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Homeschool Terminology

What Does That Mean? 

Whether you have been homeschooling for a while or are brand new to the community, you have probably run across homeschool terminology that just leaves you scratching your head. Homeschooling seems to have its own language at times, and it is not always easy to find a “dictionary” to help translate that language!

Here are some of the more common homeschool terms and a brief definition of each one.

Homeschool Methods Terminology

A homeschool method is the approach used to educate at home. Some have official titles, like Charlotte Mason or Montessori. Others are more like categories, such as traditional or eclectic. Here are the major homeschool methods and a brief description of each one.


Deschooling is a description of the period of adjustment a child needs to go through when he is removed from a public or private school setting and begins to homeschool. This time will give the child an opportunity to replace school culture with homeschool.

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Umbrella School

An umbrella school is an alternative education (private) school that oversees the homeschooling of children to fulfill government requirements. Some umbrella schools provide a complete curriculum, some make suggestions, and some allow parents complete control over curriculum choices. Students in this arrangement are considered to be enrolled in the umbrella school even though they are educated at home.

Secular Homeschooling

Secular homeschooling uses curriculum and methods that are not based on a specific religious worldview. A secular homeschool family educates at home for non-religious reasons, such as a better education.

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was a 19th-century educator who advocated developing the soul and spirit of a child. The belief that children learn best from first-hand, real-life situations is central to this literature-based method. The Charlotte Mason method uses short lessons, encourages the reading of “whole books,” and emphasizes skills such as narration and copywork.


A classical approach to homeschooling includes reading great works of literature and studying rhetoric and logic. The classical approach is based on the Trivium, a method of teaching children according to the phases of a child’s cognitive development, called concrete, analytical, and abstract. Classical education is primarily language-focused and literature intensive.


Maria Montessori designed this method of education in which students learn through self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. Teachers function as guides in the educational process. There is an emphasis on quality, child-sized tools, and educational aids.


Sometimes called “school-at-home,” this approach simulates the traditional school classroom. Textbooks and workbooks are often emphasized, with students learning each subject separately from a grade-level curriculum and taking traditional tests. Homeschools using this method often follow a strict school schedule.


Eclectic homeschoolers use a variety of approaches and curriculum, choosing whatever works best for their family and each individual child. An eclectic homeschooler might use curriculum from one publisher for one subject, and curriculum from another for a different subject, or even use various curricula for each subject from different publishers for each child.


Unschooling is sometimes called “child-led learning” or “natural learning.” It is student-directed, rather than teacher-directed. Textbooks, tests, and strict schedules are generally avoided. Unschoolers are encouraged to follow their personal interests.

Charlotte Mason Terminology

The Charlotte Mason method has produced several terms that, while still closely identified with Charlotte Mason, have worked their way into general homeschool lingo. Here are some of those terms.


Charlotte Mason used the word “twaddle” to refer to books that were dumbed-down or talked down to children. Twaddle is the junk-food of the book world. Books that are weak and predictable, as well as most abridged books would be considered twaddle.

Living Books

Living books, in contrast to twaddle, are those that bring learning to life through powerful story or vivid description. Living books can be both fiction and nonfiction.

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Copywork refers to a method of learning handwriting and spelling where the child carefully copies selections from great literature.

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Narration is an educational method in which children orally summarize a portion of text that they have read or that has been read to them.

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Homeschool Support Terminology

Some homeschoolers participate in groups or organizations that provide support. These organizations range from small, local groups that enjoy field trips together to statewide legal organizations.


State associations provide legal information and paperwork needed to homeschool in that state. Some state associations also organize annual homeschool conventions, which draw speakers and curriculum vendors from around the country.

Smaller, local groups may also refer to themselves as associations, assembled for the purpose of support or group activities.

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A co-op is a group of homeschool families that meet for various purposes. Co-ops may run the gamut from meeting only occasionally for events like field trips to structured classes. In some regions, the former may be referred to as an association or support group while the term co-op is reserved for the more organized class setup. Either way, the key is that any organization and teaching is performed by the parents in cooperation with one another. 

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Like co-ops, enrichment programs offer classes to help homeschool parents provide electives and other extracurricular subjects that. Unlike co-ops, enrichment programs do not require parents to cooperatively teach classes. Instead, classes are taught by teachers skilled in certain subjects or skills.

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Tutorials are very similar to enrichment programs in that they offer classes to homsechoolers and are taught by teachers skilled in those classes. Unlike enrichment programs, however, tutorials typically cover core courses such as language arts, math, history, and science. Online provision of classes is also more common for tutorials than for enrichment programs.

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Dual Enrollment

Dual enrollment is an opportunity for high school students, usually juniors or seniors, to take a course through a local college or correspondence/online program that simultaneously offers high school and college credit. Essentially, while taking a dual enrollment course, the student is officially enrolled in both high school and college, at least for that one course.

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Curriculum Terminology

Curriclum is the official term given to the resources used for teaching. This may be a complete packaged set containing all materials needed for all subjects taught in a given school year, or it may be material for individual subjects. Here are some terms related to techniques and approaches utilized by various curriculum creators.

Spiral Learning

A spiral learning approach is one in which a topic or skill is touched on several times over several years, with greater detail covered each succeeding year.

Sequential Learning

Sequential learning is when a topic or skill is taught in a logical order, and when a skill is mastered before the next logical skill is introduced. Sequential learning in history is taught in chronological order.

Scope & Sequence

A scope and sequence is the list of ideas, concepts, and topics that will be covered. A scope and sequence can cover one subject for one or more years, several subjects for one year, or multiple subjects over many years.

Curriculum Spine

A curriculum spine is a book or series of books used as the main text for a subject or unit study. After the reading from this book or series has been assigned, other books and resources are scheduled to fit in with the topics.


Current technology allows students to use a variety of computer and online options for schooling. Curriculum can be purchased on DVD or downloaded for use at home, or students can take a variety of online courses from teachers all over the world.

Multi-level Curriculum

Some curricula focus on a single grade at a time, and you can only teach multiple children if they are all in the same grade range. A multi-level curriculum, on the other hand, allows parents to combine children of multiple ages, teaching them together. Typically, subjects like math and language arts must still be taught separately, but history, science, Bible, and fine arts are structured to allow children to be combined for general reading time. Specific assignments are tailored toward general age ranges to allow different levels of challenge for different ages.

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Other Approaches to Teaching

Some families utilize approaches to teaching that do not necessarily revolve around a set curriculum. Here are some terms you may hear as homeschoolers discuss curriculum choices.

Unit Studies

Unit studies are educational studies based on a theme that cover a number of school subjects. They can replace most or all regular subjects for a full year, or can be done on a short-term basis as a break from regular studies. Unit studies tend to involve a lot of hands-on activities.

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A lapbook is a portfolio created from one or more file folders and several printed mini-books. Lapbooking is an approach to education that uses lapbooks as the teaching method.

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Similar to lapbooking, notebooking is an education approach that uses either a spiral notebook or pre-printed notebooking pages as a means to record what is being learned.

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Additional Terms

Here are some additional terms you may run across in homeschool discussions.

Learning Styles

Learning styles describe the various ways student prefer to learn. Common learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

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Manipulatives is a term used to describe objects that are manipulated by learners in order to create a hands-on learning experience and make concepts easier to understand. The term is most often used in mathematics, but manipulatives are also available for other subjects, such as reading and science.

Circle Time

Also called “group time,” circle time is utilized in schools of all types. Simply put, educational circle time is any portion of the day in which a group of students is gathered together to engage in some sort of learning activity. This time can be used for group learning games, read-aloud time, flashcard review, learning through song, general discussion, and much more.

Basket Time

Families use the basket time concept for a wide variety of purposes. Some call it a “morning basket time” and utilize it for first-of-the-morning focus. The basket might include a devotional book, song book, chore schedule, or other such morning routine resources. Other families set a “book basket” aside for read-alouds, library books, or picture books that supplement a course of study, incorporating book basket time into each day. Although basket time is the familiar term used, a great deal of flexibility exists regarding what is incorporated into basket time – and many families uses shelves, crates, or even window sills as storage spots in place of baskets.


These abbreviations are commonly seen scattered throughout online homeschool discussions.

General Abbreviations

  • ADD/ADHD: Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • CM: Charlotte Mason
  • IEP: Individualized Education Plan

Company Abbreviations

  • MUS: Math-U-See
  • FIAR: Five in a Row
  • HWT: Handwriting Without Tears
  • SOS: Switched On Schoolhouse
  • HSLDA: Home School Legal Defense Association

What's Missing?

Are there other terms you have heard but don’t understand? Add them to the comment stream, and I’ll update this dictionary!

With five kids in their teen and early adult years, Rebecca shares the many ups and downs of parenting, homeschooling, and keeping it all together. As the Well Planned Gal she mentors women towards the goal of discovering the uniqueness Christ has created in them and their family and how to best organize and plan for the journey they will travel.

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