A Philosophy of Education: What It Is & Why You Need One (Before You Homeschool)

homeschool philosophy of education

So many parents start homeschooling with only a vague idea of what they want their homeschool to look like. They only know that traditional school isn’t going to give their kids the kind of education they want for them. But with only a vague idea of what you want school to be, you might end up hating homeschooling, or worse, your kids will.

If you invest time before you homeschool to develop your philosophy of education, you will find a homeschool style that fits your family and have a thriving homeschool for years to come.

What’s Your Why

“Why do we do this anyways?” Her brows furrowed with confusion.

I felt for my new friend who had been homeschooling for over a year now. I never stopped to ask the question myself until four months into homeschooling…when all the methods I thought would work just didn’t.

And without a good answer to that question, many people quit.

Related Posts:
5 Ways to Teach Language Arts without Curriculum
Homeschooling the Little Years
Why the Bullet Journal (from a homeschooling mom of 4)

The Traditional School Mindset

Before I started to homeschool, I imagined homeschooling would look much like traditional school, just at home.

While I didn’t actually buy any desks (where would I fit them in our tiny apartment?), I pictured our daughter sitting in our bedroom, where it was quiet, with her workbooks (so many workbooks) for two to three hours a day. She was already reading at a third grade level at that point, so surely she could do most of the work independently.

I saw the boys playing by themselves happily for at least one of those hours, and I could step in when she needed me. And where was the baby in all this? Content in the Ergo of course (a must-have for every homeschooling mom, by the way).

Ah, such a dream. Reality looked much different.

In reality, my daughter hated worksheets. She hated them so much, she sat in a chair staring out the window for 45 minutes rather than touch one (true story). Read-alouds were disastrous. Her younger brothers either interrupted constantly or worse, roped her into their shenanigans!

I spent over $500 on curriculum I thought I’d love, most of which I discarded within a month.

Find out what a philosophy of education is, and why it is SO important that you figure out what yours is before you even start homeschooling.

Form your Philosophy of Education First

My problem? I didn’t take time to think through my philosophy of education, which is “a personal statement of a teacher’s guiding principles about ‘big picture’ education-related issues, such as how student learning and potential are most effectively maximized” (source).

4 Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What is the purpose of education?

  • What outcomes am I looking for and how did I expect to reach them?

  • How do children learn?

  • What philosophy provides methods that work best for my personality, family size, and season of life?

Figuring this out early on in your homeschooling career will save you a lot of time and frustration. I wish I had done my reading first, before buying all the curriculum.

Little did I know that I leaned far more towards unschooling, which is rather uncharacteristic of me. Leadership Education and unschooling currently heavily influence my working philosophy of education, which is far from complete.

I’m giving myself the rest of the year to read, ponder, and observe before nailing it down. I’m not sure it will ever be set in stone as each of my children will likely have different needs and learning styles. I should probably just adopt the extremely broad label of “eclectic homeschooler” and call it a day.

Granted, some of these philosophies will be just that, philosophies, until you actually try some of their prescribed methods. But you need to know they exist and what they are before you do. So get reading!

Recommended Reading before or during Your First Year


Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Cumpulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto

This book helps you examine your perspectives on traditional school. Most of us received a traditional education in a traditional school, and we need help to understand why our education system is the way it is, along with its flaws.

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah MacKenzie

Sarah is a homeschooling mother of six. A veteran homeschooler, she shares vital perspective on how to approach homeschooling from a place of peace and rest.

How Children Learn (Classics in Child Development) by John Holt

John Holt presents the idea that children are wired to learn from birth. It doesn’t sound that radical except we seem to have an assumption in our country that if children do not go to school, they will not be motivated to learn. School does not a learner make: children are driven to learn and will learn at every opportunity.


Planning is Just Guessing by Sarah Mackenzie of Amongst Lovely Things

Paradigm Shift: Curriculum is not something you buy by Sarah Mackenzie of Amongst Lovely Things

Haunted by the Ghost of Public School Past? by Caitlin Fitzpatrick of My Little Poppies

So, You’re Thinking About Homeschooling…Now What?! by Jennifer Roskamp at The Intentional Mom

Favorite Reads (Specific to Unschooling & Leadership Education)

an unschooling manifesto: how one family found the freedom to live their dreams by Marla  Taviano

Written by a certified teacher, this one I read over and over because unschooling is so counter-cultural and unlike my own school experience that I need constant reminders of its underlying assumption: children have a deep desire and innate drive to learn. While I do not agree with everything, sometimes we need extreme opinions to bring us closer to the middle, to find balance. Her writing style is also extremely candid, conversational, and often laugh-out-loud funny.

Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning by Oliver DeMille & Rachel DeMille

Leadership education helped me put words to ideas about child development and the way children learn that I suspected but couldn’t quite describe. I initially read this blog post, which summarizes the overall philosophy and describes the four rphases of learning, but was rather lacking in practical application. The book provided in depth support for the philosophy, along with multiple practical steps and ideas to implement it.

Do you have any must-read homeschool books? Share in the comments!

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