Educational Approaches and Methods, Home-School Basics


Educational Approaches and Methods

Some of the major educational approaches or teaching methods used by home schoolers are described below. You may choose one or combine several.

Classical Approach

In a modern modification (proposed by Dorothy Sayers) of the medieval scholastic curriculum, all subjects are taught concurrently, but are divided into phases corresponding to the classical Trivium.

During the Grammar phase, a child is taught to carefully observe and memorize details. These facts provide the data for logical thought in the next phase.

For example, in science he learns the names and classifications of plants, animals, minerals, etc., and collects specimens. In geography and history he learns the locations of nations, states, cities, and natural features and the order of events.

In the Dialectic phase, the child is taught the rules of logic and how to reason, explores the hows and whys of nature and history, learns the proofs of geometry, becomes a discriminating reader, and learns to think carefully when he speaks or writes.

In the Rhetoric phase, expression and presentation of the knowledge obtained and evaluated in the first two phases is developed. (Back Issue: Sept./Oct. ’97)

Traditional Textbook Approach

The traditional approach to education involves teacher-directed study.

Textbooks developed by Christian publishers present a distinctly Christian world view, cover subjects thoroughly, and usually include study questions, enrichment activities, and projects. These excellent books are rich in colorful illustrations, photographs, diagrams, charts, and maps. Supplemental teaching materials are available such as workbooks, tests, answer keys, charts, and maps.

Many home-school parents read the text aloud with students, presenting background material (often available in teacher’s editions), discussing questions, and giving explanations as needed.

This kind of teacher-student interaction builds the student’s confidence and trust in the teacher and maximizes understanding. It is also rewarding for the teacher, giving him direct involvement with the subject content and with the student.

Home-school families may consider using the same text for two or more children at once. Except for mathematical or grammatical concepts, most subject matter does not need to be presented in any order.

Examples: A Beka Book, Bob Jones University Press, Christian Liberty Academy, Rod & Staff Publishers.


Worktexts, a combination of a workbook and a textbook, contain instruction, questions, projects, and exercises in a consumable workbook.

Worktexts are available from Christian publishers that incorporate a Christian world view. These curriculum materials have similar, although usually less extensive, content to traditional textbooks. They may require less time to complete.

Typically there are five subject areas with 10 booklets each per grade. Answer keys are available as well as other supplemental materials.

Diagnostic tests show where a child should start in each subject, which is useful for children coming out of a school setting.

(Inexpensive math worktexts that include answer keys are also available in educational supply stores.)

Examples: Alpha Omega, Christian Light Education, School of Tomorrow.

Unit Studies

The idea of unit studies is that knowledge is learned and remembered better if presented in a connected way. Unit studies also provide interest and motivation.

Several subjects are centered around a common theme or project in each unit. For example, a theme such as attentiveness or light may be chosen and related material for study selected from history, science, literature, and Bible.

Reading, language, and arithmetic assignments can be related to the unit, but basic skills are taught separately.

Unit study curriculum varies in the amount of teacher preparation required. Usually many library books are used, while some also use Christian textbooks for reference and information. Parents can also plan their own short- or long-term units.

Unit studies can be used by families with children in different age groups, adapting material to various levels and learning styles while maintaining a unifying theme.

To ensure that each subject is covered thoroughly, the parent can check off covered topics on a chart or in a textbook.

Examples: KONOS, Education PLUS.

The Principle Approach

Curriculum using the Principle Approach is available or may be developed by parents. Use a Bible concordance or a topical Bible to research a subject’s biblical origin and purpose. Record your findings in a notebook and add facts, outlines, definitions, essays, etc., as you study the subject from other sources.

As details of the subject are gathered, note how God has used it to enlighten and liberate men and help them learn more about His Word and creation.

Example: Foundation for American Christian Education.

Extensive Reading

In this method, basic reading, writing, and math skills are taught separately. Other subjects are studied by reading well-chosen books that cover all areas of knowledge in a clear and interesting way.

For young children, the parent reads aloud, and the child narrates back what he has heard. A discussion of principles revealed in the reading follows.

Programmed Courses

Programmed courses arrange information in a sequence of very small units which are easily mastered. The student makes a response after each and receives immediate feedback about his answer.

In the past, such courses were available in books or in teaching machines. Now programmed learning is available in computer programs. Such courses allow for structured independent study.

Example: Switched-On Schoolhouse.


The unschooling approach is child-centered, rather than teacher-directed. Advocates believe that children can be trusted to direct their own learning, and they do not require any study that the child does not choose. However, parents do provide a rich environment of books, experiences, and resources for learning and respond to their children’s questions and interests.

Parents who accept God’s commands to teach and train their children and for children to hear and obey their parents’ instruction (Deut. 6, Prov. 7:1-3) would need to adapt this method by supporting children’s interests in the context of other instruction which the parents’ greater wisdom determines is necessary.

(Back Issues: Oct./Nov. ’93, Mar./Apr. ’98.)