Homeschools use a wide variety of methods and materials. There are different paradigms, or educational philosophies, that families adopt including unit studies, Classical education (including Trivium, Quadrivium), Charlotte Mason education, Montessori method, Theory of multiple intelligences, Unschooling, Radical Unschooling, Waldorf education, School-at-home, A Thomas Jefferson Education, and many others. Some of these approaches, particularly unit studies, Montessori, and Waldorf, are also available in private or public school settings.
It is not uncommon for the student to experience more than one approach as the family discovers what works best for them. Many families do choose an eclectic approach. For sources of curricula and books, "Homeschooling in the United States: 2003" found that 78 percent utilized "a public library"; 77 percent used "a homeschooling catalog, publisher, or individual specialist"; 68 percent used "retail bookstore or other store"; 60 percent used "an education publisher that was not affiliated with homeschooling." "Approximately half" used curriculum or books from "a homeschooling organization", 37 percent from a "church, synagogue or other religious institution" and 23 percent from "their local public school or district." 41 percent in 2003 utilized some sort of distance learning, approximately 20 percent by "television, video or radio"; 19 percent via "Internet, e-mail, or the World Wide Web"; and 15 percent taking a "correspondence course by mail designed specifically for homeschoolers."
Individual governmental units, e. g. states and local districts, vary in official curriculum and attendance requirements.
The unit study approach incorporates several subjects, such as art, history, math, science, geography and other curriculum subjects, around the context of one topical theme, like water, animals, American slavery, or ancient Rome. For example, a unit study of Native Americans could combine age-appropriate lessons in: social studies, how different tribes lived prior to colonization vs. today; art, making patterns or artifacts influenced by Native American decorative crafts; history (of Native Americans in the U.S.); reading from a special reading list; and the science of plants used by Native Americans.
Unit studies are particularly helpful for teaching multiple grade levels simultaneously, as the topic can easily be adjusted (i.e. from an 8th grader detailing and labeling a spider's anatomy to an elementary student drawing a picture of a spider on its web). As it is generally the case that in a given "homeschool" very few students are spread out among the grade levels, the unit study approach is an attractive option.
All-in-one homeschooling curricula (variously known as "school-at-home", "The Traditional Approach", "school-in-a-box" or "The Structured Approach"), are methods of homeschooling in which the curriculum and homework of the student are similar or identical to what would be taught in a public or private school; as one example, the same textbooks used in conventional schools are often used. These are comprehensive packages that contain all of the needed books and materials for the whole year. These materials are based on the same subject-area expectations as publicly run schools which allows for easy transition back into the school system. These are among the more expensive options for homeschooling, but they require minimal preparation and are easy to use. Step-by-step instructions and extensive teaching guides are provided. Some include tests or access information for remote testing. Many of these programs allow students to obtain an accredited high school diploma.
Online resources for homeschooling include courses of study, curricula, educational games, online tests, online tutoring, and occupational training. Online learning potentially allows students and families access to specialized teachers and materials and greater flexibility in scheduling. Parents can be with their children during an online tutoring session. Finally, online tutoring is useful for students who are disabled or otherwise limited in their ability to travel. Several well-known programs for gifted children, who need differentiation in their curricular choices, are available: the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth http://cty.jhu.edu/about/index.html and Stanford University's Education Program for Gifted Youth http://epgy.stanford.edu/ both provide challenging materials to students, including both self-paced courses with tutor support and online classroom-based courses. A commercial program of online study in all courses and at all grade levels is available from K12.com http://www.k12.com/.
The K12 curriculum has been adopted by a number of public independent study charter schools throughout the country (see, for example, the California Virtual Academies at http://www.k12.com/cava/, where students use the K12 curriculum for credit under the supervision of a credentialed teacher). A number of other online high schools are also offering diplomas in many states, including some directed specifically at gifted students (see Stanford Online High School at http://epgy.stanford.edu/ohs/.
Students can enroll in a full-time course load leading to a diploma or enroll in particular courses as part of their enrollment in another school or homeschool). Similarly, as more and more universities make content available online, homeschooled families are finding a wealth of materials available, primarily for use as self-study. Although teacher support is not usually provided in open courseware programs, families teaching their own children may, if the study met their requirements, grant credit for the work through their homeschools. The University of California at Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and many other renowned universities have contributed materials in this area. Some commercial organizations publish university-level lecture series on a broad range of subjects. Although the companies typically offer no teacher support or credit, homeschool families can, depending on their legal method of homeschooling, grant credit for work that includes the use of these materials if mastery is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the parents or other persons with oversight responsibility.
Homeschoolers often take advantage of educational opportunities at museums, libraries, community centers, athletic clubs, after-school programs, churches, science preserves, parks, and other community resources. Secondary school level students may take classes at community colleges, which typically have open admission policies. In many communities, homeschooling parents and students participate in community theater, dance, band, symphony, and choral opportunities
Groups of homeschooling families often join together to create homeschool co-ops. These groups typically meet once a week and provide a classroom environment. These are family-centered support groups whose members seek to pool their talents and resources in a collective effort to broaden the scope of their children's education. They provide a classroom environment where students can do hands-on and group learning such as performing, science experiments, art projects, foreign language study, spelling bees, discussions, etc. Parents whose children take classes serve in volunteer roles to keep costs low and make the program a success.
Certain states, such as Maine, Florida and New Mexico, have laws that permit homeschooling families to take advantage of public school resources. In such cases, children can be members of sports teams, be members of the school band, can take art classes, and utilize services such as speech therapy while maintaining their homeschool lifestyle.
Unschooling and natural learning
Some people use the terms "unschooling" or "radical unschooling" to describe all methods of education that are not based in a school.
"Natural learning" refers to a type of learning-on-demand where children pursue knowledge based on their interests and parents take an active part in facilitating activities and experiences conducive to learning but do not rely heavily on textbooks or spend much time "teaching", looking instead for "learning moments" throughout their daily activities. Parents see their role as that of affirming through positive feedback and modeling the necessary skills, and the child's role as being responsible for asking and learning.
The term "unschooling" as coined by John Holt describes an approach in which parents do not authoritatively direct the child's education, but interact with the child following the child's own interests, leaving them free to explore and learn as their interests lead."Unschooling" does not indicate that the child is not being educated, but that the child is not being "schooled", or educated in a rigid school-type manner. Holt asserted that children learn through the experiences of life, and he encouraged parents to live their lives with their child. Also known as interest-led or child-led learning, unschooling attempts to follow opportunities as they arise in real life, through which a child will learn without coercion. An unschooled child may utilize texts or classroom instruction, but these are not considered central to education. Holt asserted that there is no specific body of knowledge that is, or should be, required of a child
"Unschooling" should not be confused with "deschooling," which may be used to indicate an anti-"institutional school" philosophy, or a period or form of deprogramming for children or parents who have previously been schooled.
Both unschooling and natural learning advocates believe that children learn best by doing; a child may learn reading to further an interest about history or other cultures, or math skills by operating a small business or sharing in family finances. They may learn animal husbandry keeping dairy goats or meat rabbits, botany tending a kitchen garden, chemistry to understand the operation of firearms or the internal combustion engine, or politics and local history by following a zoning or historical-status dispute. While any type of homeschoolers may also use these methods, the unschooled child initiates these learning activities. The natural learner participates with parents and others in learning together.
Autonomous learning is a school of education which sees learners as individuals who can and should be autonomous i.e. be responsible for their own learning climate.
Autonomous education helps students develop their self-consciousness, vision, practicality and freedom of discussion. These attributes serve to aid the student in his/her independent learning.
Autonomous learning is very popular with those who home educate their children. The child usually gets to decide what projects they wish to tackle or what interests to pursue. In home education this can be instead of or in addition to regular subjects like doing math or English.
According to Home Education UK the autonomous education philosophy emerged from the epistemology of Karl Popper in The Myth of the Framework: In Defence of Science and Rationality, which is developed in the debates, which seek to rebut the neo-Marxist social philosophy of convergence proposed by the Frankfurt School (e.g. Theodor W. Adorno Jürgen Habermas Max Horkheimer).
Homeschooling and college admissions
After secondary education is completed, many students choose to pursue higher education at established colleges and universities. Many students use standardized test scores to aid colleges in evaluating their educational background. The College Board suggests that homeschooled students keep detailed records and portfolios.
In the last several decades, US colleges and universities have become increasingly open to accepting students from diverse backgrounds, including home-schooled students.According to one source, homeschoolers have now matriculated at over 900 different colleges and universities, including institutions with highly selective standards of admission such as the US military academies, Rice University, Haverford College, Harvard University, Stanford University, Cornell University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, and Princeton University.
Many homeschooled students earn college credit through dual enrollment, by taking community college classes while in high school and, in some cases, while in Junior High School. Others choose to earn college credits through standardized tests such as the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Subject Standard Tests (DSST).
A Homeschool Cooperative is a cooperative of families who homeschool their children. It provides an opportunity for children to learn from other parents who are more specialized in certain areas or subjects. Co-ops also provide social interaction for homeschooled children. They may take lessons together or go on field trips. Some co-ops also offer events such as prom and graduation for homeschoolers.
Homeschoolers are beginning to utilize Web 2.0 as a way to simulate homeschool cooperatives online. With social networks homeschoolers can chat, discuss threads in forums, share information and tips, and even participate in online classes via blackboard systems similar to those used by colleges.
Early in the 21st century, a number of national and international organizations began oversight of sports exclusively for homeschool athletic teams. N.C.H.B.C. has organized a National Basketball Championship with over 350 teams competing through a network of regional qualifying competitions. Currently H.W.S.A. organizes a Baseball National Championship, N.H.S.V.B.T. in volleyball,N.H.S.C. in Soccer, and N.H.FA. in 8-man football. Additional structures are organizing national championships in tennis, and 11-man football. In 2005, the Central Virginia Homeschool Disciples became the first 11-man high school homeschool football team in the U.S.
In 1994, Jason Taylor was a homeschool football player in Pennsylvania who engaged a legal battle against the N.C.A.A. (the leading oversight association governing U.S. collegiate athletics) and its classification of homeschool athletes as essentially high school drop-outs. Taylor's legal victory has provided a precedent for thousands of other homeschool athletes to compete in colleges and attain the same opportunities in education and professional development that other athletes enjoy. Other homeschool students who have risen to the top of collegiate competition include N.C.A.A. 2005 champion tennis player, Chris Lam, Kevin Johnson of the Tulsa University basketball team, 2010-2011 Big South Player of the Year Jesse Sanders of the Liberty University Flames and the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow from the University of Florida .
In Texas, Six-Man Football has also been popular among homeschoolers, with at least five teams being fielded for the 2008-2009 season. Interestingly enough, the top 3 places in the Texas Independent State Championship (TISC, also referred to as "the Ironman Bowl) were claimed by homeschool teams. The Homeschool Sportsnet website lists several homeschool sports teams and organizations.