By Linnea Johnson
Am I qualified to homeschool? Boy, is that a question fraught with controversy!
Every homeschooler has asked that question in the beginning. Not only that, but your friends and family members may ask the same question. You may have had a less than perfect experience homeschooling during the recent pandemic. That interruption in our routines came with little notice and there was no time for preparation for homeschooling, but now you have a summer to think about it and do a little research.
Perhaps the greatest barrier to homeschooling is to convince yourself that you are qualified to teach your own child.
First, ask yourself, “Why wouldn’t I be qualified?” Here are some of the answers I’ve heard.
- I stink at math.
- I don’t have a college education or a teaching degree
- I hate science, history, whatever…
- I have no patience
- I’m not disciplined enough
I have a teaching degree but it didn’t necessarily equip me to homeschool my children. In fact, I got the degree near the end of our homeschooling experience. To be sure, student teaching helped me learn crowd control, gave me insight into high school age young adults, and heightened my sensitivity to learning styles, but it didn’t especially equip me to teach. This is not to diminish the teaching profession, as most teachers are saints!
But, teaching is something you do almost daily. Did you teach your child to brush her teeth? Did you potty-train your son? Do you explain things to others so they will understand, either through writing or speaking or demonstrating something? Sure you do. So let’s put to bed the notion that you’re not qualified to teach because teaching is simply good communication, coupled with some creativity and a desire to see a child learn.
Definition: Effective communication is a process of exchanging ideas, thoughts, knowledge and information such that the purpose or intention is fulfilled in the best possible manner. In simple words, it is nothing but the presentation of views by the sender in a way best understood by the receiver. (Source)
But I didn’t go to college…
What about not having a college degree? Some of the smartest people I know don’t have degrees, but they are innovative, motivated, and skilled at what they do. You’ve seen many stories lately about college dropouts who started large, successful companies, and this is a growing trend. A degree is only a permission slip to apply for a job with someone else. Most companies don’t really know what skills they need for a position and take the easy route. They make a degree and an acceptable GPA a contingency to apply for a job instead of really understanding the traits, character, and skills needed.
Many employers are moving toward hiring people with certifications instead of a degree. That’s especially true in the trades, programming, or cybersecurity fields. I am glad I got a degree because I learned how to get along with people in close quarters, worked on projects in a group with deadlines, and took opportunities to learn leadership, but do you need to have a college experience to get that? Many people have that experience in the military or in their work experiences or in their families. What I learned in college is what happens in real life. Have you lived in “real life?” Well then, you don’t need a degree to teach your child.
Take the example of neurosurgeon and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson. His mother was determined that he and his brother would get a good education and Ben was struggling. In addition to school homework, she reduced their watching of TV shows, required them to memorize multiplication tables, and to read books and write reports, which she graded. Well, that in and of itself is pretty remarkable for a single mother, but the big surprise is his mother had a 3rd-grade education and couldn’t read. Despite her own lack of qualifications, she raised two boys who excelled in their fields.
I’m Terrible at Math…
You might think, surely I can’t teach my child because I was bad at math (or spelling, or history, or science, or…). Let’s unpack that. Why do you think you were bad at a subject? We all have different gifts and interests that contribute to our successes, and likewise, a lack thereof that contribute to our failures, but it’s not always about our inabilities when we are unsuccessful at something.
In 3rd grade, I had a teacher who was going through a bad divorce. Trust me when I say she shared the experience with us. She sent us home with loads of math homework every night and took joy in bleeding on our papers with red ink. That’s when my math anxiety started as I struggled to complete the homework and the anxiety got worse over the years as I was relegated to teachers who didn’t seem to understand what they were teaching and passed on that confusion to me.
A good math teacher is an indispensable gift, a joy, and in some instances, a rarity. One friend had a son who was loath to read, but he loved military tanks. She bought him an exhaustive book on military tanks, and that kid read it cover to cover. He now has a master’s degree and works at a prominent scientific laboratory.
We all have things we aren’t so good at and others in which we excel. So, you may not be good at a subject, fair enough, but somebody’s good at that subject and you’re probably better than others at another topic. Homeschooling is not just about subjects; it’s about life skills.
Get help when you need it
When my oldest was five, I came across a software program at a homeschool convention called “Mom’s Math”, written by a professor at a university to help his own wife teach math to their kids. It presents basic math principles in a fun interactive format and it’s now free. There are a sundry of math curriculums, some with video, which relay math concepts that may have escaped you.
Does science make you cringe? Try Real Science 4 Kids, a curriculum written by a homeschool Mom for homeschoolers. And, you might re-learn something as you study along with your child. How about Bob Ross’s YouTube videos or Twitch marathons to teach painting? There are tons of free exercise videos online.
Make exercise together a part of your day. Plan a garden together and start the seeds, plant the seedlings, and care for the garden. Planning the spacing in a garden requires math and reading skills. Caring for a garden requires commitment and discipline. Give some of the produce to family, friends, or neighbors or sell it at a farmer’s market and teach your children business skills. There is a never-ending pool of learning your kids can dive into, and even if you’re not good at something, someone else is. So, don’t let your perceived inabilities stop you. Find other homeschoolers and share ideas, create or join a co-op group, or just share fellowship with other homeschooling families
What about the patience thing? We all have varying degrees of patience and that’s a valid point. However, patience is one of those things that the more you practice, the more of it you have.
I find in my own life that if I reframe the situation, I can often overcome the agitation that comes with impatience. An example of this is viewing wait time at the motor vehicle office or a doctor’s office as an opportunity to answer emails on my phone or to read online articles. Instead of being upset when a new puppy hasn’t yet been house trained, I reminded myself that training him where to potty will come soon enough and I set a timer to let him out frequently until he learned.
Patience may not come naturally to you but it can be learned.
But I’m not disciplined enough…
How about the discipline issue? My guess is you are disciplined in some things but not so much in others. That’s ok- we need to focus on higher priorities and not as much on lower ones. You are disciplined in the things you value or in those that become immediately necessary.
Sometimes, life gets in the way of things you’ve planned and you make alternate plans and it’s the same in homeschooling. Are you moving households? Make planning, preparing for, and executing the move part of your homeschool day. Engage your kids in sorting through their stuff, donating or selling any excess items, and packing and labeling the rest. When we got ready to move to another home, our kids helped clean grout and learned to use the carpet-cleaning machine.
You will learn to plan in breaks when homeschooling gets too rote. Plan in a playgroup, a picnic in the park, a hike, or take in the performance of a play or musical. Or, you could be like my friend who toured all fifty states in a year, with a new learning venue every few days.
Related: The Great American Unschooling Tour
Am I Qualified?
One more thing to ask yourself is, “In whose eyes am I qualified?” Once you’ve conquered the self-doubt, the next thing you must understand is your state or province requirements for homeschooling. This website has a searchable map for homeschool organizations and laws in every US state.
The Home School Legal Defense Association also has a searchable map for your state and shows options for how to manage in states that are more highly regulated. If you’re in Canada, check out this resource.
What is school?
When we think of school, I suspect most of us conjure up this image of desks in rows and having determined times for each subject, along with carefully prepared worksheets and activities, interspersed with recess, art, and music.
Ok, just give up that image. That usually describes your first month of homeschool. When we started homeschooling, I went to our public school surplus auction to buy desks because I envisioned setting up my house like a classroom. Well, I’ve known some who have done that successfully, but the vast majority of homeschoolers use the kitchen table and a spare bookshelf, not to mention the floor, the backyard, the car, and wherever else you might find yourself throughout the day.
When my older child took a class through a co-op group, my younger son and I went to the nearby public library to use their high-speed Internet and computers for research. Need to run an errand? Take the kids along and teach them about pricing by unit, how to decide whether brand names are worth the markup, how to spot a deal, how the store classifies items so that you can find them easily, and how shelves are stocked with the most recent expiration date at eye level. It’s a veritable treasure hunt!
When we would irrigate our fields, I’d teach the kids how water moves, how you can regulate the flow by causing the water to build up when a gate is down, thereby releasing pressure and extending the reach of the water.
Life itself is a school.
What does it take to be a successful homeschool parent?
- A love of your child
- A love of learning
- Connections with other homeschool parents
- A desire to move your life and your child’s life to a better place
- A willingness to think outside the box of life’s supposed expectations
- An ability to think of what can be rather than what can’t be
It depends on what you want. Decide what you want for your family, for your children, and for yourself.
What are your thoughts?
Is there anything holding you back? What stops you from homeschooling? Do you homeschool? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments below.
Linnea Johnson has her MA in Curriculum and Instruction and has taught preschool students through adults on topics including music, English as a 2nd language, technology, business, and personal finance. She now works in technical business development with universities. She and her husband homeschooled their two active sons, who went on to careers in mechanical engineering and entrepreneurship. Her greatest joy is spending time with her family, cultivating a little urban farm, and traveling with her husband of 31 years.