In our article, How to Write Your Home School Vision Statement, we took you through how to take the first steps to putting together a strong statement of intent for your home school. Having a well formulated and documented vision for your children’s education is essential to ensure that you can give them everything that you would like to give them in terms of their education.
But the Vision Statement is just the starting point. Choosing subjects and putting together a topic list for what you will teach your child is one of the most rewarding parts of home schooling. It is, however, one of the most overwhelming. Research has shown that most home-schooling parents rely exclusively on the national curriculum of their countries when deciding what to teach their children. It is only through working with many home-schooling families over several years that we have come to understand why this is and what stops parents from putting together the creative and engaging syllabi that they always dreamed of.
In this article we will walk you through how to go about choosing the subjects that you would like to teach your child in your home school. There is no one size fits all but we hope that our guidance will help you along the way. From this starting point, you can begin to cater each subject to deliver knowledge to your child in an engaging and fulfilling way.
Choosing Subjects for Home Schooling
- Deconstructing Traditional Subjects
- Using Traditional Subjects as a Starting Point
- Constructing a Broad Curriculum
- Thinking Beyond Examinations
- Overcoming Limitations on What You Can Teach
Before you can begin compiling a robust syllabus for each subject, it is important to decide the broad subjects that you would like to teach. Though I am saying this to you, I have many issues with the way that subjects are divided up. For example, I believe that human geography and physical geography should be taught separately, with the former being taught with the social sciences and the latter as part of the core science suite of subjects.
Such rigidly defined subjects as we have today are a relatively new phenomenon. This is why when you read the encyclopaedia entries for some of the great men and women of the past you often find them to be polymaths, having mastered both the sciences and the arts. It was not unusual for a moral philosopher to have also been a lawyer and a dramatist at the same time, all in a single lifetime. This is because education back then was about learning about the world; an individual could pursue this knowledge from many different angles.
“Try to see education as an investigation of the world in which students follow ideas across subject boundaries until they have a complete understanding.”
Our curriculum here at Dartford Excelsior tries as much as possible to break down some of these barriers – within reason, of course, as national exams are still subject specific. But as a home-schooling parent, you can also take this opportunity to promote education as an investigation of the world, in which students follow ideas across subject boundaries until they have a complete understanding of them.
This is sometimes known as the “project-based” approach to teaching and it is gaining traction in many conventional and alternative schools. I don’t advocate formally prescribing to any such methodology but, just in case you are finding that your vision doesn’t quite fit into the “subject-based” approach to teaching, know that you can deconstruct and re-establish the boundaries of knowledge acquisition as you see fit.
The best way to construct forward-looking and engaging syllabi is to start with traditional subjects and then find synergies between them. Efforts should be geared towards finding these connections and giving children the chance to work across subjects.
I recommend starting with the traditional subjects as a home-school parent because there is such a wealth of resources to rely on – the national curriculum, exam board specifications and textbooks by leading publishers. You don’t want to re-invent the wheel as so much has already been done around the traditional subjects that you should make use of these. This does not mean you should submit fully to them; they are not there to constrain you but to guide you and you ultimately decide how much of each you would like to take on.
As the years go by and you will make tweaks and you will find greater synergies such that soon enough your child will be finding those links themselves and pursuing them unprompted.
Starting with the traditional subjects in mind will also help you to avoid having too narrow a curriculum for your home school. Broadly, you can think of subjects as being divided into three main groups:
Mathematical and Natural Sciences
- Geography (physical)
- Computer Science / Information and Communication Technology
- Geography (Human)
- Religious Studies
- English Language
- English Literature
You should aim to choose a range of subjects from across the three groups, with maths, English language and the core sciences being essential.
This is not a comprehensive list; it includes those topics that are most often studied at GCSE and therefore which students need to start preparing for at a younger age.
Do not feel that you have to choose all the “conventional” subjects. Remember that this is an opportunity to open your child’s mind in ways that conventional schools may not have the resources to do. Of course, your choices should still be within reason and, at the very least, students should study maths, English language and the core sciences.
There are many courses available at GCSE and A-Level that are less often taught. For example, Pearson offers Astrology and Engineering at GCSE and Commerce and Islamic Studies at iGCSE to name a few. I recommend heading over to some exam board websites and having a browse of their GCSE and A-Level programmes to see if there are other courses that may be interesting to you or your child.
Remember also that you don’t have to be constrained by what is available from exam boards. Education is for life and there are many things that young people need to learn for which no national exams are written.
For example, I think it is important that students learn the basis of personal and world economics. Students should understand the concept of money, savings and investments. They should also gain a basic understanding of debt and how it is used by business and government. Some of this may be covered within an economics or business studies course, but you may not want your child to complete the entire course and only want them to study a few modules, and that’s ok.
If you have ideas about such things, don’t hesitate to construct your own mini syllabus that covers these things. You can dip into exam board specifications for courses that cover in part what you are looking for and take just those parts you need as a starting point.
Some parents are nervous about their ability to tackle particular subjects and therefore may not give them due regard or even include them at all in their curricula. This is perfectly understandable as you don’t want to teach your child a subject you yourself are not comfortable with. However, it is important that your child is not disadvantaged by this – as educators we want young people to be fuelled by our passion, not stifled by our challenges.
In the first instance, it is very important that students are properly supported in the core subjects. And as it pertains to the others, it is important for a parent’s sense of self, which is all they can give to their children, that they are able to deliver the education they know their children deserve.
Steps for Drafting a Curriculum Plan
Choose Your Subjects
Research and Draft Purpose and Aims for Each Subject
Draft Topic Lists
Expand Your Horizon
There are a number of things you can do to ensure that you are best placed to deliver the education your child needs and deserves:
- Study subjects ahead of teaching – if you have a genuine passion for learning and have the time and ability to do so, you should ensure that you read through a subject before deciding to teach it. You don’t have to be a master of it, but take the time to read through and get a solid understanding of the syllabus to gauge whether the subject is at a level that you feel comfortable with guiding your child through
- Complete Introductory and Advanced Subject Knowledge CPD Courses in the subjects you are unsure about. A number of providers run such courses for teachers but there is no reason why you as a parent-teacher cannot attend these.
- Hire a private tutor to support your child through that specific topic. This is a great way to bring a professional in without committing to a conventional schooling programme. Private tutors will come with their own methodologies, however, so you have to be willing to relinquish some control here but they can add great value to your child’s learning experience.
- Sign up for a home-schooling platform or full service. By signing up for a guided home school service, your child will be supported through all of their subjects by professionals, allowing them to access subjects that you may not be able to teach. Most home school services are extremely flexible and some will take into account your teaching preferences, but not all, so think about how much control you are willing to relinquish and whether the home school provider will be able to deliver education at the standard that you desire.
Choosing your subjects is an important step in your home-schooling journey. Take the time to consider which subject will best allow you to act in line with your Vision Statement. Try to ensure that your subject choice complement each other and are enough to keep your children engaged without overwhelming them. As children get older it would be great to give them the ability to choose one or two of their own subjects in order to encourage their sense of ownership of their education.
Director of Studies