Teach What You Know


Homeschool is always in.

When we first started homeschooling our oldest daughter, we thought that we needed to have a full curriculum and study guides and other ‘teaching’ materials before we could really teach her at home.

We borrowed a homeschool curriculum from a friend and started exploring what it meant to provide a homeschool education. The materials in the curriculum consisted of teaching guides for different subjects (math, english, science, history), instructions for games that inspired cooperation, materials lists, workbooks, and so on. School stuff.

You need school stuff to teach, right?

To a non-teacher like myself, it was daunting to look at this pile of material and think that we would need to read ahead and prepare every lesson, to have to actually know all of this stuff. And only then could we teach it to our kids.

I was way off base.

When my youngest was learning to walk, I thought to myself, “It’s a good thing that we don’t have to actually teach a child to walk or talk or eat, because it would take ten times as long…”

First our children start to move around and grasp toys and hair, and then they scoot, they crawl, they stand up, and then they walk, without any lessons from us. Sure, we help them, and we speak to them, but we don’t actually teach them. Walking is a pretty advanced skill. Learning a language is difficult for anybody, but within a couple of years, our babies are having full conversations and comprehending almost everything we say; they’re walking and talking at the same time!

So school is always in.

Even if you don’t “homeschool,” you homeschool. Every activity is an educational opportunity. Our kids are always learning about the world, so the question is, what information are we, as their parents, putting in front of them? What values and principles do we share with them when they ask us questions?

We don’t need to know all of the answers; in fact, not knowing the answers, but helping our kids to find them, is a great education for parents. We’re still learning too, right? Our family raids the library regularly, and we can clear out whole sections of shelves. They cut us off once when we tried to check out over 100 books…

But I’m not a teacher!

I teach my daughters what I know, and what I love, by taking the time to slow down and do projects with them. I talk to them like little people, not little kids. I explain ideas by relating the concept to a real-world situation. I’m a hands-on kind of guy, so we learn by doing.

Fathers who are raising daughters might one day find the dolls in the corner and all of the screws taken out of the kitchen cabinets. My oldest requested some basic tools for one birthday, and a pocket multi-tool for another. All of a sudden I’m cool! She thinks I can fix or build anything with some spare parts and a tool box. (Don’t tell her the truth, she’ll wise up soon enough.)

Homeschool projects we have done together:

  • We built a sled together with wood we scavenged from a cabinet shop, downhill skis that came from a thrift store, free paint from the re-use center at the landfill, and deck screws from a fence project. It was a great lesson about measuring and laying out pieces and then just eyeballing it instead of trying to be perfectly precise. The sled can hold several adults (I tested in on a men’s winter camping trip), and it’s fast! The beta version will be higher off the ground (for deep snow), and have a brake… See, we’re learning.
  • We made my daughter’s first knife. I ordered a small survival knife from a knife dealer online, and we glued up small scraps of wood that we scavenged (walnut, juniper, and lacewood) for the handle. She came up with the design, and I helped her cut the pieces and glue them up, and I drilled out the handle for the blade. I then supervised her as she shaped it on my table sander, and I did a little detailing and sharpening at the end. We learned that for a kid’s knife, stainless steel is the way to go, as the high-carbon steel that we got quickly got discolored from improper care (stored without drying completely).
  • We made a sheath for her knife from scrap leather. I found a pattern online and helped her cut out the pieces and assemble it. We learned to cut our pattern bigger than needed, and then to trim it as we fitted it. You can always cut more off, but you can’t add to it if it’s too small. My daughter is really proud of the knife and sheath she made, and puts it on her belt first thing when we go camping.
  • She and I constructed a doll cradle for her little sister (2 at the time) from scrap wood and drywall screws. She came up with the design and I did the engineering and managed the workflow (Hah! I love saying that!). She made all of the measurements herself, and this was the first time she got to use the circular saw and drill. I keep a hand and an eye on the action, but she pulls the trigger and guides the tool. We’ve cut by hand as well, and we now know that we need a sharp crosscut saw for cuts across the grain and a sharp rip saw for cutting with the grain. And a smooth action with the arm.
  • We carved wooden spoons and peanut butter spreaders from tree limbs we found while camping. Two years ago she built a fire for the first time by herself (age 9), from start to finish, and kept it fed until bedtime.
  • Learned about local medicinal and edible wild plants, learned the names of most of the common trees in town, and identified edible “weeds” in our yard.

You get the idea.

You probably have a long list of teachable skills already. We don’t necessarily need a curriculum to follow or a teaching degree or study guide in order to home school our kids.

As fathers, we just have to do what we love and then share that excitement with them. They’ll pick it up and run with it, leaving us in the dust, applauding them.

Image: otisarchives3 at Flickr

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

5 thoughts on “Teach What You Know

  • agree with you on ‘Even if you don’t “homeschool”, you homeschool’. nice entry derek.

  • Excellent post!
    Also, don’t forget that in “teaching” you are also “learning” yourself.

  • I was homeschooled all the way up to high school. My mom did the teaching, did not have a college degree herself, and in speaking with her about the experience, she really did learn right along with us, especially in the phonics/grammer area. It also allows for the teacher-student relationship where you can tailor the learning experience to fit the individual child’s learning level and methods. My mom taught my brother and myself very differently, something that’s impossible in a school classroom with 20+ kids. I’m a very visual/artistic type, while my brother is very detailed/numbers oriented. (I ended up with a Fine Art degree, he’s a Naval Academy grad…)

    The one thing that I do believe is extremely important is joining a homeschool group with like-minded parents. I think the social interaction is important, but also you get the opportunity to do group activities, field trips, our local boys and girls club even did a homeschool Phys Ed class twice a week. A vast majority of the homeschool groups out there are religious conservatives, so if you don’t want that you may have to look a bit harder, but they are out there and you wont regret it.

    Overall, homeschooling was great, and looking back I wouldn’t change it for anything.

  • Hi Derek

    I stumbled across your blog (yes stumbleupon) and it’s great.

    I am excited about teaching my younger ones, as we are planning to homeschool, and I love to learn. And while I don’t like to admit I don’t know everything 🙂 I realize I won’t be their only teacher.

    They will be able to teach themselves with the proper references, but when I know their interests, I hope to get people in that field to teach my children, real world skills. Either just spending a day with them working, or something similar.

    In homeschooling it is certainly more exciting looking at the possibilities to learn things in the most fun way, rather than desk and chalkboard all day long.
    .-= Adam´s last blog ..Halloween History =-.

  • I homeschool, and although you do need ‘curriculum’ as they get older I do agree natural teaching and learning is most effective. In our home we use what is happening in the news to discuss economics and politics and geography. I have taught my kids finance skills by letting them work out our monthly budget and do the shopping. And my boys have worked alongside my husband he has done various projects round the house.

    The result has been that the kids retain what they learn as they learn in a ‘real’ environment, and they enjoy learning.
    .-= Meryl van der Merwe´s last blog ..So – you want to Teach your Kids Geography? updated Tue Mar 30 2010 8:24 pm CDT =-.


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