by Samurai Mom
Whether you’re a seasoned pro to homeschooling or brand new to teaching your children at home, you may wonder how to tackle more advanced subjects which challenged you in your own student days. In fact, lack of confidence may be the single biggest worry that parents have when considering homeschooling.
So, how do you homeschool your kid(s) in a subject that you don’t know?
- Review your state and district curricula.
- Evaluate your strengths.
- Build a base of support in homeschool programs, tutors, and cooperative partnerships with other parents.
- Enroll your homeschooler(s) and possibly yourself in an outside course.
- Assess that your student is progressing at grade level.
Read on for some concrete strategies and resources to help! I’ll use the example of high school math, but this process will work with any subject. The order of these steps is flexible, though you’ll want to get a sense of your comfort level with the curriculum as early as possible.
1. Review Your State Homeschooling Laws and District Curricula
What’s required by your school district in this subject? This is your baseline and it will determine what your homeschooler will need to learn. Every state has different requirements for homeschooling, ranging from very structured guidance to much greater leeway for parents.
Focus on the content and skills laid out in your state and district curriculum. While you don’t necessarily need to be an expert teacher of the subject yourself, you should understand what needs to be learned. This could include big shifts in the way the subject is being taught in schools.
Understanding what needs to be covered and how curriculum has changed lets you be an informed consumer of a homeschool program that covers everything your student will need as they move up through grade level content.
If you are considering a re-entry to public school at any point, a solid, organized program will increase the odds that they won’t miss any skills. Plus, it’s easier to document and include in a file for a school system!
If that’s your (eventual) plan, you’ll want to keep an eye on the Common Core State Standards. Forty-two states use these shared English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics standards. Even if your state doesn’t use them, they can be a good framework to keep your homeschooler on track.
To stick with our math example, the Common Core State Standards for Math call for teaching fewer concepts at each grade level, but help kids learn those concepts on a deeper level. In science, the Next Generation Science Standards upends the traditionally taught science skills for a more blended, conceptual approach to include engineering and other science, technology, and math (STEM) skills.
2. Evaluate Your Strengths
If you struggled with a subject yourself in school, you may feel hesitant about teaching it to your teen or even just helping them get over the rough patches. And there will be tough spots. The trick is to figure out ahead of time how you can line up resources to shore up your skills.
Do you have a bit of time to get ready? Start by evaluating your strengths. If you’ve decided on a curriculum, work through the first unit or two and skim other units to refresh your knowledge and skills. You may remember more than you think. Besides, walking a mile in your homeschooler’s shoes will always make you a better teacher.
If a large chunk of the subject is incomprehensible, you may need a broader plan. Read on to the tips below!
3. Build your Base: Homeschool Cooperatives, Tutors, Troubleshooting
The best way to cover all your bases in homeschooling challenging subjects is to put the right resources in place. That way, you can ease into a guide-on-the-side role rather than the sage-on-the-stage. Or you might consider yourself as a coach rather than a teacher.
That takes some pressure off, right?
Troubleshooting – whether your kid needs to fill in some knowledge gaps or enrichment to soar ahead, some combination of these ideas can work to troubleshoot or enhance a curriculum:
Join a homeschool cooperative – by joining with other families, you can diversify your teaching expertise as a group. You might be knowledgeable about American History while an engineer mom or dad can teach math at more advanced levels. Just be sure that everyone has the same expectations for the class. To be sure that your student is getting the right content, pacing and level, you should have a curriculum and agree on goals for the class.
Line up a tutor for online support. Schedule the most challenging work for your teen in the early part of the day and make sure that your tutor will be available and/or responsive to questions during this time.
Work with your teen to improve their resourcefulness and problem-solving – as a teacher, I can tell you that the ability to identify and fill gaps in their own understanding is a powerful skill to learn for all students. Can they turn to an excellent (and free) platform like Khan Academy and watch a video or work through some exercises to help them understand? Or for K-8 levels, subscribe to MobyMax Family to help identify and fix learning gaps for about $8.00 a month.
There’s a balance here in helping your kid learn to become more independent in pushing through challenging material. By reviewing your state standards and searching out the resources ahead of time, you’ll be better able to help your teen keep working through the tough spots.
It shouldn’t be so challenging that your teen gives up in frustration, or so easy that they whip through it and get sidetracked with non academic activities. Finding the right level is an ongoing process for teachers in a classroom, and now for you and your homeschooler to find the balance.
4. Enroll Your Homeschooler (and Yourself?) in an Outside Class
It may seem obvious that you can turn to an outside class to shore up gaps in your own knowledge, but new homeschooling parents often feel the pressure to do it all themselves. Here are some options which let you fill more of a guide role than the primary teacher.
Enroll in a structured online program like American High School, a fully accredited K-12 school that allows your student to progress at their own level. The programs are taught by certified teachers and will customize minilessons to address areas of challenges.
For extra support, there are classes on Udemy which let your student pop in for review in some especially tough concepts, or take a more comprehensive class.
How about an online or on-ground community college class? As long as your homeschooler meets the academic requirements and maturity level to function in the class, even younger teens may be enrolled on a case-by-case basis.
Learn with your teen – it does require some vulnerability, but [take deep breath here] admitting to your teen that you need to brush up on skills to keep pace with them is the ultimate way to model your own lifelong learning.
And lifelong learning is really the goal all along.
Enroll yourself in the same course and find out how it feels to be in your teen’s shoes. If your teen cringes at this togetherness, find your own program to strengthen your skills. An Udemy class just might be the secret weapon you need to catch up.
Or maybe it’s been awhile since you studied math and it was never your strong suit to begin with. If you need to review at more of a middle school level, start with a straightforward book like this one: Everything You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide
Won’t your homeschooler be surprised when you chime in with a possible strategy when they get stuck?
5. Track Your Student’s Progress – How are They Doing?
Evaluating your homeschooler’s knowledge is an ongoing part of homeschooling. The best assessments give you knowledge about where the challenges lie and help troubleshoot small problems which can turn into bigger problems down the road. This is especially true with math and science content which build on prior knowledge of concepts.
A note about testing: In my 20+ years as a teacher, I have watched (with much frustration) overtesting of students (and teaching to the test) become routine, despite evidence that it reduces student engagement in learning. Students adopt a mindset that they need to learn material to pass the test, and then are free to forget all that crammed knowledge.
Your decision to homeschool gives you the chance to opt-out of the overtesting trend to a degree. You may need to provide copies of assessments to show the Department of Education in your state the skills you covered. But your ability to customize a homeschool program to fit your kid means that your student can use the concepts to solve real-world problems and needs.
Tests and quizzes can be useful when balanced with a lot of variety and authentic use of skills. Mini-assessments will help make sure that your student is learning at a good pace AND to identify the areas of challenge (this really is the benefit of quizzes – they let you and your student change up the next lessons to get more review in the harder parts).
Yes, that trig test can give you useful information about how effective your homeschooling is for this particular subject this month. But it’s only book learning until it’s applied.
So back to the real-world problems: What would DaVinci do?
How about showing their progress in trigonometry (slope/rise/run) by also building a shed roof at the right pitch to drain snow and water? Or use trig to indirectly measure the height of things outside like trees or buildings?
This is learning that will stick and teach life skills at the same time!
The Importance of a Thorough Curriculum – Don’t Rush Your Choice
When choosing a program/curriculum, give the assessment and communication of progress a long look before you commit to it. If you’re not initially comfortable with teaching a subject, you’ll be depending heavily on a curriculum to guide you in the right direction.
Though it will take some extra preparation on your part, your homeschooler can excel in subjects that are taught by others and/or reinforced with tutoring and online classes. Learning along with them may even strengthen your relationship.
Bottom line: you don’t have to be a whiz to help your kid master a difficult subject.