How do you know what to teach?

alexander-dummer-150646Some parents have told me that they would just love to homeschool, but they don’t know how to figure out what to teach their children.

Other parents have said that they are unsure what their children ‘should’ learn at various ages.

There are many books available to advise parents what their children ‘should’ learn, but there are also many free resources available to give parents the same information. The following resources will help homeschool families ensure that their education program meets current standards. 

There are currently no official national standards for education in the United States. 

There ARE state standards in most states. Remember to check out your state department of education’s website to find out your state’s standards. Some states have rather vague standards while other states have more specific standards. You are responsible for understanding the requirements of your state. 

Okay, so what should you think about teaching? There are eight general areas that you should consider when planning your child’s education.

  • Math
  • Language Arts (includes spelling, composition, grammar, reading, phonics, vocabulary, literature, handwriting)
  • Science
  • Social Studies (includes civics, social studies, history, geography, economics)
  • Health, Safety, and Physical Education
  • Arts (includes art, art history, music, music history, theater, dance, architecture)
  • Languages
  • Technology

Popular Standards 

Common Core Initiative
The Common Core Initiative is about creating common standards in math and language arts for learners in the U.S. and has been adopted by the majority of the states as of this writing. 

The standards for math and language arts education from kindergarten through high school can be found here . Do yourself a favor and actually go and read the standards for yourself so you don’t fall for some of the nonsense that is going around about what the common core standards are supposed to be about.

In light of the misinformation circulating about the Common Core Initiative, I’d like to take a moment to say that the Common Core does NOT specify what books or materials your child should use, it specifies the skills that your child should develop. The Common Core Initiative also does NOT specify how your child should be taught math (there is literally no such thing as the “common core method”), it simply says that children should be taught different methods of solving math problems.

It is up to you (or the teacher in the classroom or your local school board) to decide what materials to use to meet the standards.

Look over the standards for the grade your child would be in according to his or her age. Compare that information with what is taught in the courses or books your child is using. You will likely find that your materials are more advanced than the common core standards. Most homeschooling curriculum products are.

One of the few reasonable objections to the common core standards that I’ve read about is that the writing standards are not age-appropriate. I have to agree with that. Another objection that I think is valid is that kids who are learning to read aren’t going to be much interested in reading if they are given schoolbooks with boring nonfiction passages to read. That is also true. But I also have to add that I don’t think learning different ways to think about and do math problems or having to show your work in math is all that horrible. You are free to disagree.

If you are interested in keeping fairly on track with the common core standards or any standards, really, it’s easy enough to review a list of what your child ought to be learning by grade level. If you find that a topic in the common core standards for your child’s age-related grade is not covered in your plan, just add it in. For example, you can add in a math topic by locating some worksheets or lessons on the topic from another online math resource.

State Requirements
Each state currently has the prerogative of legislating education standards for that state. Ultimately you are responsible for looking over your state’s regulations on education and homeschooling to make sure that you have complied with the law in your area. Take a look at your state’s Department of Education website.

National Preschool standards
There are no common core standards for preschool in the United States at the present time. Some states have identified curriculum standards for preschool, but these differ from state to state. You can find out if your state has standards for preschool education by checking out your state’s Department of Education website.

There is a respected national association that concerned with the education of children from birth to age eight. That organization is NAEYC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

NAEYC’s position statements and standards can be found on their website. The standards are very general and are not very useful for the day to day planning of lessons. Since preschool is not compulsory, there are no reporting requirements for preschool age children in the United States. Most parents, however, have begun to expect to have their children engage in some type of preschool-type education.

Preschools typically range from offering mainly playgroup and social opportunities to more academically oriented preschools that teach intensive phonics and basic math concepts. Most preschools tend to fall somewhere in between, teaching letter sounds, colors, shapes, numbers and counting along with beginning handwriting, cutting and pasting, and coloring and social skills such as following directions and getting along with others.

If anyone is interested in my opinion, I’d say you can’t go wrong offering your child a lot of opportunities for free play, outdoor play, arts and crafts, and that kind of thing. Read stories, bake cookies, take a walk. Have fun. I’m not a believer in pushing academics on young children and I did not do that with my own. So far they seem to have turned out just fine.

Other National Standards

Other ‘national standards’ exist that are also not really enforceable and only exist as ‘voluntary’ national standards or recommendations. This means that you don’t have to follow them. Some organizations offer standards that are so full of ‘teacherese’ that they are barely understandable, some organizations do not publish their standards on the internet and require one to purchase a publication, while other organizations list clear standards in plain English that are easy to understand and implement.

Next Generation Science Standards

There are no common core standards in the United States for science education, so generally the Next Generation Science Standards are used by most states to determine ‘what to teach’ in science at each grade level. The standards are laid out by grade level.


National Social Studies Education Standards

The National Council for Social Studies has put together recommendations for national standards for social studies education. Unfortunately, they do not have the standards listed online. You have to order them. However, what they do have online is a list of ten ‘themes’
1. Culture
2. Time, Continuity, and Change
3. People, Places, and Environments
4. Individual Development and Identity
5. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
6. Power, Authority, and Governance
7. Production, Distribution, and Consumption
8. Science, Technology, and Society
9. Global Connections
10. Civic Ideals and Practices

Quite frankly, I’m not sure how you would go about using this resource. One hopes that the $29.95 full copy of the standards will be clearer, but we aren’t going to purchase one to find out. I suspect this nonsense is why social studies textbooks in public elementary schools are full of gobbledygook these days.

National Council for History Standards 

The National Center for History in the Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles, working with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education, developed some history standards under the guidance of the National Council for History Standards.

These standards include standards for historical thinking, U.S. history, world history, and history from kindergarten to fourth grade. The standards for historical thinking, U.S. history and world history apply to grades five through twelve and are neatly listed on the website if you click on the menu to the left of the first web page.

These standards are actually very good and could help families develop objectives for their history curriculum. Look up the standard for the historical time period you choose to study.  Unfortunately, the standards for kindergarten through fourth grade are only available if you order a copy of them from the organization’s catalog in which they are currently listed for sale for $15.00. Though I’m curious, I imagine I can make do without.

National Standards for Civics Education 

From the Center for Civics Education you can look over a free copy of the suggested national standards for civics and government education.  The guide is an excellent resource, actually, for planning civics lessons.  I was quite impressed. It is a very understandable and easy to use guide to planning lessons.

National Standards for Economic Education. 

The Council on Economic Education offers voluntary national standards on economics and financial literacy. While not necessarily a traditional component of high school education in the United States, it is certainly past time that economic and financial topics become an integral part of every high school level curriculum.

National Geography Standards and Skills

Frankly, having long been a fan of the National Geographic Society I had hoped for some really clear, understandable national standards on this website, but what I found was more general and not especially helpful.

National Standards for Technology 

Technology standards proposed by the International Society for Technology in Education are available for review. Basic technological skills will be increasingly important in the workplace and students will be expected to have a thorough understanding of the purpose and use of common hardware and software tools, including online applications, as the modern world increases its dependence on technology. Young elementary age students are now expected to learn and practice technical skills including keyboarding and demonstrate familiarity with common software applications.

National Standards for Arts Education

Be prepared to do some heavy reading as these folks take their arts education standards exhaustively seriously. To say that the standards listed are comprehensive is an understatement. You should definitely find some good material here to design a great arts curriculum.

Putting it all together

When I first began this project I thought that the common core standards were a bit byzantine. I’ve since learned better. The common core standards are among the least byzantine standards and are relatively easily understood.

Please remember that you are still responsible to make certain that your home education plan is in compliance with the laws of your state. 

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