Choosing a curriculum often causes the most worry. I understand. Not only am I a homeschool Mom, I was also a classroom teacher for many years. I was lucky enough to work at a school the last 6 years of my career that allowed me to use the standards as my base, but I got to decide exactly what curriculum I used each day to present those standards to my students. I fussed over those choices day and night. Because I was bound to the standards, I used a Subject by Subject Curriculum in my classroom.
My homeschool curriculum was a completely different story. I much prefer a topic based curriculum. I believe it lends itself to engagement so much easier. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with a Subject by Subject Curriculum – we used that too, especially when the bugs were in Middle and High School.
A topic based curriculum is simply where my passion is, hence Homeschool Holiday, where everything revolves around the overarching theme of the holiday of the day 🙂
If you would like to explore using topic based curriculum in your homeschool, this article will help you understand:
What topic based curriculum is
What you need to plan a topic based unit
What IS Topic Based Curriculum?
Topic based curriculum is also known as a unit study, or a “thematic unit” – you can incorporate every subject in your unit or as many as are reasonable. Your length and depth of study can be easy going or elaborate. My mantra is: There is no wrong way to homeschool! It is far better to go for it than to do nothing because your curriculum doesn’t quite measure up to the latest pinterest board.
Everyone in your homeschool studies the same topic, and the level of study and the depth of the work produced is adapted to the child.
You can also have individual children choose to study their own topics – but when doing this, I encourage my clients to work it into their day as a “free choice learning” subject vs every child learning a different topic all day long. Think of a family with 5 children learning 5 topics… planning for that might get overwhelming. It’s far easier to fit it into your Subject by Subject Curriculum plan as “genius hour” , “special studies”, or my coined term “free choice learning”.
What do I need to plan a topic based curriculum?
The first thing you need are the topics. How many topics you need will depend on how you want to divide your time. I find the best approach to topic based curriculum is to put the topics into time slots. Decide if you want to do one topic per month, one per week, 2 weeks, etc. If you just work on a topic until you are “done” you may never move onto the next topic:-) Structuring time is okay.
Next gather books relating to your topic. Don’t be afraid to use books for all age levels. Big kids learn from picture books and young ones can be read to from longer fact filled chapter books.
You want to find your books before planning activities. Use the library, what you have on hand, order from Amazon and borrow from others you know. This way you know exactly what facet of each topic you have available. For example, if your topic is pirates, but you don’t have any books on pirate ships, you don’t need to plan any activities about ships and rigging, etc. OR this lets you know to FIND a book where there is a major gap in the theme. Perhaps your young one loves ships and not having a book to fit in this theme is going to put a damper on the learning, you can do your best to find it.
After I had my books, I figured out activities/craftivities to go with the books. I looked for videos, hands on activities, printables and always looked for a possible Field Trip.
Gathering the books first also allows you to target your activities to the books. Let’s say for example you are compiling a unit on weather. You happen to have the book Thunder Cake by Patricia Polocco on hand, now you can look for activities that coordinate with THIS book.The Figurative Language element onomatopoeia (words that make sounds) happens to be one example I have used with this book.
You don’t need to gather books/activities for every topic all at once. You can do this topic by topic or a few topics at a time. Some gather as much as they can over the summer to be ready for the entire school year, and some gather materials each weekend for the week.
My advice is to plan at least 1 month in advance to allow time to gather materials. That way when you find out you are missing an essential piece, you have time for that Amazon order!
Some families do a year round homeschool schedule that accommodates this type of planning. They school for 4 or 5 weeks, then take a week off. You can work on your next set of plans during that week. You just need to be mindful of major holidays when establishing your year plan.
Others do their planning over the summer for the following school year, outlining the basic topics by week or month for the whole year so the “map” of plans exists to help you stay on track.
Some would say you should establish learning goals for each topic…you are indeed welcome to do this, especially if you are working with a charter school or in a state that requires work samples. However, I find pre-established goals set expectations that can be limiting to kids. Kids always far exceed anything I could ever outline for them.
To help with planning your themes I created these FREE planning pages: You can download them and print one for each theme. (There are also Lesson planning pages for subject by subject curriculum in the pack.)
In our homeschool each topic had a Lapbook – these were the place we stored all the “evidence” of learning. After reading a book, watching a video, etc we put our facts onto an appropriate lapbook template and added it to our lapbook.
Because my topics were 2 week topics we used 2 file folders stapled together for each topic. You can see my lapbook video tutorial HERE.
You can also search Pinterest & Teachers Pay Teachers to help find other resources that go with your topic. Both have plenty of free resources.
The books went into the BOOK BASKET and were always available for free exploration for the duration of the topic.
I know once you dive in you will get the hang of it. Remember – even studying the Holidays can be your theme!
I hope your journey is blessed!
If you are interested in having help with Curriculum and you live in California, check out Happy Hive Homeschool Consulting. – I would be happy to partner with you on this journey!
- Mrs. Crabtree