Do homeschooling parents need professional development?
I sat in a technical workshop at an education technology conference this past weekend. It was a room full of educators, school administrators and, like me, instructional designers. The room was filled with more degrees than people yearning for the next tidbit of technology integration ideas. Unfortunately it also held some startling attitudes about homeschooling parents. The attitude held by some of the attendees of this workshop is that homeschooling parents are seen widely as uneducated people trying to steal the jobs of teachers and lacked the necessary skills to educate their child to the standards held in a traditional classroom. As a homeschool parent of nineteen years, I was appalled to say the least.
Homeschooling or home education looks different for every family and even different for each child. Homeschooling parents are not trying to steal anyone’s job. Homeschooling parents have made an educational choice. As this week is National School Choice week, I think it is high time we talk about the choices we make and how best to achieve those educational goals for our children.
If you are looking for statistical data for home education in the United States, The National Home Education Research Institute, NHERI, is your main source for information. NHERI has research about home education including reasons parents choose to homeschool, how many children are homeschooled and even a trends in homeschooling.
Regardless of the reason parents choose to homeschool, they continue to homeschool to give their child a better suited education to their specific goals. We want our children to be the best at whatever they want to do in the future. We wanted our children to see and do things that were impossible to do in a traditional classroom. Oceanography is great study, but isn’t it better with a hands-on study at the ocean? Living in an eco-tent on St. John, USVI, for a week was a surefire way to learn about solar-power and wind-power alternatives. We can read all we want in a book, completing worksheets and creating presentations. But nothing will trump the experience of being there and doing and creating memories.
Creating experiences for our children. That is what homeschooling parents are doing. We create opportunities for our children to learn. We find solutions to problems or desires for our children’s educational goals. Maybe I don’t have a degree in Chemistry, but I sure can find resources, a microscope, a video course, or a full on Chemistry course at our local museum. Homeschoolers: we are a resourceful bunch. But where do we find our information, our support?
The face of homeschooling is changing. In my nineteen years of homeschooling, I have found that parents are seeking their support and resources in places quite different from where I started. The local support group meeting for homeschooling parents was my source for support, friendships and resources. These monthly meetings were our professional development time to share resources, learn and define our common goals. Today, we are a culture of instant cup of noodles. We want our information and we want it in as few clicks as possible. So we turn to the Internet and search for whatever it is we are looking for: virtual frog dissection, 4th grade Florida state history and building a backyard trebuchet, just to name a few. But in this world of instant soup, we often loose sight of getting information and not knowing how to present it or use it in a manner that allows for our child to learn the information.
Homeschoolers are unsocialized is a myth. This article by Chris Klicka sums is up nicely.
So how do we, as homeschooling parents, know our child is learning? We are not interested in having our child learn something just long enough to get it correct on the test. We want to ensure our child is understanding. This is more than getting a good grade on the textbook test. This is more than seeing that our child knows their definitions to their vocabulary words. We want to know that they know. So how do we do this?
Homeschooling parents need to realize that this is a full-time job – homeschooling their children. We need professional development. Sure we all need encouragement. Encouragement may be looking over your favorite homeschooling magazine, attending your local support group meeting – if you are lucky to have one that offers face-to-face meetings, or even being part of an on-line community. But, we also need to be in training for what we are doing – teaching.
We spend hours and hours combing through catalogs of resources looking for just the right books for third grader or budding middle schooler. We ask our friends what they used for teaching physical science. We often use the word “curriculum” to describe these resources, but in fact, we are searching for resources as we create our course of study – our curriculum. But what if we spent just as much time researching how to teach effectively? What if we spent time attending those hands-on workshops at the homeschool conventions before we went to the exhibit hall. What if we figured out how to teach so we know our child is learning and not regurgitating information. What if we spent just as much time learning as our children do each day? Let’s build our library with resources on teaching and learning.
So where do we begin? First, we need to know that there will always be people who think us the odd person for going this route for educating our children. Just because we chose this method of education, does not mean we are uneducated. We do not have to be highly educated to teach our children at home. But, we have to be creative and determined to accomplish the enormous task before us. We have to know this is worth it! We have to remind ourselves that we took on the job, yes a job, to educate our children. The task is enormous before us, but know this. You can do this. YOU can be a better teacher.
Before you begin any journey, you need a road map, a plan. “We are doing fourth grade this year” is not a road map. Let’s be clear. A teacher does not walk into his or her classroom on the first day and say, “break out the books and let’s see what we are doing this year.” No, a dedicated teacher has taken time to learn how to teach, how to use the resources available and deliver a course of study that will ensure learning is taking place.
What does school look like now? Assess where you are at and where you have to go. There are two paths one must go down when homeschooling. One path is on the organization of what your school day looks like. This path, in a traditional setting is determined by laws, requirements, and the powers that be. You, as the homeschool parent must review the laws and requirements in your state. Once you have determined your requirements, then you can establish how many days you must homeschool and how long each day. That is the road once must venture down separately from your teaching path.
The teaching and learning path may be directed by your state laws, but usually most states do not require specific subjects. This is where you must decide on your course of study for each of your children. Your philosophy of education has led you to this position of homeschool parent. Your teaching method may yet to be defined. But, this is not the area to be passive. Your job does not end with placing a book in front of your child, or turning on a movie for them. While both books and movies are great teaching tools, they do not teach and your child may not learn much from those activities.
As a curriculum developer and instructional designer, I see road maps or frameworks for courses that are merely a list of learning objectives that must be accomplished before the conclusion of the course and credit be awarded. But your plan has to be more than a list of activities. We often allow our students, classroom and homeschool teachers alike, to work through lower order thinking skills and never allow them to accomplish or even attempt higher order thinking skills. But we indeed need to require higher order thinking skills in order for long-term learning to occur.
Examples of Lower Order Thinking Skills
- Identifying the parts of butterfly on a worksheet
- Memorizing the parts of a butterfly
- Explaining the life cycle of a butterfly
- Charting or writing about the life cycle of a butterfly
Examples of Higher Order Thinking Skills
- Compare and contrast the life cycles of different types of butterflies or that of butterflies and moths
- Predict or Recommend the best caterpillar to have as a pet based on a specific climate
- Speculate what changes to a caterpillar habitat may change the length or outcome of the life cycle to a butterfly
As you can see, the higher order thinking skills and activities allow for more than just learning. It creates an experience far deeper than just reading and filling in the blanks. Deeper and more meaningful experiences allow the learning event to be remembered. Remembering information is the building block for which new information can be built. So build more foundations. Build more memories by requiring more from your students. Require deeper, more meaningful experiences in teaching and learning with your student.
So this is a plea to my fellow homeschooling parents to take time to learn how to teach higher order thinking skills for your children. Ask the hard questions. Give them a reason to learn more. And always, always make the memories of a lifetime to learn with your children.