By Samantha MacLeod
I hear a lot of variations on the concern that one cannot homeschool unless they are a teacher. Maybe it is a fear that crops up in the early grades: how will I teach my child to read, I never learned how to teach a child to read?? Or maybe it comes up in the high school – I didn’t even learn calculus, how will I teach it to my kids?? Or maybe in middle school – I forgot pretty much everything from 8th grade on, how am I going to help my kids???
As home educators, we can all have doubts. Making the step from being a parent who is assisting in their child’s education to a “home educator” can feel like an incredibly daunting task. How can I, as a parent, teach my kids everything they need to know, in subjects that I only half remember? Cue the panic attack.
The thing is, we are not in this alone. We have our children, their hopes and dreams to guide us in this education quest. We have fellow homeschooling parents who are there to share their experiences. We also have our facilitators who are a wealth of information, having had a number of homeschooling families be supported by them. As well, we have the resources put out by Alberta Education itself. We can buy curriculum, use resources available online, and we can outsource a great many things. That said, we often can panic by looking at the end of the school lifetime when we are actually only setting foot in the early years. When your child is 5 or 6 years old, you actually have 10 years to acquaint yourself with how to homeschool before the high school years hit – so take a deep breath and think about what your child needs for the actual year they are entering school.
One helpful way to look at things are to differentiate between skill based learning and content based learning. Skill based subjects are things like teaching a child to read, do arithmetic etc. And content based are things like learning about geography and history, and poetry. I find this breakdown really helpful, because content changes but skills do not. When you are entering the beginning of home education, focusing more on skills and seeing content as the flavouring can really help take a lot of pressure off of parents. After all – you HAVE been teaching your kids for all the time that they were with you prior to this point. Even if your child was in a bricks and mortar school you would still be focusing on your children’s skills and helping them with them. AND you would be exposing your child to content – about your family, about your values, about all the things that you notice they are interested in. You are already a teacher for your child. And teachers in school very much notice the contributions that you make. It is important to not downplay that role.
That said. I understand the fear. To me, when you fear messing up, and you worry about how you are going to do this big thing of supporting your child’s educational development, it says that you care. Deeply.
When it comes to higher levels of learning, or just something that you do not know about, it is important to recognize you are not alone. Your child has their own hopes and dreams, and a significant part of home education is building a relationship with your child. I check in with my children frequently to ensure that they feel like they are on the path to meet their own goals. I use curriculum that will help my children succeed, and I do not teach them everything. They actually self teach, or join clubs. We read a lot of books and, well, typically it is math that families fear, well, I actually relearned a lot of math alongside my kids. But if this was not in my wheelhouse, there are resources (like Khan Academy that is free) as well as paid resources. I can outsource my kids’ learning if need be. And, while I tend to do a lot “in house, lol” I still outsource a good number of things. My kids take art and music from teachers. I consult with friends, teachers and my community to see what is available that helps my kids achieve their goals. I am not alone. I consult with my facilitator, I talk to my teacher friends, I talk to homeschooling parents, I google. If you walk this path, you do not walk it alone. That is the biggest fallacy of home education. That you are alone. You are not. Use your community. If you need to outsource, do. But also realize that a lot of learning comes via simply living life, and reading books. I, personally, tend to make sure the skills are there, and then we use a critical eye to the content subjects: I want content to be tailored to values and my children’s needs. So my child who wishes to be an engineer reads a lot of scientist biographies. Skill building in reading, while content building in an area that supports his interests.
I do want to say that in the area of having a conflict with your child and struggling to teach: Homeschooling is not perfect. It is not a cure. Relationship difficulties will still exist. A child with dyslexia will still have dyslexia. But in school these would also exist. A child may struggle for years because of conflicts with other students or with a teacher. So, step back and ask yourself if you have too idyllic a vision of homeschool, that it is failing your child just because your child is struggling. Too often we blame hardship on the choice we made. I was “lucky” in that my child was failing in school, so I saw that there were problems, and when he was homeschooled I knew homeschooling wasn’t “to blame.” It wasn’t a cure, but it wasn’t to blame. It did reduce the amount of shame and triggers he had, so that he could focus on learning, but learning to read was still a slow endeavour. The steps I took was to scale back the working on weaknesses and scale up working to his strengths. Working hour after hour on weaknesses is demoralizing, but as parents we can fall into that trap.
So, for my son with dyslexia, I worked incredibly hard to focus on building his talents in music and art. Content topics we worked on figuring out accommodations – audiobooks made reading accessible. It was a careful balance between accommodation and collaborative reading efforts. But truthfully I spent a year showing him how wonderful he was. He was afraid that he wasn’t ever going to be able to do this thing that everyone else could do easily. So was I. We had been told he never would read when he was assessed. I couldn’t make his struggles that the gist of our relationship. I couldn’t make “learning” all about something that seemed so inaccessible to him. I had to show him that he still had the world at his fingertips. And this was the role I took on (oh, and many times failed miserably, it is a process, not an achievement…). There is, of course, more to this story.
Now, he works on his weaknesses and believes he is smart. He sees himself as competent and capable. He is actually reading beyond what we were ever told was possible. I am not sure that you, dear reader, are a parent of a neurodiverse child, but, still, I want you to know, that really, a huge benefit of homeschooling, is that we get to accept our children as they are, help them build their strengths and show them that they can work on their weaknesses.
This looks like I knew it would “work” all along. But truthfully, I did not. And sometimes things will not “work” and that is okay. We are working WITH our children, not ON our children. I cried myself to sleep worried about my son many nights. And when we pulled him, I had a toddler and an infant. I worried that I wasn’t doing enough. But my goal had been to instill a sense that he was competent and capable. That he had talents. That those talents were supported, and that I had his back. And you know, I could do that with a toddler and an infant. I might not have had a solid schedule. I might have relied a lot on this website: http://www.teachwithmovies.org/ , and we might have used children’s books a lot to identify parts of speech, interpreting symbols etc, and spent a lot of time homeschooling at the park while my toddler played… we read books on DNA at night after the little ones went to bed, and used a lot of classes for art and music… but it all worked out. We had the opportunity to be creative because we were not limited to the hours of 9-3. And, remember, even 5 minutes of something is worthwhile. Talking philosophy and politics correlates highly with doing well in school, and reading, however that happens, via audiobooks, eye reading, etc. This is learning. And, remember, a child is ALWAYS learning. Engage. Discuss. Listen. You got this!