Homeschooling styles and methods: School-at-home


When people hear the word ‘homeschool,’ the picture that comes to mind is most likely a classroom.  Many correspondence schools design their programs to look like what happens in schools, and some parents see the familiar classroom example as the way to homeschool ‘properly.’  The school-at-home method is one way to homeschool, but it may be a stressful way.

The homeschool style of school-at-home attracts parents because, even if we did not enjoy it, most of us were taught in classrooms.  With a structured program, parents can easily start lessons at home with children who have attended school because both parents and children know ‘how school looks’ and what to expect.  The influence of the classroom model is so strong that some parents, whether or not they homeschool, even talk about “my student” instead of “my daughter” or “my son.” In this way, parents cast their child’s identity in terms of school instead of in terms of family.  Because of this strong social framework that shapes our view of the world, it is not a surprise that the school-at-home style is popular among parents.



A problem with the school-at-home style is that the schoolroom model can wear thin in a household.  Other than breaks for music lessons or sports practices, usually parents and children do the housework, complete lessons and hurry from one activity to another.  While their children play music, kick balls or break boards with their fists, parents wait to move on to the next event.  Mom may read a book, knit or work crossword puzzles to fill the time, but the clock tick, tick, ticks. After months of this, a child may grow restive when ‘Teacher’ — who knows all about that book report — wakes him at sunrise and tucks him in as the moon peeks in the window.  Parental nerves stretch as Mom tries to maintain ‘classroom discipline’ both for the kids and for her.  More than one mom has said words such as, “I want a program so that it keeps me accountable,” as if these mothers did not raise their babies well without an in-home dietician, nurse or crossing guard.

The parent who seizes every teachable moment can burn out[1] , especially if the school program requires classroom-style records.  Is it a coincidence that the first page of the search results for “homeschool burnout”[2]  features articles aimed at Christian parents who often prefer highly structured ‘classical’ programs?  The problem is not with Christianity or with parents who want a classic education for their children.  The problem is that en masse we forget that children are born into families, not into schools.

When parents start to homeschool, the school-at-home style program may be a way for everyone to get their bearings through the familiarity of the routine.  If this technique appeals to you, just remember that if this method stresses you or the children, you are the one who can decide that another style of home education may fit your family better.  You can make that change. 


Mental roadblocks to change

Parents who feel stress from a structured program may run into mental roadblocks that keep them from making a change.  One roadblock could be disappointment because it seems the stress means they are ‘doing it wrong.’  Another roadblock could be guilt at having spent a large sum of money when the parents could have sent the child to a public school ‘for free.’

If the monsters in your closet are that you think you are ‘doing it wrong’ or Aunt Jane tsk, tsk, tsking about the fool who thought she could out-teach the professionals, keep in mind that the mass-schooling model didn’t evolve in homes.  School-at-home programs transplant a school framework onto the family, which is about as useful as putting a saddle on a cow just because it has four legs, a broad back and may wear a halter.  People have saddled cows, but there are good reasons why we don’t often see this.  Just as a school run like a family would be a poor fit (although it may first sound nice), so too would a family run like a school be less than it could be.

One of organized schooling’s assets is that it can serve a large number of people efficiently.  Teachers, children, janitors and cafeteria ladies arrive together to begin the work of the day.  Teachers and children read the same materials, and the children keep pace with one another.  The form of the activities provides a momentum so that (most) of the participants march smartly along in time to the beat set by the state’s department of education. 

Family members do not march smartly along in time to the state department of families.  Family members live.   Family nominating committees do not hand out awards for “Best Eight-and-a-half Year Old of the Quarter,” or plaques for “Best Dad of 2009,” complete with gift cards (and I so hope this does not give anyone ideas).  Even though parents like regular activity because of the mental stimulation, physical exertion or satisfaction in a job well done, Mom and Dad usually are not vying with each other for the children’s approval.  For their part, children are busy, and the busy-ness of children is not part of a plan to win an allowance bonus — it usually takes a grownup to invent something like that. 

Even in a family with twins, there are no ‘best’ eight-and-a-half year olds.

Schools are about efficiency.  Modern families are about relationships and a span of time sprinkled with good memories.  To quote singer, Carly Simon, “These are the good old days.”

Money also plays a role in resistance to change after a large purchase.  Although no bureaucracy controls a family’s daily life, parents will plug along with an expensive set of school books because of the money spent.  Some parents will not abandon that paid-for program, long after any ‘buyer’s remorse’ clause has expired, because of guilt over the purchase of a program that is a bad fit. The parent may continue with the program to try to ‘save’ the money already invested — known as ‘sunk costs’[3]  — although what is gained is misery and no cash is recouped.  Sometimes the family members think the fault of the poor fit lies with them instead of seeing the people behind the materials as human beings instead of as learning oracles.  Family members may try to shave their own squared corners so that they can fit into someone else’s round holes.

If you find yourself painted into this corner, weigh the stress caused by the schedule, worldview or technique, against how the routine affects the attitudes of you and your children, and changes how you get along with each other.  Only you can take into account your family’s culture and set that culture onto an imaginary scale with the program to see if the lack of balance is worth a decrease in household harmony, especially if the material of the program makes little sense to the children the material is supposed to educate. 

In a lovely world, learning would be an adventure of the mind, not a punishment for the soul unless what you want to teach is punishment.

The library is one place to find resources to replace the parts of the paid-for program that do not fit well.  The resource librarian or the children’s librarian should be able to help you find interesting replacement material in the library’s stacks.

If you need to stop using a program, don’t beat up yourself about it.  Consider it as a step in homeschooling yourself about homeschooling, and take the materials to a curriculum swap.  Perhaps the materials will find a home that fits better.  A clichéd quip about this kind of instance is that ‘in life you get the test first and the lesson last.’



School-at-home is as legitimate a way to learn as any other way, and many people have successfully used it with their children.  The classroom model is familiar, it feels like authentic ‘education,’ and employers and higher education admissions staff members recognize it.  Still, school-at-home is not the only form of homeschooling, and if that style causes more problems than it solves, parents should keep in mind other styles of homeschooling.  It makes little sense to punish the family by spending good time on a method that doesn’t work.


[1] “Surviving Homeschool Burnout.”  Karen M. Gibson, Leaping from the Box

[2] Google search for “homeschool burnout.”

[3] “Sunk Costs, Rationality, and Acting For the Sake of the Past.”  Thomas Kelly, Associate Professor, Princeton University


Copyright 2006, 2009  Valerie Bonham Moon


This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.


Homeschooling Styles and Methods: Correspondence schools/distance learning

Correspondence schools/distance learning

For over 100 years correspondence schools have served homeschooling families. Correspondence schools usually have specific lesson-plans, lessons are usually sent to the school, tests are either submitted, graded and returned, or are proctored by a certified teacher.  A reputable school will maintain the student’s records, provide a transcript of studies, and issue a diploma upon completion of high school studies.  Fees vary, as do materials provided.

Some correspondence school materials are ‘teacher-proofed’ so that all the parent need do is read from a manual, while other programs offer more flexibility. Many religious or philosophical viewpoints are represented among correspondence schools so if this style appeals to you, it pays to search around for one most to your liking.

If you have any concerns about the reliability of a school, you may check with the consumer affairs division of the school’s state’s attorney general office, or the Better Business Bureau.

The following list is representative, not comprehensive.


“K – 12” indicates that the company or school offers its own programs from Kindergarten up through 12th grade.  The “K – 12” designation does not indicate a K12, Inc.  provider, affiliate, or virtual public-school-at-home program.

Umbrella schools are a different ‘star’ within the correspondence/distance learning/umbrella school ‘constellation’ of nonresident schools available to homeschooling families.


Alpha Omega Academy  (Christian) 

American School of Correspondence 
9 – 12  General high school; college preparatory

Calvert School
K – 8 

Cambridge Academy
K – 8 

Indiana University High School
9 -12, online courses

International Baccalaureate
majority of U.S. providers limited to ages 3 – 12 (P – 7); a few programs that include high school level programs are listed at the page on American IBO affiliates

Kolbe Academy (Catholic)
K – 12 

Laurel Springs School
elementary, middle and college prep programs

North Dakota Center for Distance Education
6 – 12, diploma service available

Oak Meadow
K – 8, high school courses online 

Penn Foster Career School
career training; high school diploma program available

Royal Academy
K – 12 

St. Thomas Aquinas Academy (Catholic)
K – 12 

Seton Home Study School (Catholic)
K -12 

University of Missouri Center for Distance Learning & Independent Study
3rd – high school (general and college prep diplomas) 

University of Nebraska Lincoln Independent Study High School
high school

University of Oklahoma Center for Independent and Distance Learning
high school


Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling styles and methods: Classical


The Classical method is a bookish, historical, logical, disciplined education method. One of the handbooks specializing in the classical method is The Well-Trained Mind (TWTM)[1].   TWTM provides a curriculum, scheduling suggestions and recommended resources. Another classical-method book is Designing the Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education[2]. Both TWTM and Designing the Classical Curriculum reference Dorothy Sayers’ 1947 presentation, “The Lost Tools of Learning,”[3] a passage of which is quoted in TWTM:

For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education–lip- service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.

An earlier version of a classical liberal arts book, and the original homeschool resource book, is Jean and Donn Reed’s The Home School Source Book[4]. The main difference between books such as TWTM and The Home School Source Book is that the Reed’s book doesn’t prescribe a scheduled curriculum but does provide the materials for the various subject areas. Instead of being a teaching manual the Reeds’ book is a memoir of their homeschooling years combined with a  resource listing.

 Homeschoolers might call classical homeschooling ‘college for kids.’


 [1] The Well-Trained Mind. Susan Bauer and Jessie Wise

[2] Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education.  Laura M. Berquist

[3] “The Lost Tools of Learning.”  Dorothy Sayers, 1947 Oxford University presentation

[4] The Home School Source Book.  Jean and Donn Reed


Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling styles and methods: Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason

The Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling is named after a teacher who lived in England during the Victorian and Edwardian years.[1]  Charlotte Mason loved the outdoors, as did her contemporary Beatrix Potter the author of Peter Rabbit and other stories. The works of both Mason and Potter reflect a closeness to nature. In addition to an appreciation of the outdoors Charlotte Mason used whole books and original source material, did not assign homework under the age of thirteen, and did not use rewards.

An authoritative version of Charlotte Mason homeschooling is available free from the website Ambleside Online.[2]


Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series

A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning 

When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today 



[1] Wikipedia entry on Charlotte Mason

[2] Ambleside Online


Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

Homeschooling Styles and Methods: ‘Independent’ homeschooling

‘Independent’ Homeschooling
Virtual instruction
In-home school


‘Independent’ Homeschooling 

This section tends more towards the political and business aspects of home education, and tiptoes around the illusory meaning of ‘homeschooling.’  When the word ‘homeschooling’ was first coined, all homeschoolers were independent of government school control within the bounds of each state’s laws. At the time, most schools and curriculum suppliers wanted nothing to do with education renegades, so homeschooling parents were on their own. Homeschooling meant independence, so putting ‘independent’ in front of ‘homeschooling’ would have been redundant — as if someone talking about Tuesday night’s supper called it ‘independent home cooking.’ 

Virtual instruction

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the eagerness of parents to use computer instruction to tutor their children[1] sharpened the vision of business leaders.  These leaders shifted some of their mainstream market focus to the emerging homeschooling market[2]. Public school educators also recognized in computer instruction the possibility of regaining control of the children whose parents had removed them from the everyday gaze of a teacher.  Could computer instruction turn a profit if teachers virtually supervised children? 

By 2004, taxpayer-funded K to 12 schooling sported a half-trillion dollar price-tag[3], so business leaders, scenting profit, were as eager to participate in the nation’s quest for education as if they were legislators who had discovered a new sin to tax.  Education business leaders and public school supervisors both noticed that homeschooling is not the crashing failure some people were sure it would be, so the light-bulb idea of introducing the families in the ‘homeschooling market’ to virtual teaching clicked.[4]  Still, The words used to describe attracting homeschooling families back to public education shows that some people view those families as wandering sheep in need of recapture.[5] [6] [7]

From making a buck (by selling programs) to saving a buck (through lowered costs)[8], businesses and government embraced the model of supervised learning delivered into homes by computer. To deliver the lessons, the education corporations and state school systems cooperate with each other, otherwise the blackboard calculations of profit or loss would stop with the screech of a broken stick of chalk.  The software corporations make greater profits selling to the state systems than they would by offering their products only to the public, and by developing virtual public school programs the corporations tap into states’ public school funds.[9]  With the virtual programs, the school systems save some of the costs of buildings, buses, teacher retirements and employee health insurance.[10]

Governments have deeper pockets than parents do, even large groups of parents.  In the case of virtual public schools in homes, the client with the most money is the school system that has contracted with a provider, not the families the program attracted.  Unless this situation is unusual, the client with the most money has the most pull with the provider, so providers will structure programs to reflect the needs of a school system, not the needs of the individuals using the programs.


In-home school

This entry of public money into the world of at-home schooling marked the beginning of the need for an adjective to distinguish homeschooling from the look-alike public schooling programs used in homes. From the outside, homeschooling and public school at home look the same to the neighbors:  kids stay home, parents teach kids.  Because advertising for e-schools, virtual academies and cyber-charters blurred the lines between homeschooling and public school at home[11], writers added the qualifier “independent” to homeschooling to separate the two models of at-home school.

But differences between the two models remain.  The most common surprise for parents might be that the public school at home service may fall under different laws than does homeschooling.  Schools and some legislators also have a different attitude than do homeschooling parents towards who is in charge of the children’s educations.[12] [13]  High-stakes testing may also be a difference, depending on state law, but this may not trouble parents who were publicly schooled themselves (as most of us have been), nor parents whose homeschooling education has been sidetracked by corporate advertising for publicly-supervised virtual school programs.  For people who value the label of homeschooler, businesses stand to make big money by convincing parents that public school at home is homeschooling.[14]   Homeschooling families, though, were not universally enthusiastic about big business’s discovery of them,[15] despite the possible benefit of taxpayer-funded schooling.



Another problem with the confusion about whether public school at home is homeschooling or not, is that this confusion may lead non-homeschooling taxpayers to think that ‘homeschoolers’ are spending the public dime without public oversight.  Because of this, some taxpayers may call for increased oversight of ‘homeschoolers’ to enforce ‘accountability.’ 

 Some members of the public believe that homeschooling parents are using public money through the online public e-schools, but that these parents do not answer to the state through standardized testing.[16]  Many members of the public feel that all parents teaching children at home should be ‘accountable’ regardless of the method used by the families, but they don’t say whether the accountability is for using the money provided by taxpayers, or that all children should be schooled according to a standard formula.[17] [18] [19] [20]

Parents who homeschool independently both choose and fund their children’s educations. Opinions vary among home educators as to how ‘independent’ one must be in order to be thought of as a homeschooler.  People who wish to take the discussion to an ad absurdum length have asked that if a family uses a correspondence or umbrella school are the children in the family private-school students instead of homeschoolers?  Despite this type of hair-splitting, the sense of homeschooling must have some limit or the word ‘homeschooling’ ends up meaning either any kind of schooling a parent chooses or ‘directs’[21], or any kind of instruction that happens at home.  Using the model that the sense of a word is whatever the user intends the word to mean, ends up meaning nothing at all.[22] 

[1] “Educational programs vary widely in quality and range” by Peter Mucha.  Houston Chronicle, 19 August 1990  
” These reviews deal with programs that teach basic educational skills in a traditional way. … Most of these programs are also available in versions for Commodore and Apple computers; more and more are available for Macintoshes.”

[2] Blended School Project (BSP), Okaloosa County School District, 17 July 2002  
“Many private organizations and enterprises have entered the K-12 distance education field with their sights set on home schoolers as a primary audience (Hill 2000).”

[3] Remarks by Secretary Paige at the Executive Leaders Forum, Committee of 100, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. U.S. Department of Education, 28 June 2004
“It’s time we recognized a central, cardinal fact: education is a big business. It is a huge part of our economy, a large segment of our gross national product. Last year, as a nation, we spent more than half a trillion dollars on K-12 education. This was on the local, state and federal levels. Our nation’s educational efforts are a large financial endeavor-rivaling spending on the defense, agriculture, transportation, telecommunications or entertainment sectors. It is time we used a little business sense to straighten out our schools.”

[4] Knowledge Universe launches K12, an online school for kindergarten through high school.  Internet Strategies for Education Markets: The Heller Report ,  Feb, 2001

[5] Public School Reform: Potential Lessons from the Truly Departed, by  J. Dan Marshall.  Pennsylvania State University.  Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8 August 1996 
“Returning to the Public School Fold. … Looking at the question differently, nearly 60% of these home educators take the position that nothing short of personal catastrophe or the long arm of the law would get their children back into public schools.”

[6] “Who Is Pat Lines and Why Is She Writing About Homeschooling?,” by Larry and Susan Kaseman.  Home Education Magazine Taking Charge column, November/December 2003 
“Lines’ monograph encourages school districts to establish programs to draw homeschoolers into public schools. “Quite practically,” she writes, “districts are seeking to regain some of the students they have lost to homeschooling.” (p. 7) She describes one district working to “recapture students lost to the district because of homeschooling.” (p. 24)”

[7] Newark Digital Academy.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 26 August 2005
“This is a way for us to try to bring students who have been homeschooled back into the fold,” said Kathy Ward, the academy director.”

[8] Cost Guidelines for State Virtual Schools:  Development, Implementation and Sustainability.  Southern Regional Education Board, Atlanta, Georgia, August 2006

[9] Tacky connections around the country.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 20 February 2006

[10] “Virtual schools see strong growth, calls for more oversight.”  Christian Science Monitor, 14 May 2008

[11] Another On-Line Charter School Continues Threat to Homeschooling in Ohio.  Ohio Home Education Coalition, Revised April, 2002

[12] Customer manipulation.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 15 August 2008  
“The presenter of the session told teachers to be diplomatic in setting ground rules for home instruction and to avoid seeming to read from a script. She advised them how to disarm parents who raised various procedural objections.”

[13] IL: Parents “may engage only in non-teaching duties.”  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 10 March 2009

[14] NCLB, homeschooling, and the cost of the nation’s K-12 spending.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 7 September 2007 
“It is true that state-funded schooling, virtual or brick & mortar, does not cost families direct tuition, but the programs are not free. I doubt that any curriculum-provider/virtual school just drops off the materials at the state DoE and then drives away. It is unlikely that the virtual providers are happy with only the warm glow of satisfaction from providing an education for the children any more than teachers show up at neighborhood schools without the expectation of paychecks. K-12, Inc.’s $8,000,000 net income (meaning the money left after K-12’s obligations are paid) did not fall off a printing press.”

[15] The Seduction of Homeschooling Families. Chris Cardiff, The Freeman, Ideas on Liberty, March 1998  

[16] Senate candidates discuss education.  Topix forum, April 2008  
“Do these two know how much Home Schooling costs our schools?
“This entire system is one hugh (sic) scam. These aren’t all kids sitting around the kitchen table while mommy tells them about addition. These are kids who sit at computers that we buy & using software that we pay for.”

[17] .  “How William Bennett’s Public E-Schools Affect Homeschooling” by Larry and Susan Kaseman.  Home Education Magazine Taking Charge column, Nov/Dec 2002 
“But the principle I’m defending, Mark, is school choice, parental choice. The objection they have is that it shouldn’t be involved in public funding, at all. It shouldn’t be involved with government schools, as they say. But, I’m not prepared to relinquish $400 billion and just say, well never mind, this is not money that I’m entitled to. Parents are paying that money in taxes, they should have an option within the public school system that gives them a chance to educate their children at home, but be publicly accountable as all public schools should be.”

[18] Military Child Education Coalition receives grant to support “highly mobile” families.  Military Child Education Coalition press release, 18 February 2009 
“Specifically, the Military Child Education Coalition is advocating for adoption of the American Diploma Project (ADP), which was conceived by Achieve, Inc. in 2001. ADP defines K-12 math benchmarks, which it packages into a Common Core.”

[19] American Diploma Project Network

[20] New Jersey homeschool oversight proposal.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 1 October 2008

[21] Homeschooling is “a” choice, not “school choice.”  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 25 September 2008

[22] No homeschooling to write about.  Home Education Magazine News and Commentary, 18 April 2008