Can I confidently homeschool my kids, despite not being a certified teacher?
A few years into homeschool life, I taught a homeschool co-op class of twenty 8 to 14-year-olds about Africa. (Our homeschool family traveled to rural Kenya for six weeks & we spent our time learning all about a tiny pocket of Eastern Africa).
Oh, the interesting irony: I was leaning into self-directed education in my homeschool, yet teaching a class.
In my homeschool, I quickly learned I could teach my own. It took me a while, but I came to understand that I didn’t need to be a certified teacher for my kids to gain a remarkable education. Also, I learned quickly that I was always a teacher: a mother-teacher.
Except for one class on teaching adults in my nursing training, I didn’t have the training to teach a class, so I asked my teacher-turned-homeschool-mom friend to teach me everything she knows about classroom management before I led that homeschool co-op class.
She shared that classroom management skills weren’t generally required because homeschool kids were generally astute and engaged.
- Setting clear rules and expectations for behavior was generally already established between mom and child.
- I could let the kids know when we would have a discussion after I showed them a few things, my show n tell for the kids, but I didn’t need to teach them to raise their hands because I was interested in a free-flow conversation.
- We weren’t doing this class together for more than four classes, so teaching them classroom procedures wasn’t required.
- If someone wanted to go to the bathroom in the middle of my time with them, I wouldn’t bat an eye. They knew where the bathroom was.
- If they didn’t care to engage in the discussion, it didn’t matter to me that they weren’t interested. They didn’t even have to return next week if they didn’t want to…
- And if kids weren’t interested in the class, they could move to another room or go hang out in the common area to play at the craft table with their mom.
So classroom management wasn’t my goal. An engaging discussion about a topic I loved was my goal.
Oh, and in case you’re curious, the only chattering, distracting voices I heard in this class were from my own daughters, and with one fell swoop of their names spoken in the presence of their peers, they were magically quietened.
When we headed home at lunchtime, I didn’t bring those twenty 8-14-year-olds. I returned home to make grilled cheese sandwiches and mushroom soup with my four kiddos. So the only question I had to answer was, “Can you teach your own child?”
Since I brought my children home from a brick-and-mortar school to homeschool, the second most common question I’ve been asked, next to the ‘S’ question, is “Are you a certified teacher”?
Nope, I am not.
Originally, I understood that teachers knew everything they needed to know to teach kids. Yet, I’ve learned that none of them profess to know everything about everything. They have to do their research and plan too.
And obviously, I don’t know everything there is to know about everything. In fact, I’ll confess, if you haven’t already heard me say it, I learned basic arithmetic right alongside my oldest child because some of it I didn’t grasp in school.
After I’d homeschooled a few years, I learned there were many things I didn’t learn in school. (I just didn’t realize I didn’t learn them until I homeschooled my kids, and turns out I survived just fine without those knowledge bits).
Here’s what I’ve learned about teaching my own kids:
In a nutshell: it’s not that difficult.
Sure, it has taken some figuring and intentional observing. I had to learn how they were learning. Of course, I had to learn not to be irritated when they didn’t learn as quickly as I wanted them to. I had to recognize when there were learning challenges. (And what to do about them). I had to release my expectations of how they would learn.
(But obviously, I’ was motivated to do all that).
- I care that they learn.
- And I care that their interests grow.
- I care that their understanding of life and their interests expands.
- Also, I care that their ability to communicate blossoms.
- And I care that what they’re learning has meaning for them and for others around them.
So, I was as intent as a mama with a preschooler helping him sound out words, learning how to tie his shoes, or learning how to fill his own cereal bowl in the morning so I can enjoy five more minutes of rest on my bed.
If I don’t know something that I want to teach my child, I find a book, Google, or YouTube it. Knowledge is found at the tap of a finger.
Of course, John Holt’s encouragement helps too.
1. We can learn from everyday life.
John Holt emphasizes that learning happens not only in formal school settings but also through everyday experiences. He encourages parents to take advantage of teachable moments that arise naturally, such as cooking, gardening, shopping, or exploring nature. By embracing these learning opportunities, parents can foster their child’s curiosity and provide meaningful learning experiences outside traditional academic settings.
And girlfriend, we have done this in spades (I’m sure you are too):
- Our kids can pack a backpack for a three-week international travel trip.
- They’ve learned to do their taxes, earn money for a gap travel year, apply to college, or interview for a job.
- They’ve learned to communicate with anyone because they’ve been watching us do it with varying people in different situations their entire lives.
- They’ve learned how to raise baby chicks, build a goat barn, design a home, do basic wound care, confidently engage in public speaking, stitch ballet shoes, start a YouTube channel, find a tool to learn new languages, resource a mentor to learn a new skill and even start a small business.
There’s a whole bunch of learning not taught in a formal school setting. We’ve been learning from everyday life.
2. We can tailor an education to the specific child.
Holt believes that each child has unique interests, strengths, and learning styles. (I believe this too, and so do most teachers, educational people, and long-term homeschool parents, but that doesn’t mean that we all tailor an education to our specific child).
John Holt emphasizes the importance of tailoring education to suit the individual needs of the child (because he was a long-term educator who saw that it didn’t work to do otherwise).
I noticed that with my four too.
I’m often asked about the specifics of how I homeschooled my kids. And where do I even begin with that question?
Every child taught me about themselves (they taught me without a teacher, without a test, or a grade too by the way). They were each so different, as you likely know about your kids too. They continued to change and declare interests I wasn’t expecting too.
So choosing a philosophy or method to suit each of them? Didn’t happen.
I let go of my classical homeschool because I could see it definitely didn’t suit my oldest. So when I brought my oldest to Starbucks to tell her we would never homeschool like that again, that we would unschool, I certainly thought we’d keep to that indefinitely.
But then I’d discover I wasn’t just homeschooling my oldest. (ps NOTE to self: your homeschool isn’t just built on your oldest kiddo either). I was homeschooling three other very different kids.
My second daughter wanted the planner and coloured markers, and a plan for each hour of each day. She tried college courses in high school (dual enrollment isn’t a thing where I live in Canada). This kiddo wanted a very traditional (and sometimes very challenging education to fill her hours).
From one season to the next, each of our kids changed priorities for themselves.
When I thought my son would always love history, he noticeably lost his history verve and was eager to pursue science experiments. When I never saw my daughter read anything except the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, or show any interest in history ever, all of a sudden she declared that she wanted to take a formal history class with a teacher, with tests, and essays.
And this is just a few moments in time of a nearly two-decade home educating journey. There were so many shifts and changes and approaches along the way.
By recognizing each of our children’s passions and preferences, we can customize our teaching approaches, materials, and resources to make the learning process more engaging and effective.
3. Facilitating independent learning is the goal.
According to Holt, children have a natural inclination to explore and learn independently. He encourages parents to foster self-directed learning by providing an environment that supports their child’s autonomy, curiosity, and intrinsic motivation.
I’ve seen this too.
Kids want to learn. They might not want to learn what we’re teaching them, or what someone else has declared as important to learn, and they might not want to learn from our teaching approach, but they want to learn.
By offering freedom and flexibility in the learning process, parents can empower their children to take ownership of their education and develop important skills.
How to encourage independence in your homeschool?
1. Watch how you expect them to do their work.
If they are given the freedom to work on their own at times, they begin to take ownership of their activities.
Specifically, if they think they can do a math concept by…
- listening to the DVD,
- then trying out a page by themselves,
- checking their work (compared to a teacher’s manual),
- and asking for help if something doesn’t make sense,
- they come to understand they can do a few things themselves.
This helps them gain a sense of “I got this, I can do this”.
And you see that they got this, they can do this, too.
This process begins to cultivate independence.
Your child assumes they can figure things out. (And many times they can. Unless they can’t. Then you’re there to notice and check in with them, help them, or find someone to help them.)
As soon as they can handle one thing, they move on to the next thing, and the next and the next, and then not much long later, someone randomly remarks “Wow, you’re kids are so independent.”
What you enabled in your child was trust.
A trust that your child can learn, that they can figure things out, that they can be expected to process something that might not be easy, something that might require effort, something that others might not expect him to grasp.
2. Expect that if they can do something, they should try something.
Though you are always available for whatever they’re doing, it doesn’t mean you’ll check their every step, page, or minute.
It certainly doesn’t mean you’ll be able to help them figure out the coding program given to them at Christmas or be able to decipher the instructions for their new drone. Nope, definitely not.
And though I could summarize their hundred pages of textbook reading in their first-year English Lit class, they should try to first. (ps Your efforts toward their education don’t end when they graduate from high school necessarily: I have edited many first-year college English essays.)
I learned this from teaching my kids how to brush their teeth: they will eventually not ask you to brush their teeth. Because…
- taught them,
- expected them to brush their teeth independently, and
- trusted that they could do it.
This entire independence thing can begin with a daily chore list where the child recognizes the first letter of her name on the fridge with a picture of a garbage can (if she is pre-reading, of course).
If they’re given tasks they can handle, they become confident that they can do those things independently. Gradually, based on the child’s abilities, their independence grows over time.
In my Friday morning homeschool co-op class, I shared what I learned about Africa, engaged the kid’s questions, incorporated a few of our stories, and played a few games. It was an exposure opportunity. A time and place to share what I saw and knew and learned. These kids could take what they wanted and leave what they didn’t.
At the end of our six weeks together, it would be their mamas that know their kids, would continue to discover and nurture more of their kids’ curiosities, and would, most confidently be capable to teach their own.
Homeschool parents can successfully teach their own children: we can observe our kids, nurture our kids’ interests, and embrace our role as facilitators of learning so that our kids can become independent learners, can learn from meaningful everyday activities, and can have a tailored education.
Homeschooling your kids confidently without being a certified teacher is absolutely possible. The key lies in recognizing that you are always a teacher, a mother-teacher, who can facilitate learning and create engaging discussions about topics that interest your children.
By observing your children, nurturing their passions, and serving as a facilitator of their learning journey, you can empower them to become independent learners and gain knowledge from everyday experiences, so they can have a personalized education.
All you need is determination, resourcefulness, and a commitment to your child’s growth.
Girlfriend, you can confidently teach your own.
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