“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.

“Aren’t you worried you won’t teach them something they need?”

“Aren’t you worried you won’t teach them something?”

There are a handful of questions I’m often asked, and this is one of them. Maybe you get it too. The person asking means well, but it’s still incredibly frustrating. I used to be worried about this, but not anymore. Now I’m content knowing that of course there’ll be things I don’t teach them. Of course I’ll miss teaching them something!

This can be a scary thought when you’re responsible for the education of your loved one. But, think about it further. Did you learn everything you needed when you were at school? Are there holes in your education? Are there things that are taught differently now? Are there facts you were taught that are now false? Of course there are. Pluto isn’t a planet any longer. Math is now taught differently to when I was at school. The geography of Europe is constantly changing. Of course there will be holes in our education; there are holes in every education.

Asking the above questions will usually silence external questioners, but doesn’t always work quite so well on that inner voice…the one that visits at 2 a.m. after a tough day when your little darling decided to forget everything you’ve done for the last few years and suddenly doesn’t know anything…those times when your critical relative starts firing questions at them trying to find where you’re failing, and even though they know all the answers, your child refuses to perform. That inner critic is far harder to silence.

I’ve found that the secret to keeping this one quiet is to know why we’re home educating. I can’t speak for you, but for us one of the primary reasons is to teach our children to learn. Today jobs are rapidly changing. People may change careers several times in their working life. Many of the jobs our children will hold don’t even exist today. If I teach my child nothing else, I want to teach them to learn.

If our kids know how to learn, then the holes in their education won’t matter. If they need the information at some stage, they’ll know how to find it. They’ll know how to find the right person to ask, how to find the book to read, or the right forum to post on. Instead of deciding they can’t do something because they don’t know how, their instinct will be to learn. If we teach our kids that, then the rest is in their court. Once they can do that, our job is no longer to teach them; it’s to come alongside and help guide them in their learning, nudge them where to go if they start to get stuck. Ask them questions to help them get on a path of learning for themselves. If we can do this, then our kids are ready no matter what the world throws at them.

So, how to we teach our kids to learn? I’ve thought of a few ways we try to model being a learner to our kids.

1. Be a learner yourself.
The most effective method we can use to teach anything is to model it to our kids ourselves. Whenever something needs to be done around the house, we learn how to fix it, or at least learn what seems to be wrong before calling someone in. If our kids ask us something we don’t know, we say that we don’t know, and then we look it up together. Just modeling that you can turn to books, experts, or the internet when you don’t know is arming kids with the resources they need to learn.

2. Step back.
I really struggle with this sometimes. There are a hundred things calling for attention, and the kids are taking forever to work something out. The temptation to get in and help them is strong, but I need to step back. If they’re talking about what we’ve been learning, I need to embrace the silence and let them search for the words themselves rather than putting words into their mouths. I need to let them try things on their own and let them experiment without my help. When we help too much, they start to want us to help with everything, and lose their confidence in trying things for themselves. Having to do things themselves forces them to try different methods to achieve their goal. And, they may come up with a better way than we use. Many things have multiple possible outcomes, and ours may not be the best, and it definitely won’t help them learn.

3. Fail.
Failure can suck. But, it’s not the enemy. If we want to learn, then failure must be embraced. It’s our greatest teacher. When something fails we can learn what didn’t work and try again. So often our kids don’t get the opportunity to learn, because we never give them the opportunity to fail. We teach them that failure is something awful that must be avoided at all costs. But, it’s not. Failure is a part of life. Some of our kids take failure better than others, but by allowing them to fail now, we help them to learn some valuable lessons about life and about whatever they’re trying to do.

What do you think? Is teaching them to learn a way to conquer the fear that we’ll miss teaching them something? How do you cope with this question? I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you disagree.