Homeschooling styles and methods: eclectic homeschooling

What is eclectic homeschooling?

As early as the 1980s, homeschool writers applied the term ‘eclectic’ to a style of homeschooling that is non-specific in terms of sticking to the ideas of a particular style of schooling.  Parents who homeschool eclectically may pick the parts they like best from schooling models such as:

  • the replication of mainstream school in the home
  • Holt’s unschooling
  • Montessori’s real work for small children
  • Steiner’s spirituality
  • Mason’s emphatically twaddle-free regimen


How does eclectic homeschooling differ from other specific styles of homeschooling?

The chief marker of eclectic homeschooling is the lack of a single method for schooling children.  Instead of tailoring their days according to someone else’s prepared plan, parents select methods that fit the child, the moment, and the material.  Part of this ‘freedom to choose’ is common sense.  For example, few people try to teach non-bike riders to ride bicycles by having them read about the physics of balance and inertia, friction and momentum.[1]  We just get behind the kid and push.  Just as eclectic homeschoolers may use parts of other homeschooling methods, we all vary our approaches to learning different skills.


What are the benefits of eclectic homeschooling?

Perhaps the best part of eclectic homeschooling may be less stress than with boxed programs.  Parents who use a packaged curriculum may find that while one part of the package works well for their children, another part may be a round hole into which they try to pound their children’s square, rectangular or triangular learning pegs.  When this happens, neither children nor parents are often happy.

The same situation might crop up if a parent feels a connection with the philosophy of an educational visionary, but the child does not.  A highly organized mother with a more … go-with-the-flow … child might feel stressed when they are unable to make it through a full day using the mother’s highly organized series of lessons from the curriculum that works so well for those decades-worth of satisfied parents (according to the advertisements).  Conversely, a highly organized child turned loose in the garden with the instruction to glory in nature and become one with the butterflies could very well stomp back into the house and demand worksheets she can complete and then file in a notebook. 


What are the drawbacks of eclectic homeschooling?

Perhaps the most common drawback of eclectic homeschooling is anxiety.  Parents may feel a lack of reassurance about this non-specific path’s destination, a destination that hides behind the event-horizon of the future, and behind the glare of the rising sun.  Who knows what the new day will bring?  Who knows where this road will lead?  

Our society’s schools come with projected outcomes, and this is the accepted state of things.  Students (a label that is the kids’ job title) study programs assembled by experts and those programs include X, Y and Z.  When the students graduate, they receive diplomas indicating (although never guaranteeing) that they are competent concerning X, Y and Z. 

Unfortunately, for the homeschooling parents who were probably organizationally schooled themselves and thus have a learning model already in place, the path macheted out of the jungle of homeschool advertising, and illuminated only by the light of learning as filtered through the leaves of the syllabus-trees, have no such implied … indications … of competence.  Will that final step along the homeschooling path bring the learner to the gates of a shining city of educational attainment with a fanfare, or, as the critics contend, will the rocks of unaccreditation, strewn by her amateur parents through their choices of books with hokey history, marginal math, spurious science, and wrotten writing, send the innocent child spiraling off the cliffs of ignorance into the roiling sea of unemployment?  As the child goes off into the world, will the parent be praised or prosecuted?

It was enough to keep me awake at night.

Another parental anxiety is the welfare of the children.  More than one parent has asked, in essence, “what if I break my kids?” as if the parents would go wild with power and purposefully teach their children untruths just because they can with the children not knowing any better.  I have read comments from mothers saying, “I like a strict program.  It keeps me accountable.”  I always wonder how these parents nurtured their children through infancy and toddlerhood without “accountability.”

‘Breaking’ kids is unlikely even if you invent a world, populate it with beings whose discovery CNN or Fox News have not yet presented for 23 of the past 24 hours, write its history yourself, and invent languages for it all.  Consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  Children whose parents imbued them with such a mythical upbringing would not make that journey without learning something, but who is likely to do that, even given total power over their children?

A perceived drawback to the eclectic style of homeschooling is the time seen to be lost through the piecemeal choosing of materials and strategies. Some parents feel that taking the time to find the right ‘fit’ wastes time, and that buying an established schooling program presents the least ‘danger’ to their child’s future. But using materials you later discard might be a form of refinement.  Instead of limiting your view to one outlook (adhering to a specific method), or cluttering the forest with too many trees (trying to get it all in), you might be pruning deadwood that restricts your view, and become more aware of why you need to prune. 

Determining what you do not want is as useful as determining what you do, and parents may find that they homeschool themselves in the process of the journey of homeschooling their kids.



Eclectic homeschooling is yet another of the choices available to parents as they work to raise their children well.  To me, this style of homeschooling provides the most flexibility for both parents and children and almost seems to be the foundation that we hope education was meant to be.


[1] How you steer a bicycle


Copyright 2006, 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

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

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