If you are trying to decide on a curriculum or are concerned about which teaching methods will work best with your kids, here’s a quick overview of the top three curriculum styles and learning types.

Main Curriculum Styles

Traditional Textbook/Workbook

This type of educational method relies on textbooks and often workbooks for each subject, with analysis questions, hands-on activities in areas such as science, and quizzes and tests. A structured ‘scope and sequence’ is used to ensure that all relevant concepts are covered at the appropriate level. The scope and sequence for Bob Jones science curriculum, for example, systematically covers a variety of topics in grade 1-6 to give a good foundation for understanding science, then in seventh grade covers Life Science, Earth Science in eighth grade, the Physical World in ninth, Biology in tenth, Chemistry in eleventh, and Physics in twelfth grade. Most topics are introduced at grade school level and then developed in much more depth at junior high and high school levels. This approach ensures that you adequately cover topics at an appropriate depth of study. A varying amount of teacher preparation is necessary. Curriculums that use this style include Bob Jones, A Beka, Alpha Omega LifePacs (which are workbook-based), and the Apologia science curriculum.

Advantages: Curriculum that uses this format usually has good scope and sequence, providing foundational knowledge on all topics and then building on that through the high school years.

Disadvantages: This type is not usually as flexible as other methods – the course is built around a textbook and workbooks and often cannot be easily adjusted to include more in-depth studies in specific areas your kids are interested in.

Unit Studies

These are flexible studies of particular topics that have been designed or adapted by the teacher to meet the particular needs and interests of their children. Unit studies usually integrate one area of study (e.g. the Renaissance) with subjects such as literature, history, vocabulary, etc. This approach requires more preparation and planning time, but is highly flexible. Usually, unit studies work best in the elementary grades. KONOS is the primary unit study guide for all subjects. Eagle’s Wings is a good unit studies guides for elementary-level science.

Advantages: This method allows you to focus on specific topics that interest you and your children, without being limited to textbooks. It also works well for teaching multiple ages.

Disadvantages: Unit studies require more teacher preparation time. Care must be taken to adequately cover all relevant topics over the years: you’ll need to plan a scope and sequence so that all necessary topics are covered and are done at the appropriate level.

Classical Education

This method is based on the ancient model of education used from the time of the Roman empire through the Middle Ages. It divides education into two parts, the trivium and quadrivium. The trivium consists of three stages – Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. Dorothy Sayers describes the three stages in modern terms – poll parrot (memorization and repetition), pert (questioning), and poetic (communicating well). (You can read more in her Lost Tools of Learning article.) These stages model the way most children learn: when they are very young they have an immense capacity to memorize without full understanding (Grammar stage, ages 9-11). As they grow older they begin to question and understand more and more – the Logic stage (ages 12-14) equips them to reason and use the information they learned in the Grammar stage. The final stage, Rhetoric (ages 14-16), teaches them not only to understand the material they have learned, but to organize and communicate that material persuasively. During this stage they embark on a study of the quadrivium, which consists of special areas of study. Since the children have learned how to study and reason during their study of the trivium, they are ready to study in-depth the subjects for which God has most gifted them – music, science, humanities, etc.

Advantages: The sequence of the trivium accurately models the way that most children learn, and therefore is very effective.

Disadvantages: Classical Education often follows closely the content of ancient education. This includes languages such as Latin, as well as the study of the ‘Great Books.’ While this is beneficial for the humanities-oriented students, it may not be the best choice for students who are strong in math and science and weak in the language arts.

Other Factors to Consider – Child Learning Styles

Different Learning Methods: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic

Kids (and parents, too!) don’t all learn things the same way. If your child learns primarily through hearing information, keep this in mind as you teach. Videos, audio tapes, or just reading their schoolbooks out loud to them are ways to make learning more effective for auditory learners. Apologia now offers some of their science courses on CD as well as print textbook, so auditory learners can hear the text rather than reading it. (The CD is also great for doing science on the go!) Using verbal discussion is a helpful review method.

If your child is a visual learner, he or she can remember information best by reading or seeing it. Capitalize on this by offering books that are related to specific topics as well as visual aids like charts, maps, and graphs. Writing things down on a whiteboard as you teach, or encouraging note-taking, can also be helpful.

Kinesthetic learners do best when using their hands and tactile senses. Doing hands-on experiments in science, dramas for English class, or taking field trips are a few ways to enhance school for this type of learner.

You can be sensitive to your kids’ needs while at the same time encouraging them to develop in other learning areas as well. Assigning interesting but not too technical books, or requiring some extra do-it-yourself hands-on activities, can help them achieve a little more balance. Also, any student can benefit from research projects—what kinds of creative topics and research methods can your kids come up with?