Getting Started–Step 4: Determine Approach


Many people decide on a philosophy of education before they can decide on curriculum or methods. At the end of our Decide section, you will find some of the most helpful books we have found over the years. They are a great place to begin developing your homeschool philosophy!

Some parents are more pragmatic and prefer selecting curriculum they feel comfortable teaching, while other parents let their children decide which curriculum they will use next year. Each of these approaches to selecting curriculum stems from your educational philosophy.

Here are some helpful pointers for you and your spouse to discuss when determining your educational philosophy:

  • Try writing down what you believe about how children learn in general.
  • Now write down what you have observed about how your child learns in particular.
  • What are your goals in your children’s education?
  • What are your expectations of yourself, your spouse, and your children?
  • Have you discussed your expectations together as a family?

If parents are lifelong learners, they will model the joy of learning for their children. So be sure to sharpen the tools in your own toolbox– attend conferences, listen to podcasts, join a homeschool support group, and read! Take care of yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually, because a whole education is more than just learning facts about reading, writing, and arithmetic. A complete education nurtures your mind, body, and soul. You have what it takes to teach your children, and NCHE is here to help you every step of the way!

Different Approaches to Homeschooling

There are many approaches to homeschooling. Below we provide a quick summary of six common approaches.

Traditional Method

The “school model”
Each subject taught separately

Examples:  Abeka, Bob Jones, Modern Curriculum Press, Scott Forsman, Alpha Omega, Lifepacks, PACE (School of Tomorrow), Rod & Staff, Houghton-Mifflin, Switched on Schoolhouse (computer-based)

Classical Method

Teach using the ‘Trivium’— learning divided into three stages of development, roughly coinciding with brain development.
Grammar stage (grades 1-6)
Dialectic stage  (grades 7-9)
Rhetoric stage  (grades 10-12)
Great Books
Lots of memorization
Socratic Dialogues

Resources & Examples: Well-Trained Mind (Bauer), Teaching the Trivium, Introduction to Classical Studies, Veritas Press, Classical Conversations, Tapestry of Grace

Charlotte Mason

“Living Books” versus “twaddle”
Nature Walks
Nature Notebooks
Discipline/Good Habits
Fine Arts
Hands-on Learning

Resources: A Charlotte Mason Education, More Charlotte Mason (Levinson), A Charlotte Mason Companion (Andreola),,, For the Children’s Sake (McCauley)
Sonlight Curriculum ( can be used with the Charlotte Mason approach.

Unit Study

Integrated Learning—learning centered around a common theme
Especially fits with the way a young child’s brain learns
The way real-life learning happens
More like a “pizza” than separate courses
Delight-directed learning
Phonics and math  usually separate from unit study

Topical:  Once-a-Week Unit Studies (, Further Up and Further In, Media Angels Science, Valerie Bendt;
Comprehensive:  KONOS, Five in a Row, Adventures in My Father’s World, Prairie Primer, Tapestry of Grace (a classical unit study), Sonlight (can be used with or as a unit study)

Unschooling & Relaxed Schooling

Loose or No Schedule
Great consideration of a child’s interests and talents
Emphasis on developing a love for learning
Hands-on, field trips, etc.
Rarely use textbooks
Unschooling:  Often more child-directed
Relaxed:  More purposeful and parent-directed

Unschooling:  John Holt’s books, e.g. How Children Learn, Homeschooling for Excellence (Colfax), blog by Patrick Farenga,
Relaxed schooling:  author Mary Hood, The Relaxed Homeschooler, the Joyful Homeschooler, etc.


Most home educators end up in this category to some extent
“A little bit of this, a little bit of that”
Choosing the pieces of different approaches that fit your children best

Example:  Sonlight (literature-based eclectic curriculum)

Decide on Curriculum and Resources

More resources are available for your family than ever before, and new resources are launched every day. What makes a curriculum a success for your family isn’t the package, the sales spin, or the success stories you’ve read on their website. The closer a curriculum fits to your family’s philosophy and approach, the more successful you will be.

Most families piece together their own curriculum by picking and choosing the best for their family from different publishers. It is usually best to start small and add later. This is referred to as an “eclectic” approach. Frankly, this tailored style of education has always been one of the the most beautiful and beneficial components of a home education.

  • For a lists of some of the most commonly used curricula and resources visit:
  • For a more detailed and comprehensive description, we refer you to the book: Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, by Cathy Duffy and
  • Finally, to get a firsthand look at the a large variety of materials, we invite you to attend NCHE’s Thrive! Conference each Spring. Our conference features a huge vendor hall and thousands of materials.


One of the beauties of homeschooling is that each family can do it their way, in a way that fits with their philosophy, style, and life situation. The only thing the NC law says about how we must homeschool is that we must school on a regular schedule for at least nine calendar months each year. It doesn’t say how many days per week, which days per week, how many hours per day, or which hours of the day. As a homeschool teacher, you can structure your school any way that works best for you.

However, it is helpful to have a plan–even if that plan has lots of built-in flexibility. There are many personal factors that will affect your plan, but the age of your children is one of the biggest. More than likely, the older they get the more hours you will spend on structured school.

Make a plan and give it a try, but always be ready to adjust plans that don’t work. We learn what works for us as we try different things, so be creative!  NCHE is here for you. Our Facebook community and Pinterest profiles are consistently terrific resources!