How to Think About Subjects for Homeschooling
Hi, I’m Laura and today we are going to talk about how to think about subjects for homeschooling. I’m going to tell you a little bit of a story at the end of the podcast about how subjects inter-wove to affect one of my son’s careers.
For now let’s start off this topic of subjects by talking about the three basic approaches to homeschooling which I will call Unschooling, Classical (sometimes Unit Studies), and Traditional. But even though people will often say there is one of these approaches that they strongly advocate, I have yet to observe anyone that strictly follows just one of these approaches. There are reasons for this that I think will become apparent as we continue to delve into this topic of subjects.
Now, as always, my goal here is not to tell you how to do things, but to inspire your creativity as you are working with your children and your personality and your resources.
Let’s begin by asking “how important is the idea of categories or subjects for any learning?” Your answer to this question will partly be affected by how you see the concept of subjects. Is it a springboard for learning, or is it a dungeon, a master to be obeyed?
I think it can be helpful to distinguish between different types of subjects and even though I am going to do this, I think there is some overlap. Some types of subjects will fit in the different categories or types depending on how they are approached.
The first group, or type, I will call Basic, or Foundational Skills. And these are things that are extremely useful to learn, discover, or analyze other learning, such as reading, writing, math, or logic.
A second group of subjects I will call Skills, which would include things like cooking, computers, animal care, budgeting, and music. These subjects generally have to be applied to be meaningful at all. It is worth noting that these subjects, or skills, can be used to teach foundational skills and problem solving, usually combining these foundational skills in a meaningful way.
A third group of types of subjects I will call Academic Subjects. These are often artificially segmented for classroom style school and are sometimes considered the next level or more specific foundational learning. This would include subjects like physics or chemistry, or even economics, where reactions or concepts can be taught in a way that is maybe less expensive and possibly safer than in real world situations.
Often these academic subjects are thought of more as higher level (middle school or high school) and being preparatory for the learning that might go on in colleges or other vocational schools. But these subjects can also be used for encouraging a deeper exploration of what’s going on in the world.
The fourth group of subjects I’m going to call Philosophical Subjects. And again, there may be some crossover, particularly with the third group of Academic Subjects, but here I am thinking of things like worldview or ethics.
The fifth group is kind of like Skills in group number two, but it’s a little different – I call it Practical Subjects. Things like language, whether it be your own or a foreign language, test taking, research skills, time management, and health.
And the last group that I have come up with is called Human Interaction Subjects, with things like history, debate and how people get along or choose to govern themselves.
The thing is, real life is rarely this compartmentalized and a lot of this compartmentalization of subjects has been done so that subjects are more easily taught in a classroom situation.
But there are some reasons why it can be useful to think about subjects. If you need to keep records for government or for future upper education requirements, then it can be very useful to have a record keeping system that helps cross off or check off what subjects are being covered. Or it could be as simple as thinking about subjects helps you organize your thoughts and helps with planning. It can help form your priorities and it can also help you cover things, or make you aware of things, or prompt you to provide resources for things so that your children can have access to learning about them.
Thinking about subjects can help you avoid being disappointed or avoid unnecessary repercussions about forgetting important things, anything from thinking skills to how to grocery shop. In other words, you want to think about what things you might want to teach your child that you consider as foundational in skills, principles, problem solving, and life skills.
And although this may not be your most important thing, it can be useful in answering the critics and making life less stressful for you because you know how to answer people about what you’re doing with your education and sometimes that’s just part of life.
So, if you make a list of subjects (that might include things that are important to you, things that other people might think are important to you, things that you think your children might be interested in) it can include a whole bunch of things when you’re brainstorming and it doesn’t have to mean that you’re committing to all of those things. But if you make a list and then you can see how things overlap and you can set certain priorities and goals and, again, this doesn’t mean that you’ll never be flexible again, but it gives you a good starting point.
As you look at how different areas of study or subjects might overlap, you can also think about how much time you’re willing to invest or spend trying to motivate your child on these particular subjects. As you’re listing the subjects you might then branch out and sort of notice subsections to each subject.
For instance, with reading, there can be listening or comprehension, but you’ll also notice that reading goes on with many other subjects.
For writing, you’ll notice that it involves penmanship and grammar and knowing how to put sentences together for composition.
For math it will include things like money, basic cooking, sewing projects, even research and science projects.
Science can include history, observation, note taking, and experiments.
We, in our family, included music in our subjects in a variety of ways, and foreign language.
And then if you talk about human interaction, that gets back to talking about reading and writing, because you’re talking about communication skills and logic. And then even worldview and understanding other people’s worldview and how to develop conversation skills.
Almost any of these subjects could include some amount of organization but home skills in particular can include that, as well as repair and cleanliness. But it also goes back to math with learning about budgeting and banking.
I made some notes about what subjects might look like for different age ranges. So, for a three to four year old, I think the goal is engaging curiosity while providing security in the learning environment. Things like the reading time can include things about history, people, and health.
Math can include manipulatives and writing games. Writing might just be having fun with a paper and pencil and crayon and not being too stressed out about letting them learn their motor skills. Science can just be a lot about exploring. But it can be very helpful to have books on hand, building your own home library so that they can come look things up.
Music at this age usually means involving them in your own musical enjoyment as well as being willing to let them make some noise with some fun instruments that you feel are safe and won’t be broken in their hands.
Home skills is probably them helping you with your chores one way or another. And dealing with people is being an example to them and helping them to understand the limits depending on the people or the situations.
I think the subjects for a nine to ten year old could be summarized as things that would stimulate discovery while rewarding action. So if you provide resources, books, and supplies, if you give opportunity for experiences, whether that be things that you plan or things you suggest and you give a lot of encouragement to help motivate them in all of this discovery.
That doesn’t mean there’s no schedule; you can use this age time to introduce them to managing their own schedule as a tool to some extent while at the same time helping them know how to best use guided resources to get solid foundations in things that they are interested in or in areas that are important.
For subjects for a, say, twelve to thirteen year old I used the summary encouraging creativity while motivating responsibility. And while I think to a certain extent all of those little summaries that I have added there could be used at any age, I think there is a progression from to curiosity, to discovery, to creativity, and also from security, to action, to responsibility.
So at the twelve to thirteen year old age level, the subjects can be starting to be formed around job opportunity and areas of interest. And also areas of responsibility around home or other choices they’re making as they’re contemplating the future.
I view teenage years as a sort of a government imposed holding period but we always did our best to design the study with our older children, provide the opportunity for them to study things that they were very much interested in in a way that covered important subjects. And, for instance, for one daughter we designed her senior couple of years completely around culinary arts and she went on to become a professional chef.
However you use subjects always remember they are tools or guides and if you or your child are stressed out about them it’s okay, it’s probably good, to step back, take some time, and evaluate why there is the stress and what can be changed or adjusted so that they do the job of teaching and training and guiding and providing the opportunities for your children that you want to provide for them.
Learning is for the child, the child is not for the learning. And similarly, the parent is there for the child, the child is not there to satisfy the parent’s sense of accomplishment.
The specific story that I mentioned at the beginning is about one son who wanted to grow his own garden and sell tomatoes when he was a young teenager. It may be useful for you to know that I am an avid gardener and so he had been part of that in his life for as long as he could remember. But he wanted to do it more on his own and he wanted to try and sell his produce.
This ended up being both a gratifying and very frustrating experience. He already had a lot of the gardening part down, although there were certain stipulations about what he needed to do to keep his garden in order, because it did affect the rest of the yard and the rest of the garden, but he also had to do a lot of research about marketing in the area and about what the government regulations were, about his options for selling this produce.
Unfortunately at this point in his life, he had to come to the conclusion that he could not afford the fees at the farmer’s market to go and sell his produce. And we made the decision at that time not to subsidize that.
However, all was not lost and he went on to study plants in college. And now he is the produce manager at a large grocery store and he understands a lot about both plants and business things, and when I go into that store I get high praises about how well he is doing in that position.
And I think this story is interesting for a couple of reasons. One is that he didn’t actually have to follow through completely with the idea of what he wanted to do as a child for it to benefit him. And two, the area that he has ended up in is not exactly what he had imagined, but he is enjoying it and having a good attitude about his work there.
I hope this discussion of subjects has helped stimulate your own thinking and if you have other specific questions that I didn’t address or you would like to talk about more, please feel free to email me, I would love to hear from you. And there’s also that 90 second audio message you can leave me on thehappyhomeschool.com, it’s a little bar on the right that you can click on and record something.
Thanks for listening and see you next time.