When our family began the homeschool journey in 2007, I knew very little other than it was my responsibility as a homeschooling mom to be the primary teacher of character, academics, emotional intelligence, and cognitive skills to my children. Fortunately only one child began official schooling at a time, but when I had three kids in three different grades, all of my relaxed ways needed to change and I needed to build a visual of goals, standards, and what I’ve learned so that I could build on previous skill and knowledge. So 8 years ago I was pregnant with little guy #3, on bed-rest with partial placenta previa. My amazing, full-of-life intelligent child was not going to get sent off to school, because I was going to make sure that my oldest son’s potential was reached at home. My goodness, I have no teaching degree… what have I done?
It didn’t take long to see that the curriculum I ordered was a pretty straight forward, scripted- for-me, boxed curriculum. I am so grateful for the writers of homeschool curriculum and their experience, the time they dedicate to writing the programs we rely so heavily on, because honestly, I couldn’t have made it this far without their book lists and instructions. They have taught me better than teaching classes, how to be a teacher. As I pursued teaching courses I realized pretty quickly that most, literally most… like, 90%, of the lessons had to do with classroom management and teaching groups, which didn’t apply to me. I used A Beka and Sonlight and their Instructor’s Guides taught me all I needed to know about teaching, in addition to anything written by Ruth Beechick and Charlotte Mason. I continue to take classes to make myself a better teacher, but can freely admit that homeschooling has taught me more and made me a better teacher than teaching classes have… I was dropping myself into the world of teaching, not just getting my feet wet, but “all in.” Here are four of the many lessons I have learned that have made me a better homeschool teacher…
1) It is crucial to create a nurturing, safe environment which will promote learning. The atmosphere is just as important as the curriculum. Are we a family who reads for fun? Are we learning all the time because it makes life more interesting? Are we sharing good books, poems and art with our kids? If not, how can we expect them to think these things are important? Immerse kids in reading because we know reading is important. When we read is it an enjoyable, close, comfy experience? When my boys know they get to snuggle up to me or Dad, reading becomes even more enticing to them.
2) Engage. Show him that what he is doing is important to me. I don’t keep my phone near me during homeschooling hours. Nor the computer. That time belongs to my homeschooled child/ren. They have my full attention as I observe and respond, read aloud, ask questions, listen to them read, invite them to narrate what they were able to comprehend.
3) Build on what they know. Research shows children learn best when we help them relate new information to what they already know. It’s called the “scaffolding” approach in classrooms. Using their favorite books or books they read well as jumping off points, using their experiences and interests. Astronomy, Roman gladiators, dinosaurs… a learning unit can be built on any of these!
4) Phonics, phonics, phonics. Play with letters. Start building words before learning all the letter sounds. Learning the sounds one after another before getting to actually read something becomes boring. One letter a week, that’s 26 weeks of learning letters… giving kids the chance to read 3 weeks in is exciting and shows them what their hard work is for! Learning to read is hard work for these little guys, but press on because “you are doing great; you’re reading!” I taught my three kids to read and I wish I could teach more… it is such a rewarding experience and I learn so much about teaching every time we begin phonics.
As teaching and learning is ongoing, so is this list. I look forward to continuing to write about teaching, the parenting side of it and the mechanics of it… teaching is a craft. I used to say that because I taught my child how to walk and talk I could homeschool, but have since learned that I couldn’t have been further from the truth! Teaching is something that I take seriously and I have learned from great men and women how to teach my youngins’. My hope is that when I am old and gray and have a wealth of experience homeschooling I will teach the young mothers and continue the journey… thankfully, others thought to do so for me.