Core Subjects: What Are They?

Some subjects really form the core of your curriculum.

If you’re just starting to plan your home school journey, your first step should be to plan out your core subjects.

A core subject is a necessity: something your child has to learn in order to be educated. The good news is that the core subjects are relatively straightforward. There are really only four:


Language Arts



Of course, it’s not quite that simple, since Language Arts has four different components:

Reading (phonics for younger children, literature for those already reading well)

Writing (composition)



We strongly suggest that you think of “language arts” as four different subjects, rather than investing in a complete “language arts” curriculum. Grammar and spelling are skill-based subjects, meaning that your student should master them in a planned, sequential manner, using workbooks and exercises; literature is an exploration-based subject, meaning that you can pick and choose what you want the student to read (but she’ll never read all of it!); writing combines aspects of both skill and exploration. Most combined language arts curricula either do skill or exploration well—but not both. (Also, complete language arts programs for young students who are still studying phonics almost always require far too much handwriting and fine motor work by linking reading skills to writing skills.)

So as you construct your first year of home education, begin by settling on texts for each of the following:

For all students:






For students in grades K-2 only, add in:


Penmanship (handwriting)

For students in grades 3 and up only:

Writing (composition)

Literature (rather than selecting a “text” for this, we strongly suggest that you simply use a reading list and have the student read through a selected number of wonderful books)

For guidance in recording these subjects on a transcript for students in grades 9-12, see “How to Assign High School Credits.”

You can find complete recommendations for all subjects and grade levels in The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, fourth edition.


Susan Wise Bauer

Susan Wise Bauer is an educator, writer, and historian. She is the co-author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (now in its fourth edition), and the author of (among others) The Well- Educated Mind, The Story of Western Science, the Story of the World series, the History of the World series, the elementary series Writing With Ease, and the pre-rhetoric series Writing With Skill. Susan was home educated through high school and has taught all four of her children at home. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English language and literature, an M.Div., and a Ph.D. in the history of American religion from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where she taught writing and literature for over fifteen years.


4 thoughts on “Core Subjects: What Are They?

  1. Could not get the link for transcript credits to work. Came up with a page not found error. Do you have that link somewhere else? Thanks

    1. Why do you consider the Bible a subject? I consider it a source. It can be the main source for your religion studies and one of many sources for history and literature. A planned reading program that includes an introduction to the world’s great stories, poems, and writers helps to mold an intelligent, informed adult.

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