Non-Core Academic Subject Areas

The previous four pages under Helpful Resources and Reviews deal with what almost every student will study quite often, if not every year, in some shape or form.  Those classes are referred to as Core courses in the world of academia.  Non-Core courses comprise everything else, and as with everything else having to do with education, when you are homeschooling, you can decide if something would be more correctly called  a Core class for your student.  For example, for the Christian family, a systematic study of the Bible would be considered foundational to who they are and would thus be considered Core.  The same would be true for high schoolers who know that they will attend colleges that insist on a foreign language as a criteria for admission.  If that’s true for your kids, then a foreign language would be considered Core.  Likewise, if you have a child who is particularly gifted in one of the fine arts, those courses should be considered Core as well.  Essentially, anything that your child studies that is an integral part of what it means for him or her to become the person they have been created to be should be considered part of their personal Core learning.  Since we are all different, we should expect to see some variation.  Often, though, what we end up with is a cookie-cutter mentality when what we really want is a custom-crafted experience.  Homeschooling can provide this customization simply by virtue of it being a one-on-one tutorial environment–even when there are several children in the household!

NOTE:  The local schools simply can’t compare when it comes to being able to customize the learning trajectory of each and every student that comes through their doors.  Frankly, they shouldn’t be expected to do this.  They do a very good job at doing what they were designed to do.  (Do a little bit of research into that idea if you want to know more.  It should come up at least once during the development of your personal philosophy of education.)  I’m not talking about teachers here, but rather the institutions themselves.  There are some amazing teachers everywhere you look, but even the top teacher in his or her field cannot craft a customized curriculum for every single one of the students they have in a given year.  There’s a world of difference between personalizing an existing curriculum and creating one that is specifically targeted to the strengths and quirks of one particular person.  To put this in terms that a classroom teacher will easily grasp, this is the difference between planning differentiation of a lesson so that all of the students in the classroom get something out of it and teaching each lesson in a specific way directly to each child individually.  That would take forever!  But you, as a homeschool parent can easily do this!

Many people know these Non-Core Classes as Electives.  Electives, by their very name, refer to classes that are extras, or things that the students choose because they ‘elect’ to do them.  However, electives, or Non-Core classes, can also be considered to be a part of the Core curriculum because these are the activities that enrich and liven the curriculum.  In fact, homeschoolers who use a unit study approach will often combine activities that will add things like art, music, or drama to some topic.  For example, if you were reading Little House in the Big Woods, you might try your hand at the homey activities that Laura Ingalls Wilder mentions, such as churning butter or making maple sugar candy. A study about spiders or snakes, they might want to create dioramas or papier-mâché.  Learning about any epoch of time or a particular place will yield many opportunities to learn about what the people were listening to, reading about, or eating. All of these things can be considered non-core activities.

In fact, there are two ways you can approach most of the courses or activities that people classify as non-core (or electives): appreciation or experience.  You could do both, of course.  It’s worth noting that every person has things they are really good at and things that they just are not.  For example, as much as I’d love for our family to be musically inclined, we really can only play LEGOS.  None of us have any kind of talent in the musical arena–but, while we are much more likely to simply learn about music and appreciate it, we do also experience it in some shape or form … we’re just not very good at it and won’t be quitting our day jobs!  The same can be said for some of our kids as far as art goes.  Everything one of our kids has ever drawn looks like a salt shaker; whereas, another one is quite good at artistic pursuits.  Another son is really great at spatial design, but not actual drawing.  He’ll probably end up designing something useful.  The point here is that all of these fields of interest are wide open for exploration.

Recently, one of the FB groups I am part of asked about electives for high school kids.   I answered that I have my beginning freshmen do an exploratory course that will help them learn to take hold of their high school education.  I mentioned it on another page, but here it is again: Home School, High School, and Beyond, by Beverly Adams-Gordon.  It’s out of print, but well worth looking for because it covers all the kids of things that a young person should be able to handle so that they can have a better, more tailored high school experience.  There are lots of other great ideas that could go along with this type of course.  Remember, though, that the new high schooler is usually in the midst of puberty, and therefore, there is very little brain power available yet for higher order thinking.  It is, however, a great time to help them lay down the rails that will allow that higher order thinking to speed along once they are out of that period of super brain development!  For 10th grade, I usually do targeted career counseling, which really is a continuation and refinement of what they had done in the previous course, and something I call Household Husbandry.  In this type of course, your teen learns all the things that go along with owning a home.  They learn how to make things, take care of things, and fix things.  In addition to all this great learning taking place, just think of all the stuff that will get done around the house!  Junior year is the ideal time for learning to drive.  Everyone really ought to learn this skill.  You have no idea what the future will hold for your son or daughter and this is just a useful life skill to have, kind of like swimming!  Finally, for senior year, I had my oldest sons do the Personal Management Merit Badge because it tackled things like learning how to manage your time, create and keep to a budget, and all the other things that usually go along with the concept of “adulting.”

The above list of courses doesn’t mean that these are the only options for high school electives.  As I described at the top of this page, non-core classes are usually the things that are not English, math, science, or history.  That means that everything else can be an elective.  But, by the wider definition of core classes being absolutely necessary for who your student is supposed to grow to be, then you can see that you have many more options.  It’s probably more helpful to think about how to divide these courses into a subject oriented transcript.  One side of the subject transcript is reserved for the big four class options listed above, but the other side is where everything else lands.  On that side of the page, you may very well have several Bible courses, or a host of various art classes.  You might even have several courses in automotive mechanics or film making.  Whatever is part of who your student feels is his calling, her vocation, should be listed on that transcript. (I have to address how to do transcripts.  That list of blog topics keeps getting longer and longer!)

As with all things homeschool related, options for all sorts of classes abound.  You could spend hours finding curriculum to help your student learn all the things he wants to know.  Don’t overlook simply letting your child explore a subject without a textbook, though.  There is a lot to be said for doing your own research into something and then giving it a try!  By way of documentation, your son or daughter could keep a notebook about his or her experiences.  Beyond “proof” for the coursework, this sort of notebook will provide valuable insight when he or she tries some now combination.  This would be a “lab” notebook in the truest sense of the word even though the subject matter may have very little to do with the study of science.  One thing I will say for the practice of any “art”–invest in good quality tools!  Buying good tools doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to buy professional grade, but there is a world of difference between something marketed as a toy and something that is more of a tool!

The following are just some goodies we’ve used over the years, all broken into their most reasonable category:

Music

The Story of the Orchestra

The World’s Very Best Opera for Kids in English

Classical Kids Collection

History of Classical Music Literature Pack (includes Vox Music Masters CDs)

Art

Artistic Pursuits

The Story of Art, Gombrich

Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting

Name That Style: All About ISMS in Art

Drawing with Children, Mona Brooks

The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron (and her other books)

The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Edith Schaeffer

Any handcrafts could be considered art as well.  If your child likes to knit, crochet, sew, embroider, carve, whittle, create Lego creations, decorate his Minecraft worlds, or pretty much anything else that could be considered beautifying an environment, that is art!  You don’t have to keep every single diorama, but you should document this learning somehow.

Drama

Tales from Shakespeare, Charles and Mary Lamb

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, Edith Nesbit

Best Loved Poems of the American People

Also look into what used to be known as Choral Readings for Children.  Any poetry can be done in this manner.  If you have lots of kids in the neighborhood or in a co-op or church group, you can organize any one of numerous dramas that are available for children, but don’t neglect any performances that you can bring your children to see.  The theater can be wonderful!

Dance

This usually needs to be done with a dance studio, but I have a nice exercise DVD that I use that is based on Ballet Core.  Serious students of dance really need to have access to a barre and floor to ceiling mirrors so they can see exactly how their muscles are being used when they form various positions.  (Remember when I talked about pencil/pen grip?  Muscle memory is critical for dance!)

Going to see a live performance (or two or ten) of a dance production is necessary for any of your children who have dance in their blood.  I’m the mother of sons so that would have been like sticking needles in their eyes, but maybe I’ll have a granddaughter one day that I can take to see The Nutcracker!

PE, Health, Wellness, Safety

PE is something that is usually just done as activities.  If your child is into baseball, like my oldest one was, then that’s a great way to get some PE into your life.  It also brings with it snack stand duty and too much greasy food, but that’s the trade off for a fun season, right!  Your kids might live and breathe soccer.  If that’s the case, you can usually find more than one season where you live.  Bowling is another sport that could provide some exercise as well as social skill building.  Anything your kids can physically DO that raises their heart rate or builds physical skills can be included in the PE section of their portfolio.

Just like the old saying goes, when it comes to health and wellness, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If someone  in your family is suffering from any illness or disability, that is one way to learn much more about what happens in the body when you are fighting to overcome it or learning to live with it, whichever the case may be. Nutrition is another aspect of health and wellness that doesn’t get as much attention as it should.  Gardening, too, can be a useful pursuit in this area.  Pretty much anything that relates to how you feel can be part of health.  Certainly the changes a child undergoes when puberty begins is something to discuss.  If mom is going to have a baby, that’s another wonderful life lesson.  Most parents include appropriate information about staying safe in this world under this course heading as well.  While the specific topics may change over time with the student, this is an important part of any child’s education.  Safety, too, needs to be addressed, and this takes so many forms, from seemingly innocuous things like crossing the street and using a knife to cut his food to the more dangerous things like stranger danger, online safety, drug abuse, STDs, and countless other situations.  This world can be a very scary place.  Better that your child learn about how to stay safe from someone who loves him rather than having to rely on experience.

Fire Safety

I have Fire Safety listed separately from “regular” safety because in Pennsylvania, homeschoolers have to “provide regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires” each year.  So what do you do for this?  For one thing, make sure that your kids know where your family’s “meet” spot is in case of a fire.  Ours is on the front driveway of the neighbor across the street.  This gets us out of the way and gets us near a phone.  Check the fire alarms in your house.  Look for potential hazards.  Go to the local fire department and ask them for hints or tips.  Probably the most important topic to impress upon your children, especially if they are very young is NOT to hide in the closet, under the bed, or anywhere for that matter!  Fire spreads very quickly; faster than most people realize.  Firefighters want everyone out as quickly as possible.  Having real fire drills where your kids can try getting out of the house by feeling the door, crawling like a commando, and meeting at the designated spot will do more for your kids than a fire drill where you ring a bell and calmly walk in a line to an exit.

While it is important to know how to stop, drop, and roll, it is also important to learn how to use fire safely.  This is where the prevention part of fire safety comes into play.  Everyone should know how to put out household fires quickly and efficiently.  This means that you know what you do for different types of fires.  The Red Cross has lots of good information, as does the CDC.  There’s a good merit badge too.  Be safe. Be smart. Be well!

Computer Skills

This goes beyond using a mouse and a keyboard.  For computer skills, there is no substitute for using a program for you to learn how it works.  By the time your student begins secondary education, certainly by high school, he should definitely know how to type rather than using the hunt and peck method.  Mavis Beacon is great, as is Typing Instructor.  Whatever you use for that, once the child can type, make sure that you teach how to use Word so that writing papers won’t be an issue.  It’s good to learn PowerPoint and Excel too.  Once those three are done, you really can go anywhere with various programs.

If your son or daughter is into gaming, then you will probably want to include some sort of coding instruction.  Again, options abound, but not many are marketed specifically for children or specifically for homeschoolers.  With all the course options they have available, Skrafty, is one server who could fit the bill.

Thinking Skills

I like to begin these with a study of informal logic.  Once your child knows what the various fallacies are, you can spend countless hours identifying them pretty much everywhere you look.  They can be a lot of fun.  Once informal logic has been tackled, then you can study formal logic if you like.  After that, it is time for the study of rhetoric, or the art of communicating all that you have carefully thought through. For this, debate is a wonderful option to get into, but it takes both time and travel because you probably won’t have enough people nearby who do it, too.  (We couldn’t partake, but wish the option would have been available.  Maybe with the next child!)

Here are the items we liked the best:

A Rulebook for Arguments, Weston (I have the earlier edition, but this is a solid choice that is great for thinking out loud (argument and debate) as well as thinking on paper (persuasive essays).

The Fallacy Detective by the brothers Bluedorn, has become a classic in homeschool circles. There’s a second book, The Thinking Toolbox, as well as a DVD, Logic in 100 Minutes.

Another favorite author of mine for this subject, who unfortunately is much harder to understand than the ones already listed, is Isaac Watts.  This man lived during the Enlightenment period and wrote down his ideas about good thinking, which have been republished in these two volumes.  There are workbooks available if you like.  We had enough with just the texts, though. The texts are named  Right Use of Reason and  Improvement of the Mind.  Look for good, readable copies.  Some of the reviews on different versions leave something to be desired.  I can’t remember where I bought mine, but I have them in hard cover, with dust jackets.  earlier, we had looked at the course by Jim Nance, but once we were finished with the above options, we were ready to move into Rhetoric.

Here’s the Rhetoric Course that we would have used if it had been available then.  As it is, we did use the three source texts they reference, but I coupled them with information I found online at Silva Rhetoricae.  (I’m surprised that link is still active!)  Another great option for taking your student’s composition skills to a higher level is with The Lost Tools of Writing, which I mentioned on the English page.  Of course, rhetoric isn’t just about being able to write well, it’s also about speaking well.  For that, debate really is wonderful.  If that’s not an option, though, look into Speech Boot Camp or Secrets of the Great Communicators.

Personal Management Areas (Finance, Study Skills, Productivity, etc)

The Merit Badge for this subject area is fabulous, but it works best if the kid has a source of income other than birthday or Christmas gifts. The point is to help a young person learn how to manage everything in their lives, from money to time, and all things in between.  It’s well worth using even if you are not a scout.  For learning specifics about money management, try Dave Ramsey’s courses or Stewardship from Math-U-See.  Both are excellent, and are different enough that together they could make a math credit.  Here are the calculators from MUS’s stewardship course.  Neither of my big kids did either of these, but they are both solid options.  We went with more natural learning for this, along with the merit badge.

Foreign Languages

Foreign languages can be hard for some kids, especially for kids who struggle with their own language.  However, learning another language can be a boon for just about anyone.  That statement doesn’t help the high schooler who needs a language in order to get into college.  The pendulum sways back and forth on this one.  Right now, most colleges seem to want foreign language study on the transcript.  Many colleges are picky about what they will allow, too.  Some will not allow America Sign Language to fulfill their admissions criteria.  Others will state unequivocally that they will not stray from an admissions requirement of two years of one modern foreign language.   Even though we know that kids who take Latin do much better on the SAT than kids who don’t, that language would not qualify since it is a dead language.  Don’t let that throw you off Latin though.  It’s still useful!

I’ll start with Latin because if its usefulness.  Nothing solidifies the grammar of English quite like an inflected foreign language.  Latin is great for this precisely because it is dead.  Then too, it also helps give kids a leg up if they take a romance language like Spanish, French, or Italian in high school.  Even if all you ever do with Latin is study its roots along with the roots from Greek, you will have provided your son or daughter with long-lasting benefits.  We used Latin Primer from Canon Press way back in the day because that’s almost all that was available to homeschoolers, and especially for young kids.  We followed those books up with the Latin course from BJUP, then went into Rosetta Stone’s Spanish of Latin America for high school.  (This was a long time ago, back when that box of Rosetta Stone counted for far more credit than it does today.)  Nowadays, there are many more choices.  If I were just starting out and needed a Latin curriculum, I’d probably go with Cambridge Latin.  If I could swing it, I might even enroll a kid into an online classes where the teacher is using it.  (It’s that nice!)

For just doing roots, a Google search of Latin and Greek Roots will yield several options for going without any curriculum, but if you want something on hand, try English from the Roots Up.  You’ll want both volumes but you can choose to use either the books or the cards.  Either will be fine, but you need both volumes since there is no overlap to the included roots.  If you want to play games, you will want Rummy Roots and/or More Rummy Roots.  These games have been around forever, but they work.  As mentioned on the English page, Vocabulary Vine and Science Roots work too.

Of course, the above choices are great for when your end goal has more to do with mastery of the English language than anything else.  If you want to learn a language for the purpose of being able to speak it in another country, there is no substitute for the immersion methods.  Rosetta Stone is still a good choice, but it has been joined by others, such as Babble.  If you can find a native speaker, that’s the best way to learn it–other than hopping a plane and actually immersing yourself in the country!

Bible, Faith, Character

As stated on the objectives that I have had to file each year for my own children, though listed last, Bible and matters of faith are foundational to who we are in our family.  I encourage you, no matter what your particular faith, that you explore these tenets with your children.  You really should understand why you believe the things that you do, and you really ought to explore these things with your children.  If you do not, they may very well grow up to move away from the faith that you taught them.  The Bible is replete with examples of how we are essentially always one generation away from destruction.  There’s a lesson to be learned there.  We need to realize that we are raising our grandchildren’s parents!  Someone told me that when I first became a mother and I’ve taken it to heart.  I hope you do too.

Do you really need a “Bible” curriculum?  Maybe, maybe not.  It depends.  How often have I said something similar both here on this site and out and about when talking to homeschoolers.  Certainly, a guide, in the form of a curriculum can be helpful.  At the same time, you really can just read the Word and discuss it with your kids.  Everything in life can be a catalyst for a religious discussion.  What does the Bible say about this thing?  What does our culture say about it?  What are we going to do about it?  How does knowing what the Bible has to say on this subject change my thinking, and by way of association, my actions?  This is the essence of all good study!

Even though I contend that we don’t really need a curriculum, per se, for teaching Bible or matters of faith, there are indeed some wonderful resources available to help you in your endeavors. First of all, a good book on how to actually study the Bible is essential.  An excellent, but out of print book, Effective Bible Study by Howard Vos is still my favorite.  This one details many ways that you could approach the Bible.  There are other books and helps available, too, and a quick Google search will yield all sorts of options. Nowadays, you can do word searches at the click of a mouse on several Bible study websites.  I like ones that offer the Strong’s numbers right above the verses, but that’s mainly because I learned this study method back when you had to use “real” books.

It’s imperative that you and your children know what you stand for, and why.  For that, you need to do a course on apologetics.  Systematic theology is also useful because that’s where you learn about the various doctrines in the first place.  Apologetics is the art of defending them.  You can create your own course on this by starting with a general reference work like Willmington’s Guide to the Bible and following his outlines by reading in your Bible, or you can try some prepackaged curricula, such as the elective courses from Sonlight. (A bunch of us did What Good is Christianity together on the SL Forums several years ago.  We learned about all the different ways that Christianity positively impacted the world at large.  Good stuff.  I haven’t done the Advanced Apologetics one yet but I have read two of the three included books.)  Don’t neglect your church for these things, but you should also check the Word for yourself!

I love doing a systematic study of what I think are the most important books for your student to study inductively before they leave your home.  Years ago, I heard Kay Arthur speak on this topic.  She stated that Genesis, Romans, Hebrews, and Revelation were vital for the Christian to understand.  You could go with Precept courses for this, or you could just study these books on your own, taking one book per school term over the high school years.  The Precept courses for these four studies will take a total of 137 weeks, which equates to 3.8 full school terms–and that’s ONLY if you can manage to finish each week’s work in ONE week, which is rough.  (Guess how I know that!)  Precept courses are best done with a group and with someone who has been trained to facilitate, but they can be done on your own as well.