Curriculum - What is it?

Curriculum – As homeschool parents, this is a word we hear all the time. We get curriculum catalogs, read advice about different publisher’s curricula, visit curriculum fairs. But I think, with all that, we are missing out on some essential things. We may not have a correct view of what curriculum is. So, let’s take a couple of steps back, look at some definitions, and get the right perspective on what curriculum is and how that should affect what and how we teach our children.


I must admit, I was a bit surprised when I looked at definitions of “curriculum.” The definitions were not quite what I expected. Actually, they were much different from what I thought. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defined curriculum as “the courses offered by an educational institution; a set of courses constituting an area of specialization.”

  • The ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) states that “Curriculum is the skills and knowledge that students are to learn.”
  • Education Elements puts it this way: “Curriculum is not a textbook, nor the materials, videos and worksheets that help us instruct students. It is the knowledge and skills that students are expected to learn as they progress through our school system.”
  • And for another perspective, Bri Stauffer, from Applied Educational Systems (AES) writes that the definition of curriculum is “a collection of lessons, assessments, and other academic content that’s taught in a school, program, or class by a teacher.” She continues to state that a standard curriculum consists of many parts, including a purpose statement, an outcome statement, essential resources, strategy framework, verification method, standards alignment, course syllabus, and a capstone project. (Keep in mind that this is from a company that develops and markets digital curriculum.)

By considering these definitions, it is easy to see that curriculum covers a lot more than just a textbook we pick up to teach history to our kids. So as you start to think about planning your next school year, it might be beneficial to both you and your children to take another look at this whole curriculum issue.

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Time for an Action Plan

I know you are thinking to yourself, “big deal. What do all these definitions mean to me? How will they change my preparation for next year? Is this going to make my life harder? Come on!”

I promise this should not be too mentally taxing or strenuous! In fact, if we take a bit more time in the planning stages, we might reap greater benefits in the long run. Let me give you two main things to consider:

What Do We Intend for our Kids to Learn this coming School Year?

During your planning time for the next school year, spend some time thinking about what you want your kids to learn or accomplish throughout the next school year. And it would help if you thought this through subject-by-subject, child-by-child. If I know that my child’s history studies next year will cover the Middle Ages, what do I want them to learn about the Middle Ages? What do I want them to remember about this subject? What are the key things they need to take away from this study as a framework for building continued knowledge?

Or, as you think about your 3rd-graders math lessons for the next year, what skills must she learn to succeed and move forward in math? Does she need to get faster at subtraction facts or understand the concepts of multiplication? Does he need to learn the difference between area and volume? Maybe your child needs to understand different measurement units as part of the next set of math skills.

So, the first step in the action plan is to figure out the key concepts, skill sets, and new applications of skills already learned that your child(ren) needs to conquer during the upcoming school year.

What Materials Will I Use to Accomplish those Goals?

OK, you have established the necessary goals, concepts, skill sets, and applications for each child in each subject for the upcoming school year. Congratulations! You have completed the first step of the Curriculum Action Plan! Now what?

Now comes the fun part. What materials will you use to accomplish those goals you have set? What resources will you access to lead your students through those concepts they need to learn? Your options are endless! You can use any combination of textbooks, workbooks, activities, videos, online instruction, co-ops, field trips, experimentation, etc. “Great,” I can hear you say, “how am I ever supposed to decide?”

I get it. That might be the hardest part! We have so many options, so many good choices! How do you know if you have what will work the best? All those other shiny workbooks or activity sets all look so enticing! Surely, they will be better than what I used this last year, right? Maybe, or maybe not! And before you go out and spend a fortune on new, exciting materials, consider the following suggestions.

Do’s and Don’t’s for Selecting Materials

  • DO evaluate the materials you already have.
  • DON’T switch materials frequently, just for the sake of finding something new.
  • DO continue with what you are using if it is working for you.
  • DON’T throw away good money just because the material looks exciting.
  • DO your research and get the opinions of others.
  • DON’T throw caution to the wind and change to a completely different teaching format if you are hesitant at all about how the program will work for you.
  • DO access the resources available from your library!
  • DON’T choose new materials just because so-and-so loves that material. She is not you! Take her opinions into consideration but base your choices on what will work best for you and your family.

So, as you plan for the next school year, think about curriculum as more than just a teacher’s manual and associated workbooks. Look at the whole picture! What does your child need to learn in the upcoming school year? What new skills does she need to master? How will he newly apply skills he has already learned? Then, find the necessary materials to accomplish those explicit goals. You have a plan, a procedure, and a way to measure your child’s progress against the goals you laid out. Progress!


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