by Katie Julius
As homeschool parents, sometimes the idea that you are responsible for the education of your children can be overwhelming or even paralyzing. This is particularly true of inquiring or new home educators. We discussed why you are the best teacher for your children in this article, but want to encourage you to look at your role as teacher from a different perspective – as a lead learner, or co-learner.
Since private homeschools are not required to adhere to state standards, we have the option to select which topics we include as part of our curriculum as well as how we teach those topics. Flexibility is one of the amazing things we gain when teaching our children at home. This extends to the relationship between you, as a “teacher,” and your children, as “students.”
You Don’t Need to Know it All
A very common misconception is that in order to teach something, you must know it yourself first. This simply is not true!
My daughter and I are family education volunteers at our local aquarium. As part of our training, we attended four class sessions. Before we started, I assumed they would be providing us all kinds of information about the animals that are featured at the aquarium. While we did gain some of that valuable knowledge, the focus was actually more on how to engage guests to make discoveries for themselves so they can learn. It was more about asking questions to guide them to the information versus just being told a laundry list of random facts. Being an educator doesn’t mean you have to know all the facts (it helps, but isn’t necessary); it only means you need to be capable of helping others find that information they want or need.
I taught myself to read before I started kindergarten. I don’t remember how, and I only vaguely remember reviewing phonics sounds in early elementary. I memorize things easily, so it’s possible I learned by memorizing the words (known as sight words today). This was challenging for me when it came time to teach my daughter to read because I had no knowledge of how to do it and memorization did not come naturally for her. I made sure to select a curriculum that scripted what I was supposed to say (since it was a subject I didn’t feel as confident in). Now that we are almost through the introductory program, I can honestly say that I think I’ve learned almost as much as she has – which sounds to use when and why. I had never heard any of the rules about a “silent final E” or that “/a/ often says its broad sound after w.” It’s been very fascinating to me to learn all of the reasons words are pronounced (and spelled) the way that they are!
Choose Subjects You (and Your Students) are Interested In
If you select topics that you and your children are eager and excited for, all of you will have a much more successful and also a less stressful schooling experience.
When I was in elementary school, despite attending public schools here in California, I never went through California History. Sure, I knew of the California missions and learned a little bit about it as part of United States history later on in school. But I never went on any of the “typical” fourth-grade field trips, and much to the chagrin of my dad, did not get to build a mission.
Once I decided to homeschool my daughter, I knew I wanted to go all out on California History. (History, in general, is an interesting topic to me). I’ve been planning and researching: looking at curriculum options, finding out about all the great field trips, reading the literature, and more. Now that the year I had planned for this subject has arrived, I can put my plans into action. Because I am excited about and interested in the topic I’m “teaching,” it makes me want to learn and makes my daughter more eager to learn as well.
Academics vs. Skill Development
I know this might come as a surprise to some of you, especially those recently out of the traditional classroom environment, but it doesn’t always have to be about “academics.” Yes, academics are important – reading, writing, math, etc., but if we can develop a love of learning and teach them how to learn, we have made them into lifelong learners. How many times can you remember sitting in school and wondering, “When will I ever use this in real life?” Now that you’re an adult and a parent, you can’t think of one.
In high school, I took honors and AP classes. There was a lot of knowledge packed into those classes to prepare students for the AP tests at the end of the year. However, as I have begun to teach my daughter, I have realized that I no longer remember much of what I learned in those classes more than 20 years ago. However, because I have developed a love of learning and developed skills like evaluating original source documents, some of my favorite shows to watch are documentaries on The History Channel!
From a bit more “practical” standpoint, if history and science aren’t your thing, consider holding off on them in the elementary years. Most of the information taught in these courses for younger children is just for exposure and fun learning experiences. Once you get into junior high and high school, you can really start to dig deeper into these topics as your and your students’ interests dictate.
“I only went through Geometry; how can I teach my high schooler Trigonometry or Calculus? Or Chemistry and Physics?” Ah yes, higher-level math and science are always intimidating, especially if you are teaching it to your child.
There are several considerations when dealing with these topics (though some would apply to any subject in your curriculum). First, consider your children’s post-graduate plans. If they aren’t planning to go into a field that requires a high-level math course or attending a college that includes them for admissions, consider leading them through a Consumer Math course instead. If Chemistry and Physics aren’t your (or their) thing, maybe a Marine Biology, Paleontology, or another narrowly focused science course would be a good fit during the junior and senior years.
However, if your student does need those courses for their chosen career path, crowdsourcing is a great way to have someone else act as the “teacher” for that course. It could be one-on-one with a family friend who is an engineer for science or math or an English/Communications major for writing. You could also look for classes that are offered in these subjects, often taught by those with a lot of knowledge and experience related to the topic they are teaching. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of options, both in-person and online for these learning opportunities.
Learn with Them
I saved what I think is the most important point for last – learning with your kids. We’ve all heard that kids learn best by example. So, what better way to “teach” them to learn than learning alongside them? I already gave some examples of that earlier with my daughter’s reading curriculum and California History, but I wanted to share one more example that features teens and their parents.
As I mentioned previously, I took AP classes, which included AP English. While I felt like my strength was writing, I really despised reading novels and doing literary analysis. I only wished that I had a book club like a group of teens and moms that I know do. They started it a few years ago while many of the teens were still in high school. The premise is pretty simple. They pick a topic for the year (one year was dystopian, another inspirational) and then each member of the group chooses a book to read for a month and they write the questions for discussion each week. Even though many of the kids have now graduated high school, the group continues to meet weekly and one mom even attends without her son. I can’t think of a better illustration of students (and their mamas) who have developed a love of reading (and learning).
It may seem daunting to have the weight of your children’s education on your shoulders. But it doesn’t have to be. Take it one step at a time and use the ideas and encouragement shared here to go with confidence into your role, not of teacher, but of “Lead Learner.”