This article is the first of three in a series called Homeschool 101 discussing some basic approaches to homeschooling and offering some methods to put those approaches into practice.

I subtitled this series “It’s Not Your Mama’s Homeschool” because education at home has come a long way since its early days as a counter-culture movement.  And to many families’ surprise, there is more than one way to do it.  So how can you know which way will work for your family?  How do you choose the right curriculum or program?  For most families, home education can seem like a daunting task at first…  and can feel that way again at different times throughout the process of educating your child.  Putting a finger on an “educational philosophy” with which you strongly identify can help narrow homeschooling’s many choices and make apparent which path is right for you, as well as help seasoned families through those times when the going gets tough.

What is an “approach” or “educational philosophy”?

Wellspring Community School

In the homeschool community, “educational philosophy” is sometimes referred to as a “homeschool approach.” Both sound technical, but don’t let that dissuade you. Chances are you probably already have an educational philosophy, even if you don’t know it.

An educational philosophy, or approach, is a personal statement of a family’s ideas about education such as how students really learn, how to nurture student potential, the role of an educator, and the role of education.

Why is having a philosophy important?

An educational philosophy functions something like a mission statement.  It identifies values, priorities, and general goals, solidifying what you believe to be important about education, its purpose, and the process of learning.  As a result, like a compass, a good philosophy can guide you in decision making, keep you on course with your goals, and help remind you why you decided to educate at home in the first place. 

On a practical level, I might use my educational philosophy as a measuring stick against which I evaluate potential curriculums, programs, or teaching strategies.  If the potential curriculum or program does not match my ideals or are in conflict with my ideals, then I can dismiss them as options for me.  Just because a curriculum, program, or strategy is good doesn’t mean that it is the right one for my student(s).  But that is a decision that I can’t make if I have not first identified how I believe education works or Will works best for my child.  Identifying and having a set of educational values in place can significantly narrow the many homeschooling options that are available and help you create a consistent and purposeful educational experience for your child.

Likewise, there are times throughout the educational process when we all face tough challenges—there might be a student we suddenly can’t seem to motivate or who is having a particularly tough time mastering a subject or maybe we have just noticed that the day to day process of learning has grown stale.  In these cases, it is helpful to go back to our philosophies to reorient and refocus.  Some reflection on our philosophies should remind us of our original purposes and what we hold to be true about learning, as well as give us keywords to use as a spring board for overcoming challenges.  For instance, if you believe strongly in hands-on experience, revisiting your philosophy may reveal areas where experiences and hands-on learning need to be reintroduced or “freshened up a bit” in your student’s learning environment.  A good philosophy will inspire and empower you. 

The good thing about educational philosophies is that you don’t have to completely invent one on your own.  There are common philosophies that, if you know about them, can be used to improve your homeschool experience. If you haven’t solidified educational philosophy or thought about one in a long time, it is a good idea to start jotting down some notes or just begin contemplating on what you feel is important about education and how students learn best.  Answering the following 5 questions can help get you started:Pedro Simoes

  1. How do you view education?  Its purpose for an individual?  Its purpose in the community?  In society?
  2. What do you want your child to learn?  What are your ideal goals for your child’s education?  What would maximize his potential?
  3. How involved do you want to be?  What do you see as your role?  Guide?  Facilitator?  Instructor?
  4. Which is more important?  Structure?  Flexibility?
  5. How do you want to evaluate your child’s progress?  How do you believe children/young people, specifically your child, learn best?

In our next article we will discuss 4 educational philosophies common to homeschool communities and supply some helpful resources.  Hopefully, you’ll find one that is a good fit for what you are already thinking.  For fun, we’ll also take a peek at my very first educational philosophy statement written 17 or so years ago when I first began teaching.  Oh my, so long ago.  But, oh yes, just to read it still gets me pretty jazzed about education.

If you are still trying to decide if education at home is even right for your family, check out one of our first posts about how to decide between traditional school and homeschooling.  Informed, Not Influenced: Quieting The Noise There is no wrong decision, only the decision that works best for your family.


Additional Material:

Beth Lewis. “Educational Philosophy.”  About Education, March 12, 2015.

Photo Credits: Marin, Wellspring Community Center, Pedro Simoes