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Homeschool Planning Using a Skills vs. Knowledge Framework

Have you ever thought about the difference between learning skills vs. acquiring knowledge?  Thinking through this difference while planning and organizing your homeschool can help you use your homeschool time wisely.

We only have so many hours in a day to dedicate to teaching our children. And only so long that children can attend to structured school each day.  We want to make sure we use that time effectively!

So let’s look at our homeschool plans within a framework of skills vs. knowledge and see how it can help you plan your homeschool day, week and year better!

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What are Skills in a Homeschool?

A skill as defined by Wikipedia is “the ability to perform an action with determined results often within a given amount of time, energy, or both.”

When we think of skills in relation to academic subjects, the three Rs: reading [w]riting, and ‘rithmetic often come to mind first.  Other skills we often learn in academic settings are artistic skills, playing a musical instrument, learning a foreign language, organization, how to research and study and giving a presentation.

Outside of the academic setting, we can learn ‘life skills’ and social skills. And then there are soft skills such as problem solving, adaptability, and perseverance that we learn in a variety of settings.  Executive function skills might also be considered “soft skills”, but they are really important skills to build.

Child moving phoneme tiles on a whiteboard to spell the word invent.
Using All About Spelling to build a good foundation of spelling skills.

Skill Building Requires a Strong Foundation

Skills often follow a developmental path and are taught in a progression.  One must acquire certain foundational skills before moving on to the next level of skills.  In handwriting, a child may be taught letters with straight lines before learning letters with curved lines.  When teaching reading, we often start children with the vowel sounds, a few consonant sounds and how to blend these sounds to read three-letter words before moving on to more phonemes and longer words.  For math, we teach counting before we teach addition and subtraction.  We teach math facts in a certain order.

Abacus from the RightStart Math curriculum with a whiteboard to work out the problem.
Using RightStart Math to build a strong foundation of Number Sense.

When teaching skills, we want to move as slow as a child needs to acquire each level of skills.  It is important to have a strong foundation in place before layering on the next set of skills.  Developing skills require lots of practice and we want to provide opportunities for children to have lots of time and experiences with this practice.  Daily practice and even morning and afternoon practice is important when children are working hard to develop new skills.

Now, let’s contrast this skill development with acquiring knowledge.

What Knowledge Do We Learn in a Homeshool?

Merriam-Webster defines knowledge as “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association.”

Subjects such as science, history or social studies, and studies of different cultures, people, and places would fall under knowledge.

Acquiring Knowledge Allows for Child-Led Learning

When learning knowledge, one does not necessarily need to follow a developmental path.  Instead, you can pick and choose what you might want to learn in these subjects.  This allows you to follow your child’s interests.  Maybe your children want to learn why the moon looks different throughout the month or what Native Americans lives were like before the colonies were settled.

Since knowledge does not require as much practice, you may not study these subjects every day.  When you do study them, you may spend longer since your children may have a higher level of interest in them.  You also may find that your children explore these subjects outside of traditional “school hours”.

Physics experiment using a ruler as a lever with a weight on end and a lab sheet.
Learning about simple machines.

You can also determine how deep into a subject you want to go when learning knowledge.  Maybe your goal is for your children to have a general idea of the subject and then they can always research specific facts later as they desire.  For example, it is important for all of us to understand why the moon phases change throughout the month, but is it important that we be able to name each phase?  Or is this something we can just google when it comes up?  Again, your child’s level of interest can determine how deep into the subject you go.

Books about knights and castles for homeschool history lesson
A unit study about knights and castles.

Skills vs. Knowledge Over the Years

We often spend more time building skills in the early years.  The bulk of “school time” is dedicated to reading, math, writing, spelling, and learning how to organize our materials.  Knowledge often gets sprinkled in as time allows.

As children build a strong foundation in their skills, then less time can be spent on skill building and more time can be dedicated to acquiring knowledge.  The skills your children built in the early years will allow them to acquire new knowledge on their own.  They can read about subjects that interest them, write and draw about what they learn, and use math to solve scientific problems.  This is when we see all our hard work come together in a beautiful way!

Two boys laying on a big bean bag chair reading.

How This Informs Our Homeschool Planning

So how does this framework of skills vs. knowledge inform our homeschool planning?  Here are my suggestions:

Dedicate more time in the early years to skill building and sprinkle in knowledge through read alouds, videos, and field trips as time allows.

Plan several practice sessions a week for your children to develop the skills they are working on.

Moving at your child’s pace when building skills is super important to building a strong foundation.

When working within a tight budget, dedicate your resources to strong skill building curriculum.  Knowledge can often be learned for little to no money through the library and free resources on the internet.  And exploring the world around us is a great way to gain knowledge!

Allow your children more say (or all the say?) in what they learn in knowledge subjects such as science, history, culture, etc.

Finally, if your child is having trouble learning what they are being taught, ask yourself “Is this a skill or area of knowledge?”  If it is a skill, then slow down, change how the material is being presented and take the time to make sure they understand and acquire the skill.  If the material being taught falls under knowledge, then rethink how much your children really need to learn.  Maybe just getting the gist of the material being taught is ok for now. If learning about the human body, maybe it is okay to just learn that there are different systems and what each system does, but not necessarily gain a full understanding of each body system.

How do you feel the skills vs. knowledge framework informs your homeschool planning and teaching?