Five Basic Types of Curriculum

By: Linda P

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Five Basic Types of Curriculum)

Baku statues, Nizami statues, Azerbaijan statues, poet statues, academic statues

The five basic types of curriculum are Traditional, Thematic, Programmed, Classical, and Technological.  The most used curriculum can be found within these broader categories.

1.  Traditional

This is the traditional workbook/textbook approach familiar to those who attended American public schools growing up.  It is comprised of 6-7 unrelated subjects with a different book for each.  It is grade specific and may be expensive.

Examples: Bob Jones, A Beka, Calvert

Learning Style Match: Visual and Auditory

Pros: More likely to cover the basics, lesson plans laid out, security

Cons: Time consuming, expensive, difficult to teach several grades simultaneously, subjects each taught separately

Works well for:

  • A child used to being in school (and that was doing well)
  • A methodical, routine learner
  • A mom who needs reassurance
  • A mom who likes routine and does not have time to plan her own curriculum
  • A first time home-schooling parent

Cautions:  Keep in mind that even teachers at school do not cover every page in every book.  In math they may assign odds or evens on certain assignments.  In Science and History, sometimes a chapter or even a unit may be omitted.  Remember that your kids are also learning language and culture.  Do not let yourself or your kids be stressed by trying to do too much. {Stressed? Need to be renewed?}

2.  Thematic Unit Study

This type is known as “thematic learning,” “teaching across the curriculum,” or integrated study.  Basic school subjects are studied in light of a particular topic, theme, or historical period instead of isolated subjects.  Most often, a separate phonics and math program is needed (though some companies include them as supplements or offer choices).

Examples: KONOS, Weaver, Design a Study, Sonlight, Greenleaf Press, Moving Beyond the Page

Learning Style Match: Multi-sensory

Pros: All ages learn together; uses real books, inexpensive, teaches to child’s area of interest;

Cons: Can have gaps in skills so needs balance; can be overwhelming to new homeschoolers, lesson plans are more flexible and require you to provide the structure; may lack resource materials on the field, lacks test taking skills in content areas;

Works well for:

  • A child pulled out of school that is burned out on learning
  • A creative mom that feels secure about her abilities
  • Multiple children in different grades
  • Children who have difficulty sitting still and prefer hands-on learning

Cautions:  This type of curriculum can be hit and miss.  For 5th and 6th grade you many need to bring in a textbook and tests for content areas.

See also: Homeschooling Children with ADD or ODD; Making Math Meaningful; How We Learn and how We Teach; Multiple Intelligences: How Does My Child Think?

3.  Programmed:

This type is often based on a self-paced, sequential workbook.  It requires no preparation and usually little direct teaching by the parent.

Examples: Alpha Omega, School of Tomorrow, “PACES,” Switched-On Schoolhouse

Learning Style Match: Visual

Pros: Very easy to use, little preparation, lessons planned out, independent learner based, self-paced, especially great for content areas;

Cons: Not appropriate for younger grades, not suitable for auditory learners (except for Switched on Schoolhouse), boring to some, not designed to be interactive, skill building might be lacking;

Works well for:

  • A mom who is very busy with little time for individual learning
  • A child who loves workbooks and routine learning
  • A family in transition
  • A mom who just had a baby
  • A child who is able to sit still, stay focused, and needs little direction or discipline

4.  Classical

“The Trivium” is stages or ways of learning that coincide with a child’s cognitive development.

  • Grammar Stage—What’s in their world (PreK-2nd or 3rd)
  • Dialectic Stage—Tell me more.  Tell my why.  How does it work?  Compare/contrast; Connect real things to abstract.  (2nd or 3rd – 5th or 6th)
  • Rhetoric Stage—What does it mean to me?  What do I do with this info?  How am I going to use it?  Logic/Debate.  (Middle school to Adult)

Examples: My Father’s World (most self-contained, similar to Sonlight yet with chronological approach); Veritas Press; Memoria Press;

Reference book—The Well-Trained Mind (Susan Wise Baur–Classical Education for the Next Generation)

Compare and contrast Charlotte Mason  and Classical Education in this article by Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Trained Mind.

Learning Style Match:  Multi-sensory

Pros: Works well for families with children close in ability level; developmentally appropriate methods; uses real books; unit study approach to content; systematic/chronological method to content; hooked/linked to history; progression of knowledge;

Cons: May not “feel” structured when compared to traditional curriculum; Not yet, totally self-contained; may be difficult to use when there is a wide ability gap between children; may be easy to miss certain skills

5.  Technological Learning

This includes internet and software based programs.  The internet provides multi-sensory, interactive learning via multi-media learning.  Software provides the same in a more controlled environment (minus the interaction).

Examples: NorthStar Academy; University of Nebraska; K-12; Potter’s School; Liberty U; Texas Tech University K-12; Switched-on School House; Time4Learning, Teaching Textbooks; Miss Humblebee’s Academy (pre-K)

Learning Style Match:  Multi-sensory, visual, auditory

Pros: Can be more interactive and engaging; provides structured learning so child can learn more independently; can be great preparation for future learning—delivery system of the future; opportunity to learn from a different teacher or teachers on line; can have virtual classmates;

Cons: on-line can be pricey; can be frustrating if not technologically savvy or if student has poor typing or reading skills; has set deadlines so less scheduling flexibility; may include more “busy work” as it is more of a structured school environment; software has preprogrammed responses and if child does not answer with exact response, may cause frustration

[Administrator Note: Some interactive computer-based programs can be helpful for the visual-spatial learner. See–]

Two Families Review NorthStar Academy; A Review of NorthStar Academy; A Review of the Potter’s School; Online Schooling: Who is Cut Out for It?; A Comparative of NorthStar and Sevenstar Online SchoolsFree Online Public School; Technological Learning; Homeschool Technological Resources; Humble Beginnings: Kindergarten Readiness

See Also the companion article on this blog: Curriculum: How do I know what to choose?”curriculum, homeschool, classical, thematic, traditional, technological, school, academics, columns

And these . . .

Strategies for Supplementing National Schools

Types of Curriculum: Technological (Online) Learning

5 Ultimate Education Goals for the Year

5 Pros and Cons to Homeschooling the Older Adopted Child

Great Books  and Articles as You Look Into Which Curriculum Fits Your Child:

The Way They Learn by Cynthia Tobias

Every Child Can Succeed by Cynthia Tobias

How We Learn and how We Teach

Multiple Intelligences: How Does My Child Think?


You may also be interested in this blog post from Fortuigence:

Choosing Curriculum at Homeschool Conventions



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Right to Choose Your Children’s Education

7 Secrets to Finding the Best Homeschool Curriculum


Note: Blogger Home+School shared a summary of this article on Sept 2, 2013.


In August 2010, blogger The Pioneer Woman shares 5 approaches to homeschooling as: Charlotte Mason, Classical, Eclectic, Unit Studies, and Unschooling. The Charlotte Mason and Classical approaches to homeschooling would best be served by a classical type of curriculum as noted above. The unit-study approach would best be served by the thematic type of curriculum. Eclectic could be served by a combination of 2 or more of the 5 basic types above. And, as Unschooling is not curriculum based, it would best be served through access to a good library, internet, field trips, and lots of life-on-life experiences. The only approaches not really expressed by The Pioneer Woman (apart from its possible inclusion in the Eclectic approach, would be parents who tend to school their kids with a traditional approach and those who school their kids with a technological approach to education.



38 thoughts on “Five Basic Types of Curriculum

    • I would love to hear some feedback on this question from any of our South African followers of this blog! I have heard that one of the factors has to do with the multiplicity of core languages being taught.

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  2. Be it written or official, null or general, societal or traditional–curriculum should influence genuine practices that gear toward maintenance and achievement acceptable values in all areas of human life, which will help to foster a well developed, progressive and productive society.

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  7. Thanks its interesting and fruitful it is well explained and it hepls the teacher and parents work together in nurturing a different kinds of learner

  8. Pingback: 7 Secrets to Finding the Best Homeschool Curriculum | The Education Cafe

    • Knowledgeable: intelligent and well-informed

      Educative: educational, informative, enlightening, instructive

      The many teachers, counselors, parents, and consultants who write for The Education Cafe are definitely knowledgeable (intelligent/well-informed). Thankfully, they like to share their knowledge free of charge by providing informative/educational articles to guide teachers and parents in their day-to-day decisions regarding their students’ education. If they preferred to just be educated, well-informed individuals, then they would only be seeking to add to their knowledge rather than striving to share their wisdom with others. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

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  11. Where can people click to cite information from this website so plagiarism is not a factor? Please advise.

  12. it very interesting that such types of curriculum exists. Please what are the possible effects on the learners. What account for dynamics of curriculum changes in different countries. does it have positive effects as the world is advocating for education for all.

    • The article you are responding to has to do with the five basic types of curriculum currently being used by families in the US who school their children at home. While other countries may have similar groupings of curriculum, not all may be available. The positive effects of having a variety of curriculum includes meeting the learning styles and needs of the students, as well as meeting the teaching styles of a teacher. Additionally, different countries have traditionally had different methods of teaching their students, which is often due to differences in culture, worldview, needs, careers/jobs, etc.

  13. Excellent site. I’m curious as to your thoughts concerning on-line classes. Do you think this type of classroom will dominate elementary school system as it is with universities, or will public education always depend upon the classroom environment?

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