A Guide to Mentoring and Homeschooling Approaches

Slightly Obsessed


ver the last few years, my curiosity about learning has grown into a sort of obsession. Partly, because I want to be a good mentor for my son. And partly, because I have love affair with learning, creativity, and innovation. For example, I wonder what drives my own creative impulses. And, I want to know the best practices when it comes to facilitating and inspiring creativity in others. Add to that a unique opportunity to observe how educational theories and ideas play out within our own homeschooling context and it’s…well,…irresistible. Seriously, it’s easy to geek out about this stuff.

But, if this sort of thing isn’t your thing, coming up with a mentoring or homeschooling approach can feel overwhelming and overly complex. And, even if this sort of thing is your thing, I’ve learned it can toss you head first into the dirt, sometimes.

Why Pinpointing an Approach Is Tough

So, what makes determining an approach overwhelming and complex? Three reasons, I think:

  • First, the human reason: Doing something new can send up a fear flag because new, often, means uncertain. It’s natural to feel fearful about the uncertain.
  • Next, the geeky reason: The concepts and case-studies are scattered. Heaps of useful information hide within various books, dwell on the internet, and reside with practitioners—within their personal stories. Further, concepts emerge from a variety of domains: The schooling/education realm, the homeschooling sphere, and the business world, to name a few.
  • Finally, the reality-based explanation:  I’ve found that our approach changes—a lot.  And, why wouldn’t it? Learners, topics, and situations shift and our own abilities as mentors develop. But here’s the thing: Our learners change without a care in the world, while we struggle to notice and keep up.

Simplifying the Heaps of Information

Traditionally, pedagogy is a teacher-directed approach applicable to children and observed in schools, while andragogy is a self-directed approach applicable to adults and observed within the business world. However, research indicates approach suitability has less to do with age or location and more to do with a learner’s readiness and willingness for a given approach. And, willingness has a lot to do with circumstance. For example, did the learner arrive curious or with a problem to solve? Or, are you introducing your learner to something new?

What matters is that each “gogy” applies to our learners—whatever their age. Plus, it’s useful to view pedagogy and andragogy as points on an approach continuum, rather than as isolated approach options.

Boiled down, our personal orientation along the following slider determines our approach:



All homeschooling approaches—UnschoolingUnit Studies, Charlotte Mason, Classical Education, Shool-at-Home, and so on—fall somewhere along the continuum. Institutional approaches, such as Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, Progressive Pedagogy, Critical Pedagogy, etc., fall somewhere along the continuum, as well.

Shift Happens: The Mentor’s Fluctuating Approach

From the approach, all else follows. In other words, methods (e.g., projects, discussion, collaboration), technologies (e.g., online classes, graphic organizers, video conferencing), and physical environments (e.g., classroom, library, national park) emerge from the approach. In the same way, the mentor role materializes from the approach. Likewise, each of these shift as our orientation shifts along the slider.

As the approach shifts from self-directed to teacher-directed (left-to-right), the mentor’s role shifts

…from collaborator, to feedback provider, to interest stimulator, to tour guide, to content provider/source.


How often a mentor’s role shifts varies and depends upon philosophical flexibility as well as teacher and student autonomy. For example, within a dynamic homeschooling or business context, mentor role shifts may be frequent. Yet, where content, methods, environments, and a mentor’s agency are limited, it’s likely that mentor role shifts will be less frequent.