Classical, Traditional, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Unschooling. 

If there’s one thing this amazing homeschooling world has, it’s options.

And when you’re just starting out, discovering your homeschool style can be a little tricky. Most of the videos and articles describing each homeschool style are a bit…boring. Which is the exact opposite of what homeschooling can — and should — be.

But then I realized that each homeschool style could be described using our friends from one of my favorite Treat Yo’self shows, a.k.a. Parks and Recreation. So, I put in the hours of research. Rewatching episodes. Finding quotes and resources. Even coming up with a pros and cons list for each one. Leslie would be so proud.

And now, I can’t wait to help you discover your homeschool style. While enjoying some highlights from Parks and Rec.

See how great homeschooling can be?

Image: NBC/Getty

Are you a Leslie Knope?

The classical homeschool style is based on the Trivium, including the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages of learning, and focuses on teaching the student how to think.

Which reminds me of Leslie Knope and her mammoth stacks of color-coded idea binders because it also covers an immense amount of material. We’re talking classic literature, Latin, papers and presentations, and some pretty intense logical debating skills.  There are binders full of grammar, math, and even history facts to memorize set to catchy songs.

It’s a perfect fit for any self-motivated, over-achiever like Leslie. In classical homeschooling, your child won’t just learn some of the US states and capitals. Nope! They will be drawing and memorizing landmarks for every single country and capital in the entire world!

If your child really struggles with reading, writing, public speaking, or memorizing facts, this might not be the best style for them. Because just as Leslie is always up for an all nighter, classical homeschoolers (and often their moms) will frequently spend hours and hours memorizing, reading, and writing papers and presentations

Image: NBC

Remember Leslie’s club full of Pawnee Goddesses? Classical homeschoolers also have an exclusive group called Classical Conversations that meet together weekly for lessons in each of the main subjects. They may not get fun patches, but they engage in art, weekly presentations, fun math games, and learning all kinds of detailed information.

After evaluating many families using this method, I can confirm that the classical style is a top-notch homeschooling style. It produces students, like Leslie, who can communicate well orally and in their writing with outstanding logical reasoning and debate skills. Definitely ready for the next model UN!

Pros: teaches critical thinking, debate, and written / oral communication skills

Cons: intense work load in reading and writing, not great for struggling learners

Classical Homeschooling Resources:

Bottom Line: Leslie perfectly sums up the Classical homeschool style with, “There’s nothing we can’t do if we work hard, never sleep, and shirk all other responsibilities in our lives.”

Are you an Ann Perkins?

The traditional homeschool style looks like what you probably remember from your school classroom. Text books, readers, workbooks, quizzes, and tests. 

The focus in the traditional homeschooling style is on learning the facts. There’s not a lot of fluff. It’s pretty straight and to the point. Just like Ann Perkins. Unless she’s drunk, she’s the no-nonsense, straight-forward friend who perfectly balances her crazy best friend Leslie. And she has a steady stream of factual nursing advice for everyone in the office.

Some traditional homeschool programs have video or online options, where your child can actually watch or even participate in a classroom. Just like Ann had Leslie constantly giving her ideas and compliments, some traditional programs even have a teacher who helps you out by teaching the lessons and grading the work. Making you too feel like “a beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox”.

Many parents like the structure of a traditional curriculum. As a former teacher, I chose this style at first, and it worked fine for my kids. But it wasn’t super exciting, kinda like Ann. I decided to make it more fun by switching out some of the worksheets and readers for games and historical fiction. We ended up forming our own co-op for most classes, and only using a few traditional workbooks throughout the rest of our homeschooling journey.

I know lots of homeschooling families who love the traditional style and use it all the way through high school successfully. But if the thought of daily worksheets and lots of tests makes you break out in hives and want to call Ann for some medical advice, you may want to look at other styles.

Pros: uses detailed lessons and daily work for each subject, has comprehensive assessments

Cons: work may be too time-consuming or monotonous, not multi-sensory or creative

Traditional Homeschooling Resources:

Bottom Line: The traditional homeschool style is like Ann on her mission to fill in the pit: it may take a while and not always be the most exciting, but in the end, it gets the job done.

Are you a Ron Swanson?

The Charlotte Mason style focuses on making meaningful connections with others and includes a love of the outdoors, just like Ron Swanson. Charlotte Mason was an English educator and reformer at the turn of the twentieth century. She created a method of learning based on “an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life”. 

Nature study is part of the Charlotte Mason style. Like Ron said, “it’s pointless for a human to paint scenes of nature when they can go outside and stand in it.” Ron’s cabin would be perfect for Charlotte Mason learners, who spend lots of time on nature walks and engaging in outdoor experiences.

The Charlotte Mason style focuses on the discipline of cultivating good habits of character. The lessons are short, with dictation and copywork but no twaddle, leaving time to focus on developing habits like neatness, kindness, and truthfulness. In Ron’s own words, “there’s only one thing I hate more than lying: skim milk. Which is water that is lying about being milk.”

Charlotte Mason uses narration, where students summarize passages into their own words. Which is exactly like Ron with his one sentence summary in the Pawnee Rangers handbook: Be a man. They also use living books, which are books that make the story come to life, much like Ron comes to life with breakfast food and red meat. They learn from rich passages and works of great artists and composers, and use them to make connections.

Image: NBC

Charlotte Mason homeschoolers also spend time connecting to others in real life. Even though Ron says he has no close friends, he actually connects with April and Leslie. He sells April one of his cabins for everything in her purse so she can have a place to get away and look at spiders (Charlotte Mason style). And ends his 10 hour stand-off with Leslie giving her a frame from the salvaged wood of Ann’s front door and a breakfast at JJ’s Diner.

And, even though her first name wasn’t Tammy, I’m pretty sure that Ron Swanson would have liked Charlotte Mason too.

Pros: hands-on, experiential learning using living books & short lessons / studies

Cons: can be difficult or time-consuming to find and use sources, need access to nature

Charlotte Mason Resources:

Bottom Line: Would you rather sleep on a bed of pine needles than a mattress? Do you want to use living books and lots of nature study to learn and make connections? If so, you might just have what it takes to homeschool with the Charlotte Mason style.

Are you a Ben Wyatt?

The unit studies approach combines multi-sensory learning around a topic or theme. In short, it is learning by doing. Which reminds me of Ben Wyatt when he decides to go all in. Creating “Ice Town” as an 18-year old mayor or the table top game called The Cones of Dunshire when he’s between jobs. Or successfully helping Leslie beat Bobby Newport as her campaign manager.

In unit studies, students use a variety of sources and subject areas to dive deep into a given topic. As deep as Ben’s nerdy knowledge of Star Wars and Game of Thrones. And just like Ben’s Professor Smart Brain used a map and a microscope to help Johnny Karate “learn something” on his last show, unit studies combine many different subjects together around a central focus. It’s a nice way to tie in history, science, and art with the language arts book you are reading.

Unit studies are perfect for co-ops, small groups, or large families where multiple students work together to research and create projects. Since it’s so hands-on, it’s a great choice for tactile learners and creates some memorable results. Just like Ben’s anniversary scrapbook of everything he wanted to do with Leslie or her perfect replica of the Iron Throne for him.

Image: NBC

And unit studies often take a lot of time to prepare and complete. Kinda like when Ben decides to make homemade calzones, or create ‘Requiem for a Tuesday’. Yup. The 5 second claymation that took 3 weeks to produce.

So, make sure you are ready to put in some major prep time just like Ben if you decide on the unit studies approach.

Pros: combines multiple subjects into one, very hands-on, great for small groups

Cons: often time-consuming to prepare, may not cover all skills in certain subjects

Unit Study Resources:

Bottom Line: If you are ready to dive as deep into a multi-subject topical study as Ben did into creating The Cones of Dunshire, unit studies may be the right choice for you.

Are you an April Ludgate?

The final unschooling homeschool style is completely opposite to the classical style where we began. Unschooling does not follow many rules, which pretty much sums up April Ludgate. It leaves learning completely up to the child, happening through living life.

Just like April hates pretty much everything except Andy, unschooling is opposed to formal lesson plans and any restrictions on how and what to learn. Unschoolers choose to learn their own way. Kinda like when April gets to decide how to keep Ron from having any meetings by scheduling them all for a day she thought did not exist. 94 meetings later, she learned how many days really are in March, and wisely chose to schedule future meetings for June 50th.

There are also no set curriculum requirements in the unschooling style. Just like April, unschoolers get to decide, “I don’t want to do things. I want to not do things.” Or decide to do lots of things, like helping Andy check off items on his bucket list. The sky’s the limit because there are no limits or boundaries in the unschooler’s world. Just like when April figures out a way to get Andy to hold $1000 and go see the Grand Canyon.

And no weekly presentations for unschoolers, who may share April’s opinion of “Ugh. I hate talking to people about things.” Or worksheets. Or assigned work of any sort. Just a lot of time to learn whatever they choose to pursue. Like role playing as Janet Snakehole. Or studying spiders. Or becoming an awesome manager for Mouse Rat.

Unschooling may not be an option if you live in a state with strict homeschooling requirements on curriculum and courses of study, and may not work well for children who need structure or who do not learn easily or independently. But, if you want the freedom of April in your homeschooling, unschooling may be the option for you.

Pros: no specific curriculum to purchase or guidelines to follow

Cons: may not cover all the necessary academic and life skills

Unschooling Resources:

Bottom Line: April sums up the completely independent spirit of the unschooling homeschool style with, “I’m just gonna live under a bridge and ask people riddles before they cross.”

So, there you have it! And those are just some of the main homeschool styles, which I hope you enjoyed learning while remembering some fun Parks and Rec moments with me.

Because here’s the real Bottom Line: You are free to choose ANY of these homeschool styles throughout your journey or create your own style (and become a Savage Mom like I did) to make this homeschooling thing work for your family. 

Image: NBC

And if you want any help trying to figure out your best options, let me know!