Sunday, January 31, 2010

It's All in the Family: How Do You Know What to Teach?

TOS Blog Cruise 
I am not a homeschooling expert, nor do I play one on TV.  I'm just a mom who has been homeschooling for fourteen years and still frequently wonders what in the world I am doing and if we will ever have that "perfect year".  This week's TOS Crew Blog Cruise question is, "How do you know what to teach?".  That's not a question I can answer for anyone else, but I will try and share how I answer it for myself.

I've always been a rebel at heart, which sometimes works for me.  Mostly not.  But in this area of homeschooling, I think it helps.  I've never been one to get caught up in what the school system is doing each year or what this book or that says my child needs to know when.  One of the blessings of homeschooling is tailoring the education to what your child needs, not some set of standards created by someone who has no idea this child's strengths and weaknesses, learning style, etc.  So I tend to take it a year at a time and plan from there.  Many years, this one included, I have to reboot everything in the middle of the year.

I love history and we began studying history chronologically way back when my oldest was in 1st grade.  We don't follow a four year plan or an eight year plan or an any year plan, but it does help me to know where we are next in history and go from there.  We tend to prefer unit studies, so this helps tremendously in knowing what to teach next.  Having said that, we have also taken years where we drop the chronological study and instead choose short units based on interest, alternating subject matter throughout the year.  But having the frame work of the chronological study is helpful to me in knowing where to begin planning as a whole.

Individual planning is a little different.  For this, I need to look at where each child is at, what they need to work on, and where they excel.  I want to provide material that will help them with what they are struggling with, as well as provide material of interest to them to further skills in areas of interest.  I'm not always great at this and sometimes realize I missed a skill somewhere along the way.  The good thing is that when we notice it, when can we work on it.  At least, once I get over feeling like a complete failure and decide to do something about it instead.  

I'm not one for setting lots of small goals and objectives but I need to keep in mind my vision for homeschooling my children.  One of my Bible college professors was found of saying, "Aim at nothing, hit it every time."  As annoying as we found this saying (over and over and over again for an entire semester), it is true.  My simple (and yet, not) goals are to teach my children how to learn, to enjoy learning, and to keep Christ as their foundation.  I must keep these in mind when deciding what to teach and determine how my choices will help meet these goals.

Because I believe it's such an individual answer, I'm sure there are new homeschoolers shaking their heads at my response and shouting, "I want something practical!  I don't know what to teach!".  I remember being that homeschooler way back when and I understand the frustration.  But it's not how it works.  Each family is different and needs to find what fits them, what their children need to learn that year, their own homeschool vision.

I can give a few practical tips though.  Decide on some major goals, find your vision.  If you are a Christian, pray, pray, pray.  Then, do your research.  Read homeschool magazines and websites and join support groups and email lists and see what's out there and what appeals to you and your kids.  Assess  their strengths and weaknesses and keep an eye open for products or ideas that will work for them in meeting these needs.

Right now, my younger children need to learn to write neatly, spell better, and punctuate properly.  These are skills they need to be using, so it's pretty obvious what needs to be taught.  Computer work is excellent for strengthening the weak areas.  My kids love being on the computer, so spelling software is less intimidating than a workbook.  Unfortunately, that doesn't work for handwriting!  But you get the idea.   

Determine their interests, their learning styles, what sounds interesting to the family.  And then give it a try.  But don't be afraid to change mid-stream if it's not working.  Chalk it up as learning What Not to Teach (or How Not to Teach It) and move on to what will best meet your needs.     

So, how do I know what to teach?  Trial and error, prayer and research, learn as I go.  But isn't that how life works, really?  When we come across something we don't know and want or need to know, we learn.  I believe the key is in teaching our children how to learn, the rest falls into place.

*Each Tuesday, the TOS Crew Site and the TOS Crew Facebook Fan Page will share links to multiple answers to the question of the week.  Be sure to check it out!*


Tonia said...

Great post! It's a difficult question to answer because everyone teaches differently and has different goals.

TOSHeidi said...

Great post! Your thoughts on this topic sound very similar to mine (which, by the way, I need to put into writing!)


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