Embracing our Homeschool Differences: the value in variety

Embracing and supporting homeschool differences | homeschool methods & approaches

I’ve been in the homeschooling world a long time, nearly all my life. And one thing that really saddens me is when I discover that some of our biggest critics are those who homeschool right alongside us. We are all so different. Some of us homeschool online, some of us use charter schools, some of us adhere to classical methods, some of us embrace an unschooling and delight-directed approach to learning. And we all obviously believe in what we are doing. But just because someone homeschools differently doesn’t mean they aren’t doing it well. Our homeschool differences are our strengths, not our downfall.

This is not an easy journey, and anyone who has homeschooled for any length of time will readily admit there is a lot of fear and self-doubt, a lot of insecurity. Taking on your child’s education is a huge responsibility. We need all the support and camaraderie we can get. Variety in homeschooling is a good thing! And we can all learn so much from each other as we embrace those homeschool differences.

Each of us has something unique and special to offer, and each of us has much to learn. I can learn from Charlotte Mason how to add beauty and variety to my homeschool, how to give a short lesson with a lot of punch and effectiveness. I can learn to lay a foundation and nurture discernment and debate through classical methods. I can gather ideas for bringing in the wonder and inspiration of nature through Waldorf. I can learn how to tie lessons and learning into everyday activities, how to use life as my curriculum from the unschooler, and how to appeal to my child’s strengths and interests from the delight-directed homeschooler. I can improve my child’s education by recognizing the value of the variety in homeschool.

Personally, we choose a strong classical approach, but as I see and appreciate the strengths in so many different ways to learn and to teach, those strengths find their way into how we homeschool. My kids are better off because you’ve chosen to do things differently. I’m a better teacher because we don’t all do this the same way.

I read lots of great advice reminding us to not compare ourselves to others, but I think an equally valuable lesson to remember is to not validate ourselves at someone else’s expense. We are all on the same team. We equally care about our children and their educational experience. So let’s embrace the variety and learn from each other.

3 Simple Ways to Support our Homeschool Differences

  1. Follow blogs of those who homeschool differently than you do. Read and research about more than just your chosen method.
  2. Ask advice from those who do it differently. Ask your unschooling friend for advice on how to add real-life lessons to your curriculum. Ask your classical friend how to add logic and worldview discussion to your day. Ask your traditionally schooling friend about scheduling and planning routines.
  3. Encourage someone who takes a different approach. Let them know you admire them and that you can see value in what they are doing.

We hear so much discouragement and criticism from so many different sources. Our community of homeschool support should not be a place for more critique. Let’s be a community that embraces homeschool differences—different styles and methods of learning. Let’s be a community who sees the value in variety.

Losing the Labels

Sometimes, labels can be very helpful, allowing us to define our vision or explain that vision in a way others can quickly identify with. At other times, we allow those labels to shackle us to a lifestyle or an approach that maybe isn’t quite the right fit.

Crunchy, organic, homesteader. Attachment-parenting, grace-based parenting, traditional. Classical education, Charlotte Mason, unschooling.

I think to escape the label in homeschooling, a lot of us settle on “eclectic” and call it a day. It’s easier than trying to explain the exceptions we’ve made to this philosophy and that approach. But I will take the time to explain some of our exceptions, just to help you see our journey and maybe bring some clarity to yours.

eclectic homeschooling

We started out hard core classical educators. Lots of memory, early Latin, art and music appreciation. And while I still love the learning levels and cycle of history, some of the rigidity and rigor has slipped away, for our sanity and survival.

I loved everything I read about Charlotte Mason, and was fully prepared to embrace the majority of that educational approach at the beginning of the year. Short lessons saved us this year, transformed our homeschool. My little ADHD kiddos thrived with short intense bursts and learned more than you could imagine from lessons that were no longer than 15 or 20 min.; it fit them perfectly. They could succeed and still be Tiggers. I also loved the connection with people rather than simply memorizing events. We merely discovered the events as we got to know people. My son saw himself in the life of Charles Dickens, saw who he wanted to be in Abraham Lincoln, and saw what he wanted to achieve in the lives of inventors like Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.

Reading great books

On the other hand, even though the idea of teaching language the Charlotte Mason way really appealed to me, it was a colossal failure in practice. My son simply hated learning spelling through dictation; and while I enjoyed teaching the language lessons, I did not enjoy the fact that the method was so teacher-dependent. We gave it a try for quite a while and then I realized it was pointless to continue something that wasn’t working for my son simply because I was idealistic.

I learned this year, with all of our personal challenges, to be flexible, perhaps a little more realistic and a little less idealistic. I learned that no approach to education is the right approach for every child (after all, isn’t that why many of us homeschool to begin with?). And I learned that what I’m doing has to be a fit for BOTH me AND my child.

I’ve learned that labels are for canned food and toothpaste, not people.

Losing the labels

Implementing Charlotte Mason, baby steps

Classically inclined, Charlotte Mason inspired homeschooling

We’re applying Charlotte Mason in our homeschool these days, implementing some of the methods in baby steps. And since I’ve waxed super philosophical lately, I thought I’d take a break for some practical thoughts today.

The nice thing about CM is that it is a method not a curriculum, so I’m really not making huge curriculum changes mid-year. I’m using all the same materials; I’m just using them differently.

Short Lessons

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but this has been #1 on my list of changes. In order to require strict attention to lessons, short lessons are recommended, before your child’s attention is lost. What does this look like?

We still do A Beka Math. We still do Logic of English (Foundations B for Middlest, Essentials for Oldest). We still do Tapestry of Grace. However, I’m making intentional decisions to keep each individual lesson no longer than 15-20 minutes. For some of our Tapestry reading, that means that we may come back in an hour to read some more, but my kids get the brain breaks they need. For some Essentials lessons, that means it may take us more than a week to get through a single lesson. That’s okay. He’ll actually learn more by doing less.

Copy Work

We’ve started doing copy work lessons 3-4 times a week. Copy work reinforces good handwriting, spelling, and mechanics as the kids copy passages from quality books. What does this look like?

Implementing Charlotte Mason

Well, for Middlest I cheat and actually have her writing the sentence that is a part of her Foundations lesson. It’s a start, and she is only kindergarten after all. For Oldest, I downloaded the free copy work lessons from the AmblesideOnline yahoo group. Even though he’s technically 2nd grade, we are just starting copy work, so I have him copying from Book 1. The passages he’s copying are from a favorite book of his that we read earlier in the year; he loves it. And on the days we are not doing copy work, I let him illustrate his copy work page. It’s a win for both of us.

This takes us 5-10 minutes. That’s all! I know some kids may take longer to write, but I was blown away by how little time it really took us to implement some of these things.

Living Books

I’m much pickier about our books, even our “Tapestry” book selections. I’ve seen the difference between fact-filled books (even the ones with all the cool pictures—think Usborne and DK Eyewitness) and really, truly living books—books that have a storyline and an enthusiastic author, books that make the facts come alive with people and narrative and ideas. What does this look like?

I double-check my book selections through the SimplyCharlotteMason.com bookfinder. If it’s not on that site, I find an Amazon preview and read a few pages. I’m getting better at detecting the good stuff. And IF I get a book from the library that is not living, it’s only for the pictures. The kids can look through those pictures while I read the living books. The difference is that my son tries to steal these books to read on his own; he devours them. The other kinds of books sit on my shelves, unless someone’s in the mood for pictures.


I’ll probably delve into this a little further in future posts; it’s a huge part of both classical and CM, though the technique is a little different in each method. For the Susan Wise-Bauer method, you ask specific questions to elicit a specific answer. You’ve chosen the key ideas you want your child to retain. With the CM method, the child retells the story back to you. He does the mental work of remembering, of selecting the points that resonated with him, of putting that information in order. It is the process of composition, but it occurs in the child’s head. What has this looked like?

I’ll be frank—Oldest has resisted this a little. The open-endedness scares him because he’s used to giving me what I want. That, and he’s not much for change. But I’m sold on this aspect of the CM methods; I totally see the value, especially as preparation for composition later on. So I’ve mentioned the value of what he’s doing to him, and then reassured him. The reassurance is gradually drawing him out. And I’ve been creative with how we do it. Sometimes, he retells. Other times, I’ve let them draw pictures or act out the stories. And though I have not required anything from Middlest (because she’s only 5), she has whole-heartedly jumped on board with it.

That’s it. That’s all we’ve changed right now to make CM a part of our homeschool. It’s nothing scary, nothing drastic or expensive or traumatic. But it has been revolutionary. I can sense it changing not just how we do things, but who we are. And I love it! I feel like a caged bird set free.

Freedom with Charlotte Mason