Core Knowledge - free online curriculum

Core Knowledge  - free online curriculum

The Core Knowledge Foundation offers free curriculum online. Resources are presented in different sections on their site. The Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) curriculum is available for preschool through third grade, while Core Knowledge Classic Lesson Plans (CKLP) are available for preschool through eighth grade. While Core Knowledge resources were written for classroom situations, most activities can be easily adapted for homeschooling. Core Knowledge products and the lesson plans created by other contributors are secular in outlook. However, I have found the Core Knowledge community to be generally supportive of Judeo-Christian values, and their lesson plans and resources are likely to work for both secular and Christian home educators.

The Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA)

CKLA teaches phonics, reading, vocabulary, handwriting, spelling, and the writing process with a complete curriculum. While you can purchase print versions of all of the course components, they are quite expensive. Realistically, homeschoolers will download free versions of the resources to read or print. (Make sure you've got a reasonably speedy internet connection since many of these are large files.)

At each level, lessons are divided into two strands: listening and learning in one strand, and skills in another. Preschool adds another strand, "Starting the Day." CKLA uses a unit study approach to some extent, presenting material in "domains." Domains are topical areas from social studies, science, and literature within which reading comprehension and vocabulary are taught. For example, the domains for first grade are fables and stories, the human body, different lands/similar stories, early world civilizations, early American civilizations, astronomy, the history of the earth, animals and habitats, fairy tales, a new nation, and frontier explorers. You can see how this might provide your complete coverage of history and some coverage of science at these early grade levels.

While supplemental books, videos, and other resources are recommended, the core lesson material is supplied in the curriculum. Lesson plans show you exactly when to use flip books, anthologies, readers, and other resources, even providing thumbnail pictures of the images from flip books within the lesson plans. Plans include guided conversations with questions and suggested answers. Questions challenge students at various levels of thinking from simple comprehension up through higher levels (e.g. inference, evaluation) as is appropriate at each grade level. Hands-on activities are included for many lessons.

Kindergarten begins a complete, phonics-based reading program that continues through subsequent grade levels. There are teacher guides, student workbooks, readers, "flip books," assessments, and other components for the various levels as you find in typical complete course packages. Flip books and readers are heavily illustrated with high-quality art work, and they are in full-color. There are also Assessment and Remediation Guides and ancillary items such as posters, letter cards, Blending Picture Cards, and a Vowel Flip Book. There are even resources and teaching suggestions for advanced learners as well as those who need extra assistance!

Lessons need to be taught from the teacher's guides since they are very interactive with lots of discussion and activity. Student complete worksheets, and student readers are introduced the second semester of kindergarten. (You might want to print out the teacher's guides and student worksheets, but display the full color readers and flip books on your computer or other device.)

It will probably take a little time at first to sort out the components. Some components, such as the cards, might not be as nice when created from your printouts as they would be if purchased ready-made. Still, once you've printed out what you need, the lessons themselves are laid out for you in detail so that you will not need to spend a lot of time on preparation

CKLA resources are all relatively new, so the recommended supplemental resources should generally be available. CKLA resources are aligned closely with the Common Core. You can examine samples from both strands at

CKLA is so fully-developed and ready to use that it's surprising that all of this is available for free.

Core Knowledge Classic Lesson Plans (CKLP)

While CKLP includes lesson plans for a number of subjects for preschool through eighth grade, the history/geography lesson plans for kindergarten through eighth grade are what I think will really interest home educators. These lesson plans reflect Core Knowledge's recommendations of topics to be covered at each level.

Lesson plans have been created by various contributors rather than by the Core Knowledge Foundation, so they vary from one another. Some lesson plans were written to meet particular state standards, so you will need to check each lesson plan to ensure it covers topics you want to teach. Also, lesson plans have been written over a number of years, so resource books recommended to be used with the plans are sometimes out of print. Unfortunately, some lesson plans are very dependent upon the Pearson Learning Core Knowledge History and Geography series, an outstanding series which was in print for only a short while. Core Knowledge does not endorse or take responsibility for the lesson plans even though they are made available through their website.

You can find the lesson plans by beginning at this page, then clicking on the grade level you want. While the CKLA lessons incorporate reading on topics from science and social studies under "domains" or topics, the CKLP lesson plans focus primarily on history and geography while only sometimes branching out into other areas of the curriculum. Each year, students cover topics from both World and U.S. History as well as some geography.

Each lesson plan should take a few weeks to complete, so you will be using quite a few of them for a complete school year. For example, at fourth grade level, lesson plans are presented under 11 headings: Geography, Europe in the Middle Ages, Spread of Islam and "Holy Wars," Early and Medieval African Kingdoms, China: Dynasties and Conquerers, Home Sweet Home (state history study that can be used for any state), American Revolution, Making a Constitutional Government, Early Presidents and Politics, Reformers (battles for women's rights in the 1800-1900s), and Amercan Symbols and Figures. While some topics have only one lesson plan, most have at least four or five. Some of the lesson plans overlap in content, so you will not use them all.

Lesson plans incorporate historical fiction, biographies, and other resource books, often including What Your First Grader Needs to Know and other books from that series written by Core Knowledge founder E.D. Hirsch Jr. Some lessons use videos. Most lesson plans incorporate some sort of hands-on activity. Timelines are a common feature, but some plans include more arts-and-crafts projects. All lesson plans appear to have printable worksheets at the back of the printable book.

Every lesson plan that I looked at was very thoroughly developed with instructions, background information, step-by-step procedures, lists of required resources, bibliographies, and student pages. Every lesson plan is dependent on the use of some other resource books, so that is a key thing to examine up front before deciding to use a lesson plan; make sure you can access the books you need or find reasonable substitutes.

The lesson plans will certainly require quite a bit of preparation work, first in sorting through and choosing which ones to use, and secondly, in gathering resources and preparing and presenting the lessons. Nevertheless, the lesson plans are top-notch and provide great course material for those willing to expend the effort.

Pricing Information

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Instant Key

  • Suitable For: group but adaptable for one child
  • Audience: grades PreK-8
  • Need For Parent/Teacher Instruction: high
  • Prep Time Needed: high for CKLP; moderate for CKLA
  • Teacher's Manual: essential
  • Educational Approach: Core Knowledge
  • Religious Perspective: secular

Publisher's Info

Note: Publishers, authors, and service providers never pay to be reviewed. They do provide free review copies or online access to programs for review purposes.

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