(Last Updated on October 23, 2023)
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Have you ever questioned your ability to educate your own kids? Are you scared to teach math or science (or any other subject) because you barely made it through those subjects yourself?
Or, have you wondered how homeschooling parents can teach their own kids when they aren’t certified teachers?
The “parents-can’t-homeschool-since-they-aren’t-certified-teachers” criticism is (unfortunately) still a common homeschool myth. I debunk it pretty thoroughly in my book, Think About Homeschooling: What It Is, What It Isn’t, & Why It Works, so you can check that out and put that myth to rest in your mind.
But, for now, I’d like to address those of you who are genuinely concerned that you won’t be able to teach your kids _______ (fill in the blank with your weakest subject).
First, let’s put this in perspective. If someone has to fully, completely, 100% understand something before they teach it to someone else, no one would ever be able to teach anyone anything!
The stuff that can be learned is infinite! There will always be more to learn about every subject. Often, the more people learn about their area of expertise, the more they realize they don’t know! Each question answered raises three more new questions.
So, right from the start, let’s recognize that we’re not talking about “experts” who are allowed to teach vs “everyone else” who can’t. Instead, it’s more like there’s a continuum of knowledge for any given subject and everyone is somewhere on that continuum.
Take math, for example. Maybe math was never your thing. Maybe the last thing you really understood in elementary math was multiplication in third grade. After that, it’s all a blur.
That’s ok!! If you’re at the third grade level on the “continuum of math knowledge”, that means, first of all, that you can probably successfully guide your kids through preschool, kindergarten, first, and second grade math. After that it’s just a matter of knowing your limits and supporting your kids with resources. Find a solid curriculum, online program, tutor, co-op class, or other resource to take them the rest of the way. It won’t matter that you hate division and don’t know what a reciprocal is.
As someone who likes math and understood it pretty well, I always assumed math would be a piece of cake for me to teach in our homeschool. I was wrong. If you’ll indulge me, I think a short story will illustrate my point:
A Tale of Two Subjects
Math – My “Strong” Subject
I’ve always enjoyed solving logic problems and learning math. Most math came pretty easily to me over the years. I got my degrees in engineering and, when I started home educating years ago, I felt pretty confident that I could teach my kiddos math in our homeschool.
Though I’m no math “expert”, my young kids thought of me as one (it’s not too hard to impress a kindergartener). Whenever they had a math question, I was right there explaining how to get the answer. I happily shared my insights and all the fun math tips and tricks I’d been taught as a kid. Because I enjoyed math and picked it up quickly, I always tried to get them excited about it. I said things like “Oh boy! I remember learning this! How fun!”
- My “expertise” got in the way. Knowing the answers to their questions, it was hard for me to let them search for the answers themselves. If they got stuck on a problem, I jumped right in with “here’s how you do it” which robbed them of learning opportunities.
- My insights got in the way. Sharing the fun tips and tricks I remembered from elementary math classes sometimes backfired. If my way was different than the way their curriculum was teaching, they’d just end up confused and frustrated.
- My excitement got in the way. If someone is struggling to learn a math concept or it’s not their favorite subject, it turns out the last thing they want to hear is “Oh boy! I remember learning this! How fun!” Sometimes excitement can be contagious, but definitely not always.
My point isn’t that expertise, insights, and excitement are bad things. But, from experience, I can tell you that a homeschool parent’s expertise in a subject doesn’t guarantee success.
History – My “Weak” Subject
As much as I loved math, I hated history. I couldn’t keep it all straight. Memorizing dates and names of dead people… trying to remember who killed who and married which queen and started which war and whatever… no thanks.
I was so scared that my lack of expertise (or even basic knowledge) of history would mean I couldn’t homeschool. How could I teach my kids things I don’t know?
Thankfully, curriculum exists. Even certified teachers (with years of teaching experience and a passion for their subject) use resources – curricula, videos, books, outside speakers – to guide their class through the content. Those things are available to homeschooling parents as well. In fact, maybe even more so since classroom teachers are often bound by the administration-approved scope, sequence, and materials.
So, I researched and found a well-respected curriculum (Story of the World) to use to teach my kids history. We read the books together aloud and I leaned (heavily) on the curriculum for discussion questions, answer keys, related reading, and fun activities.
Much to my surprise, history has been one of my kids’ most loved subjects (and I like it more now, too)! My embarrassing lack of historical knowledge hasn’t mattered at all! In fact…
- My not knowing the answers has helped us learn how to learn. Because I truly don’t know the answers to many of their history questions, it forces us to search for information. Learning how to find the answers to their questions is such a valuable skill for kids to learn!
- Using outside resources enriches our experience. Because I don’t know enough about history to attempt creating lessons or activities myself, my kids get to experience the teaching style of other teachers and authors. We do crafts I’d never have thought of and play learning games I didn’t know existed.
- My genuine curiosity inspires my kids. For me, learning history the second time around has been so much more interesting; it’s exciting finally being able to make some sense of it all! My honest reactions (like “Whoa! I didn’t know that!” or “So THAT’S who that guy was!”) show my kids how learning is an enjoyable, lifelong process.
The Moral of the Story
My experiences with math and history and other subjects in our homeschool have taught me some lessons over the years:
- Some kids will or won’t like a subject regardless of what you do or don’t do (for example, I hated history despite having some excellent history teachers who did all they could to make it enjoyable and memorable).
- Modeling curiosity has been more impactful than showing enjoyment/excitement about a subject. My curiosity seems to put them at ease; I’m a fellow learner with them. They see that it’s ok to not know things and it’s a good thing to ask questions and seek answers. Whereas me showing enjoyment – saying “I love this subject, don’t you?!” – can sometimes come across as pressure for them to love it as much as I do. (This seems especially true for preteens and older kids since some of them dislike something solely because their mom thinks it’s cool).
- Whether you’re an expert in a subject or couldn’t be further from it, the key is to know your limits and abilities. Be honest with yourself about your knowledge in each subject area as you decide what to teach or farm out. Knowing your comfort level with each subject will help you choose curricula, too, since you’ll know how much hand-holding you’ll need.
- You truly don’t need to be a teacher or a subject expert or a college graduate to succeed with home education. Resourcefulness is key. You don’t have to do it all yourself!
Whether or not you’ve memorized the presidents, whether or not you know who the Mongols were, whether or not you ever took calculus…you CAN homeschool your own kids!
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