Curriculum is basically a grouping of subjects of study. We tend to think about curriculum by organization or subject. For example, any public high school curriculum in Texas is required to include math and science. Math and science are just parts of the curriculum.
But even these parts are “curriculum.” The school selects a specific science curriculum for biology that includes a textbook, labs, and software. So “curriculum” is actually a pretty broad term. The definition by Dictionary.com is “the aggregate of courses of study given in a school, college, university, etc.” Also note that this definition of curriculum would include “studies” not based on a textbook.
So what does this mean for homeschoolers?
If you assume that curriculum is a course of study, then whatever a homeschooler studies is his or her curriculum. That’s not the answer a newcomer expects or even wants to hear. New homeschoolers often want someone to hand them the curriculum they can use to teach with. I think the mindset is along the lines of the first day of class in school when the teacher gives you the books for the year. That’s something people understand.
However, as a homeschooler, the school isn’t going to hand you your curriculum. It is up to you to decide what will be included in the curriculum within the constraints of homeschool requirements for your state. In Texas, whatever curriculum you choose must be “designed to meet basic education goals of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and a study of good citizenship.”
If you think about it, that’s not a very specific requirement. It doesn’t mention history or science nor does it even say that you have to use a curriculum that is at the appropriate, for the lack of a better word, grade level. So that still leaves new homeschoolers stuck with deciding what to use for their curriculum.
Curriculum is really two questions
Ultimately, what many new homeschoolers don’t understand is that the question of curriculum for homeschoolers is really a combination of two questions:
What do I want to teach my children?
How should I teach it?
It isn’t until they go to a homeschool bookstore or a website to buy a “package curriculum” for their children do they begin to realize that as a homeschooler, curriculum isn’t decided for you; it’s something you have to decide for yourself.
So initially, new homeschoolers see these two questions as a matter of deciding between Sonlight or Saxon or some other package of textbooks, workbooks, quizzes, answer sheets, and teacher lesson plans. It is only after sitting down and struggling to keep up with the suggested lesson plans or finding that their children “don’t get it,” do new homeschoolers start to think that there might be more than one way to “get it.”
The goal of curriculum: do they get it?
Once you see that your children “get” math by playing fantasy football or “get” reading by writing and producing their own plays, you realize that the concept curriculum goes beyond a collection of books and subjects assigned by someone else. Maybe your curriculum will include books on geology as well as software for computer programming. The point is that as homeschoolers, curriculum doesn’t have to be something that comes from a textbook publisher. Simply because selected curriculum meets some organization’s standards doesn’t mean that it will meet yours. Curriculum is whatever collection of methods and resources that you use so that your child will “get” the topics you decide to teach by whatever standards you set.
It’s both a scary and liberating concept. Do you get it?