for their children, and most importantly, their children’s individual learning styles, interests and compatibility with the methods they’ve tried. This kind of flexibility and responsiveness is one of the many benefits of home based learning.
Below you will find an at-a-glance look at different approaches to education, each with a brief description and relevant website links, including links to more in-depth OFTP webpages where applicable.
Parents in the role of schoolteacher, instructor or tutor
If you’d like to homeschool your child by replicating the school’s grade system and instructional style at home, you can follow the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum guidelines and implement them with the help of textbooks and educational materials available from the Suppliers listed in our Resources section.
You will also find there (on the Suppliers page) some curriculum packages that provide an alternative to the curriculum content of the public educational system. For instance, there are several publishers of Christian materials that emphasize Christian values and perspectives.
School-at-home is often the approach chosen by parents who wish to direct their children’s education in a conventional, structured, but often accelerated way, emphasizing high academic performance and strict behavioural discipline.
Other homeschooling parents start out with this type of structured approach at the beginning of their homeschooling journey out of a sense of not knowing how else to approach education, and gradually relax into a more flexible approach as they discover a need for adaptability to the realities of family life at home, become more comfortable with the idea of self-directed learning, and/or begin to have more trust in the non-textbook learning that children do naturally in the course of their daily lives.
On the other hand, sometimes families move from an unstructured style in the elementary years to a more structured approach in the teen years if and when the student wishes to enter the school system and wants to prepare for that passage. Often, this move to a more conventional and structured approach in the teens is through enrolling in a distance school for the purpose of obtaining an accredited high school diploma.
(Please note that it is not necessary to switch to a conventional structured approach at the high school level in order to pursue post-secondary education. Many universities and colleges have special admissions policies for homeschoolers who have no conventional high school diploma, and recognize that self-directed learners are especially well suited to the kind of studying that is necessary at the university level.)
Tutors can provide one-on-one instruction in the conventional school subjects like math or language (or in “extracurricular” subjects like the arts or sports). The individual attention makes this a more effective educational path than attending school, while still maintaining a conventional grade-based approach and not involving parents in direct academic (or “extracurricular”) instruction.
Tutors can, of course, be hired for a single subject rather than a whole grade curriculum; for instance, for teaching a subject an otherwise homeschooling parent does not feel confident teaching him/herself (e.g. French, art, music, high-school math or physics,…).
You can usually find tutors in your local newspaper classified ads. We also have a webpage for listing Tutors and Tours.
Correspondence schools and online schools
One way to “attend school” and yet stay at home, is to enrol in an online or correspondence school. Lessons are prepared by schoolteachers and assignments are evaluated by them. There is a certain amount of flexibility in that a student can choose his/her own hours within the timeframe of when assignments are due. Homeschoolers who want to continue studying from home but wish to obtain an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) can only do so by enrolling in an accredited distance school. We have a list of them on our page of Correspondence and Virtual Schools. The list includes distance schools for the elementary grades as well.
(Please note that an OSSD is not necessary for pursuing post-secondary education. Many universities and colleges have special admissions policies for homeschoolers who have no conventional high school diploma.)
The difference between school-at-home and parent-guided learning is that guided learning is done through non-textbook books and life rather than materials designed specifically for instruction. There are several different approaches under this heading:
Dorothy Sayers believes that the ability to think is sadly lacking in modern children and that a Classical Approach to learning produces students who not only think, but can use language eloquently and persuasively.
The Principle Approach
The Principle Approach teaches that there are certain biblical principles that underlie every area of study. It also teaches the effectiveness of the “4-R” approach of having the child keep a notebook of his/her Research about a subject, of the biblical principles he/she discovers, and personal application of those principles.
Charlotte Mason emphasizes the importance of treating children as persons capable of learning without being “talked down to.” Children can learn through “masterly inactivity” (being able to respond to original sources in art, literature, and nature without having the meaning interpreted for them by adults), through exposure to great literature, and through being allowed to exercise their imaginations through play.
This approach stresses the inter-relatedness of all knowledge, and that studying one topic in depth produces greater learning than fragmenting knowledge into separate, unrelated bits of information.
Dorothy and Raymond Moore warn us to be sensitive to our children’s level of physical, emotional and mental readiness and to give them a broad spectrum of life experiences.
Waldorf education was developed by Rudolph Steiner, founder of the spiritual belief system known as Anthroposophy, and is based on his anthroposophical view of the developmental stages of childhood. It involves nurturing the child as body-soul-spirit in a holistic and soul-stage-appropriate way and respecting the child as a free spirit. The emphasis is on spirit, creativity and imagination, with art, storytelling and dance (eurythmy) playing a big role in the exploration of the subjects being taught. Another focus is on nature and the natural. TV and electronic media are discouraged, as are toys made of man-made materials like plastic.
The fundamental premise of Enki is that the central task of education is the integration of body, heart, and mind within each child, resulting in educational excellence, confidence, and competence. Individual well-being is seen as inseparable from the well-being of the community — our families, neighbours, and the global community. Enki is a holistic, multicultural, arts-integrated education that draws aspects of its approach from Montessori, Waldorf and other approaches.
Research into learning styles suggests that we can enhance our children’s ability to learn by presenting information in ways that are a match for the way they process information. We can also help them develop their abilities to process in perceptual modalities that don’t come as naturally to them, so that they can process information in the modality most suited to the information itself. We have our own page dedicated to Learning Styles, and here are some links to other relevant websites:
John Holt, who coined the word “unschooling,” tells us that schooling is not necessarily learning. Children have an innate curiosity and desire to learn that can motivate them to discover what they need to know when they need to know it. Unschooling is an approach in which children are allowed to continue (or return to) the natural, curiosity-driven, discovery-mediated learning that all children engage in as babies and toddlers. As such, it is child-led learning rather than teacher- or parent-imposed lessons, although it is parent-stimulated to varying degrees. The role of unschooling parents is that of facilitators of learning rather than taskmasters. Unschooling is therefore not so much a “teaching method” as it is a “learning philosophy” and a lifestyle.
We have a separate section for unschooling, listing unschooling-related articles from the OFTP newsletter, Home Rules, and from other sources, as well as books, online discussion groups and other unschooling resources.
As the word “eclectic” suggests, this describes homeschooling that follows no single teaching method or learning philosophy, but selects a variety of tools from among a diversity of approaches according to what works best for one’s own family and/or each individual child at any given time. As such, it is usually a combination of parent-directed and child-led, structured and natural learning.
The eclectic approach is more informal than school-at-home but more directive than unschooling. Parents will often use workbooks for any of the basics that the child is not naturally drawn to (reading, writing, math, depending on the child) so as to guide his or her learning along a more conventional timeline than if they were to wait for the child’s discovery through life situations. Parents might also be directive by assigning projects, but perhaps non-directive in terms of how and when the child carries out the task.