“What if I don’t know what they’re meant to learn?”

When I first started to tell people I was going to homeschool, one frequent comment was something along the lines of, “What if you don’t know what they’re meant to be learning?” Sometimes it wasn’t put in that way. Often it was, “I could never do tha;, I’m not smart enough,” but underlying it all is the assumption that we have to know everything that we are going to teach our kids. I disagree.

Now, full disclosure before I continue: my kids are young. I don’t have any in upper years, but we’re planning to do this right through, so I’ve thought about it a lot. If you have older kids, and I come across as an ignorant fool who has lots of opinions, only because he’s not there yet — please set me straight!

This worry isn’t often about the early years, but for some, it’s there from the start. I remember a mother asking what to do for maths with her five-year-old. The father was going to take it over in two years after he finished his studies, but until then it was up to her, and she believed that she couldn’t do maths, so couldn’t teach her five-year-old. Noone should doubt their abilities like this. If you can function in everyday life, if you can buy milk, if you can serve cookies to your family without a mutiny and cut a cake into enough portions for everyone to get a share, you can do the first few years of maths.

My kids aren’t me. They’ll want to follow academic streams different to the ones I did, and that’s great. But, it doesn’t mean I need to know it all first. I know I’ll have moments of doubt, and here are a few things I hope to remember:

1) The academics they learn aren’t that important.

I believe that the academics I teach my kids don’t matter…in the same way that the mission trips I used to lead weren’t for the communities we went to. The kids we took did it for the community; we did it for the kids to develop a heart for serving and mission. Likewise, there’s a subtext to academics, and most of the lessons our kids will learn aren’t the actual lessons we teach them. When I look back on my schooling, I remember not so much the dates I had to memorise in history, but the overview and how everything influences everything else. When I remember geography, I remember a bit about tectonic plates, but more about being amazed at how huge and fragile our world is. From science, I can remember a few things about the periodic table, but more I remember the beautiful balance that exists in nature, and I notice the laws of physics all around me, even if I no longer can recite the formulas. From economics, I can’t recall the formulas either, but every time I listen to politicians making promises, I wonder at the “real cost”* of whatever they’re proposing. I believe it’ll be the same for my kids.

2) It’s an opportunity to teach them how to learn.

We all had to learn the periodic table in class. How many of us can still recite it? Academic lessons will be forgotten. Instead of worrying about knowing everything my kids need to learn, I’m much more interested in using those things to teach them how to learn. I don’t need to know everything; I need to model how to learn. If they don’t understand how to do something, they need to learn how to look it up, how to find an expert, how to use the internet to find answers, and how to use discretion to know which answers to believe. In today’s changing world there are few academic constants. Planets that we learned about are taken away, holes in the periodic table are filled, new discoveries turn our knowledge of history upside down, and depending on what country you’re in, the history you learn about the same event will be completely different. We’re bombarded with facts both real and alternate, so teaching my kids how to check things for themselves and how to think for themselves is one of the top priorities of their education. We also have a time when most people change careers several times and most of our kids will have jobs that aren’t even invented yet. How can we possibly prepare them with academic knowledge for that? All we can do is teach them to learn.

3) Nobody knows everything.

How many times have you witnessed a stupid argument because someone was too embarrassed to say that they don’t know? I have many times. Being able to admit to not knowing something is valuable. If we can teach our kids that there’s no shame in admitting it and asking others for advice, we’re teaching them humility and how to learn. People love to show off their knowledge. If you admit you don’t know something, people love to teach. Kids minds also have a wonderful ability to ask hard questions and think outside the box. I did well in school, but my oldest, at four, would regularly stump me with tough questions simply because he saw the world differently. We could look up the answers together and both learn something. I love when that happens.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I’d love to hear any of your ideas about how you combat this.

*The “real cost” is whatever else could have been done with the money. Put really basically, if there’s enough money for a school or a hospital to be built, and a school is chosen, then the real cost of the school is that we don’t have a hospital. If a there is a tax cut, then the real cost is everything that money would have done.

What’s the BEST home education style?

Ahhh, homeschooling styles. A quick visit to any homeschool forum and you’ll soon see a post asking about styles and curriculum, and as many different opinions as there are responses. We all want the best for our children, and we’re all worried that we’re not supplying our kids with the best. It might be a Facebook post from a mother showing off the amazing nature study her child has done or a science experiment they’ve completed…and you realise you haven’t been able to do anything like that for a while. We all question what we’re doing from time to time.

Well, rest easy. Whichever style you’re using, it’s not the best. And, that’s alright. How do I know you’re not using the best style? Well, hear me out and see if you agree. Our society has been becoming more black and white, more all or nothing, and we’re losing the ability to see the nuances and the shades of grey between even two choices, let alone the amount of teaching styles available to us. We throw around terms like “best” without ever really defining what we’re asking. The “best candidate.” Yeah, for whom? About what? The “best home educating style.” What do we mean? What would be the best for the way your child learns? The one that gives them the broadest knowledge base? Or, is it the one that gives the deepest knowledge in their preferred areas? The best for us as the teacher? The best for their personality? The best that fits in with our family and the different children we are teaching? The best to impart lots of biblical knowledge? The best at helping them become the hands and feet of Jesus? The best for our educational philosophies? The best to comply with our states requirements? The best to foster a life-long love of learning? The list goes on…

There’s a good chance many of these questions would have a different curriculum or style — but still come out as the best. We all have to work out what we’re trying to achieve, and a choice for something is a choice against something else. So, what are we to do? With all the choices out there, how can we be confident that the style we’re using is the best for our children and family? I can’t tell you which method is best for you, but I can share the steps I’ve taken to make sure I’m comfortable with my choice.

1) As always, pray. Pray that we’ll have wisdom in what we’re doing, and that whatever we do, we’ll be able to raise the children we’ve been given to be the people God made them to be.

2) Keep up with research about the way people learn. Read books on the subject; subscribe to websites where researchers on education have posted. There are some fascinating articles in psychology today on education. This allows us to check regularly against what we’re doing, so we can see if there is something we can implement. Don’t settle for anything just because it’s always been done that way. As home educators, we can look at the pros and cons of everything. It’s a real blessing not to be burdened with doing something just because it’s the way it’s always been done. We can know why we do everything we do.

3) Find out which style of homeschooling best fits our educational philosophy. Once we know a bit about how children learn, and we know our own children, we can start to look at the different styles out there to help us teach our kids. There are many websites with quizzes where you can answer a few questions about your priorities, and these will then tell you which style suits you best. I did this when I first started looking into home educating. I hadn’t heard of most of the styles it mentioned, but it gave me a great jumping off point for my research. I knew I could get away with only a quick skim of any that didn’t suit me, and focus on those that matched our philosophies. This saved a lot of time, and as I read up on different styles, it was incredibly accurate.

4) Research the recommended methods and curriculums available, and join some forums or facebook groups dedicated to those methods. You can learn so much from other parents. Once you know your philosophies, you can start to glean information from like-minded folks and see how they incorporate things into their system. Remember, you don’t need to do everything exactly the same as others with similar philosophies. Some people fall in love with a style, and disapprove of anyone doing it slightly differently to how they think it should be done.

5)  Look realistically at your children and yourself, and see what will work best for your family and its particular situation. I have three boys. They’re all different, but I’m not about to use three totally different styles. It would be impossible. I can use slightly different implementation for the different boys, but overall the philosophy isn’t going to change. I didn’t want to start one thing with the first that wouldn’t also work for the other boys. There were compromises to make there. On top of that, while I could see them flourishing from a particular style, I knew with my health issues it wouldn’t work very well for our family, particularly in the younger years. I believe that where we’ve ended up is the best compromise for our family.

Once you settle on a style, get started. It won’t be perfect; nothing here on earth is. What’s important is that you know why you’ve chosen what you have, and why it’s best for you right now. It will change and evolve. When you see things other parents are doing, you may want to add a bit. If something isn’t working, you may want to replace it with something else. We always need slight corrections as our journey progresses, but if we know why we are (or aren’t) doing something and have a philosophy behind it, then we at least have a place to start.

Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear any thoughts.

“What if they end up weird?”

Disclaimer: When I use “weird” in this post, please see it as “different to the average mainstream” as opposed to any negative connotation. Thanks!

If you weren’t reading this I’d ask you to close your eyes and think of the stereotypical homeschooled kid. What do you see? You probably know a lot of kids who are homeschooled, and see a normal child (whatever that is!), but popular culture has created a rather different picture, and this is what many people see when they think of a homeschooler. They might imagine the family who sews all their own clothes and never leaves their homestead. It might be the kids who are awkward at any social event and have no idea how to act. This was the type of person I thought of.

When I was younger I knew a few kids who were homeschooled. It was still pretty new here in Australia; I believe it hadn’t even been legal for very long. I used to look at these kids and wonder if they were weird because they were homeschooled, or if they came by it honestly, because the only people who homeschooled their kids were weirdos! In retrospect, I think I probably knew more people who were homeschooled, but just didn’t know about it. I also knew a lot of weird kids who went to regular school. Some of those kids have gone on to be incredibly successful; others still walk to the beat of a different drum.

This was one of my fears when I started looking into homeschooling my boys, and it’s also one of the things that people ask me regularly — at least those who are impolite enough, or who know me well enough to get away with it. When people meet a child who is odd, and then they find out that child is home-schooled, they decide that it must be the homeschooling that causes the weirdness. Any “normal” homeschooled kids don’t do anything to negate this, nor does the fact that a lot of mainstream kids are different do anything to make them think that it’s school that’s to blame. When it comes to homeschooling, “post hoc ergo propter hoc” seems to be the rule. It happened after something, so it MUST be because of something. We live near an Adventist college and have a few theology students at our church. This means we have to endure some sermons that highlight the naivety of students learning to preach. Many of the students come across as sheltered; however, for the student who was homeschooled this was obviously the cause. I’m not sure what was to blame for the others!

I won’t lie, there’s a lot of weird kids who are homeschooled. But, there are also a lot of mainstream kids who aren’t normal either! God has made us all different, and I think that’s wonderful. I’m not worried anymore. This is due to a few things. I’ve met a lot of different kids who are homeschooled. In general, I find them not much different to mainstream kids. There are a lot of special needs homeschooled kids in our area. When I was considering homeschooling, I went to a social day that was advertised on a local homeschooling group. The first kids I met were your cliched, stereotypical, running-around-with-no-social-skills homeschoolers. My heart sank, but I saw pretty quickly that these kids had medical issues. Genetics is to blame for their not being normal. Many kids are homeschooled because mainstream would make their lives hell, or they’d slip through the cracks. I have so much respect for parents who homeschool their kids because of this. Homeschooling hasn’t made these kids different; it’s giving them the best chance to survive growing up unscathed by the meanness of school for anyone who doesn’t fit the mold. Even if they don’t have these issues, going to a mainstream school forces our children to join a group. To fit into that group they start to lose a bit of who they are to the group identity. I remember sacrificing bits of myself to fit in with the “cool” kids. By homeschooling we can not only give our children a catered education, but raise them to be the people God made them to be — even if it is different to everybody else.

The fact that a child is homeschooled won’t make them weird, but the way I homeschool my child might. If I hide them from the world, only letting them see the people from church, only letting them be exposed to ideas that I’ve sanitised and approved, they’ll never grow. They’ll never learn to think for themselves and wrestle with different ideas. They’ll never have the opportunity for God to use them to make a difference in the world, because I will have hidden them from it. That isn’t raising them to be the people God made them to be, for the purpose He has for them. But, if I show them how to love other people, that different ideas aren’t something to be scared of, that someone who believes differently to me isn’t a bad person just because of that, that God loves a difficult person so much He would’ve sent Jesus to die just for them — if I let that be the filter they see the world through, then I am helping to set them up for God to use however He sees fit. To me, that’s what matters.

Now if I start to worry that my kid is different other kids, I refocus on what’s important. Does it matter? No. God has blessed me with my children. I shouldn’t be comparing my kids to anyone else’s. I should just be doing the best job I can with what God has given me. We’re not all dealt the same hand; not all of us are expected to cure cancer, convert the masses, or change the world. If we look at the parable of the talents, we see that what we’re asked to do is the best we can with what God has entrusted to us. Let’s embrace that. Let’s raise our children to be the people God made them to be, letting their unique light shine. Let’s nurture the special gifts that they have, and teach them to let God use them how He sees fit without looking at what everyone else is doing.

Besides, if I’m really honest, my kids share my genetics. If they’re weird, homeschooling isn’t to blame!