For beginning homeschoolers, figuring out what subjects to teach can be quite a daunting task. Some states regiment homeschooling and require families to teach a certain curriculum or area of study. Certain subjects lend themselves better to grades, levels of accomplishment, or maturity (for instance, one cannot learn lab chemistry until certain levels of mathematics have been completed).
To determine what you should teach your children, you should first outline two things – a philosophy for your homeschool and an academic goal for your children. Some families function best in a loosely structured college preparatory sort of program. Others decide on a rigid homeschooling plan with advanced science and mathematics classes. Still others choose an “anything goes” fine arts approach. This is something that you should choose as a family, tailor to each child, and prayerfully consider. Be flexible and be pro-active: your child must graduate prepared for life, as well as for college and career!
Once you have an approach settled, begin to address the “core” subjects. At one time, these were considered to be the “Three R’s” – Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic. Children simply must excel in communication and mathematics skills in order to succeed in today’s world. Many homeschooling families require reading and writing as part of all subjects, not just English. Mathematics is one of the most difficult subjects to teach at home at higher grade levels. These days, fifth graders are learning algebra and it’s not uncommon for high school kids to be learning calculus, trigonometry, and statistics! Most homeschoolers hire a tutor or take part in group or online classes for these advanced – but necessary – classes. Remember, these are the areas tested in the SAT and ACT tests. The higher your child scores on the SAT and/or ACT, the better their chances for college admissions and high scholarships!
Science, history, and technology classes are just as important as math and English these days. In the elementary grades, these classes are relatively easy to teach. However, high school science and history can be very challenging! For a parent who is unfamiliar with the latest technology, even computer classes can be difficult. Fortunately, many homeschool groups offer lab science courses. There are also excellent homeschool curricula available for both science and history. Most teenagers have an innate knowledge of computer skills, but check into the public library, community knowledge, or homeschool group for free classes in Microsoft Office and typing.
Many homeschoolers are religious, and offer Bible study (or religiously-oriented study of some sort). While a few count Sunday School as part of their homeschool, most have daily coursework as part of their regular curriculum. The best way to teach the Bible is really to open the book and dig into it. Age and grade level materials are available in an astonishing level of price ranges and perspectives from Christian retailers.
Nearly all colleges require two years or more of high-school level foreign language study. Experts say that it’s easier for children to learn a foreign language when they’re younger, so many families start teaching a language in the early grades. While some choose a popular language, such as Spanish or Latin, many others choose to explore something unique such as Mandarin or Russian. In the early grades, some families choose a different culture and language to learn about each year, and then the children can choose a language to focus on in high school. (If that sounds like a lot, remember that in other parts of the world, many people are fluent in several languages!)
Most homeschooling parents also consider health, home economics, “shop”, and other life skills classes. Of course, our children don’t show up for a 30 minute class twice a week in how to bake snickerdoodles – many homeschooled children are adept at shopping and preparing full meals, can change the oil in a car, know how to safely use a skilsaw, understand why abstinence is the only smart way to live until marriage, and can manage their money quite nicely. These areas, which fit so nicely into a homeschooler’s lifestyle, should be designed into actual classes for course credit purposes.
Fine arts and sports round out an excellent education, and most homeschoolers sign their children up for music, art, and drama lessons. Children also take part in sports leagues. Depending on your area, the children may be eligible to play on public, private, or homeschool/church leagues. Many homeschoolers also take part in Scouts, Fire or Police Department Juniors, apprenticeships, and all sorts of clubs and activities. Anywhere your child can learn may be counted as “school”!
As you can see, there are a multitude of subjects and learning opportunities for homeschooled children. I may not have listed them all here, because children learn so much, in so many ways, from so many places! Don’t worry if your child spends half a semester studying one particular thing – they will be gaining research and writing skills in the process, and will eventually move on to another topic of interest. Have fun with your homeschool endeavors!