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Christian Families Homeschooling Special Needs Children

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Teaching vs. Assigning

By Betty Statnick

There is not a shred of doubt that you have been called to homeschool. Your child was making minimal academic progress in his previous school setting and you reasoned that surely he can do better than that at home under your instruction.

However, you have been homeschooling for six weeks now and you are not as far along in your teaching him as you had expected to be by this time. Something else tries to whittle away at your confidence, for you overhear your child’s homeschool friend boast that he is already on page 65 of the same math textbook that you and your child are inching your way through. That comment may initially have been ego-deflating, but it has the potential to spur you on. You determine that you will not retreat; you have your assignment from the Lord to teach this child.

You will need to remind yourself that even a robot can “bark out” assignments: “Work page 32 in math book. Do page 25 in your language workbook. Reading textbook: Read the story beginning on page 40 and answer the questions at the end of that story.” In that sort of setup, you would simply function as a study hall monitor who would peek in occasionally to see if your child appeared to be on task.

Teaching, however, is in stark contrast to that kind of arrangement. As one homeschool mom quipped, “Teaching is not just checking off pages and clocking in time.”

Guidelines are valuable and published curriculum can help steer you toward your goal for your child to achieve his maximum potential. There are some red flags in selecting curriculum. For instance, you may have purchased a highly recommended curriculum that is at the grade level where your child is “supposed” to be. After using this curriculum, you come to realize that your son has scattered skills: He is on grade level in math but below grade level in reading, so you must select other materials for instructing him in reading. (Note: If a child has trouble decoding/pronouncing five words on a page, that text is above his current functioning level.)

There are also published scope and sequence charts. “scope” tells what is taught and “sequence” tells when (at what grade level) it is typically taught. Some parents refer to a scope and sequence chart in their eclectic approach to selecting curriculum materials. That is, they may purchase math materials from one publisher and reading and language arts materials from a different publisher.

You do not always have to be “locked into” exactly when to teach something. A teachable moment may occur at any time. For instance, there may be a need or desire to know something which isn’t “scheduled”—according to the textbook—to be taught until 50 pages later. Free yourself to seize that teachable moment when your child has high motivation to learn. Other circumstances may also require that you deviate a bit from “routine.” I was helping to homeschool a teen whose mom forewarned me that he was in a foul mood on that autumn day. I told her not to worry—that her son and I would take a parts of speech walk for that particular day’s session. In our trek along the bike trail, we “retrieved” (not picked up) “crimson” (not red) and “gold-colored” (not yellow) leaves, etc. That lesson about vivid verbs and more precise adjectives didn't involve use of pencil and paper. However, that teen became actively engaged in the learning process, and he left my home in a cheerful frame of mind. Remember: Curriculum is to be a tool to assist you and not a tyrant to enslave you.

Some schoolwork is just plain hard work. However, schoolwork can also be delight-driven, interesting, and relevant—not just workbook-based. For instance, when you are presenting lessons on fractions, “take to the kitchen.” Bake pizzas, and cut them into halves, fourths, eighths, etc. and everyone will enjoy eating his fractional portion of those pizzas. Connecting learning to everyday life and showing your child practical applications will help to cement learning. You will know that your child has really grasped a concept or skill you have taught when he can apply it in other settings.

It’s not just the what and the when you are to teach but also the why and the how. You address the “why” because you are considering not just your child’s present but also his future. You are thinking long range—about his possible post-high school education, about his employment, and about his becoming a marriage partner. All of these things must be on your prayer list as well as on your heart when you are teaching.

Carol Barnier, author-speaker and veteran homeschool mom, sums up the “how”: “Don’t call anything “teaching’ unless it results in ‘learning’… Find out what sparks her (your child’s) enthusiasm, secures her attention, and pulls her in. Set aside traditional assumptions about how your child should learn and begin the journey of finding out how your child does learn.”

There are many published resources available about learning styles and how to use that information to guide your teaching and increase your child’s learning. Among those resources is Howard Gardner’s “Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” He lists these nine intelligences: Verbal-Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalistic, and Existential. Existential is the intelligence that Gardner refers to as “half-intelligence” because he could not find a physiological location for it in the brain. Some have referred to existential intelligence as spiritual intelligence because those who scored high in this intelligence are concerned with life’s big questions like “What is the meaning of life? Why do we die?” Remember that no teaching is really complete unless it also addresses those big questions as defined by the Word of God.

Points to Ponder

Am I modeling enthusiasm about learning before my child ?

Do I say “I don’t know” and just move on when we come to a question we can’t answer? Or do I stop and model the look-it-up habit? (In other words, do I guide my child in learning how to find the answers?)

Do I allow myself to take detours from the workbook, to embrace our child’s teachable moments?

Isaiah 48:17 - “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way you should go.”

Luke 2:47- “And all who heard Him (Jesus) were astonished at His understanding and answers.”