Common Homeschool Terminology Explained
By Meg Grooms

When one begins the search for information on homeschooling they are more-likely-than-not bombarded with unfamiliar terminology. School-at-home, unschooling, eclectic, cyber schooling, deschooling…what does it all mean? Isn’t school-at-home the same as homeschooling? To experienced homeschoolers, terminology can mean everything. School-at-home is not homeschooling, and homeschooling is not cyber schooling. Unit study or pre-packaged? Inclusive or exclusive? 

Following are some words that are unfamiliar or must be redefined for many who are just beginning the homeschool journey.

Home Education - also referred to as homeschool, home school, home-school, etc.  This is the act of a child’s parents taking full and complete responsibility for their education & direction by removing them from public and private school settings. This includes bearing the brunt of all problems that may occur, as well as accepting all accomplishments. When you home educate, there is no “system” to blame when something goes wrong.

The act of bringing the traditional classroom into the home. The majority of school-at-home households include extensive or sole use of a pre-packaged curriculum, as well as highly structured lesson plans and schedules.

Pre-Packaged Curriculum

Similar to public and private schools, pre-packaged curricula consists of texts and resources covering a subject. The curricula provide lesson plans, supplementary activities, record keeping and assignments. Parents can buy pre-packaged curricula to cover only one subject, or to cover an entire grade level. These are not customized to each child as they are made to fit an entire grade level. Many companies, however, do publish packages for children with special needs, such as excelled programs and programs suited to children with more active learning styles.

Also referred to as child or interest-led instruction. In the unschooling family the child bears the responsibility for his or her education with guidance from their parents. Unschoolers typically consider the world to be their classroom and see the student being on an eternal quest for knowledge. Texts and pre-packaged curricula are rarely used, except as reference manuals, and only then if the student chooses to use them.

Eclectic Homeschooling
Some consider eclectic homeschooling to be the gray area between school-at-home and unschooling. Eclectic homeschooling is generally accepted as an education with minimal to moderate structure and utilizing resources from many different sources. While some eclectics may use pieces of a pre-packaged curricula, it is not the sole method of education.

Relaxed Homeschooling
Also considered to be in the gray area, but a bit closer to the unschooling end. Relaxed homeschoolers are often families who subscribe to unschooling philosophies but reside in a state with subject and logged time requirements.


Occasionally used inter-changeably with the term unschooling. Most often deschooling refers to the period of time, also called decompression, a student takes off from studies after leaving a traditional school setting. This period can range from a few weeks to an entire year, depending upon the student’s needs.

The feelings parents and children experience after long periods of study or during an exceptionally difficult period of time. Burn-out most often happens when the material is not correct for the student’s current level, when the style of teaching doesn’t match the student’s learning style, when study vacations are too infrequent and throughout the holidays. Many experienced homeschoolers state that February is a very common month to experience burnt-out. Most families can overcome burn-out by taking a few weeks to decompress (see deschooling) while reflecting on their current teaching methods and curricula choice.

Cyber Schools
An at-home extension of the traditional public schools, administered as a correspondence school. Cyber schools are often excellent choices for publicly schooled children who are at risk of dropping out. Many homeschooling advocates do not consider cyber schools to be homeschooling as the cyber school generally teaches a public school curriculum and parents are not required to bear the full and complete responsibility for their child’s education. While some cyber schools operate independently of the local public schools, they are required to meet state public school charter standards or state private school standards.

Unit Study
The term for incorporating all school subjects around one main theme. This is an excellent method for teaching multiple children in one household or for using as a cooperative class with other homeschooled children. There are pre-packaged curriculums available that are in unit study format. Unit studies often require moderate to heavy library use. For those willing to spend large amounts of time researching, unit studies can easily be created by the parents at very minimal cost. Unit studies are one of the most cost-effective methods of homeschooling.

Classical Education
Classical education is a rigorous method of instruction based on the Trivium and is gaining in popularity, due in part to the book The Well Trained Mind (Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.) The Trivium divides education into three stages; grammar (early elementary), logic (middle school), and rhetoric (high school). Classical literature, the classic languages, and world history are considered very important in the Classical curriculum. Classical households generally require extremely structured schedules and lesson plans.

Charlotte Mason Education
Miss Mason was a 19th century educator with very progressive ideas about education, she’s even considered progressive in the 21st century! Charlotte believed that education should be peaceful and thorough, grounded in great literature and the arts, and allow plenty of free play time. She believed children learn best by observing and narration. The Mason theories require extensive use of journals for sketching and narrating purposes. Education in this style begins at age 6 and lasts throughout the student’s life. Children are encouraged to silently observe and recreate, rather than de-create by taking apart. The goal of Mason education is to provide the child with a lifelong quest for knowledge, and the skills to succeed in that quest.

Often used to describe a support group that includes everyone, regardless of faith, parenting practices, family make-up and homeschooling styles. Always be sure to read the group’s mission statement and rules before applying for membership, as some inclusive groups aren’t always completely inclusive.

A term used to describe support groups that only include a certain faction of the homeschooling public, often a particular religious sector or a specific geographic region.