A Homeschooler's Guide to Curing Scope and Sequence Syndrome

A Homeschooler's Guide to Curing Scope & Sequence SyndromeScope and sequence syndrome manifests itself in the teaching process but how strict an adherence is required of the homeschooler and the teacher? My philosophy changed radically as I considered what I wanted my kids to learn.

When I began homeschooling four years ago, I wanted to make sure my kids knew what they were "supposed to know" by each grade level; so one of the first things I did was locate every possible scope and sequence I could find. If I was going to homeschool, by golly, I was going to make sure I was doing it "right!"

So I downloaded World Book's Typical Course of Study for each child and the Scope and Sequence from Bob Jones Press and Abeka; I checked out books from the library like E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge Series, What Your __ Grader Needs to Know and Rebecca Rupp's Home Learning Year by Year. I even downloaded Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (my state's education standards) for all of my children's grade levels.

I felt so prepared! I just knew that those scope and sequences would be my guide as I homeschooled. They would be the gold standard by which I evaluated whether I was doing things correctly or not.


But I quickly noticed that none of the scope and sequences agreed with each other. I was confused. Wasn't there some all-powerful, all-knowing educational guru out there who determined what each child on Earth truly needs to know in each grade level? How in the world will I know if I'm doing this whole homeschooling thing "right?"

My confidence obviously wavered.

And so for that first year of homeschooling I still tried to check off skills from the scope and sequence as I hurriedly introduced them to my kids. But before long I realized what I was doing wrong. I wasn't really teaching my children; I was just throwing facts at them and then checking things off a list so that I felt good about the job I was doing as their teacher.

Not a good situation.

The Critical Question

And so I reevaluated. I asked myself a pointed question:

Why am I homeschooling?

When I answered that question, I finally found my direction.

Why am I homeschooling? I want to prepare my children to be competent and independent adults, fully capable of being a productive member of society. I want them to know what they believe, but especially why they believe it.

I discovered I don't need to rely on a generic scope and sequence to tell me what I need to teach my kids. My children don't necessarily need to have a specific skill learned by 1st or 7th grade if my goal is to prepare them to be an adult?

When I stepped back and looked at this big picture, things were incredibly simplified.

Flexibility in Homeschooling

As their parent and teacher (at least to some extent) I can determine what they need to learn — and when. There is a certain body of knowledge in most subjects which is important to impart to my kids, but I am not beholden to a certain time-line. The SAT and ACT test a certain body of knowledge, and I can't change that.

But for many subjects, and even within English and math somewhat, the door is really wide open to be flexible. Does my child really need to be pushed to take advanced calculus or trigonometry if her desire is to become an art teacher, or should I have her take extra courses in art, drawing, and art history instead? Some of the sciences are the same way; do my children need to take advanced science courses simply for the sake of saying they've taken them? Or should I have them take just the basic requirements so they can focus more on their interests that may lead to a fulfilling career.

What's really going to prepare them for adulthood and for their careers? Knowing how to cook is a very important skill, but how many times have you seen that on a scope and sequence? And why do I want my children to study history? Is it more important for my children to be able to list all the monarchs of England from 1066 to the present or to understand why certain governments have failed or succeeded in times past? Is it good if my children can name all the states and capitals of the world if they don't know enough about the Constitution of the United States to recognize when their rights are being stripped away?

Re-evaluating the Scope and Sequence

Once I realized that I was preparing my children to be competent, productive adults, that I didn't answer to the invisible creators of the infamous scope and sequence, I was able to look at those scope and sequences in a whole new light. I was able to prioritize what they really needed to know; and I discovered that what I wanted them to know wasn't less, but more. Just a different variety of skills.

Taken as a whole, a scope and sequence can provided a nice list of suggested topics to teach, but they are in no way the gold standard for educating my child. I can add or subtract and change the order as I see fit without having to feel guilty about it (which is especially helpful when I'm homeschooling multiple ages at once). I'm not doing it "wrong" if my child learns to multiply in the first grade but doesn't study magnetism until the 6th grade. The end result is what matters. It's the big picture.

Reality Check

Honestly. How much do you remember from your school years? Most likely it's the major concepts, and not the minute details that you retained. So should I drill my children in facts and figures, checking off the "skills" as I present them, all the while obliterating any joy they might have had in real, life-long learning; or do I focus on those things that ignite their desire to learn more, that help to mold their character and their ability to think for themselves, that prepare them to have the skills they'll truly need as adults?

I think that answer is obvious.

A Couple Caveats

I'm very blessed that I live in a state that is hands-off concerning homeschooling, so I don't have to submit records or have my kids tested on an annual basis. In addition, I plan to homeschool through high school, so I don't have to worry about making sure my kids are on track with their peers so that they can re-enter public school at some point. If either of these situations change, I might have to re-evaluate how I approach homeschooling.

But for the time being, I'm confident I'm doing what's best for my children in allowing them to learn at their own pace, following their own interests in many things, and focusing on the skills that are really important. Am I cured of the scope and sequence syndrom? I hope.

I've also stopped asking myself, "Have my kids learned what they're supposed to have learned by now?"

This post is linked to Talk About Tuesday.

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  1. Janette Wright says

    Yea, for you!!!! Stick with it, but it seems to get harder when they hit high school and everyone is so willing to ask their SAT score, or if they have double credits, but they don't ask about their character. I have now graduated four, still have two to go, and each had a different journey. The first owns three businesses, a Christian husband, and an aware citizen. Number two will graduate from UNT in December, three is in Jr College, and four is looking at children's ministry at Christ for the Nations…all walking with the Lord, sexual pure, and love their family. As for the subjects they completed….well, the big picture was better then the scope and sequence.


  2. says

    Joy, Thank you so much for this post. I actually contacted a local homeschool organization because I'm done researching on line, reading tons of books, worrying about everything that you mentioned above and wanting to quite before I even start. My three babes are only 4 and 3, so, yes, I have time… Yes and No, right?

    Shanna’s last blog post..Capture the Magic


  3. says

    I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I just finished my first year homeschooling kindergarten. I started by following our state standards, but soon realized that they didn't quite cut it for the big picture. It's just so easy to get caught up in the test scores, curriculum and books. I intend to write a philosophy of education this summer so I can keep myself on track for the years to come. Thank you!

    Beth’s last blog post..Weather


  4. says

    This is going to be my first year homeschooling & my 5th grader will have to be tested at the end of the year. Our state requires testing in 3rd, 5th, 8th & 10th grade. I've been researching scope & sequence. Thanks for putting this out there…makes me relax a bit.

    So excited to see your future posts about homeschooling as well as read your former posts!

    mandy’s last blog post..I love Tony Campolo


  5. says

    Thank you so much for this post. Every once in a while I will look at the scope and sequence and wonder did we cover it all? This
    makes me feel better about what we are doing. I'm glad you were on the Canival.

    Rana’s last blog post..Tastes of Home


  6. says

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I've been going along with ABeka's set curriculum as I've been scared to really branch out from that into things that they enjoy doing. My daughter expressed an interest in working with animals, so I'm going to see what I can do to maybe get her some volunteer time with some. 😀


  7. says

    Thank you so much for this post. The 2009-10 school year will be our second official year of homeschooling. This past year was difficult for both me and my daughter as I attempted to make sure she met all the standards of the state and "experts". It was extremely frustrating. In planning her studies for this upcoming year I have gone back and forth on what she needs to learn. This post really helped cement for me that she doesn't have to necessarily learn everything that the scope and sequence states. I would much rather have fun with her and encourage a love of learning. So, thanks for the great advice!

    Erin’s last blog post..In case you haven't heard……


  8. says

    I was nodding my head right along with you the whole time I read your article!! I did the exact same thing (right around the same time since I started homeschooling a little over 4 years ago as well). I just needed something to cling to while I developed my teacher-wings! Now, we're flying high – well, most days! We're all still learning. I totally agree with you on the main goal – to raise competent adults who can survive and thrive in today's AND tomorrow's world!! Great article!

    HomeGrownMommy’s last blog post..Here’s A Quick Lesson Plan For Samson And The Lion (Judges 14) – with video


  9. says

    "Is it good if my children can name all the states and capitals of the world if they don't know enough about the Constitution of the United States to recognize when their rights are being stripped away?"

    You couldn't have said it better!

    Awesome post!

    Jenny’s last blog post..Hooked On Fridays: Thrifty Finds


  10. says

    Love your post! I have been thinking alot about this and really couldn't have said it better than you. I linked to your blog on my post regarding scope and sequence. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  11. says

    THANK YOU so much!!! I raelly needed to read this, as I am preparing to enter my first year of teaching my children, and I too was looking at state standards, World Book, stc. My goals are right in line with yours, and I don't plan to send my boys to public school ever, unless the Lord says otherwise. Thank you for your pure honesty!
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Kim Celebrates 6 months of Chemo, now she's done =-.


  12. says

    You are absolutely right about S&S not lining up. They can vary A LOT! I do find them helpful for some areas (math particularly since it's my personal weakness) to see if there are any huge topics I'm omitting. But generally I'm like you. I know where I want to go, and I head towards it. Your post is very, very well spoken, and I'm going to bookmark it!
    .-= Jimmie´s last blog ..Sale at Knowledge Box Central =-.


  13. says

    As a newly minted homeschooling mom of 7 weeks, this was SO timely for me and I am glad I found your post. i have been struggling for weeks to LET GO of scope and sequence and "teaching to the test" yet have felt guilty, as if my son will fall behind. Behind WHAT??? Some arbitrarily established skill set that some stranger created that is meaningless? As my husband and I tackle the big picture thinking of homeschooling and what it means for us, we really and truly want to throw away SAT worries and state testing concerns and just teach! I want my children to understand the larger ramifications and causes of the great wars, to see history in context and in order, to study the sciences they will encounter in everyday life…not to waste time memorizing dates and classifications which will never be recalled in adult life.

    Thanks so much, you just might have given me permission to take off and soar!


  14. says

    My girlfriend sent me your link, and I just have to tell you, you have blessed me today!!! I'm also in my 4th year of hs ,and love it w/a passion, but that little voice creeps in my head (about this time of year :) filling me w/self doubt. "But what are their frinds doing at their fancy pants private school over there?!"… So I sat down and typed out our HS mission statement, and was very pleased w/myself. Along the same lines of this amazing post…but I still couldn't shake the 'standards' self doubt. So thank you, fromthe bottom of my heart, for the confirmation I've received today from your article!! I'm going to forward it all of my precious hs friends, and then print it and hang it on my wall!!!


    joyfulmiller Reply:

    @Kati Wilson, I'm so glad that it's a help to you. :)


  15. says

    Yes! Amen! We become much wiser homeschool moms when we figure out that we DON'T have to check off every skill on someone else's list in order for our children to 'be educated'. Education happens everywhere. We have to look at OUR children, decide what we want them to eventually be able to be, do, say, and then teach to that. If they can read, write, and do math, everything else will fall into place. History and sciences can be taught dozens of different ways with hundreds of differing scopes and sequences. I know that the day this realization hit me, it was as if I had–literally– been hit upside the head! It's your school and these are YOUR kids. If we were meant to check off boxes, these kids would also come with instruction manuals for raising them. Since they don't, we get to actually think about THEM when we decide what we're going to teach when. And isn't the the most important part of homeschooling?
    .-= Dawn´s last blog ..B90Days: The Home Stretch in the OT =-.


  16. says

    Your article took the words from my mouth and purpose from my heart! :) My daughter just turned 5 (May 2010) and I am confident that my instincts on how and what to teach will be more than adequate for shaping her into a remarkable, Christ-like person; only by God's grace, of course.

    I have not "pressured her to learn with strict standards of achievement", but because I have lovingly nurtured her desire to learn, she has been reading for a whole year, writing well, and can count to 100. My mom refers to her as an encyclopedia; always teaching her something new. :) Funny, that's what I call my husband. 😉 To us, the most important aspect of homeschooling is building character in our child. She is developing a servant's heart and learning the value of self-control.

    I don't think it's important that we compare and I don't think young children need to be pressured to learn certain things or be ahead of their public school peers. However, advanced learning is typical with homeschooling. Anyway, I am very excited about homeschooling as I see it as a family journey. I really do believe I am doing what's best for my daughter AND family.


  17. says

    Wow, am I glad to read this. I am still researching homeschooling, which I hope to start after we move to a different state in about six months; I'm keeping my kids in their public school status quo until then. I just visited with a very experienced homeschooling mom last weekend who, I could tell, followed a very traditional method. She actually recommended the Scope and Sequence for me to start out so I'd "know" I was covering everything. I did recognize after our conversation that I will not follow such a strict traditional methodology that she does. But I left there and since then I have felt more discouraged about the whole homeschooling idea, and I wasn't really sure why. Now I know! Homeschooling seems to be so much about following your instincts and questioning and sticking with your values. I need to gain confidence and not measure myself against other homeschoolers, but rather, against my own values and the answer I give to the question, "Why am I homeschooling?"

    (I came here from, "So You're Thinking About Homeschooling?" What a timely post!)


  18. says

    Thank you for a wonderfully encouraging post, Joy. Even after 9 years of homeschooling, sometimes I still need to reminder that the big picture is what I need to be looking at, not those little annoying puzzle pieces that just don't want to fit sometimes. Great perspective!


  19. says

    Yes and yes!! I love this post! We just finished our 2nd year of homeschool and we are looking forward to jumping into our 3rd year. This past year, my son had to participate in the annual state testing. Do you have recommendations on how to get past that? I initially started our homeschool with our local public school scope and sequence in hand but realized that was not going to cut it for us. So, my son did poorly in some areas on the testing b/c we just dont' "do" school like a public school does. He is definitely learning, just not what they want him to know ….for example….one question asked "What did Thomas Edison invent?" He had no clue…we haven't talked about him yet.

    So….should I just not sweat the test and let it be what it is? I am just afraid he'll do poorly and the state will question my ability to homeschool.

    I wish our state would allow a portfolio review instead of testing.



  20. says

    this is beautiful and such freedom! I felt horrible last year we did not do cursive and measurements. I knew the boy just wasn't ready – and yet for 2nd grade – that was expected. Other kids were doing it – (whispering … public school kids were even doing it). But I felt we were "stuck" on character training …

    ha! How we can become enslaved to a check off sheet because we fear we're not doing "enough" or meeting the scope of other kids. Rather there is complete freedom when we let those check marks fall where they may and truly raise up godly children !!

    I do not want to raise a Jeopardy contestant – I want to raise healthy, strong, confident men!

    THANK YOU ! I shared this on the homeschool village fb page. I hope all homeschoolers read this!


  21. says

    Those scope and sequences always left me feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. I know they are learning, I know they are growing…. did I really need a book or website to tell me so?


    Thanks for sharing your journey!


  22. says

    Thank you for this! It's the "shot in the arm" that us homeschool moms need around this time of year, when all those shiny, new curriculum catalogs come through the mail and look so enticing, promising to have exactly what your homeschooler needs. 😉


  23. says

    We will have a ninth-grader this year and my husband & I have had this same conversation. Life skills & a Godly foundation are more important to us than having an ideal transcript. It is always reassuring to hear that others feel the same!


  24. says

    Thank you so much for this post! This is so freeing and encouraging! It confirms that I am on the right track. When my DS10 grows up, I want him to have choices, including the option of starting his own business. Homeschooling is a perfect way to prepare him for this!


  25. says

    Wonderful post! My little guy is going to be doing Pre-K at home this year, so we're not to the point of thinking through college prep or anything, but these concepts are great ones to use to start out with – thanks so much for the reminder of what's truly important and WHY we choose to homeschool!


  26. says

    I love to use Ruth Beechick's guides as my S&S. The 3R's for younger kids and You Can Teach Your Child Successfully for 4th-8th rgades. I find it very helpful, as it just gives general guidelines for grade levels…not specifics.


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