A Matter of Style

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August 28, 2015
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A Matter of Style

An Explanation of Home Education Methods

Distance Education

This is a home education style most people have heard of. The curriculum is provided by the government, completed at home under parent supervision and returned for marking. It mirrors the state curriculum, is all done for you and you simply supervise. The eligibility criteria for the Virtual School Victoria is limited (basically to those who live a certain distance from a school or have a medical reason for not attending school). See their website for full details.

Private Christian distance education organisations exist in Australia (mainly in Queensland). There are none in Victoria. Note that the VRQA do not recognise enrolment with an interstate distance education provider as meeting the requirements under the Education Act unless you also register with them for home education.
For older students, distance education options include year 11 and 12 with HSC through OTEN, VCE through Distance Education Victoria (as long as the student has been registered with the VRQA for at least 12 months) VCE through a neighbourhood school, and Open University.


The school-at-home (also known as ‘Traditional’ or ‘Structured’) method is a formal style and what most people think of when they hear of home education.  This philosophy most closely resembles a conventional classroom education.It involves set lessons, usually to a time-table for the traditional school hours. The curriculum is similar or even identical to that used in school.

Many new home educators feel comfortable with this method to begin with and then gradually branch out as they gain confidence and notice that their children are learning outside the set homeschool hours. Many also discover that they can cover the traditional curriculum in half a day leaving the rest of the day free for self-directed activities. Other families maintain this style for many years. Keep in mind that there is nothing to confine you to school hours, school days or school terms. After-school activities and weekend sports can be counted as part of your ‘school time’ and there is no reason not to work on Saturday and take Tuesdays off if that works for your family.

Some families continue with some or all of the books their children have had from school. Others purchase a curriculum from a supplier, others purchase supplies from a variety of suppliers – e.g. Maths from one and English from another in order to pick and choose from the materials available. Families can choose a higher or lower grade level for individual subjects if they wish and choose books with a style which appeals.

Resources available include the National Curriculum and the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (AUSVELS) which cover all levels and outline what would be learnt in each grade at school including samples of work.

There are home ed suppliers catering to this market, with many of their products designed for the American Christian homeschool market. Some of them sell ‘school-in-a-box’ curricula which are comprehensive packages of books and materials for the whole year. These are among the more expensive options for homeschooling, but they require minimal preparation and are easy to use. Often, step-by-step instructions and teaching guides are provided. Be aware that some Christian products are fundamentalist in nature. We do not know of any complete Australian ‘school-in-a-box’ programmes but Skwirk is an Australian online curriculum provider quite popular with homeschoolers and HEN members are entitled to a 50% discount with them. See also our resources page.

Classical Education

The Classical method is rigorous and systematic. Children are taught ‘the trivium’ which covers grammar, logic, and rhetoric – by which students can analyse and master every subject. Traditionally, classical education has included the study of Latin or Greek.

Resources include The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, which provides a history of classical education, an overview of the methodology and philosophy, and lists of books. Several home ed suppliers sell Classical curricula.

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason (1842 – 1923) promoted ‘Living Books’ rather than dry, factual textbooks. Living Books are usually written by one person who has a passion for their subject and include fiction as well as non-fiction. Textbooks are considered acceptable as long as they are ‘alive’ and engaging. ‘Twaddle’ was the word she used to refer to books that were dumbed down or insulted a child’s intelligence. Short lessons are recommended for young children, growing progressively longer as the child matures. Primary-age children’s lessons are kept to 15 or 20 minutes on one particular subject. Nature study and journalling are an integral part of a Charlotte Mason education.

There are many online resources including Ambelside and Living Math and your local library is of course a great source of Living Books.

Moore Formula

Raymond and Dorothy Moore were pioneer home educators in America in the late 1960s. They researched the validity of early childhood education and concluded that it was not only ineffective but damaging to children. Their method advocates no formal study before 8 or even 12 years old as outlined in their first book Better Late than Early. They believed that home education should not involve recreating the school environment at home. Instead, they recommended playing, singing and reading with children (from birth) several times a day. Home education is divided into study, manual work and community service. Study includes drill to develop skills in phonics, writing, and Maths for children over eight, with study areas branching out as their interests develop. Work includes a share in household chores from an early age and involvement in home industries with Maths learned by earning money and accounting for it. Community service begins at home and in the neighbourhood, with daily or weekly visits to nursing homes, paediatric wards, etc.

For more information, see the Moore Foundation, although it is not necessary to enrol in order to follow the method.


The Steiner (or Waldorf) approach is based on the educational philosophy of Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925). He taught that humans are threefold being of spirit, soul, and body whose capacities unfold in three developmental stages (birth to 7, 7-14, 14 onwards). Learning is interdisciplinary, integrating practical, artistic, and conceptual elements and emphasises the imagination, developing creative as well as analytic thinking. Early childhood learning is largely experiential, imitative and sensory-based with learning through practical activities.

From birth to seven, extensive time is given to guided free play and oral tradition, with the teaching of formal reading delayed until the second stage.

From 7-14 years, learning is regarded as artistic and imaginative. A Steiner day includes 60 to 90 minutes of academic instruction called the ‘main lesson’. There is little reliance on textbooks and, instead, students create their own illustrated record of learning. Visual and Performing Arts are employed extensively.

During adolescence, to meet the developing capacity for abstract thought and conceptual judgement the emphasis is on developing intellectual understanding and ethical ideals such as social responsibility.


Maria Montessori (1870–1952) noticed that children learn well when given the freedom to explore. She concluded learning is a natural, self-directed process which follows certain fundamental laws of nature. The Montessori method allows children to follow their inner guidance for self-directed learning within a carefully constructed learning environment. For young children, this is achieved by providing a range of physical objects that are organized and made available for free, independent use, to stimulate children’s natural instincts and promote self-directed learning. The parent’s role is to provide an appropriate stimulating environment rather than control or direct the child’s learning. There is a recognition that children learn from each other in a spontaneous manner in a multi-age setting. A lesson is an experimental interaction with children to support their true normal development. For example, a lesson on new materials is given in such a way that the teacher’s personal involvement is reduced to the least amount possible, so as not to interfere with the child’s own free learning through experimentation.

Unit Studies

This home education style integrates all school subjects together into one theme or topic at a time, for example, you cover the curriculum areas while studying Ancient Greece. English, Geography, Technology and History are integrated in your study of the topic with Maths activities selected to complement it and P.E covered with a mini-Olympics. Purchased curricula is unnecessary, you can conduct unit studies by utilising your library, watching documentaries, and planning excursions. Commercial unit studies are also available if required and many are available online free. This method can be used very effectively to match education to your children’s interests.

An eclectic home educator is one who takes different parts of methods and philosophies to form their own particular style. Families then tailor their home education to more accurately meet the needs and abilities of their child/ren.

Natural Learning/Unschooling

Natural learning is also known as ‘unschooling’, ‘life learning’ and ‘informal learning’. It is based on child-led learning. Families treat the whole world as their classroom and children learn through play, reading, and interaction with their family and community. It was advocated by John Holt  (author of Why Children Fail and Teach Your Own ) and A.S. Neil of Summerhill.

Within the natural learning sector of home education, there is still quite a variety of approaches. Some natural learners refuse to have anything resembling a textbook in the house, others regard textbooks as reference materials for self-directed study and still others take a formal approach to one or two subjects and allow natural learning to take place the remainder of the time.


A range of resources for each of these methods can be found on our resources page.

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