Curriculum & State Learning Standards
When you homeschool, everything you teach, or that your child learns, is your curriculum. If your child is learning about the Civil War and you read aloud a picture book about Harriet Tubman, that book is part of your curriculum. If you use baking to teach your child fractions, that activity, too, is part of your curriculum. Your curriculum is the collection of texts, media, activities, and assignments that you use to build learning.
In some cases, home educators may purchase a ready-made program that contains everything their child needs to learn, together with worksheets or projects designed to create that learning. In other cases, they may curate their own curriculum, choosing from among a variety of resources and crafting their own learning experiences for their child.
Whether you purchase a set curriculum or create your own (and many home educators combine these two approaches!), it is important to understand the purpose of curriculum:
The purpose of any curriculum is to build learning.
Knowing what learning you are trying to build is crucial. Each state has created or endorsed learning goals for children in public schools. These learning goals are called state standards. Standards do not say how the student should learn over the course of the year, or what curricular materials should be used; instead, they state what learning the child is expected to gain. If you choose not to use your state’s learning standards, you will need to develop your own learning standards, which we call Homeschool Learning Outcomes.
Successful teaching relies on working backwards from a standard. Think of a standard like a destination on a road trip: there are many possible routes you can take to arrive at your destination, some more efficient or more scenic (this is your curriculum). But you won’t be able to figure out which route appeals to you the most if you don’t know where you’re going.
An Introduction to State Learning Standards
Most states have adopted standards that align with the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning goals developed to ensure that what children learn is similar across state lines. Even states that have not formally adopted the Common Core typically have state standards that are similar to, or are officially aligned with, the Common Core.
CRHE strongly advises that you let your state’s standards guide and inform your student’s learning. Doing so will have many benefits for your child:
- Colleges and employers will expect your child to have gained the skills and knowledge outlined in state standards.
- Following state standards will make the transition smoother should you choose to enroll your child in public school in the future.
- State standards are designed to scaffold, meaning that each skill builds on previously learned and mastered skills. This doesn’t mean your child can’t skip ahead, but it does give you guidance on what skills your child should master before tackling more advanced concepts, so that they don’t get stuck later.
- Following state standards, or at least being aware of them, will help you ensure that you’re not forgetting anything essential.
The Common Core State Standards only includes standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics (see here). However, your state will also have standards for science, social studies, and additional subjects. (Many states use the Next Generation Science Standards.) You can look up your state’s learning standards using an internet search engine.
An Introduction to Homeschool Curriculum
Now that you know that the purpose of curriculum is to build learning, you can turn to different approaches to curriculum. Many home educators try a variety of approaches and curricular materials as they explore what works for them. Some home educators may also find that their approaches to curriculum change over time. For example, as children grow older, parents who homeschool tend to rely more on professionally designed curricula (plural for curriculum).
The “A La Carte” Approach
Some homeschooling parents, particularly those who follow a more eclectic/relaxed homeschooling philosophy, design a unique curriculum for their children, selecting books, creating lesson plans, and designing activities around their children’s interests. This approach is sometimes called the “a la carte” method for curriculum design. Parents following this approach are likely to create their own Homeschool Learning Outcomes.
Parents following the unschooling philosophy, a subset of the “A La Carte” approach, often give their children an essential role in the curriculum design process.
The Complete Curriculum Approach
Other homeschooling parents choose to obtain or purchase a complete curriculum, also known as a boxed curriculum or an all-in-one curriculum. These curricula are usually designed for a particular grade level, and are created and published by a wide range of curriculum developers. These curricula are frequently designed to meet state learning standards, although some publishers may use other learning standards.
Complete curricula often appeal to parents who are intimidated by the idea of designing an entire curriculum from scratch; however, they should always be used in conjunction with supplemental activities to meet the child’s goals and incorporate their interests.
A Blended Approach
Many homeschooling parents take a more mix and match approach, choosing between different curriculum providers for different subjects or using a mix of professionally created curriculum and curriculum they curate and design themselves. A parent might purchase a complete language arts curriculum from one company, select a boxed curriculum for math from another company, and design their own social studies curriculum.
Regardless of their specific approach, home educators typically select a wide variety of instructional materials and content to assemble into a curriculum for their child. Try not to think of your curriculum as something finite that you purchase from one provider.