Clicking on a heading will take you to another page further explaining the style concerned.


Natural Learning and Unschooling

Natural learning is also known as Unschooling. Most people believe that education equals school. It doesn’t have to be that way; it is just that most of us are used to that style of education. Unschooling, a term coined by John Holt, refers to a style of home education where the family lives as if school did not exist, and each family member embraces learning as it occurs naturally, in day-to-day living. The world becomes the classroom and child-led learning is facilitated by the parents, who provide learning opportunities and a rich learning environment.

Unschooling works as a mindset, or way of thinking, in which life is viewed as intrinsically educational. The terms unschooling, life learning, informal learning and natural learning are often used interchangeably, although some proponents define differences. All these methods are at the less structured end of the home education spectrum.

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.



At the other end of the spectrum is the traditional approach, also known as structured or school-at-home. This is a more formal style and what most people think of when they hear of home education. This philosophy most closely resembles a conventional classroom education. It often involves time-tabled lessons with curriculum that 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 or less leaving the rest of the day free for self-directed activities (which also cover learning areas). Other families maintain this style for many years.

Some families continue with some or all of the books their children have had from school. Others purchase a curriculum from a supplier,or a variety of suppliers – e.g. maths from one and English from another, and vary the year level of each to suit their child.


Eclectic education

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. They might use a unit study approach for English, Science and Humanities, a curriculum product for Maths, and cover other areas through natural learning.


Unit study method

The Unit Study style integrates all school subjects together into one theme or topic at a time. For example, when studying ancient Greece and Rome in addition to learning history you complete mapping activities (geography), learn Roman numerals (maths), write a story about escaping the eruption of Vesuvius (English), build a water clock (sciences and technology), create a scratch painting of a Greek vase (the arts) and finish off with by a mini-Olympics and feast day (health and PE). This method can be used very effectively to match education to your children’s interests, and is usually inexpensive, as well as fun.


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 she believed 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 journaling are an integral part of a Charlotte Mason education.



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.



The Steiner/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.



Gameschooling refers to using games in an intentional manner, where you’re combining fun and play with learning. Games are not seen as something to do when ‘school is done’. Instead, the games themselves are a learning resource. Gameschoolers may look to games as their first choice for a resource when learning about a new topic or teaching new skills. As a home ed style, gameschooling may either be the main approach, or as is more common, something to incorporate with other home ed styles. It doesn’t matter if you’re an unschooler or more school-at-home as gameschooling fits in everywhere.


Deschooling/Decompression and Distance Education

When styles are discussed, two other things are often mentioned: Deschooling (also known as decompression) and Distance Education.