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Deciding What to Teach


The Simple Answer to Deciding What to Teach


The simple answer to this question, legally, is that as long as your child is passing the state required standardized tests (at ending 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th) at Oregon's minimum required 15th percentile*...


The parent will determine what to teach a child, when, and how (schooling scope, sequence, and philosophy).

As quoted from the Oregon Department of Education's website FAQ for homeschooling:

"Required testing for home school students focuses on satisfactory progress in academic areas. Academic content standards and curriculum goals have been developed by the Department of Education and are available on the department’s website. These content standards provide a framework for all content areas and are arranged as standards for grades 3, 5, 8, and 10. The department’s website address is Parents are not required to use the state content standards and may teach programs other than those taught in public school." [emphasis added]. 


The standardized tests will thus drive the progression of tested skills for your child; therefore, we at the CHOC Board recommend that a basic skills test of only math and reading skills be given, such as the California Achievement Test of Basic Skills (Terra Nova).


Math and Reading tend to be fairly generic subjects progressing along fairly traditional timelines. Social studies and science, which are included in broader standardized tests, are more prone to politically supported thinking. These latter subjects also have much greater variance in timing, coverage, and progression.


For information about where to test your homeschooled child, please go to our list of local providers for Testing and Counseling. If your child struggles to pass the 15th percentile or has learning challenges, please see that page as well.


Now the longer discussion as most believe education is much more than just teaching enough reading, writing and arithmetic to past the state tests (and we at the CHOCboard strongly agree!)...

The Scope and Sequence Is Not As Standard As You Think 


So how do you plan the overall course of your child's schooling for these 12 years?  That's called the scope and sequence in the educational trade. 


As quoted above, the State of Oregon does not mandate curriculum or subjects for homeschoolers (and it is the opinion of the CHOC Board that they should not). But, isn't scope and sequence dangerous to leave to a bunch of homeschool parents--won't they all go off in different directions with their own ideas about what to teach and when?


There is a surprising amount of variance in scope and sequence between public schools.  Between school districts, there can be significant differences between what subjects are covered during the whole of k-12. (We've even seen different tracks at the same school). This stems from the fact that state standards are very broadly written to allow for district customization (example: must work with whole numbers). 


Of all the subjects, only reading, writing, and arithmetic seem to have a generalized agreement as to what should be covered when, which is probably why these are the favorite subjects for the basic skills (However--many faddish public school programs even rearrange the traditionally accepted scoping in the basic skills). 


Other subjects come and go on the academic benchmarks as states adjust and spin curriculum, test matter, and acceptable passing levels to reflect popular political agendas or to look good for the latest federal dollars. 


If scope and sequence can be determined largely by the prevalent educational philosophy or legislative mood of the day, why not a loving parent's prayerful discretion over their child's specific needs?

A General Rule of Thumb--Start with the Basics and then Expand:

Kindergarten through 5th grade is getting down the basics (reading, writing, arithmetic) and exposing the child to a broad smattering of history, science, the fine arts, literature, etc. The primary grades, 1st through 3rd, are sometimes seen as a cohesive unit, as children develop at different rates.


6th through 8th are usually placed together, and are somewhat transitional, as higher thinking skills are usually introduced. 8th grade can swing into the high school years if a child is ready.


High school is re-coverage of many of the subjects taught over the lower grades only at a deeper, more analytical level, and at a much faster pace.  High school also adds interest skills that can be developed for the child's vocation/career needs.  (For help in preparing a child for a college path, please see our page at  Planning for College).


Remember to plan your child's education utilizing all of his schooling years. You will focus on different areas at different times to continually develop your child into a well-rounded individual with unique talents.  Some areas will go faster and easier than others; some will take more work depending upon each child's abilities.


Many view children as growing in educational stages. Often these stages are described as the classical stages of: grammar--facts/figures; dialetic--why/how; rhetorical--analytical/persuasive-debate.  These stages are an attempt to reflect a child's maturity and capacity for more complex thinking as he/she matures. (And we at the CHOC board have found these stages to be generally true, however, different children will mature through them at different paces.)

Each schooling philosophy focuses on different content. Scope and sequence will thus stem from your educational/schooling philosophy and your child's abilities and vocational needs, We believe that's a lot better than a political agenda.


The Schooling Philosophies


Summarized from their broadest roots, four of the most common schooling philosophies are:


Traditional: The belief that there is a set, core base of knowledge, generally unchanging from age to age, that every child should know to be considered an educated person; School is about being taught or gaining this knowledge base. Knowledge is usually broken down into specific subjects, ie math, English, history, science, etc., and studied individually for focus. 


This philosophy, not surprisingly, is behind all those traditional standardized tests and why we have a textbook market (both secular and Christian).  It also was the prevailing educational philosophy in much of America's earlier years as a nation. Noah Webster's textbooks and dictionaries provided the foundation for America's academic standards from the late 1700's and onward for over 100 years. 


The Traditional approach works well with a "fact and detail" oriented child who needs clear incremental steps and logical organization to their subjects.


Progressive:  This philosophy (which became popular in the late 1800's) shies away from the rigidness of the traditional method or the possibly unrealistic rigors of the classical method. It believes a child only needs to learn those practical skills which he can readily apply and which are considered useful for today's society.  It also seeks to address the whole child rather than segmented parts of his mind in studies.


Subjects are integrated rather than broken apart from each other to emphasize what is relevant for actual "real world" application.  Thus important knowledge is that which is deemed useful for the application/project; what's useful varies from society to society, age to age (that's why it's called progressive--educational needs and "truths" progress with the ever changing evolution of society). This philosophy is why those standardized tests and our educational institutions are constantly tinkered with today. 


While obviously this could be taken to an unhealthy extreme today teaching only computer and calculator skills, there are some very positive aspects of this philosophy as seen in Unit Studies. The Unit Studies method teaches integrated skills together for a practical purpose rather than disjointed and isolated without real world application (ie, building a birdhouse requires the application of math, reading, research, natural science, etc., integrating all those skills for a purpose of the bird house). This style also promotes the Charlotte Mason style of schooling that centers on "living books" that seek to impart knowledge to a child in a way to reach their heart as well as their mind through delightful literature and engaging texts and nature studies.


The Unit Study Method can be very useful for a practical-minded child who is goal oriented, prefers a more open-ended approach, and needs to see concrete application to make his or her studies meaningful. Charlotte Mason method can adapt to many lifestyles to be a gentler and more engaging approach for many children.


Classical:  This philosophy (which has been around since the Ancient Greeks) stresses education is about learning how to learn, and more importantly how to think; It stresses wisdom has been passed down through the ancients and previous sages of societies (the classics). 


Much emphasis is given to reading works by the classics to develop rigorous thinking skills and good communication to support your own arguments, as well as studying the arts, history, languages and mathematics of prior societies; much less emphasis--if any-- is placed on learning contemporary practical skills. 


Many of our founding fathers received a classical education, and it was the standard method in many of our early universities and private prep schools. 


The Classical method can be good for a child who prefers more abstract thinking and likes to focus on and discuss the why and deeper meaning of subjects.


Classical publishers are wide and varied as well.  Many of the "how-to" books discuss implementation of this approach. The more popular are The Well Trained Mind, the Charlotte Mason approach (a more modern derivative), Veritas Press, and the Thomas Jefferson approach.


Unschooling:  This is a modern approach.  It believes a child will learn what he needs to learn as he goes about his normal life relatively unhindered by outside expectations since a child will learn best when he feels the need to learn it or is interested in learning it. 


The assumption is made that the child will naturally have a broad spectrum of interests throughout his "school" life and will naturally desire to learn about them (and not fixate on computer games or avoid helpful subjects he dislikes).  The "teacher" is merely a facilitator helping to provide materials in areas the child is interested in. 


Common sense dictates this approach would need to be carefully guided by a wise adult and not taken to the extreme of many popular secular unschoolers. We prefer the modified concept of "Delight Directed Education" as defined by Greg Harris of enriching your child's studies by adding topics or interests that "delight" him or her (ie, he must learn how to read and he loves dogs, choose books about dogs to read; her love of stamp collecting can be used to teach her geography). 


Children who need lots of hands-on activity and "fun" subjects to keep their attention, or need a more personable approach to help learning come "alive," often benefit from a Delight-Directed style of education. Charlotte Mason Method (mentioned above) also applies to the delight directed child.


Since unschooling seeks to follow the child instead of any set curriculum, many resources can be used. Activity kits, resource books, encyclopedias, old textbooks, whatever provides useful information.


Eclectic homeschoolers blend several schooling philosophies finding some good points in each philosophy. They pick and choose from different curriculum styles as they fit their educational goals. 


Many families implement an approach which best fits their overall family temperament rather than trying to implement a style for each child. Also, if it makes sense and fits the parent-teacher, then the parent-teacher in turn can always adapt it to a particular child's learning style or needs.

We have outlined major publishers for each type of schooling philosophy on our Deciding Your Curriculum page.


Remember, Education is much more than Academics 

True education is much more than facts, figures, rigorous thinking, standardized tests, or practical job skills. Rather, it is a whole-life discipleship of a child that develops his or her mind, heart, character and talents to become a wholly capable and morally honorable adult prepared to understand and live wisely in the times.


the CHOC Board

All Rights Reserved

(Permission is given to print for personal use or link to this article as long as credit is given to Tammy R. Arp at the CHOC Board and our website address is shown.)

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