Writing a great targeted homeschool curriculum!

The hardest part of the Australian homeschool year is here — Curriculum planning time! Here’s how I get it done quickly and easily.

Aft Ashes
11 min readJan 12, 2021
Photo by Ferenc Horvath on Unsplash — Thanks Ferenc — looks just like my place, but cleaner!

Homeschool curriculum planning and documenting in less than a day? For three kids?.. and in just a couple of pages?

Rigghht! It used to take me a week.

If you’re an existing homeschooler or are new to the whole thing, this is one of the hardest hurdles you face. And many I’ve talked to give up before they even start!

As the heat of the Australian summer peaks — but thankfully no bushfires this year, the kids are enjoying their extended break from school. That’s how it works here down under. We take a long break for Christmas. I get the impression it’s different over the pond.

I have a month before the official start of home schooling again and I’m going to knock over the curriculum by dinner tonight — despite the standard interruptions.

How you ask? Or maybe “Why don’t you just buy a curriculum online and be done with it?”

I could I suppose. It would be easier in many ways. But I would lose the benefits of homeschooling that I wanted for my kids.

In an ideal world I would have “a” perfectly average child (Three! What was I thinking!) who is exactly on track with their schooling and aligned with “normal”. But my children are anything but normal. Or on track.

Who’s are?!

The canned, standardised, model, one size fits all commercial solutions just don’t fit.

Something that works for one child, will not work for the others. I can’t recycle a previous years curriculum and use it on the next. Much to my dismay!

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash — Homeschooling looks like this right? Wish my kids would do that!

I have found that a good curriculum not only satisfies the authorities, but makes my job so much easier. It reduces my stress for the rest of the year over:

  • What should I teach now?
  • Is this approach effective for this child?
  • Which resources should I use and when?

Without it, I am stuck churning through a text book. This is boring for all concerned and exactly what I strive to avoid by homeschooling the kids. They could go to a normal school for that!

The Devil is in the Detail!

In any school curriculum writing exercise, you have to start with the basic requirements. What does my State require for example?

Your state may require nothing! Check that. This applies if you are in Australia, USA , Antarctica or elsewhere. A quick google search of your state’s education body should tell you.

I start a new document for each of the children and copy over the requirements for each from the official website. Be sure to copy over any guidance for Advanced and / or Remedial curriculum.

Copying over the curriculum is an important part of my method. This way I can write a “response” to each objective. If any of the objectives are left over at the bottom of the document, I know I have missed something. Then I can go back and add more activities.

For some of the requirements I will write N/A next to them. This could be because of religion / philosophy or because the child is doing advanced or remedial work in that area. I put a short explanation next to each exemption. More so that I know why it is being skipped and to help me determine if the document is complete.

Answering each of the detailed objectives is a monumental task. They have hundreds of tiny objectives in each subject here in NSW Australia. Answering each of them is time consuming and ultimately, futile. It leaves a program of work that is completely inflexible.

I did this once, and only once. It took 75 pages just to do the English and Math portions of that program! For one child! It was then I decided a new approach was needed.

Most importantly, I checked with the homeschooling mob here to confirm that I was over complicating things.

So What Do I Now Do?

The Standard Curriculum Approach..

These days I take a whole of subject approach. I detail the government’s requirements, then I list how many hours a week or term we will spend on the subject.

Then I list what resources we will be using to meet the outlined objectives. For example I check each of the texts are curriculum aligned and list the text.

Some departments may ask for a copy of the chapter headings in any texts. This is so they can check the main curriculum is in alignment. Speak to your supervisor to see if this is needed. It doesn’t take too much extra work though. Simply photocopy the contents pages from the chosen texts and submit it along with your documentation.

So what does that all look like in detail?

Okay — let’s talk about what general changes I make to a standard curriculum to give you an idea of what you could do. Given the differences in each of our children, hopefully you should see one of yours in one of ours.

Example 1 — Standard Curriculum Style

The Youngest (Normal? But Speech Delayed)

Our youngest is the most “normal”. He is stubborn beyond reason, but ahead of his peers in math and language use. He loves book work and will follow through with any activity you set. He loves school and can’t wait to get into it at any opportunity.

His biggest drawback is despite his wide vocabulary, his speech is almost unintelligible. It’s blurry for some reason. No he doesn’t have a hearing issue. Doc reckons he’ll grow out of it.

The youngest I can stick closest to the “normal” approach of using standard books and simple online programs. I can tick every box on the governments objectives. The only change is adding in a little speech therapy to get him over his delay.

For the youngest this simple standard approach gives something like the following:

Subject: Math

  • Main Text: Math Tracks Year 3 — Australia curriculum,
  • Revision : Math Homework year 3,
  • Videos: ABC Education -Math year 3,
  • Lesson plans: Twinkle (an educator’s website where teachers share lesson plans),
  • Activities: Math Tracks year 3.
  • Testing and tracking : Math Homework year three Assessments.
  • And the Government’s Math objectives you are aiming to meet.

That’s it for the entire subject of Math.

Rinse and repeat for other subjects. Include content pages for the texts if required by your department. Add in a line about the extra subject — speech — and how many hours a week you are committing to it.

I have a paragraph at the top introducing my son and any advantages or difficulties he is facing and what we hope to achieve — and we are done. I hope all your kids are this simple to deal with!

But if not, read on for some other ideas.

Example 2 — The Project Approach

The Middle Child (ADHD, Dyslexic and Colour Blind)

Yep. We spell colour with a U. Sorry. Blame the Crown for that — and our failure to have a revolution like you guys in the USA.

Our middle child is smart, but his ADHD means he has an inability to sit still and do bookwork. His dyslexia means an aversion to everything written. His colour blindness means that sometimes written texts make no sense to him.

For example:

  • “what is to the left of the red triangle?”, or
  • “The United states is highlighted in green.”

He normally has no ability to follow through and complete set tasks without supervision. Or avoid distractions.

So for him we need a different type of curriculum. We are taking a computer and project based approach to his school work. He needs engaging video of subject matter. Fun programs where he doesn’t realise he is learning — gamification of the curriculum so to speak.

I need remedial books to treat the dyslexia in reading and writing. I will change as many written activities to verbal as possible. I need to add anything I can find that makes the learning physical and fun.

But most of all I need to put it on a computer! When I do that I get to see his true abilities.

Like Code.org, which he completed with no supervision, encouragement or compulsion required. He just taught himself the whole thing — because he didn’t have to read. It has the option to read it to him where needed and it was fun.

The content of his curriculum will include:

  • A list of online gamified learning tools for a range of subjects.
  • Online video providers we’re going to use for content.
  • The books we’re going to use for remedial topics to help with his dyslexia.
  • The real life projects he’s going to engage in to achieve the required outcomes.
  • A list of the government requirements.

This leads to something like the following:

Project Term 1: Build an Archery Range

  • Math: Area, Measurement, Drafting, Triangles, Making right angles, Calculating distance from Apparent Height.
  • English: Make a plan of the Archery range to be built. Display on a poster and present the plan to your parents. Covers speech, written, research and communication.
  • History: Watch videos of historical archery ranges. Watch videos of Olympic archery ranges.
  • Geography: Learn about site planning, mapping and soil types. Decide and explain placement of your archery range.
  • Physical Education: Learn about sporting body requirements for an archery range. Do all the physical work of building it. Use the archery range. (Don’t lose an eye whilst doing it!)
  • Environment and the Community: Discover the consequences of the Archery range and its placement on others. (Like your mum!) Find out how the materials it is made of effects how others feel about its placement. (Mum’s not going to allow us to put in a concrete fixture in the middle of her garden)

Remedial Work Term 1

  • Beat dyslexia book 3.
  • Fast Phonics — A gamified level driven spelling program.

Other Curriculum Engagement:

  • Adventure academy: interest and level driven learning program @ 6 hours per week. Report from program to be printed at the conclusion of each term.
  • Reading Express: a level driven gamified advancement in reading @ 4 hours per week. Report printed at conclusion of semester.

Repeat the above project outlines for each of the time periods being taught. For example we have a coding and building Robotics project lined up for term 2. Then add in the quick little introduction like we did in the standard model and we are done.

If neither of these approaches work for you or your child you might want to consider the altered curriculum approach below. Here we throw out the government’s syllabus completely and state why. And then what curriculum will be followed instead.

This can only be done in certain cases, so check your state allows this and under what conditions before proceeding. Usually this is a medically or religious exemption driven category. I am sure there are other reasons so look into it when the first two examples don't work for you.

Example 3 — Your Own Syllabus

The Eldest (Autistic)

Our eldest is Autistic. Not the quirky Asperger’s type of Autism you see on TV; the non verbal, meltdown, obsessive type of Autism. She also loves doing school work, but on her terms.

It needs to be repetitive, routine and predictable. At high school age, she is still working on grade one in English and reading — She’s constrained by her challenge with the concept that making sounds is a good way to communicate.

She’s not convinced.

However, she’s in grade 5 in a very limited Math. If she loves an activity she will obsess over it for weeks until mastered.

For her I need simple books. Simple repetitive programs and simple kinesthetic activities to engage her. Her math for instance, needs to have no words. She cannot engage in Science, History or Geography in any meaningful way.

Well, unless you consider The Magic School Bus a substitute? Thanks Netflix! Those kooky Americans — who knows what they’ll come up with next!

After all as a teenager she has finally worked out this Christmas thing. It is about telling mum your shopping list. Then you wait on the edge of your seat for a few days before being allowed to unwrap the presents you asked for.

Surprising her was waaay to stressful, so we do it this way now. She might have missed the point a little there. There are some subjects she won’t do at her current level.

Do you know how hard it is to find math books that have only mathematical expressions?

Ones that don’t use “stories” — like “if Jane had four cats and gave one to Tim, how many does she have left?”

Yet if I give my eldest the same question as a mathematical expression, she can answer it. For example 4 - 1= ?

For her curriculum I start by saying she has an adjusted curriculum, and I add that:

  • we will use the following math books… at one page per day. (She will do 50 pages if I let her!)
  • she will use the following online programs… at a rate of twice per week.
  • she will do a speech program of 1 hour per day as dictated by medical providers.
  • she will do a life skills program four times a week. Stating who it is set by and what its aims are.
  • the majority of her time will be spent learning life art skills so she can develop a life purpose that she enjoys. Like painting nails.

She’s never leaving home. That’s a hard adjustment for a parent to make. But hey — lots of kids aren’t leaving home these days! At least she’s got an excuse! Her brothers aren’t intending to leave home either.

What’s going to happen to their disabled kid/s is one of the greatest causes of concern for many older parents.

Are we doing something right or something wrong, here? Hmmm.

Back to the curriculum. Again I add in the quick introduction along with an explanation as to why I have disregarded the normal curriculum. The first time you do this they may also want lots of medical reports to prove this is the only option. Then I list the adjusted curriculum as above and we are done.

So by now you have decided to take either an individual, project based or standard approach to your curriculum. You have copied down the criteria. Now you are starting to write out your child’s curriculum and have spotted my simplification for the purposes of the article.

I assume in this article that you have already “chosen” the texts and programs you will be using. If not, there will be a pause after the first draft of each curriculum while you go and buy any texts and subscribe to any online resources you need. Then come back and fill in the gaps in your program.

If you are stumped trying to select texts and curriculum appropriate content then you are not alone. See my next article on choosing the best content for your homeschooled child’s curriculum. Which is a whole other thing!

Using the above guide you should be able to knock out a quick and effective curriculum document in a short period of time.

Please, if you find this article was helpful give me a clap — It’s my first Medium article ever! Should I do any more?

If there are points you wish to discuss let me know. I’ll add my website/blog link later.



Aft Ashes

Arise! Ashes, Arise! Talking about starting again — just like Frankenstein’s monster!