Deciding What to Teach Your Kids

Written by Simple Homeschool contributor Renee Tougas of FIMBY.

A while back I got the following question on my personal blog from a reader, “How do you decide what to teach your kids?”

I want to answer that question in this space because I think my response might also help some of you here.

One of the reasons our family homeschools is to give our children a large degree of learning freedom. To allow them to pursue their interests and develop their unique gifts and talents. We are not unschoolers, as I explain here, but we are relaxed in our approach while also being very intentional about the long term goals for our children’s education.

From that perspective here are four guiding principles to answer the “what to teach” question.

1. Your Family’s Mission & Educational Goals

Simple Mom is a great resource for crafting a family mission statement. Recently Kara at Simple Kids has also written on that subject. Take some time to discuss as a family/couple who you are and what you value before you settle on curricula and learning programs.

But don’t spend so long thinking about it that you don’t move forward either. Life is a journey and a process. We never have it all figured out!

Photo by Renee Tougas

After thinking about what defines your family, apply that to your children’s schooling.

For example, if one of your family’s values is good stewardship make that a part of your long term homeschooling goals. This is not the stage to plan out particular details, ie: what math curriculum you might use to teach money management. This is the time to think big picture.

For a concrete example you can read our family’s graduation goals, which is basically our homeschooling mission statement.

Think about who you are as a family, what you value and what your goals are. Use that framework to think about long term educational goals. These goals will be the guidelines you use to make the down-to-earth, nitty gritty and practical decisions about your children’s learning.

2. Government Requirements

Deciding what to teach your children may be influenced by the educational laws where you live.

In the United States education falls mostly under local and state oversight. Jamie’s article, Is Homeschooling Legal? addresses this issue.

In our situation, the state requirements for home instruction are very loose. This allows our family to follow our interests and pursue an educational program of our own design. Even with our relaxed approach I am easily able to show our children’s progression in the classic “school” subjects at our year end review.

Photo by Renee Tougas

If you live in an area with more regulations you will need to take that into consideration when deciding what to teach.

If your state requirements do not allow for the education you want to give your children I encourage you to think creatively and seek legal support if necessary.

3. What Inspires You

As my children’s primary teacher (not in the school sense, but overall life sense) my own passions play a huge part in my children’s education.

Regardless of your homeschool philosophy an inspired parent is an absolute must for a successful, interesting and rewarding homeschool experience.

Photo by Renee Tougas

Be realistic about what motivates and inspires you. Yes, we need to meet our children’s educational needs but our own enthusiasm for the content, approach and materials we are using is very important.

Your interests are a great place to start when your kids are little. Do you love to bake, garden, hike, volunteer, read or raise dogs?

Teach your passions and interests to your children. Remember that the best lessons “are caught not taught,” so not everything needs sit down, formal lessons. Live life together. Share your work and play and you will be teaching your kids.

Sharing naturally with our children is deeply satisfying. Your example and enthusiasm will teach your children how to take ownership for their own independent learning as they grow.

4. Know your Child

Your child has been created with unique gifts, talents and interests. As homeschoolers we have the privilege of tailoring our children’s education and actively participating each and every day in helping them become who they were meant to be.

Who your child is and what interests him should ultimately guide what you are teaching him.

In our family our children’s own interests have covered topics too varied and diverse to name. Their studies have taken them all over the globe, through eras of history, into science and mathematics all while experiencing beauty, music and art.

Photo by Renee Tougas
Most of this I have not “taught” to my children, but shared with them through reading and life experiences.

  • What fascinates your child?
  • What do they want to read about?
  • What inspires them?
  • And as they grow older, what are their personal goals for their education?

These are the questions that guide you in determining what to teach your kids. And remember that as they follow their interests your role may change to being “facilitator” more than “teacher.”

Photo by Renee Tougas

What have I missed? How do you decide what to teach?

About Renee

Renee is a creative homemaker and homeschooling mama of three. She loves to write, take pretty photos, and be in nature with her family. Her mission is to nourish, encourage, and teach; build relationship and create beauty. FIMBY is where she tells that story. Drawing from her years of experience and training, Renee also offers individual and personalized Homeschool Coaching.


  1. Great advice! This is all very similar to how we decide. We also go by the opportunities that come up in the community. For instance, when my daughters started to act in the local “Little House” play in Walnut Grove, we began researching foods, history, culture, etc. from Laura’s time and when we got a chance to pick grapes at a winery we learned all about grapes, canning, etc. 🙂
    Alicia’s latest post: Five ways to school less and teach more

    • Good point. Because community involvement is a part of our family’s values and goals we look for these opportunities also. I love the way you can incorporate so many subjects and areas of study in such community participation.

    • I would really like to homeschool my 9 year old almost 4th grader. I am so confused on how I find out what exactly needs taught? As far as Math, Reading, Science, History? I know he will need to complete standard tests but how do I know what will be on these tests to prepare him? I live in Ohio. Thanks for any support and advise my email is if anyone has some advise, he has “adhd” and has had issues with bullies plus teachers not understanding but he gets straight As and is very smart.

  2. I’ve just been pondering the tremendous difference it would make in life if we were denied educational opportunities, especially literacy, while reading Greg Mortenson’s book, ” Stones into Schools”. The first sentence of your blog, “One of the reasons our family homeschools is to give our children a large degree of learning freedom”, reminds us of how grateful we can be for freedom. Freedom to homeschool is truly beautiful, and freedom to learn, period, can’t be taken for granted.

  3. Renee,
    These are really great ideas here! I especially like this part, “But don’t spend so long thinking about it that you don’t move forward either. Life is a journey and a process. ” YES! I tell myself that forward motion is okay. No matter what is moving forward (math, science, cooking, social skills) or how slow/fast. But we’re moving forward! That’s the key!

    • I hear you Jimmie! Little by Little and One Thing at a Time are often my homeschooling mantras I repeat to encourage myself along the way. We ARE making progress, even if it’s only in reading right now and not science, or in character development and not spellling (for examples). I think it’s good to be realistic about these things and cut ourselves and our kids some slack. There’s a lot of growing and learning they (and we need) to do along the way and we’ve got a whole lifetime to do it!

  4. I have just started homeschool/preschool with my son. I know that one of the things I really want to teach him is life-skills that I missed out on in public school. I want him to launch with knowledge of money management, balancing a checkbook, time management, house keeping, cooking. IMO those skills are a lot more useful than say, knowing what an amoeba is (although we will not neglect single-cell organisms.)

    • I agree, this is one of our family’s long term educational goals also – life and money management. The cool thing is you don’t need much of a curriculum for that you can teach from your own experiences and everyday living. As kids get older I think Dave Ramsey has a curriculum that teaches money management for young adults/teens.

  5. This is all in line for how we I decide what we’ll be learning about next. I love the freedom to go with their interests and mine…and take them as far as we’re still interested!

    One other thing I keep in mind is how my kids are interacting. We all study the same thing at the same time. We just did two weeks of space, which was interesting for my daughter for the first week…then not as much. My son, however got even more books from the library after we were done…just in case there was more to learn! (isn’t there always!) I’m noticing him be in her face a little about it. So, next week we’re doing a unit that is more up her alley…maybe she’ll be able to teach him something!

    Always striving for balance…
    Annie’s latest post: WHAT Do I Do With a Seven Year Old Boy

    • Annie, I agree this is a challenge – meeting multiple children’s interests at one time and we approach much along the same lines. We study things as a family. I have three and often they don’t all have equal levels on enthusiasm for each book we read or thing we do but we mix it up a lot (according to their interests) and there’s good mix of everything.
      Renee’s latest post: I love reading day in the

  6. We always find things to be learning about, and only a few of them come from me!!! I really appreciate the family-guidelines approach to weeding out the many things vying for our time and energy (and your graduation priorities have been so helpful in keeping me grounded and not panicky) – I’m waiting for winter break so my grad school husband and I can do some serious work on this. We are definitely following my must-be-outside-everyday passion, and we read, read, read, and then play the things we read about…that is mostly what our learning life looks like, with the occasional, “how about…” from me. While I occasionally wonder what important thing my kids are not learning about, I remind myself that my current job as their learning facilitator is to keep their curiosity alive.

    • Debra, you’re too sweet. I think we all get panicky from time to time. I know I am especially vulnerable to this during “in between” times, like late summer, before we’ve found our autumn groove.

      Must be outside everyday – yes we are feeling that too this time of year.

  7. What to teach these kids? For me this was the question that has kept me up at night as we have transitioned into homeschooling. After immersing myself in state standards, county standards, national standards, even Japanese and Finnish standards as well as educational theories and methods…Ultimately, I have come to realize that it is such a luxury for this learning to cater to my child rather than the other way around. That consideration of individuality is what makes a home school education so indispensable!
    Kristy’s latest post: Dépêche Mode

  8. Thank you so much for answering my question. This really helps me out a lot and I appreciate your help.

  9. I really enjoy the fact that bloggers are sharing their thoughts on things. I really like your style man

  10. Remarkable article. Where did you obtained all the information from

  11. Thank you! This blog — and this post — encourage me so much b/c they reinforce what we do by gut/instinct/prayer. Thank you!

  12. Very good piece. I would add to #2 that one should most explicitly NOT pay any regard to the requirements for government/public schools in one’s city or state. ONLY give attention to the HOMESCHOOL law and what it states directly. Too many homeschoolers look to government school regs (especially for high school graduation but for younger children as well) and that’s a tragedy. There is NOTHING magical or even necessarily good about what government schools require of the students enrolled in the system so there is no reason on earth to give it any weight in a homeschool. Again, in regards to the law, do be mindful of the homeschool law itself (though at times I’d even say there is justification for civil disobedience there). But do whatever necessary to push the notion that public schools are the standard out of one’s mind.

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