When I enrolled my son in swim lessons last summer, he objected for a variety of reasons. It was too hot. It was too cold. He wouldn’t know his instructor. He wouldn’t know the other students. He didn’t know how to dive. His goggles might not work. He was too tired. The lessons were scheduled too early in the morning. He didn’t really want to learn to swim—ever.
I knew my son’s complaints were simply his way of expressing his fears. Each of the first few mornings of swim lessons, I had to help him face his reluctance. As we’d drive to the pool, I’d encourage him to try his best. I set before him a small goal each day, knowing that by the end of the two-week session, he’d make tremendous progress.
In homeschooling, one of the greatest fears parents face is that of the academic subjects themselves. Facing an academic fear can resemble cliff diving versus merely jumping into a swimming pool. The mere mention of math makes some parents quiver. Biology (oooh, blood and cutting dead things!) brings back bad memories. Others are most afraid of teaching the critical starting point: instructing a young child to read.
We parents come up with excuses to avoid facing the fear of our dreaded subject. We joke about it. We delay teaching it. We complain about it. Some parents outsource the subject, or even quit homeschooling altogether, not because the child cannot learn the material, but because the teaching parent can’t overcome her or his fear.
Diagnosing a Fear
As a teacher, my fear may have its roots in many causes. Maybe I’m either not gifted in that subject or not well-trained in that subject. But that’s about me, the teacher. Neither of those deficiencies means I can’t teach the subject to my child, who may love it!
If I’m not good at a subject, or if I wasn’t well-trained in the subject during my own schooling years, I need to change my mindset from lecturing to colearning. If I exhibit a love of learning to my children, I can become a fellow learner in the very subject I feel inadequate to teach! My first word of encouragement to homeschoolers who fear teaching a topic like reading, foreign languages, math, or you-name-it, is to become fellow students with their child.
Or perhaps I am fearful because I’m not confident in my curriculum. Using the wrong curriculum can feel like wearing a flipper on the wrong foot. If I feel locked into a certain curriculum because it’s what I’ve always used, my friends use it, or I feel loyal to the publisher, it may be time to pray and actively seek another option.
Teaching Approaches vs Curriculum
When facing fear of a subject, look at the teaching approach you use in your home. Teaching approaches are the overall strategy in your homeschool. Among Christian homeschooling parents, some of the most used teaching approaches are unit study, classical, textbook (also known as traditional), Charlotte Mason, and eclectic (which means a blend of several methods). To reduce your fears, select an approach that works for you.
Once you select a teaching approach, there are dozens and dozens of curriculum options to implement it. If a teaching approach is the pool deck, holding the pool walls in place, curriculums are the hundreds of gallons of water in the pool. Dig through catalogs, read online reviews, ask your homeschooling friends—find a program that you can easily use to simultaneously learn and teach the subject you’d rather avoid. Just look how many ads fill the pages of this Home School Enrichment issue!
In a sense, selecting a curriculum means you are selecting a teacher for both you and your child. Don’t ever let the “I’m not good at it” fear stand between your teaching and an opportunity for your student to learn.
Finding the right curriculum gives me confidence to teach. As the mother of six, I have several criteria for materials which I deem teacher friendly. Does a curriculum allow my children of different ages to use it simultaneously? Does it require much preparation from me? If so, is the prep work needed each night? Weekly? Monthly? Does the program give me lesson plans or at least a bare-bones schedule to follow? Is the answer key easy to reference (as in math), or are there assessment guidelines provided (as in writing)?
The ultimate teacher-friendly curriculums are heavy on DVDs or online lessons. They are basically “plug and play.” Once you teach your child how to use the technology, you as the parent can sit down and watch lessons with your child. Some, like the Teaching Textbooks series for math, even do the assessment and grading for your child. The same DVD-and-online approach is also available for many of the foreign-language programs created for the homeschool market.
Another type of teacher-friendly curriculum is scripted for the teaching parent. These programs provide a script for what the parent should say in each of their daily lessons, leaving no room for error. A great example of a scripted curriculum is Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons. In this program, the teaching parent reads all the words printed in red. (“Now you’re going to read the story. Finger on the ball of the top line. Sound out the first word.”) The student reads the large words in bold black letters. (“Child touches under and says: ‘ssseee.’”) Voila! You are teaching your child to read.
Most teacher-friendly curriculums have multiple teacher support modalities: written teacher guides with answers to workbook, quiz, and test questions; answers to FAQs on their websites; online support via e-mail or videos; and Yahoo! groups for users to share ideas and questions. Those supports can ease your subject fears.
On the other hand, you might be scared of a subject because it makes your student unhappy. Each day your child may resist because he doesn’t like the subject matter or resonate with the way it’s being presented. If the child doesn’t enjoy the subject, ask yourself if it’s a subject he must study. If not, quickly find something else he does enjoy! (For many younger kids, that means ditch the grammar for something more active and tactile.) Home education gives you that flexibility.
A wise woman, author Carrie Austin of Heart of Dakota Publishing and the Drawn Into the Heart of Reading series, once said we parents tend to teach what we ourselves enjoy. (Conversely, I’d speculate we tend to avoid what we fear or dislike!) Since she was speaking of literature, her example was the type of books we like to read. Case in point: since I enjoy reading historical fiction, I tend to select curriculum using those types of books. But if my child prefers mysteries, adventure stories, or nonfiction, I may be missing the mark. As I have identified my children’s learning styles over the years, it’s amazed me to see how God has made each of them unique. But isn’t that one of the best features of home education, that a parent can literally customize everything to suit a child’s learning? And as I get my eyes off myself and onto my children, some of my fears will dissipate.
Consider your child’s learning style. Does he prefer listening to a chapter (an auditory learner), reading it himself (a visual learner), or doing a project about the subject (a kinesthetic learner)? Homeschool curriculums are written with all three types of learners in mind. Don’t feel locked into a publisher if their books aren’t student friendly. It’s worth the loss of some money to bring the joy back into learning for both you and your student.
After much looking, I knew I had found a student-friendly high school science program for our family. The text is written directly to the student. One day, I caught my oldest daughter laughing aloud while reading her textbook! She even went so far as to e-mail the author a link to a video she’d found showing an exploding fungi choreographed to classical music that she thought he’d enjoy. (He did reply to her e-mail!) Now she’s studying biology in college and has found herself to be thoroughly prepared.
From a teacher perspective, this same upper-level science curriculum doesn’t ask too much from me. My older children read the text on their own, watch explanations on the DVD supplement, complete their own study guides, and provide me with a shopping list for supplies so they can complete (and clean up!) their own experiments. The teacher guide gives me plenty of support so I can confidently grade their chapter tests. All in all, it’s a very good fit for me and my children, even if science hasn’t been my strong suit.
Please don’t let the fear of an academic subject scare you away from homeschooling. Dive in with your children and learn together!
Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, live in central Ohio, where they have homeschooled since 1998. They love the freedoms that homeschooling gives to their family, including choosing suitable curriculum for each of their six children. Melanie wrote the Winning with Literature: U.S. National Parks and Bible Storyboard curriculums for her family and now makes them available to others at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com. And yes, her son was diving by the end of the summer swimming session!
This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine.
Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, started their homeschool journey in 1998. With two graduates and four children still at home, they ask the Lord to teach them how to uniquely educate each child. The Hexters love to travel the US, using their Colorado Springs home as a western base. Melanie is working on two books and offers several homeschool curricula, including the U.S. National Parks Unit Study, for download at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com. LEMILOE is their family motto: Live Every Moment In Light Of Eternity.