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Teaching The Tough Subjects: Homeschooling In The Older Grades

Perhaps you’re one of those talented few who excelled at every academic subject in school. Calculus? No problem. Honors physics? Piece of cake. But, if you’re like most homeschooling parents, sooner or later, you’re going to run into a subject that intimidates you—or even downright terrifies you.

How do you teach your children a subject that you failed as a child? And what do you do when your children know more than you do? The answers are simpler than you might think and can actually enrich your homeschooling experience. Read on to learn more.

Let The Curriculum Teach

A student in a traditional high school classroom has a textbook, but the textbook may not contain all the information the student needs. Instead, the teacher has additional information contained in the teacher’s guide and must give it to the student in the form of lectures and assignments.

Most homeschooling curriculums offer the complete package—a student’s textbook and a teacher’s guide so students can learn independently, whether you understand the material or not. Learning to read about and comprehend a challenging subject is a marvelous skill—much better than waiting for a teacher to spoon feed the information.

Learn Together

In the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy, a project-based approach that originated in Italy, teachers are viewed as learners along with children. Family members and even community members are seen as vital members of the learning process. Together, both children and adults engage in the process of asking questions, creatively seeking answers, and finding solutions together.

Even if you’re not using a project approach, the homeschooling environment naturally fosters this type of joint-learning. You already likely have an open, casual relationship with your children. If you’re nervous about teaching a subject, simply admit your fears. Your children will understand and relate to your experiences because none of us are perfect.

Ask for your children’s help. Say something like, “I haven’t learned this before. How can we tackle this together?” You might be surprised at the answers. If you’re lucky, one of your children may have a natural talent for the difficult subject and even teach you a thing or two. Keep trying and be open to learning. Your example of persevering through challenge will inspire them to do the same.

Choose The Right Method

Experienced teachers know that when a child isn’t learning something, it may not be the child’s fault, but rather, the method of instruction. Perhaps the reason you struggled with a subject has more to do with the curriculum method than your own ineptness. Search for a textbook, tutor or online help that teaches the subject in a way you can understand.

Many homeschoolers have discovered Kahn Academy, a free online tutoring service that offers bite-size lessons, explained in simple, easy-to-understand terms. Salman Kahn, a former hedge funds analyst with four degrees from MIT and Harvard, posted a few math problems on YouTube to help his niece with her homework. He never intended for anyone else to view them, but other students immediately latched onto the short videos. Today, Kahn Academy has over thirty employees as well as many volunteers and interns who put together educational videos on almost any subject you can imagine.

Give Khan Academy and other online tutoring programs a try. You might discover that you actually enjoy algebra, trig, or any other difficult subject when it’s presented in a simple, engaging way. And, the resources you find for yourself will probably be the same ones your children respond to.

Trade Skills

So you stink at math. You probably excel at other subjects. How about swapping your areas of expertise with another homeschooling family? Join a forum or mention your dilemma at community homeschooling events. You’ll probably find someone who can use your skills and who will teach your children in return. Learning from someone else occasionally can breathe new life into your homeschooling experience, and you’ll make new friends in the process.

Take A Class

What if your child wants to learn about an intensely technical subject, such as computer programming or robotics? This might be the time to search for a class or camp on the subject. Your child will have access to more resources and equipment than you could possibly supply, and she’ll enjoy associating with other people who share her interests.

To find such opportunities, look at college campuses, recreation centers, or community cultural arts programs. Google a specific type of camp, such as “robotics summer camps” along with your location to find a program in your area. Camps typically cost a few hundred dollars, but most camps offer scholarships or financial aid.

Hire An Expert

Sometimes, hiring a tutor or expert for a few weeks makes the most sense. If you’ve tried other options, but both you and your child are struggling through a topic, it’s time to get outside help.

Hire a teacher for a few hours during the summer. Another option is to find a college upperclassman studying the topic at hand. As an education and early literacy major, I spent three semesters tutoring a homeschooled child with a reading disability. My fees were much less expensive than a tutoring service, but I had the necessary background. Ask other homeschooling parents—they may be able to recommend a tutor they have used in the past.

Keep Perspective

As adults, we’d never intentionally choose a career in something we didn’t enjoy or have a natural aptitude for. I can’t imagine spending my days as an accountant or a secretary. You probably spend most of your time on pursuits that naturally suit you.

Yet, we expect children to excel at all academic subjects, regardless of their innate strengths and interests. I’m not saying we shouldn’t expose our children to difficult subjects. I do think, though, that it’s okay to acknowledge that both you and your children prefer some subjects over others. Set the example of giving your best effort to every subject, rather than expecting perfection. When the burden of perfectionism is lifted, you can relax and enjoy learning together.

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