(Last Updated on November 24, 2020)
When I started homeschooling, one of the first things I did was to check out a stack of “how-to-teach” books from the library. I was hoping to find the secrets to successful homeschool teaching.
I found about 30% of the information to be really helpful. The other 70% was geared toward navigating the public school system. They covered things like managing classes of 20+ students, working with parents and school administration, and decorating classroom bulletin boards.
Don’t get me wrong. A lot of it was good information. But it just wasn’t relevant for me as a new homeschool mom.
It was then that I began to really understand that “home educator” and “classroom school teacher” are NOT the same thing. They might have overlapping job descriptions, but their day-to-day is very different in many ways.
Not surprisingly, some of the best advice I ended up getting about homeschooling was from other homeschoolers. They had experience and expertise in educating and guiding their own kids in a homeschool setting. They were (and still are) able to offer some of the most detailed and practical help for my situation.
Each year we homeschool, I’m learning more and more about what works and doesn’t work for me, my kids and our family. In this series of posts, I’ll be sharing some of the homeschool teaching tricks and strategies I’ve been learning here in the trenches.
Homeschool Teaching Tip #1: Know Your Child
As homeschoolers, you probably have plenty of time with your kids. But that doesn’t mean knowing them well comes automatically.
In her book, Project Based Homeschooling, author Lori Pickert suggests observing your kids and even taking notes to learn more about them. While she’s talking about observing them in the context of guiding their project ideas, I think the advice applies to all areas of our homeschool.
Whether you write down your observations or just make it a point to notice more about your kids’ personality and abilities, make it an intentional habit to really get to know your children. Learning about your child’s passions, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and personality type will help you homeschool so much more effectively.
You can also learn a lot by reading about child development in general. Books or websites like the Child Development Institute can give you a general idea of things like physical, intellectual and social milestones to watch for.
I’ve also learned a lot by observing other kids while volunteering in Sunday School, teaching at our co-op or just during play dates with friends’ families. When you see other kids around your kid’s age, you start to notice what behaviors are typical for that age versus what traits are unique to your own child.
WARNING: Just don’t let your observations lead to unhealthy comparisons or guilt. If you notice your little Johnny is the only one in his co-op group who can’t do division, don’t panic! It’s just an observation. Use the information to help you determine next steps and future goals.
Anytime I’m able to learn more about what makes my kids tick, it’s only helped me parent and homeschool better. Here are some of the ways it’s improved our homeschool when I get to know my kids:
Save Time & Money
Given the ocean of curricula out there, anything I can do to eliminate a few choices is a huge time and money saver.
Normally, I’m a “try the food at least once to see if you like it” kind of mom. (“You never know until you try…haggis might be your new favorite food!” ?) But, if I already know my kid hates writing, I don’t feel bad eliminating a science curriculum that’s heavily writing-based. Sure, we’ll work on improving his attitude toward writing, but there’s no need to ruin science in the process!
Inevitably, some of the resources you get will flop. But the more you know your kids, the more you can avoid spending your precious time and money on resources that probably aren’t the best fit.
Teach More Effectively
The more you know your student, the more you can personalize their education. And the more you personalize their education, the more they will learn.
If they love dragons, use that topic as a theme to teach one of their less-favorite subjects. If they’re a morning person, let them wake up early and tackle their hardest subjects first (and maybe cook breakfast, too, if you’re lucky). If they’re extroverted, opt for a group writing class instead of a “solo” curriculum.
One of the reasons homeschooling is so successful and awesome is because you can individualize your students’ education. But you have to know them as individuals for that to work!
Reduce Frustration (for Everyone!)
A lower flop-rate with curriculum and schoolwork leads to more effective teaching which means less frustration for you and your kids.
The same goes for other areas of life, too. If you know your kids need structure and routine, you can provide it for them. If you know one child is very introverted, you can give her the breaks she needs to be at her best. If you’ve observed dietary issues that cause behavior problems in your son, you can take action to make them better.
A lot of times, the solution isn’t too hard. It was easy to give our very sun-sensitive kid a hat, sunglasses and extra Gatorade on sunny days but, without taking the time to find the root of the problem, we might’ve just thought he’s whiny or not an outdoorsy kind of guy.
In our house, bad attitudes and exasperation seem to be catching. So reducing frustration for one of my kids usually means a better day for everyone!
Make Positive Memories
Knowing your kids well not only means you can avoid what they don’t like. It also means you can do MORE of what they love best!
Gary Chapman talks a lot about this in his book, The 5 Love Languages of Children. If you can figure out how your family members give and receive love best, you can reach them more effectively.
One of my kids loves handwritten notes, cards and artwork. He pours himself into his creations and gifts for others and I know that little notes and gifts speak volumes to him. Knowing this helps me focus my efforts on things he’s more likely to appreciate and remember.
Whether it’s making handwritten notes, having special mother-daughter movie nights, arranging carrots in the shape of a heart at lunchtime, or getting a tour of their latest Minecraft world, more meaningful moments are possible when you know your kids well!
So, break out the fun personality quizzes, ask them about their interests and dislikes, and observe them when they don’t know you’re looking. The quantity & quality time and effort you spend intentionally learning more about your kids will pay for itself many times over!
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