Definition of Curriculum

school books

Like many words the definition of curriculum is subjective, especially in homeschool circles. The definition you use should be based on your own beliefs as well as the accepted definition for your state.

Etymology and Definition of Curriculum

The word curriculum comes from the Latin word currere, meaning "to run the course". This is the same Latin word that career comes from. Curriculum is understood as a course of study, allowing the student to follow it until he is finished with the race.

In 1918, John Bobbitt, a well known educator and writer of the day, defined curriculum as being the course of activities, experiences and studies that all children need to become successful adults.

The word curriculum is generally understood to mean the lesson plans, books and other resources needed to promote learning. Within this definition are thousands of individual interpretations. As a homeschool parent you will need to have a thorough understanding of how curriculum is defined in your state, because it will make a difference in the requirements for homeschooling your child.

Types of Curriculum

As you can imagine, with so many different definitions of curriculum there are numerous types as well.

Text Books

Many parents, especially those following a program like A Beka or Bob Jones, rely on text books to teach their children. These books generally have short chapters of information followed by a series of questions or activities to help your child remember the information presented.

Included in the category of text books are also workbooks. These are books that the student will write in and are most often used in the elementary grades.

Fiction Books

Can fiction be considered curriculum? Many parents feel that it can. Fiction based on history allows the student to identify with a character that is representative of the historic period being studied. Some good examples of historical fiction are:

  • American Adventures series
  • American Girls series
  • Sign of the Beaver
  • A Lion to Guard Us
  • G.A. Henty books

Sonlight Curriculum is a good example of a company that uses historical fiction in its curriculum.


Movies, documentaries and even television shows can be used as curriculum. If your student is studying about the 1960s, a show like The Wonder Years can be helpful in helping him understand the culture and how society thought in that decade. He will get an idea of the problems faced, the opinions that were popular, and the way people thought during that time.


While you may not think of games as curriculum, they can be very effective tools for teaching spelling, math and other subjects in a fun way.

  • Scrabble teaches spelling and vocabulary, as well as math from adding up the scores.
  • Monopoly teaches about money, budgeting and even percentages.
  • Chess helps teach strategy and thinking skills.
  • Candy Land teaches colors and social skills like taking turns.
  • Chutes and Ladders teaches counting.

There are many games that can be used as part of a well rounded curriculum. Board games are only some of the possibilities. Consider video and computer games as well.

Field Trips and Interviews

Children learn in a variety of ways using all of their senses. Field trips to museums and other locations that relate to the subject being learned can help children understand information on a deeper level. Likewise, interviewing an expert in the field can help a student have a deeper knowledge and interest in the subject being studied.


In preschool and up through the early elementary years, toys can be a big part of curriculum. Pretend play helps children to experience a variety of situations in a safe environment. Toys that should be part of the curriculum of the early years are:

  • Puppets
  • Dress up box
  • Dolls
  • Blocks

Other Types of Curriculum

When the definition of curriculum is broad, and envelopes anything that contributes to learning, then almost anything can be considered part of curriculum. In a cooking school, a cookbook might be considered curriculum, but a whisk might be considered curriculum as well.

Check with Your State

Before you define curriculum for your own students check with your state to see what the official definition is. Many states have broad views but some have a very narrow definition of what curriculum is and how it should be implemented. Better to check with the state before you begin than to find out later your curriculum is not going to be accepted officially. You can find most of the information you need for your state at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association website.

Defining curriculum may be subjective but it pays to be sure that your definition is compliant with the laws of your state.

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Definition of Curriculum