Home homeschooling Homeschooling Q & A Part 2: “Am I Qualified to Teach My Child?”

Homeschooling Q & A Part 2: “Am I Qualified to Teach My Child?”

by Kelly Crawford

Another homeschooling question from the reader, Tonya:

(Read Part 1, “Will My Kids Miss Out?”)

“I’m thinking  of homeschooling and have a question: How do you teach a subject that you personally struggled with?  I’m not sure I have the skills it would take…”  Tonya

This question ranks right up there with the socialization question in terms of fears parents have about homeschooling. This fear is absolutely unwarranted, and I’ll try to peel back the several layers to show why.

We’ve been brainwashed by the system to think that education can only happen when an “expert” or someone really good at a subject, transfers that expertise to another person. Actually, this is a very inferior way to learn.

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” -Carl Orff

Most moms homeschool their children for their first 4 or 5 years, “teaching” them more in that time than they’ll learn for the rest of their lives. The first part of my answer is: we need to trust the human capacity for learning things and figuring things out on our own, when we need to. If a child is given the environment to explore, if he’s given access to information, freedom to experiment and learn about the world around him, he will have a richer education than comes from memorizing facts. Albert Einstein said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”

Secondly, we need to carefully scrutinize what exactly is an important part of an education. When a parent says, “How will I teach Algebra–I don’t remember anything?” he is assuming algebra is a necessary part of a well-rounded education (admitting simultaneously that he doesn’t know it and is fine without it).  It’s not.  At least not in the terms we think. Algebra is the study of finding the missing part to an equation. Now that’s useful. It’s problem-solving. The good news is, there are thousands of ways to learn problem-solving skills without specifically mastering Algebra.

Also, unless your child plans to pursue a career that requires it, algebra is not a needed subject. If he does need it, he can learn it when the time comes. I taught my Dad Algebra when he was 45 when he went back to college. He made a B in the class and, of course, hasn’t used it since. There are too many things to learn that will most definitely be used to waste time on things that most likely will not. We would do well to question “standard” subjects, considering the advances in technology and demands of this century.

Thirdly, and if you disagree with my first two points, a homeschooling parent has far more resources for teaching any and every subject than does a school teacher with one mandated curriculum. I don’t have to understand a subject to direct my child in learning it. Whether it’s a video tutor or typical curriculum that explains a concept, the goal should be to help our children learn how to learn, to discover the myriad of ways to become better educated.

An illustration of this as well as the demonstration of the overpriced, often overrated college education is a typical lecture class. I had one such marketing class that sticks out, though I had many more like it. Big room, lots of students, one man in front almost literally reading the text book. At the end of a chapter, he instructed us to memorize the terms and chapter outline, then we were tested on it. I paid hundreds of dollars to have someone read to me. We call this “higher education.” (By the way, you MUST go read Matt Walsh’s latest post, “Thank God I Wasn’t College Material” for more on this insane idea that most people need to go to college.)

So, Mama thinking about homeschooling, you can give your child a tailored, excellent education, no matter what your own shortcomings are.


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Laura(yet another) January 19, 2014 - 8:21 pm

I took a Western Civilization class in college that was an absolute joke… I spent $700 or so on a class where the professor couldn’t speak English (hardly) and was about 70 years old and so close to retirement he couldn’t care less about us as students… At least that is how it seemed. It too was read this part of the text, take a test… And the other students in the class would constantly tell him class was over with, and he would dismiss us 45 minutes early… I think I took another 4 or 5 classes that were, while not this bad, were still pretty much a waste of time. All this to gain a degree in “pottery”… Wish they had simply offered an intensive “certification” program where you spend 18 months or 2 years studying JUST the specifics of your field and not much else… I came out with $11K in school loans that took 6 years to pay off… I shudder when I think what my hubby and I could’ve done with that money plus the interest paid… Especially since I’ve hardly used a shred of all that “learning” since…

Kim M January 19, 2014 - 9:18 pm

“When a parent says, “How will I teach Algebra–I don’t remember anything?” he is assuming algebra is a necessary part of a well-rounded education (admitting simultaneously that he doesn’t know it and is fine without it)” <— SO TRUE!

Michael Awbrey January 19, 2014 - 11:58 pm

So helpful. Thank you for this post!

Hayley Ferguson January 20, 2014 - 1:54 am

My husband is a Scientist with the Govt. and he argues this point with me and believes all children need to learn the science of everything. Having said that I was told recently that after 3-4 children you can’t home school effectively. I’m feeling a bit depressed at the moment and I’m feeling like I’ve failed my children because of negativity from my in-laws (who are all teachers.)

Mrs. B January 20, 2014 - 7:55 am

I am so sorry that you are feeling so discouraged right now. Please know that you are definitely not alone when it comes to running against the current. Despite the fact that there are millions of home-educating families across the this country, it is not unusual to be the the only family in your extended family or church who does so.

If you are looking for suggestions regarding your situation, I would hope that you can come to some closure as to why you are choosing what you are choosing for your family (please use the Bible for this), and then stick with it. Yes, family and friends can be downright nasty, but they are NOT responsible for making this important decision, you are. You and your husband will be held accountable for the individuals with whom you entrusted your precious children’s minds. To embrace the gravity of this situation please consider Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:

5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Does your local public school fulfill this command point-for-point? Just something to think about. I do hope this helps in a positive way.

Annie D January 20, 2014 - 7:07 pm

And I’d like to add that you can provide the resources and the children can teach themselves if you choose curricula that is designed for that. I agree that a program that requires lots of teacher preparation would be tough with lots of children around, but you can find plenty of options that require less of your time while providing plenty of direction for your children. And the unsupportive remarks from family are nothing more than the enemy trying to discourage you. “Get thee behind me, Satan!”

Rachel January 20, 2014 - 2:17 am

Right now, I, a homeschool grad, am in the midst of the first year homeschooling my eldest son. He thinks differently than I do. He’s very physical and visual–I learn best by reading. He’s spot on for his age in “academic” skills, but ahead of his age for figuring out how things work. As a child, I had trouble figuring things out, but I was also precocious, especially with reading and writing. He struggles with fine motor skills.

I have always been good with English and literature–ahead, even. I did not know that until I found out that my son was average in that arena. He also has little interest in those things. Read-aloud time often frustrates him.

The point is that this is, thus far, my biggest challenge in teaching him–not because I struggle with language arts, but because they come naturally to me. It is, as a result, very difficult for me to figure out how to communicate to him about those subjects in a way that resonates with him. It is nearly impossible for me to set aside my own assumptions.

Meanwhile, I struggle with numbers. Once I understand a mathematical concept, I’m good at it and I enjoy it; but arriving at that understanding is a difficult process for me. My son has an easier time with numbers than with language, but he still thinks about them differently than I do. It is easier for me to imagine new ways to communicate with him about numbers than about language, because I have already been through the process of learning how to learn about numbers.

I think the best teachers are the teachers who have struggled with their subject.

shannon January 20, 2014 - 8:13 am

Wow Rachel. You are going to be an awesome at homeschooling and sounds like you are doing a great job. You sound very perceptive to your son’s needs.

Kelly L January 20, 2014 - 7:05 pm

Great points!

D January 20, 2014 - 7:40 pm

I will apologize in advance it this offends teachers or former teachers. For what it’s worth, I too almost became a teacher.

It is also important to note that classroom teachers, though they are classified as experts, are really usually not. The American education system, like most around the world, is not known for recruiting teachers from the top-tier of academic achievement. The highest achievers go into engineering, medicine, law, academia etc., very rarely into teaching. As a prospective home-schooler, this reassures me for at least two reasons:

1. The parent who did not excel in school is, on average, no less qualified than the classroom teacher. They only need to learn as they go.

2. Students can and will learn in spite of the education background of the people who teach them, as long as they are actively engaged.

Amy January 20, 2014 - 8:00 pm

Not offended in the least! However, for what it’s worth, I graduated third in my high school class, and my husband graduated as valedictorian if his class. We both went on to become teachers! Are we the exceptions? Perhaps. If he had it to do over again, my husband may have chosen a different path with higher pay, more respect, and more appreciation. Good thing he’s good at what he does!

At any rate, parents absolutely are qualified to teach their children! I’m not sure it has anything to do with their relative intelligence to certified teachers, but parents are more than capable of adequately educating their children.

Kristen January 20, 2014 - 10:03 pm

Good teaching is an art, not a science. I went into teaching, not because I loved my subject but because I was gifted in teaching. Knowing a subject well does not ensure that one will be a good teacher.

D January 21, 2014 - 4:28 pm


I understand that content knowledge does not equal good teaching. My reason for posting that was to encourage parents who felt incompetent to home-school because of perceived inadequate content knowledge. Classroom teachers are not necessarily experts in the subjects they teach, as society usually communicates to us. And if they are experts, they did not start off that way. In my own experience doing teaching practice and observing other teachers, I found that you learn a lot as you go. 🙂

Kristen January 20, 2014 - 10:00 pm

Well, I am a certified teacher, so I felt very confident on my ability to tach my children. But I can understand the problem. It can be intimidating. And The System makes it even more so because they give everyone the impression that They are the only ones who can properly educate a child. Now, I do believe Algebra is important, no matter what you intend to do with your life, and I did terrible ini Algebra, but… there are resources. We are not homeschooling on a deserted island. There are DVDs, my husband who is a mechanical engineer, outsourcing to a high school, trading students with a friend (you teach her kid Latin, she teaches your kid Algebra). I am not worried about teaching the subjects I know nothing about. I think the key is not to panic, start researching. Get books from the library like “what your –th grader needs to know”. Starting off with a boxed curriculum is helpful because you know you are on grade level. Publishers like A Beka and Bob jones have scripted teachers manuals. They make it mind numbingly easy. But, that’s a great place to start for someone who’s a little unsure because you know you are covering the subjects.

Kelly Crawford January 20, 2014 - 11:23 pm

The irony in this post, Kristen, that I didn’t mention, is that I quit school as a teacher to homeschool, but feel like being a classroom teacher was a huge hindrance to me. Except the fact that being in the classroom helped me to see how bored students were with typical curriculum and classroom procedure. It was in the classroom where I discovered that “schooling” is not the same as educating. Still, I had those preconceived ideas when I came home and our first year was miserable. Now we do things very differently and I ache for the institutionalized schooling most kids have to endure, especially homeschoolers who have the freedom for so much more.

Mrs. B January 21, 2014 - 12:12 am

Hi Kelly,
An analogy that comes to mind is ice skating. (Which we really don’t get to do too often now, boo-hoo ;-( )
Anyhow, when you first learn, or take classes, you have to be so careful on the ice. You tend to stay as close to the wall as possible in case you fall. You’re stiff and awkward. You’re afraid that if a more experienced skater comes past you too fast you’ll loose your balance and fall. Even worse than that, a less experienced skater may come by and pull you down with them. But you listen closely to the voice of your instructor and others who seem to know what they’re doing because you really want to make sure you’re “doing it right.”
But after you’ve gotten a hang of the basics, you discover that you can bend those knees and alternate putting one foot in front of the other. That other skaters can be doing all manner of stunts and tricks around you, but it doesn’t affect you one bit. You might even develop your own skating style. Your proven competence gives you freedom that you couldn’t imagine as a beginning skater.
I hope the analogy is clear. Just in case it doesn’t: I think it was hardest the first time I had to teach my child to read. But for the younger siblings-it has been less and less painful. I won’t say that it’s easy, but I am developing the ability to see quickly when a particular technique/curricula/manipulative is not working and we need to give something else a try. I’m also not as frustrated when that happens, but I accept that is a part of the learning process. (And I might add it is easier to dismiss “outsiders” bogus concerns that my child isn’t learning-this-or-that on some kind of imaginary timetable they’ve set up in their minds.)
I was at first hesitant to say this, but I will anyway. (I think you have alluded to it several times in previous posts, anyway.) Really, this is how we should have been educated in the first place (I’m speaking regarding my own experience as a product of the public school system). That if a particular book or program isn’t working, try something else. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and risk making mistakes so that you can better understand a concept and master a skill. And don’t be afraid to say, “You know, this is really not going to benefit me in the long run, and life is too short to waste my time on something unprofitable.” I hesitate to say this, because there are actually some amazing ps teachers who despite considerable obstacles, still manage to do this. It would have been nice if this was the K-12 ps experience, but I’m afraid that such an education is far more expensive than any school system could afford, anyway. Besides there’s the whold Deuteronomy 6:4-9 issue, anyway :-).

Kelly Crawford January 21, 2014 - 9:27 am

Mrs. B.

Yes, this is an excellent analogy. And you couldn’t be more right about trying different things. That’s the whole problem. Every child is completely different. I’ll go a step further and say, that besides the basic “R’s”, each child needs the freedom to explore and pursue his own interests, gifts and skills.

My very mechanically-minded 9 year old who is has a brilliant mind for repairing and building doesn’t need the same course of study as one who is math/science-minded. It doesn’t make sense that we (and by “we” I mean the system) try to act as if every child needs to study and learn the same things.

Kristen January 21, 2014 - 11:39 am

I think my teaching benefitted me. I taught science and English in junior high and I made it fun. My kids explored Newton’s Laws using boats propelled by baking soda and vinegar and rockets made out of 2-liter bottles, propelled by water. I had the advantage of teaching in a Christian school and had a lot more freedom. I learned a lot about kids as a teacher and a lot about curriculum and learning. I had a good teaching experience. Through reading your posts all this time, I see that you lean more or less toward unschooling and I think that is a great option is you have kids who are interested in things and will take the initiative to study and pursue those things. Although I do believe it is still up to the mom to fill in the gaps of subjects the child is not necessarily interested in. Every profession (or even just to live life, whether you become a professional person or not) needs the ability to write, to use correct grammar, communicate well, think critically, etc. We don’t use a box curriculum. But we are not unschoolers. I try to use living books when I can for history and literature. We only use traditional texts for grammar and math, but I don’t think the “life as education” approach would work for my kids. It does for some, but all kids are not the same and my kids aren’t like that.

Kelly Crawford January 21, 2014 - 1:34 pm


I like this conversation; it helps me think through a talk I’m giving at a homeschool conference this fall entitled, “School vs. Education.”

Actually, we do some of both. We do incorporate some formal academics, but probably only because I’m still holding on to unfounded fears. We use some stuff from All-in-One–especially Science and Typing, and then I assign different reading material, and we read together. We are studying the Holocaust right now, mainly reading and discussing the events, and the older children completing a journal entry each Friday, pretending to be a child in that era.

But you said something…”I think that is a great option is you have kids who are interested in things and will take the initiative to study and pursue those things.”

All kids are interested in something and will pursue it, it just may not look enough like “study” to us. This is where I think we fail children the most, as far as the system goes, and even as homeschoolers who try to emulate it.

The more I read and learn about what is commonly called “unschooling”, the more I believe in it and it makes sense for life.

Example: I TOTALLY agree with those things you listed as important for life. Those are the bedrocks, probably, of our education. But most of us have a hard time believing they happen, and usually much better, through others means besides “school work.”

My children all write well–better than I remember most of my high school students writing. We have done very little in the way of “teaching” that except copy work (to be good at something, copy others who are good at it). Most of their writing has been done when they need to–writing thank you notes and letters to pen pals. Because writing IS essential, the best way to learn it is in the context of living. They ask me to help them edit their letters and I explain why a thing should or shouldn’t be.

There’s a lot more to say, but I’ll stop now 😉 I think the model of schooling is a poor one, created for a different era, and doesn’t not promote the best in our kids.

There is a rising voice among education “reformers” that creativity and imagination–the things schools kill–are perhaps as important to a person’s success as literacy. Until we believe that, we’ll continue to perform the one-sided schooling that marginalizes the potential of so many.

Laura(yet another) January 21, 2014 - 7:50 pm

I am never good at balancing discovery type learning with the nitty gritty, make-em-memorize-it stuff like mulitplication tables… and such… I’m also at a loss as to how to get necessary housework done along with education stuff… Kelly, how does your family juggle cooking, dishes, laundry, trash management, dusting, floor care etc? I am all for kiddos having jobs, but really struggle with finding ways to make chores somethign that the kids are responsible for without getting after them.

Word Warrior January 21, 2014 - 10:30 pm

Laura–I’m just checking in…I’ll answer this tomorrow 😉

Rachel January 22, 2014 - 3:22 am

I am far from being experienced in this area, but I’d like to share what’s working for us Right. Now.

My son is very active, and he has a short attention span, so our lessons are necessarily short. We also focus on rote and oral learning when possible–those seem to make the most of his attention span, help his comprehension, and allow him to learn about things that are interesting to him but far out of his reach in a book-learning setting.

That all means that we often “do school” while doing other things. He works on learning/reciting addition tables while we go for a walk. Our routine has us doing music on housecleaning day, since he can do that and we can talk about it while I’m doing housework that he can’t help with. I try to align my housework and homeschool routines so that the teaching that needs my involvement the most happens on days when my home responsibilities are the lightest.

Learning that requires him to sit and focus is best done when he’s *almost* tired. I often have him work on writing right after a walk or after dinner (I do dishes in the mornings).

When I’m busy with other responsibilities, I try to involve the children as best I can to teach them life skills or give them work that involves things they’ve been learning about. For example, making a breakfast may involve my 3yo picking out and bringing me 4 eggs and 2 apples, while my 5yo is learning how to crack eggs and use a knife.

When I can’t include the children, I can set them up with an educational game online or on our tablet, with writing practice, or with something educational to watch for a little while.

In other words, I balance homeschooling and housework by having a disjointed “school day,” and that seems to work well for my sons for now.

Looking forward to Kelly’s answer!

Word Warrior January 22, 2014 - 3:19 pm


I can offer some suggestions, and mention some things we do, but of course there’s always the fact that every family is so different, with different ages of children, different demands, different abilities and different education levels, so….there’s that 😉

We have a morning chore time. I write chores on an erasable board (or sometimes paper), changing them out weekly. After breakfast and Bible reading, we break for chores, I allot about an hour to get this done, including picking up rooms and getting dressed.

Rachel had good things to say too, and I would add that many times I’ll have a young child reading to me while I’m changing a diaper, making my bed, or nursing, or some other low-key chore.

Since our aim is for our children to learn on their own (which all children do quite naturally if we let them), much of their reading/copywork/math, etc. can be done that way, as long as I’m nearby for questions.

I have 3 of my older children each doing a meal once a week, so that helps too.

And two thoughts: one is, there is a sense of “staying after them” when it comes to training and doing chores. That’s just a normal part of parenting, frustrating as it is. But having their chores written down makes them more accountable, and if they repeatedly “forget”, just add another chore to help them remember.

Also, the more your education is a natural part of your day–not so “schooly”, the easier you will find it. In other words, “relax.” Remember that conversations–questions and answers–are one of the most important parts of education. And that school isn’t over at a certain time. Or just taking place on certain days. You are educating all day, every day. So while it may not feel like you “get a lot done” on a certain day, when it stretches across the days and hours, you actually are.

Jessica January 22, 2014 - 8:22 pm

I really appreciate this post! I’ve always wondered about this and I’m never sure what to say when I get asked this question. I was horrible at math in school, this post was a breath of fresh air, thank you! 🙂


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