Architecting a Subjects Hierarchy for Child Education

An Information Architecture Case Study


Category: Product & Design is a resource where parents can find learning ideas that are relevant with their kids interests. Whether it be movies, games, toys, animals, fictional characters, outdoor activities, or anything else - the core offering this site provides parents is interest pages filled with learning ideas that they can weave into their daily family interactions. The learning ideas on every interest page are organized by subject. With so much text, clear and navigable organization is of utmost importance to the project.

Here are general concepts taken into account here (and to be considered when designing any information architecture):

Desired Outcome

The subjects hierarchy needs to:

  • encompass all areas of child upbringing and preparation to thrive in the world they are inheriting
  • facilitate ease of comprehension
  • remain consistent throughout the site

December, 2019

This first version was ordered by importance governed by these general stances:

  1. Goodness > Intelligence
  2. Life Skills > Academic Knowledge

The main problems with this iteration were that:

  • the logic used to justify this ordering was nebulous and difficult to remember
  • none of the interest pages have all subjects represented, so an unclear hierarchy and unrepresented components to the hierarchy produce an extra random looking sequence of learning ideas
  • various subjects included were impractical for this stage of the project (like advanced math and design subjects, or specific foreign languages)

April, 2020

This was proposed by Allison Gass, who has a Master’s in Instructional Design and two decades of teaching experience throughout the K12 curriculum both in homeschooling and public schooling. The biggest improvement was introducing an alphabetized ordering throughout - an approach that carries no ideology and is memorable for everyone.

This iteration broke subjects down to:

  • better accommodate early education
  • cover additional areas of the holistic education we intend to provide (family connections, play, etc.)
  • merge overly-advanced subjects included in the first iteration (various engineering and design subjects)

The main problems with this iteration were that:

  • several subjects needed to be merged into fewer umbrellas
  • umbrella titles could be simplified
  • subject coverage did not yet sufficiently encompass important skills today’s kids will need to thrive tomorrow

Process of Improvement

The multi-week piecemeal efforts entailed maybe a hundred questions like the ones below:

Me: To many people, myself included, ‘God’ means whoever / whatever is the embodiment of the highest virtues and values… Which is why I originally had religion, virtues, life lessons, under the Values umbrella…
Allison: So you would have the highest subject be Values and then virtues, life lessons, and religion as subs? I like this…

Me: Do Humanities and Social Sciences have to share the same umbrella? It feels like we could easily separate them into two umbrellas.
Allison: …I think we need to need to clear and intentional about how we do it. I felt like it was a good catch all for everything that isn’t already its own higher level, such as art, which is indisputably a humanity, but I feel certainly should be its own top level.
Me: Yeah… is it possible that these hierarchies might be conventionally ordered, in part, by HR at universities?
Allison: Yes they are, I looked for this first, but it falls into academic arguments on a level that are not useful for us from what I could find. What if we just remove humanities all together and call them all social sciences…
Me: Yeah, having economics, geography, and civics under humanities is bugging me - even if it is Social Sciences AND Humanities.

Me: What does Environmental Science cover that Earth Science and Ecology do not?
Allison: …I think this is redundant. It depends how much we want to nest… Maybe let’s remove Ecology and Environmental, and also Geology and Marine and just call it “Earth Science”? But is that specific enough for users to search?… I really can’t solidify a position on this, let me see if i can get more insight from my sisters. It’s really important here to capture how people want to search them…”

Me: I see ‘Reading Nonfiction’ to be redundant because if it’s nonfiction then it is one of the other subjects in this list. For the same reason, I see ‘Reading the Classics’ also to be redundant. Someone is going to say “Why doesn’t this great, older book count as a classic?” What do you think?

May, 2020

This is where we are today with the subjects hierarchy on It will probably never be finished, but for now it is a great architecture when compared to where we’ve been.

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