Go back in time with me. Remember that moment—it may have been 20 years ago, or maybe it was a few months ago—when you started to seriously think about what this crazy homeschooling thing would look like for you. You had a picture in your head of you and your kids learning together. Maybe you saw your children huddled in your arms as you read to them. Maybe you saw books scattered on a table, forgotten, as you talked over the moral implications of the Civil War. Or maybe you saw yourself on a nature walk with your children, looking at birds, flowers, or the shapes of clouds together.
When that image came to you, you probably weren’t thinking about why you homeschool or what you hope to accomplish in the next twelve or more years. It was just a little dream of what your journey might look like day-to-day. And you know what the most important part of your dream was? You and your kids working together to learn something. That’s really all that education has ever been—teachers and students learning together.
But the problem is, there’s usually only one of you. When looking for solutions to their homeschool needs, many parents believe that the best resources are ones that their children can use completely independently. Just give the kids the textbook and let them go. Textbooks can be a key part of your homeschool, but they’re not the most important piece. A textbook just can’t replace what you can offer your children as a personal, involved teacher.
Children miss out when they only have a textbook.
You hear a lot about learning styles and customizing your children’s education to their needs. But the truth of the matter is, there’s no magic formula or combination to tell you how your child learns. No child is strictly a tactile learner, strictly a verbal learner, or strictly an auditory learner. Some kids are genuinely good at learning by reading from a textbook, but not all are. In fact, few can learn well from using only a textbook.
Most kids can’t just sit down with a book and siphon up information. They have to work with it to get it. They need to squish it through their fingers, taste it on their tongues, watch it bounce around, and hear what other people think about it. And a book can’t do all that. A book can present information, ask questions, give assignments, or even suggest activities. But it can’t hold a conversation or let a child really experience the information. Even a well-designed textbook will leave your children wanting if that’s all they have for their education.
If you’re involved in their learning process, you can customize their education. When you’re working one-on-one with your children, you’ll know which activities will help them learn and which won’t. It’s not about assigning every activity and hoping that doing them all will help them learn. It’s about picking the ones that are best for your child.
You can encourage understanding through communication.
When I was in high school, I remember moments when a teacher would misspeak or write the wrong number up on the board. Or there were times when students misheard or misunderstood something. When the class was comfortable and open with the teacher, the misunderstanding was usually something minor to fix. All we had to do was ask a clarifying question and we could move on. But there are some students who don’t feel comfortable asking simple questions. Who don’t want to interrupt no matter how confused they are.
Children need someone guiding them through their lessons to help them through moments of confusion. Someone they trust, who they can communicate with easily. My teachers weren’t always good at recognizing when they’d lost a student, but when you’re working directly with your children, learning together, you can usually tell when they’re following or when they’re still two pages behind.
It’s time for a reality check.
Now, we’ve been talking about an ideal—how things should be, and how things are meant to be. But we need to take a good hard look at how things are. Is this one-on-one teaching really possible for you? How many students are you teaching? How much time do you really have to devote to teaching your children yourself? If you’re going to have to spend 20 to 30 minutes teaching per subject and per child, then there’s no way you’ll have time for much of anything besides teaching, especially if you’re teaching more than 3 children. And that’s why you might want to allow your kids to work independently sometimes.
But remember that this isn’t school at home. You’re not confined to teaching specific subjects to specific children at specific times. You can shape your homeschool so that you can realize that dream you had when you started. And so that you and your children can go forward learning together. What will that look like? That’s up to you. It could mean year-round homeschooling. Or it could mean supplementing your teaching with video courses. Maybe it means forgetting about grade levels and teaching everyone together. The point is, it’s up to you how you make it work.
One-room school houses didn’t work because of government regulations and state standards. Having the right rules in place has never been the thing that makes classrooms work. They work because there’s a teacher invested in the lives of the students. At the end of the day, a textbook is just a tool. What children really need is for someone to direct them and partner with them in learning. And who better than you?