Saturday, January 27, 2007

Homeschooling: Do I Have to Teach Algebra?

Here's an article that I wrote a while ago for my state homeschool organization's newsletter. It will be part of my book that I am currently editing. I hope you'll find it worthwhile.

A question that I get asked most often regarding homeschooling a teenager is, "Yes, but how do you teach them stuff like chemistry or algebra"? My short answer is that I don't. Homeschooling a teenager requires less hand holding, as far as I am concerned. You become more of a facilitator and gatherer of resources than a direct instructor of those more erudite subjects. If you don't feel that you know enough about a subject to teach it to your child then you have a few options. One is to get a really good self teaching course for that particular subject, or one that you can both do together (thereby increasing your own knowledge), and the other is to hire someone to teach what you do not know. Homeschooling parents have the uncanny ability to get the experts to teach those kinds of things to their kids anyway. In any case, your child should be at least mildly interested in the subject matter or none of that will make a difference anyway.

If your child is really motivated, then a self-teaching course will do the trick nicely, and it will also allow for the flexibility to explore various offshoots of the material on their own. They can take their time with it and really go for the mastery of the subject. If you are doing the material together then you can figure it out together if you hit some concepts that are particularly difficult. My son wanted very much to do chemistry. I didn't remember much from my own high school chemistry (gee, that says something) so I opted for getting chemistry supplies and a program. I was actually fortunate to borrow supplies so I didn't have to buy them. The program was called "Experiences in Chemistry", and it was basically a book of lab experiments and it explained many of the concepts in Chemistry. My son worked through the labs and the material and that was his chemistry course. We both thought that it was a really good and challenging program of study. We also added on various videotapes from the library and episodes of NOVA to supplement the program. It isn't very difficult to craft your own program, and it is actually very neat to zero in on the things that really interest your child.

Another path that I mentioned is to find an expert to teach your child. One year we had a group of teens that was interested in learning Anthropology. The parents knew about Anthropology, but not enough to really teach it. We got a hold of the state anthropologist and asked him if he'd be interested in teaching some weekly classes to the kids. Now, one thing you have to remember about this is that the experts are thrilled about having an audience to impart their knowledge to. The biggest gain from this is that the expert is usually so passionate about what they have expertise in, that their enthusiasm will be evident and contagious to your child. It will definitely make the learning experience more interesting, as the teacher is not just going through the motions of teaching from a text. Sometimes the experts are so thrilled about the prospect of educating young minds about their subject, they may even offer to do it for free, and they can even be very flexible in their time to do a class. Suffice it to say that this Anthropology class was amazing. The kids were in rapt attention each class and the professor was thrilled to teach it. It was a win-win situation all around, especially to the parents who were grateful to have an expert in the field teach their kids. We have been able to do this numerous times for language instruction, Geology class, History, and a myriad of other subjects.

Another avenue that you shouldn't overlook is having your kids take community college or local college level courses while a "high schooler". Colleges do offer classes in subjects like Algebra and Chemistry and Biology, and you are eligible to attend them based on all of the kids that I have known who have done this. Community colleges will admit kids who are 15 (maybe younger) and usually they take a placement test in order to register for classes. You child may be considered a non-matriculated student in a non-degree program of study - as well as have part-time status. Some colleges have dual enrollment programs that you have to inquire about and apply for. Some of those programs may even be free of cost, except for registration fees and books. The nice thing about it is that in some cases you can transport those college credits with you when you apply for college as a full time student at a later date.

We have also been able to take advantage of some of the wonderful museums in our area. They have some superb programs to offer and very knowledgeable people in their fields conducting them. We have done programs at places like MIT and the Boston Science Museum. My teens have done very specialized programs in Robotics and DNA science. These are clearly subjects that are far from the realm of what I know, but my limited knowledge in those areas have nothing to do with what my kids will learn, or have learned, in their high school homeschool experience.