Thursday, March 18, 2010

What Should I Be Teaching?

From the current email for HSLDA's The Early Years newsletter.

You may wonder, “What should I teach my child this year?” If your child is in, say, kindergarten or third grade or sixth grade, what should be covered at that grade level? If you are using an all-inclusive curriculum package, this may not be a pressing issue for you. But if you choose to adapt the material, or move through it at your own pace, or if you use a more eclectic approach, you may be concerned about staying “on track,” or about significant learning gaps.

Keeping Track of Academic Milestones

When designing your child’s curriculum, you should first check the subject requirements of your state’s homeschool laws. If you have questions about the requirements, contact HSLDA.

While one of the benefits of home education is the flexibility to tailor the program to the child’s abilities, needs, and interests, it is also helpful—and often reassuring—to have a general idea of subjects that might be covered at various levels, especially in skills areas such as language arts and math. Some major publishers include a scope and sequence on their webpages. (Scope and sequence just means what material is covered and in what order.) You can also consult your state’s standards of learning through an online search (e.g., Virginia standards of learning), or you can track your child’s academic milestones using skills checklists for the basic subject areas of math, language arts, science, and social studies (see Resources).

You might use any of these as a guide, but ultimately, you decide what you will cover each year in each subject. Of course, as a conscientious homeschooling parent, you will want to provide a solid, well-rounded program of study, but the sequence of studies will generally be up to you. While language arts and math are sequential subjects and will often be similar from publisher to publisher, you have a lot of flexibility in other subject areas, such as science and social studies. Instead of studying a topic when the textbook publisher indicates you should, you might capitalize on your child’s interests or rearrange the order of study to suit your family’s needs or activities.

What if Your Child Doesn’t “Fit” in a Certain Grade Level?

If you have a child who is grasping the concepts more quickly than anticipated, you may be apprehensive about letting him “move ahead."” Instead of limiting yourself to only certain material because it is listed somewhere as the appropriate material for this grade level, think outside the (grade level) box—consider what your child has mastered, then move to the next level. In other words, think in terms of ability levels, not grade levels. It is OK to use the grade level designation on your curriculum as a suggested sequence, rather than as a time restriction.

Take your cue from the gifted/talented class model: The child in such a program in a conventional setting still retains his chronological grade “label,” but he moves ahead in areas of special interest or ability. For example, a third grader might be at a fourth or fifth grade level in math or science. Another option is to encourage the child to delve more deeply into the subject at hand, taking advantage of the extra time made available by early completion of the planned lessons.

Of course, if you have concerns that your child is working significantly behind the average for his level, you may want to consult with our Struggling Learners coordinators and/or the legal representative for your state. It could be a simple as tweaking the curriculum to meet his needs.

The Most Important Lessons

Reading, writing, and ’rithmetic (as well as other skill and content subjects) are certainly important, and they provide a valuable means by which we learn about the world around us and by which we communicate and interact with others. However, we would be remiss to set academic standards without spiritual standards. Inge Cannon reminds us:

“When exploring God’s requirements for what our young people learn, it is important to establish a Scriptural definition of knowledge. II Peter 1:5–8 provides a clear description for an educational sequence which will honor God:

‘…Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (KJV)

Knowledge, then, is explored information within the boundaries of faith and character development.”
(“What The Lord Wants Your Teen to Know,” The Virginia Home Educator, Vol. 15, Issue 2)

Wishing you an eternal perspective (and lesson plans in pencil, not ink!),
Vicki Bentley
HSLDA Early Years coordinator


Resources with suggested cognitive skills/concepts based on a traditional K-12th grade structure:

Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready by June Oberlander
Includes measurable parameters for birth to age 5, as well as a checklist of skills for kindergarten readiness

What Your Child Needs to Know When by Robin S. Sampson
Includes K-8 checklist guidelines for math, language arts, science, and history, as well as character trait categories

Learning Objectives for Grades K-8 by Hewitt Homeschooling Resources
Checklist of academic milestones for kindergarten through 8th grade

Luke’s School List by Joyce Herzog
Academic checklist-style guide (Joyce has also compiled Luke’s Life List, a checklist of life skills and character traits to prepare a child for independent adulthood.)

Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp

Teaching Children by Diane Lopez
(Currently out of print but may be found in many public and support group libraries)

“Typical Course of Study”—World Book Encyclopedia

Coming soon to Homeschooling thru the Early Years:
A grade-by-grade listing of sample curricular combinations for preschool to 8th grade.

Contact Us
HSLDA Early Years Coordinator
Web email contact form
(540) 338-5600

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