4 Moms: What do you do when the children need to learn subjects you can’t teach?

4moms35kids 4 MomsIt’s Thursday again, and this week the 4 Moms are tackling the question, “What do you do when the children need to learn things you can’t teach (a foreign language, dissecting, trig, etc)?”

This used to be a scary question in the early days of homeschooling when many people believed parents weren’t qualified to educate their children unless they had a degree in teaching.  To some, it’s still a scary question.  Since I am a second generation homeschooler and have been that student, I don’t find it scary at all.  I hope my own experience can provide some encouragement for those who do still have these concerns.

One good answer is to learn with your children.  Many parents take this route, and it works beautifully for many subjects, but in some cases it just isn’t practical.

Another possible answer is to find another teacher such as a private tutor or a homeschool co-op.  This option is becoming wildly popular and solves the problem for many families, but there are costs and time commitments and sometimes other difficulties as well.  For one reason or another sometimes this too is undesirable or impractical.

This is the issue that drives many homeschoolers to return to the public school system for high school, but it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker for homeschooling.  There is another way.

I was finishing up 5th grade in public school when my parents made the decision to homeschool.  My mom was terrified.  She had no college education, and 5 children at the time, 3 of them under 5yo.  She also had no confidence that she could teach a high school student, which I would be within a few short years.

I was already an advanced student in several subjects, and math was going to be an issue immediately.  Although I was just a 5th grader, I had been moved to the 8th grade math class in my school, which I finished with flying colors.  That was no surprise, since I was already studying 2nd year algebra after school at home.  Guess what?  We were already homeschooling, though we didn’t know it at the time!

When we started homeschooling and my mom was unable to help with my math, my education didn’t come to a standstill.  Instead, at my parents’ urging I learned to teach myself.  Even before the days of Google and the all-knowing Internet, I learned that with some persistence I could find the answers I needed.  If I ran into a concept I didn’t understand, I looked it up in another book.  And another.  And another.  Sometimes my dad’s old college texts provided an answer, and sometimes I had to visit the library.  Eventually, I found a teacher or author who thought like I did and the explanation  became clear – or I began to wrap my mind around the concept through repeated exposure.  Sometimes it was frustrating; I remember crying over functions, but eventually I realized how simple they were.  Either way, I was always able to advance.  Sometimes it was a struggle, but these during these times I was learning other lessons as well as the specific mathematical concept that plagued me at the moment.  In the end, I completed not just 2nd year algebra but also geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus and physics.

I did the same with Latin, completing 2 years of study even though neither of my parents or anyone else we knew had studied the language.  The first year was a breeze, but the second took more like two years.  The text was massive and dry, and I felt grammar and syntax weren’t always presented clearly.  There were times I wanted to quit, but I finished the book – and I learned to truly apply myself during that difficult time.

I’m not the only one; several of my children have already surpassed me in subjects both compulsory and voluntary, following their interests and abilities to both teach themselves and learn from other sources.

Some children are more self-motivated than others, and I may have done better than some when it came to teaching myself.  However, I believe any child can and should be encouraged to develop this ability, and the best way to do it may simply be through necessity.

Homeschoolers are sometimes criticized for not having good study habits, and this may be warranted since they often don’t have the sheer workload that a student in a more traditional school setting may have.  However, they also tend to be praised for their resourcefulness, creativity, problem-solving skills, and ability to think outside the box.  The question of how to learn a subject your teacher doesn’t know is the perfect opportunity for a student to develop and exercise those skills.

Have you faced this issue? What was your solution?

From the other Moms:

Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • August 2 – How do you handle bossy older sisters
  • August 9 – Q&A

Recent topics:

About 4 Moms, including a complete list of all past topics



  1. I really, really loved this post! There is just so much to be said about a child taking the responsibility and digging into self-education! I have been thinking about this one since I read it and I just had to comment!

    I am so encouraged by the testimonies of so many that we look up to–Einstein, Edison, Abraham Lincoln, George Carver Washington, et al, that were so dedicated to learning that nothing stood in their way!

    As for the college & university question, I don’t believe many of us are against higher education per se, just the type that wastes time and money, while attempting to indoctrinate our children away from the Lord. Besides, there are so many testimonies of those who have excelled without (or in spite of) a college education.

    Just my $.02!

    • Great answer, Sherry, and I completely agree!

    • But college-age men and women aren’t children at all. By that point, they should be secure in their faith. And the people in power in the US (IE, are making the laws) are generally college educated.

      Kim C, can you answer my question about how you’d respond if you had an adult child who left to attend college? Tx and blessings.

  2. Magistra says:

    salve! mihi placet legere ut doceas linguam Latinam tibi et tuis liberis! legere et scribere Latine non facilis.

    habeo tamen nullos liberos nunc, audeo docere filium aut filiam Latine. si quaeram– quos libros usa es? Docta sum ex “Wheelochum,” sed audivi multa bona de “Lingua Latina,” “Ecce Romani,” et “Latina Christiana.” ut Christiana, volo meos liberos discere ex casto, pudico libro, sed simul obtinere validam scientiam linguae Latinae et humanitatis Romanorum. quomodo compensas ipsas duas sententias?


    • Magistra, I could probably use Google Translate, but I’ll rely on the vocabulary I retained in the 22 years since I finished high school to begin answering your questions and hope to return to the rest when I have more time. Forgive me if I don’t answer in Latin. 🙂
      I used Latin Made Simple for my first year, and it *was* simple as promised. For the second year I used a hefty green hardback, but for the life of me I can’t remember the title.
      Aside from broadening my vocabulary and helping me understand unfamiliar words, I feel that studying Latin really solidified my grasp of the parts of speech in English as well. Since then, I have never had to think twice to identify a direct object, indirect object, prepositional phrase, etc. Similarly, it helped me to understand the various verb tenses and forms – past, perfect, gerunds, and other forms that are often so irregular in English that it can be difficult to understand the rules and how to apply them. Latin grammar almost became a study in logic, and while I did struggle I also appreciated the beauty of such a regular language.

    • Latin is a language, dead as dead can be.
      It killed all the Romans, and now it’s killing me.

      I could read part of what you wrote, my Latin was 50 years ago.

  3. I was homeschooled as well and had similar issues with math. Even though my parents had upper level math and are very intelligent, it wasn’t something they had used for a long time and had forgotten much of it. My parents too had me basically teach myself with the textbook for high school math and then my mom would check my tests with the answer key and reviewing new concepts for herself for the text.

    After trig this bot to time consuming for her though so they looked into other options. I ended up taking calc and stas at the local community college. For us this turned out to be a great option. I got high school and college credit at the same time, and at that time the state even had a program where they paid for tuition for classes that were not commonly offered at high schools, so all we had to pay for was books.

    I think there are even more options available now with so many colleges like MIT offering some of their courses free online. You don’t get college credit this way, but you don’t have to leave the house either. And you could always try to take the AP or CLEP tests right after completion to get college credit if that was important

  4. Hi, Kimc

    I have a question along the same lines as the poster above. I also mean no offense, and I’m also trying to educate myself.

    What you would do if one of your sons or daughters left home to attend a secular college (so as to get an advanced degree)? Would you remain in contact with that child, or would you cut off contact because of concerns for your other children?

    I enjoy your blog and look forward to meeting the new baby!

    • I can give an ultra simplistic answer, as I am not a quiver-full blogger. I think the cost benefit plays a roll in college. Getting a college degree itself is in itself not bad, going into debt is.
      That is I think the best answer,

      I can tell you that a degree is not required to be a useful productive person in society, and many many of the classes required to get a degree have nothing to do with the chosen profession, instead they are meant to broaden a students mind and thinking. All well and good but some people are not going to do well in those subjects no matter how hard they try, and some of those subjects truly are meant cause crisis of faith in our young people.
      I had a philosophy teacher who stated at the beginning of class that he would not pass anyone that did not renounce their faith in God. Any God, but specifically the Christian God. He even bragged that he had never had a hold out in all his years of teaching. Then he met me.
      After a full semester of our teacher NOT teacher his subject and simply preaching to me why I was wrong and he was right, our finals came and he was unable to administer the finals or give out our final grades. The substitute would not say why, however after telling him my story and the whole class backing me up, I got the grade of my final as my grade in the class.
      I struggle to not be cynical about our higher education institutions, but with my personal experience I find it a struggle indeed.

      For a simple answer this is a long reply, but I want to add, is your goal in sending your kids to college so that they can make more money? Or so that they can be the best at whatever they desire to do? Or lastly so that they can give glory to our Lord and Savior? We might both answer the same to all three questions, in different orders, or differently for different reasons.

    • Edythe,
      Leaving home to attend a secular college doesn’t sound to me like grounds for cutting off a relationship, but for a child to make a decision of that magnitude against the wishes of the parents could be an indication of much larger problems. Your question simply doesn’t present an entire picture. A relationship doesn’t grow in a vacuum, and questions about hypothetical situations can’t be answered in a vacuum.

  5. I have a question. (And please don’t take offense, because I don’t mean this critically, I’m just curious, because I’m considering homeschool future children myself.–Not something to be undertaken lightly in a country [France] where there are much stricter guidelines when it comes to home education.) I completed a four year degree, and I assume from your post that, at the very least, your father spent some time in a college/university setting.

    My knowledge of the Quiverfull community is limited, and much of it (for better or worse) comes from things I’ve heard about the Duggar family. (I don’t own a television, so I don’t actually watch their show.) From what I can tell, they seem to be fairly anti-higher education, with the exception of law or medical school, nursing, etc.

    I try not to follow anyone I don’t know on Facebook, and I don’t know how people normally submit queries for the Q&A sessions, but I am interested as to your take on the university system. Would you support/encourage university attendance if one (or more) of your children were interested? As someone who had a fairly conservative Southern Baptist upbringing, I recall debates about how involved in the secular world one should be. I remember my mother’s frustration with coworkers (she works at the state’s Baptist Convention) who never stepped outside of the communities. They went to Christian schools (or, rarely for their generation, home-schooled) and wouldn’t even dine at a restaurant that served alcohol, let alone send their children to a secular institution, even if they had the best program for his or her chosen field. How, my mother wondered, were they expected to serve as a witness, if their interactions with non-Christians were almost non-existent.

    I guess my basic question is, what would your reaction be if, say, one of your daughters or sons wanted to pursue a career in science or technology and needed a degree from a secular institution to excel in that field? Is an aversion to typical higher (secular/or even Christian) education common among Quiverfull adherents or is it family specific? I understand that the term Quiverfull seems to have more to do with one’s choices in regard to childbearing than any particular denomination, but I think the Duggar’s also identify as Southern Baptists and their beliefs are very different from my family’s, so I’m a bit confused.

    Again, I hope my questions aren’t offensive. My ideologies are very different from your own, but I believe that the key to peaceful coexistence is knowledge, so I try to know as much as I can, about as many different sets of beliefs as I can. I peruse you blog from time to time, in an attempt to better understand the Quiverfull movement, rather than write off an entire group of people, like so many of my fellow, more liberally-inclined individuals seem to do. So please don’t take offense, that certainly isn’t my intention. I just want to understand. 🙂

    Congratulations on the son you’ll soon be welcoming into the world. God bless you and your family.

    • SMiaVS,
      Sherry and Shannon both gave great answers to this question, so I don’t feel I have much to add. We are not against higher education, but we do think the way it’s usually done can be a tremendous waste of time and resources and often contributes more toward extended childhood and longterm debt than it does toward a person’s future career and potential income, not to mention the frequent self-conscious attacks upon the Christian worldview. The Bible repeatedly tells us to choose our companions wisely and Jesus warns us that a student will be like his master, so why would we want our young adults to pay many thousands of dollars so they can spends years under the teaching of professors who often hate and despise the God of the Bible?
      A solid Christian university can be a whole other matter, but like private Christian grade schools it’s not necessarily the best answer for many people and there is still the question of exactly how it contributes to the student’s ability to serve God.
      There are also other ways to continue education after high school:

      • Vocational schools can provide a much faster return on a smaller investment of time and money.
      • An entrepreneur with a great idea might be better off going right into business.
      • Many degrees can be acquired from accredited schools by studying mostly or entirely online, and many courses can be tested out of.

      I think too many people just assume that a college education is necessary without ever stopping to ask important questions:
      Why? Is it truly necessary? What are the pros and cons? What are the alternatives?

  6. It is my first year homeschooling but I know I am open to all the options you mentioned depending on our resources when the time comes. We have many coops in our area, some one day academies mostly taught by other homeschooling parents. Dual credit becomes an option once they hit 16, some things like the previous commenter we likely will save for dual credit, why not kill two birds with one stone, for free?

  7. When I was in highschool, we were part of a homeschooling coop. For the rough stuff, most parents decided to hold off until they could outsource to the local community college. Granted, it’s a public classroom environment, but it’s not age segregated and was generally a good preparation for entering the workplace. In our area, too, the community colleges were excellent–sometimes surpassing the universities.

    In any case, the logic was that any hard stuff the state required for graduation would have to be repeated for lower division work or for GE in a vocational program, so you may as well get the credit for it the first time around and save your time.


  1. […] There are many answers to this question, but I’m going to focus on just one today, because I feel it strikes deeply at the heart of the question.  [If you'd like a more in-depth answer, you might want to look at this post and the discussion that followed in the comments: What do you do when the children need to learn subjects you can’t teach?] […]

Don't just think it: say it!

%d bloggers like this: