The first question the Ministry of Education asks of you is how to describe your home schooling philosophy or approach. This is important because it will determine the entire content of your curriculum and how you will teach your child.

In New Zealand we are privileged that we can home school however we want. We do not have to follow the NZ curriculum or in fact ANY prescribed curriculum. The only requirement on us is that we teach our children “at least as regularly and as well” as they would be taught in a registered school.

The pivotal word here is ‘taught’. This puts the onus squarely on the parents to “teach” their child, but it does not tell them what this teaching should look like or what it should include. This is a good thing.

One of the greatest benefits of home schooling is the flexibility to customise your child’s education and tailor it to their needs. This allows parents to do so based on a particular instructional philosophy, your child’s specific needs, and even the way you envision an ideal learning environment.

The way in which parents do this typically translates into specific “styles” of home schooling that have been around for a very long time. Below we detail some of the models of home schooling.

Traditional Home Schooling (School at Home Model)

This approach is also sometimes called “school-at-home” because it tends to lean more towards traditional methods of teaching and learning that people are more familiar with. It usually follows a prescribed curriculum and relies on more traditional curricular resources to impart the taught content in a more scheduled and formal manner.


Unschooling is a style of home education that allows the student’s interests and curiosities to drive the path of learning. Rather than using a defined curriculum, unschoolers trust children to gain knowledge organically. Contrary to how it sounds, unschooling is an active learning process and not the passive, unstructured method that its terminology would suggest.

Unschoolers are home schoolers who are focused more on the experimental process of learning and becoming educated, than with “doing school”. The focus of unschooling is on the choices made by the individual child, dictated by interests, learning style, and personality type and typically derived from life rather than from anything prescribed or formalised teaching.

Classical Home Schooling

Classical education is an approach to teaching and learning based on a three-part process to training the mind, called the trivium. The classical approach has the worthy overall goal of teaching children to think for themselves. Using the “trivium” model, children move through three distinct stages of learning, these being: Concrete Learning (the grammar stage), Critical Learning (the logic stage), and Abstract Learning (the rhetoric stage).

It is a language-focused, literature-focused approach to teaching and learning that provides a core knowledge of the subjects of language arts, mathematics, science, and history, usually places some emphasis on Latin learning, logic, and rhetoric employs the trivium to explain the stages of child learning and development, often integrates the teaching of values or character education into the curriculum, intentionally trains the mind to analyse and then draw conclusions, and usually relies on a range of tailored classical curricular resources to do so.

Montessori Home Schooling

The Montessori approach to early childhood education is a child-centred approach that values each child as a unique individual. Creativity and curiosity are encouraged, which leads students to value knowledge and seek it out for themselves. “Self-regulation” is a key goal of the Montessori philosophy of education, meaning the ability of a child to regulate his or her conduct in a way that is appropriate to the situation. The Montessori Method views a child’s classroom as a preparatory environment for the biggest classroom of all: life.

Montessori parents follow her view that creating a customised educational plan for each child is essential. With a Montessori home school, the child directs the learning. Parents facilitate their child’s education by connecting materials and curricula with each child’s interests. Because Montessori is more of a philosophy than a defined program, any parent can create their own Montessori homeschool curriculum. One of the ways families accomplish this is by keeping plenty of materials on hand that allow them to utilise the Montessori Method at home. This typically means that they create a prepared environment that encourages students to explore and discover, deliberately setting up their home to facilitate their child’s learning.

Home Schooling with Unit Studies

Unit studies are time-specific overviews of a defined topic or theme that incorporate multiple subject areas into the study plan. Sometimes called “thematic units,” these studies often involve multisensory learning where each activity is organised according to the thematic idea. The objective of unit studies is to allow students to delve deeply into a given topic which is typically selected although a cooperative choice. By exploring a subject from multiple angles, information is more likely to be retained.

Many home school families adopt this approach not so much for the depth of learning but more because the variety of activities keeps them engaged. The unit study method of home school works especially well for families home schooling children across multiple age groups, children on the autism spectrum who have intense interests in specific subjects, parents who want to create their own curriculum, families who need low-cost curriculum options, home schoolers who want to break up a traditional home schooling approach with short-term unit studies for variety.

Charlotte Mason Home Schooling

Charlotte Mason was a British author, teacher, and lecturer of the late 1800s. Her educational philosophy put a heavy emphasis on using high-quality literature, designated as “living books,” to teach children. Charlotte Mason’s belief was that education should involve the whole person, not just the mind.

According to Mason, education is “an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Within home education, a typical Charlotte Mason involves the abundant use of narrative literature, plenty of time spent outdoors exploring, the development of an appreciation for art, music, and nature Journalling, oral and written narration, dictation, and copywork. These core components of a Charlotte Mason education are defined as:

  • Narration – an activity that consists of the child telling back a story or understanding something that she has heard or read. It is done orally when the child is young, and as she grows older, she begins to write out her narrations.
  • Copywork – transcribing a piece of literature as handwriting practice.
  • Nature Study – a study of living science, with a focus of observation of things seen on nature walks and interactions with the natural world.
  • Living Books – books written in an alive, engaging way by an author who has a passion for the subject.

Waldorf Home Schooling

 The Waldorf education philosophy originated in the early 1900s with Rudolf Steiner, who believed in educating the whole child: mind, body, and spirit. He also believed that child development could be grouped into three distinct stages of roughly seven years each. He proposed that:

  • Early childhood education should focus on creative play and active, hands-on learning
  • Elementary education is the time to introduce academic instruction, while teaching students to increase their imagination and manage their emotions
  • Secondary education should focus on critical thinking, empathy, and community service.

The focus of a Waldorf education is on learning through play, exploration, and the natural world. It de-emphasises academics, focuses on age-appropriate learning, emphasises art, music, gardening, and foreign language, does not incorporate the use of textbooks in the first several grades, no formal grades are assigned during the elementary years; instead, children are assessed by progress made. There is an integration of the natural world into all aspects of education. Academic learning tends to be delayed until at least age 7 and once started, the Waldorf approach recommends teaching curriculum subjects/topics in “blocks” of 3-6 weeks of in-depth study each. This keeps children focused on one subject at a time, rather than switching gears multiple times a day. Main lessons are typically taught in a multisensory fashion that balances listening and seatwork with active learning.

Eclectic Home Schooling

Eclectic homeschooling is specifically tailored to the individual child. It may encompass aspects of all of the above dependent on the needs and interests of the child. Within an eclectic approach parents mix and match a variety of home schooling resources. Eclectic home schoolers see value in a variety of different educational methods. The eclectic approach is more about finding the right mix of resources and methods, with less concern that the child is directing the educational agenda and more that the parent is making informed choices and decisions about what methods, approaches and materials will suit their child best. Designing an eclectic homeschool curriculum depends heavily on a parent understanding how their child learns best. This may not be possible until you’ve had at least a year or two of home education under your belt and have had the chance to test different curricula, resources, and methods. This is because it typically involves the parent combining the educational goals they have for their children with their observation of their specific interests, strengths, and weaknesses, in order to mix and match the programs and tools that will fulfil both. Resources that eclectic home schoolers might use could include online learning, library books, locally offered courses and clubs, videos, and bits and pieces of subject-specific curricula.

Thank You

The deb would like to thank Nina Longstocking, a long time homeschooler for allowing us to post the information she provides to homeschoolers looking for support.  Nina is a Mum of 5, who is in her 20th year of homeschooling. She is passionate about seeing kids thrive and tailoring learning to the needs of the child. She has a particular passion for Art, Literature and History .