Most parents who choose to have their homeschooled child take a portion of their schooling in a typical school teach their children for the first six years and then send them to a typical school for the final six years.
This ordering is backward for a couple of reasons. In my previous article, I went over the biggest externally generated reason – poor socialization skills. In this article, I am going to address the other big challenge – how to teach sophisticated material.
There are two aspects to consider. How much of a traditional curriculum do you need to cover and how do you cover enough?
Covering enough is the easiest aspect to discuss. Motivating teenagers to study and focus on learning is difficult. Ask any middle or high school teacher – they struggle with it every day. This is one of the biggest challenges a parent who is homeschooling faces. The answer to this problem is inexorably tied with the challenge of how to teach sophisticated material.
We know from the literature that there are very specific aspects to academic motivation. They are empowerment, usefulness, belief in success, interest, how much a teacher cares about a student’s learning, and whom the learner is working for (the audience for the work). Tapping into these findings, parents (or any teacher) can maximally motivate their children to learn.
How does this look in real life? Let’s look at a couple of real examples.
With online resources, parents can draw on the wisdom of the entire world. How do they access this world? Through a website (or a few other possibilities like Zoom). A website is a real-life tool that we can all relate to. So, why not work with your teens in making a website. It is easier than you think and there are superb, easily understandable, accessible, and free tools available online. Learning the basics can be done in a couple of weeks. At that point, real learning can commence. Help your child build a website for whatever they are interested in (empowerment and interest). Since this part of the project takes place after the initial learning to code phase, your child knows that they can be successful (success).
Like any good project, you begin with a plan – planning is one of the key skills underlying critical thinking. Some aspects of coding require math. Not extremely difficult math, but a solid grasp of what numbers do and how to manipulate them. As an example, deciding how big to make a picture on your website means that you need to have some idea about measurement and aspect ratios. Not overly complicated. It is very likely – ok, almost guaranteed – that your child will be modeling their own website on an example that they have found on the web.
If your teen is a typical teen, you will see some basic creativity emerge in the design of the website. Populating the website with information means that your child will need to go out and learn something. Sharing it to the world means that your child is playing to a worldwide audience. Teaching your child about how to raise the profile of their site is another skill – driven by the audience motivator. Assigning your child to get behind some of the canned website-building routines will stretch their learning even further. When they think that they are finished, tell them to find a fancier website and upgrade their own to incorporate more advanced features. Finally, tell them that you want to see something even more advanced and original – really push their creativity.
As far as how much to cover, unless you are preparing them for standardized exams, you control that. I’m not sure when you last measured the height of a tree using trigonometry, but I’m not sure I’ve ever done that since I left school. And even there it was a tree in a book that I had to calculate angles and distances for rather than measuring a real tree. It’s up to you, but if I had the choice, I wouldn’t worry about some of the curricula that makes up the standard high school curriculum. Proposed in the late 1800s and pretty well stable since, the standard curriculum is, in many ways, outdated. There was a major change about 100 years ago. Latin was dropped ago to cries of distress – because Latin is the language of logic and without it, logical thinking is impossible.
However, building a website only goes so far to providing an education. How about writing blog posts for 30 minutes a day? To start with, a homeschooling community can provide a ready-made audience. In the beginning, requiring a post a day about whatever they want to write about is a good start. As a next step is to require thoughtful comments to be made on posts from others in your child’s community. Guide them loosely on areas that you want them to cover – leaving most of the choices up to them in order to take advantage of the empowerment principle. Finally, as their writing and thinking matures, require them to begin including credible references in both their own posts and in the comments that they write on other’s posts. You’ll be surprised how engaged they become and how wide their topic choices become.
The possibilities available for creative learning are virtually endless. Unfortunately, we tend to be bounded by traditional expectations for what education entails. Once you begin to consider the possibilities, think about how much can be learned through cooking, sewing, and woodworking. Altering plans, recipes, and sewing patterns require ingenuity and creative thinking in addition to math skills. Imagination, both yours and your children will open up limitless possibilities and lead you places that you can’t imaging going.
I’m associated with a new venture called Expanse and we are using some of these ideas to teach students in a home environment. We’re enabling students to actually reach their potential, not conform to some outdated norms by memorizing things in order to pass exams.
Jesse is a world leader in the integration of the science of learning into formal teaching settings. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge and Director at The Academy for the Scholarship of Learning. Huge advocate of the science of learning, he provides people with ideas about how they can use it in their classrooms. Jesse holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wales, Bangor.