What Should I Be Teaching My Child?

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You may wonder, “What should I teach my child this year?” If your child is in, say, kindergarten or third grade or sixth grade, you may wonder what most kids might know 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.

There is no one right answer to this, and education is not a race or a competition–all kids learn at their own pace, and many children do better waiting till at least age 7 for structured, formal school work, because for younger children, their play is their learning. (This doesn’t mean you hold them back before that…just take your cues from their interest, motivation, and attention span! See some ideas for what to do with your young learner here.)

But I know that you may feel more comfortable having some idea of what might be age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for your child, so….

Keeping Track of Academic Milestones

When designing your child’s curriculum, you should first check the subject requirements of your state’s homeschool laws. Note that even in states which may have specific subjects you must cover, they generally leave how and in what detail up to you as the parent.

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 helpfuland often reassuringto have a general idea of topics that might be covered at various levels, especially in those skills areas of 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.)

Note: Math and language arts (English) are skills subjects, while science and social studies (history/geography) round out the four core study areas as content subjects. So it will be important to evaluate what your child already knows in math and language arts so he can pick up on that continuum of learning (and remediate any significant gaps), while you can simply jump in where you’d like to be now for history and social studies.

While there is no requirement to follow your state’s learning standards for curriculum, you may have a specific reason for wishing to do so; in that case, your Department of Education generally will have a list of their learning standards for each grade and subject, or you could do an online search (for example: Virginia standards of learning). You can print those off and refer to them throughout the year, highlighting what you’ve covered using the curriculum of your choice.

If you’d like a rubric but you don’t want it to be the public school system, you can track your child’s academic milestones using non-state-specific skills checklists for the basic subject areas of math, language arts, science, and social studies (see Resources, below).

reading together -- Everyday Homemaking

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 scope and 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.

And how your child learns a concept can vary–what one child learns through a book lesson, another may learn more readily through a hands-on activity or everyday-life lesson.

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—instead, 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 okay 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 working 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 a professional. It could be a simple as tweaking the curriculum to meet his needs, or you may need some guidance to address a learning glitch. Dr. Rochelle Matthews-Somerville, Special Needs Educational Consultant and Team Leader at HSLDA, shares: “An individually developed plan is designed specifically for neurodivergent students who learn and process information differently.  This may include students who are delayed mentally, physically, socially, and/or emotionally.  Often, due to special circumstances, students with special needs do not follow the typical patterns of development, making it impossible to “keep up” with traditional grade level standards.  As a result, program plans and goals are individualized to meet the distinct development (physical, cognitive, scholastic skills) of these unique students, creating environments in which they can thrive.”

children catching butterflies
PC: Rachel Ramey, www.titus2homemaker.com

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 1:58 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.”

Here’s wishing you an eternal perspective (and lesson plans in pencil, not ink!).

A Few Suggested Resources…

(Some items may be affiliate links, meaning you pay the same price, while I may receive a slight benefit that helps keep this site going!)

Resources with suggested cognitive skills/concepts lists based on a traditional K12th grade structure:

  • “Typical Course of Study”World Book Encyclopedia; skills checklists for preschool through high school (free, online)
  • What Your Child Needs to Know When by Robin S. Sampson 
    Includes K-8th 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, a pioneer in the homeschool movement. Free, online, for individual family use, a checklist of academic milestones for kindergarten through 8th grade. (Also available in print book format)
  • Well Planned Start grade-level skills assessments (helpful to use even in conjunction with a scope-and-sequence list)
  • Core Knowledge Sequence – content and skills guidelines for preschool through grade 8 (fleshed out later in the What Your _ Grader Needs to Know series)
  • Easy Homeschooling Curriculum by Lorraine Curry
  • 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
  • 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.)
  • The Checklist by Cindy Downes is a scope-and-sequence guide for K-12 organized by sequence and/or subject, rather than grade level
  • Teaching Children by Diane Lopez 
    (Currently out of print but may be found in many public and support group libraries)
  • Weaver’s Skills Evaluation (for K6th)
  • Brigance Diagnostic Inventories (rental available for HSLDA members)
  • Sight Word assessment pack for each level of sight words: PrePrimer, Primer, First, Second and Third. Includes a student page with only words, a parent sheet with checkboxes and scorecards for ongoing evaluation, and a color sheet for students to see their progress over time.
  • Reading assessment (DORA-Diagnostic Online Reading Assessment) and math (ADAM) assessment from Let’s Go Learn

About testing and assessment:

Preschool curriculum suggestions:

While these books don’t have those lists, they are valuable, helpful reading:


Adapted from an article by the same author, previously published at www.hslda.org

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