Designing Your Own Curriculum
While new homeschooling parents are often attracted to complete curriculum packages, homeschooling also offers the ability to tailor a curriculum to your individual child. Home educators often rely on purchased curriculum for some subjects while creating their own learning experiences for other areas of instruction.
Curriculum is simply the collection of texts, media, activities, and assignments used to build learning. Everything you teach, or that your child learns, is part of your curriculum. Home educators who design their own curriculum select materials, identify resources, design assignments, and create unique learning experiences for their children. Parents who design their own curriculum act much like museum curators, selecting resources and organizing them in a manner intended to create learning.
Creating your own curriculum gives you more flexibility, including the ability to create assignments that are hands-on, or that are relevant to current events or your local area. If your child develops an interest in a particular area of the material being covered, you can go deeper; you can also shift direction as you find new resources partway through. On the other hand, creating your own curriculum does take more time and effort than implementing a complete professionally developed curriculum. Parents may also find it difficult to craft their own curriculum in areas where they lack expertise, particularly as their children grow older (research on homeschooling suggests that parents come to rely more on formal curriculum as their children age).
As you craft a curriculum for your child, don’t forget to involve them in the process! You can’t create an education tailored to your child’s skills and abilities without including them — and curriculum design offers the perfect opportunity for this involvement.
Some Practical Examples
If you’ve read our page on Homeschool Learning Outcomes (HLOs), you’ve already seen an example of curriculum design. In our example, Maggie created a course on graphic design and movie making for her 6th grade daughter, Lucy. After creating HLOs outlining the course’s learning goals, Maggie worked with Lucy to find resources to build this learning, including books, YouTube tutorials, and a club at the library. Maggie also chose a final assignment — a 15-minute animated movie — and a method for displaying Lucy’s accomplishments in the course — a movie night for friends and family.
Record keeping and planning are important to curriculum design. Maggie will probably create a basic timeline with dates for completing particular assignments or stages, as well as a list of the intended resources that can be updated over time. When Lucy finishes the course — the HLOs will help Maggie know when the learning goals are met — Maggie will update the initial course plan with any changes, document Lucy’s progress and final project, and save these with her records. She might include photos of the movie night that capped off the course; animation storyboards Lucy created; and a flier from the library advertising the animation club Lucy attended.
In our page on HLOs, Maggie also wrote a set of learning outcomes for a social studies course on Native American life and culture for Lucy and her 3rd grade brother, Liam. Maggie’s curriculum for the course might include reading Native American myths and histories located with the help of the children’s librarian at a local library; watching pre-screened documentaries; using online resources to create maps of changing tribal lands; researching Native American foods and trying recipes; visiting a local Native American cultural center; writing reports on the history of Native American tribes in the local area; and trying out Native American handicrafts.
Home educators frequently choose to teach the same material to more than one child at the same time, particularly for social studies or the arts. We recommend this technique as a time-saver, but you should always find ways to differentiate the instruction for each child, as children in different grades are typically at different places in their academic journeys and are working on mastering different skills. Maggie might differentiate the course for Lucy and Liam by having each child read a different novel by a Native American author that is suited to their reading level, and by assigning the children to write book reports which focus on different learning outcomes. (For this, Maggie can draw on her state’s writing standards for each child’s grade.)
Once again, record keeping and planning are key. Maggie will make lists of available resources; organize assignments; and create a schedule outlining what learning will take place when. She might decide that they will read aloud from the books she’s checked out from the library on Mondays; watch documentaries or other online content on Tuesdays; do a craft or project on Wednesdays; and so on. Or, she might decide that they will read from the books during September, watch a collection of documentaries in October, and focus on Native American foods and food culture in November. Either way, having a plan will help ensure that Maggie follows through.
Finally, let’s look at a course designed for a high school student.
A parent homeschooling a high school aged child with an interest in Gothic literature might create a course on Gothic literature that would count as an English credit. This course would involve reading several Gothic novels, short stories, and poems; writing reviews or comparative analyses; watching documentaries or adaptations of Gothic literature; researching the history of this genre; writing brief biographies of several Gothic authors; and, finally, writing a term paper making a specific argument about Gothic literature. The final product could also look completely different: writing and directing a short play based on a particular book, or writing the first few chapters of an original work in the Gothic literature genre.
While high school can be a great time for creating a curriculum tailored to the student, record keeping and planning are even more important during these years. Parents homeschooling high school students are typically responsible for creating their child’s high school transcript, if homeschooling them through graduation, and if they later enroll their child in a public or private high school, they will need to verify their credits.
The Importance of Learning Outcomes
Remember, the purpose of curriculum is to create learning. You need to know what learning you are trying to create in order to be an effective teacher. In the examples on animated filmmaking and Native American culture and history discussed above, Maggie created HLOs for the courses she designed. Those HLOs will help her stay organized and on track, and will help her know when her children have achieved the designed learning. HLOs can also be saved with the child’s records.
In the last example — the course on Gothic literature — a home educator might create HLOs such as: “Compare and contrast the work of notable Gothic authors” and “Develop the first chapter of a novel in the Gothic literature genre.” The home educator might also look at their state’s ELA standards for high school (see starting on page 56 here, for example) and choose several to focus on, such as: “Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience” and “Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.”
When you are designing your own curriculum, you should start by familiarizing yourself with your state’s learning standards for your child’s grade. You may want to work backwards from your state state standards to create learning experiences for your child. If you choose not to use your state’s standards, you will need to write your own Homeschool Learning Outcomes (HLOs). Even here, however, you should be at least aware of your state standards. Knowing what educators think is appropriate for children of your child’s age will always be useful, even if you choose to go a bit off script.
In our page on using state standards, we offered an example of how a home educator might work backward from their state’s standards to create their own curriculum. In this example, a home educator took a 3rd grade geography standard — “Show how consumption of products connects people to distant places” — and worked backward to create a course of study. They found books on trade and consumer products from the library; watched a documentary on global trade patterns; and had their child keep track of where every item that came into their house over the course of several weeks came from (shirts from Vietnam; blueberries from Chile). This project culminated in a giant poster illustrating the connections between their home and places around the globe.
Organization and Record Keeping
When you develop your own curriculum, it is particularly important to be organized. At the beginning of each year, create a description of each course and the assignments you will have your children complete, along with a list of materials and resources you plan to draw on. Return to that description at the end of the year, editing it to reflect any changes in the course’s direction or content, or additional materials used. Remember, making a list of materials doesn’t mean you’re required to use them all, but it will be a useful starting point.
There are many benefits to being organized. For example, you will be able to show these records if you decide to enroll your child in school later. You will also be able to use these records to demonstrate that you are homeschooling responsibly, should questions arise. If your child is in grades 9-12, you will need this documentation when you go to write your child’s high school transcript. There are other benefits as well: for example, you can return to a course later and use it again with a younger child.