Curriculum and Materials

Many parents contemplating homeschooling have questions about curriculum guidelines and materials:

What is a curriculum? What are curriculum materials?

A curriculum (plural: curricula; from the Latin meaning 'race course') is a course of study designed to result in a specific set of learning outcomes.

Conventional curricula, such as those of the school system, are deliberately constructed in terms of curriculum content (what is to be learned), organization into subject matters (in what context it is to be learned), and organization into levels or grades (when or in what order it is to be learned).

Curriculum materials are the physical resources used to support the presentation of and interaction with the curriculum content. Conventional curriculum materials include textbooks, workbooks, manipulatives, charts and posters, etc.

Must I follow the same curriculum as the schools?

No, homeschoolers in Ontario are not required to follow the Ontario curriculum. This is stated explicitly in the government's home schooling policy document, Policy/Program Memorandum No. 131, which cautions school board officials to "recognize that the methodology, materials, schedules, and assessment techniques used by parents who provide home schooling may differ from those used by educators in the school system. For example, the parent may not be following the Ontario curriculum, using standard classroom practices in the home, or teaching within the standard school day or school year."

What is the Ontario curriculum and where can I find it?

The Ontario government has standardized the curriculum to be followed in all public schools in the province. This is partly a logistical measure to enable students who need to transfer from one school to another (e.g. when their family moves to a new neighbourhood or a new town) to do so easily without finding their prior learning to be out of sync with the lessons being taught in their new setting. The 1997 revision of the provincial curriculum guidelines was also an attempt to impose more rigourous learning outcomes so that Ontario student scores would compare favourably with those of other provinces and countries.

Homeschoolers are not required to follow the Ontario public school system's curriculum, but may, of course, do so if they wish. It can be found on the website of the Ministry of Education, starting on this page: Links are provided according to whether you are looking for elementary or secondary school guidelines, and whether you are searching by subject or by grade.

What are the alternatives to the Ontario curriculum?

The Ontario curriculum is a standardized course of study that is designed for mass education in the institutional setting of Ontario's public schools. One alternative would be to follow the school curriculum guidelines of a different province or country.

Another alternative is to follow a curriculum that is still structured in terms of grade but is faith-based rather than secular. In such a curriculum, the conventional subjects are sometimes taught using religious themes (e.g. for math word problems) and there are often additional subjects such as the study of scriptures, virtues, etc.

The real alternative, however, is to take advantage of the golden opportunity afforded by homeschooling, to custom tailor the educational program to the individual child.

In a parent-directed approach, this can manifest as developing unit studies or book studies based on the child's interests, and using them to incorporate whatever new aspects of language, math, history, geography, etc., that the parent wishes to introduce at that time, based on the parent's observation of the child's readiness.

In a child-led approach, it can manifest as creating a learning environment through the stimulation and nurturing of the child's natural curiosity and interests, and exposing the child to information, knowledge, resources and opportunities that the parent believes will be beneficial to the child's growth, development and learning. The curriculum, in this case, still includes such learning outcome goals as literacy and numeracy, etc., but understood from a longer-term and responsive perspective rather than being predetermined year by year. Here again, the facilitation is based on ongoing responsive observation of readiness and interest.

To explore these options in more detail, please visit our page on Teaching Methods and Learning Philosophies.

Which curriculum and/or curriculum materials should I use?

Before you can decide which curriculum and supporting materials would best meet your individual family's needs, you need first to decide which teaching method or learning philosophy is most aligned with your beliefs about parenting, child development, your role in facilitating your child's learning, the relationship between the means and the ends, and what your goals and priorities are.

To explore your options, please visit our page on Teaching Methods and Learning Philosophies, which includes links to other sites where you can find out more about any given approach and which curriculum materials would best support it.

Where can I find new or used curriculum materials?

If you already know which types of materials you're looking for, or if you want to find out what's available while you're in the process of choosing an approach, you can look through the listings in our Resource Directory.

You can also find educational materials at homeschool conferences and curriculum fairs.

Don't forget to make good use of resources in the home and community, as well:

Library, community centres, children's museums, field trips with support groups, etc.

Magazines, newspapers, TV shows, documentaries, films, games, sports, arts, crafts, music, etc.

And, of course, your daily living resources, such as measuring cups and other kitchen utensils, measuring tape and other construction tools, plants and animals in your back yard and at the park, etc.

Curriculum resources don't have to be in the form of tangible materials or educational settings. People are wonderful resources too! Kids can learn a lot from conversing with or interviewing people in different trades and/or from different generations.

One of the most valuable learning resources is your own engaging conversation and responsiveness to your child's questions.