In my days as a home school student in the ‘80s and ‘90s, people were less likely to know what home schooling was. My parents were often asked, “How does that work?” The arrangement, explained only partially in jest, was that my mom was the teacher and my dad was the principal.
For some current home school families that description is lamentably accurate, meaning that the mother carries out all the educational duties, while the father serves as administrator, financier and disciplinarian when reinforcements are needed. Too often, home school dads accept these boundaries and miss out on the countless ways they can be involved in their kids’ education.
With intentional choices, dads can engage, instruct and prepare their children in ways that powerfully complement Mom’s role, helping their home school thrive in the process.
Dads, here are five ways to make that happen.
Strategy One: Show an Interest
Every day, give your kids the chance to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Make it interactive. Ask specific, open-ended questions about what they learned and then have them elaborate. When possible, have the kids physically show you their work—tests, quizzes, crafts, activities, pictures and so on.
Consider, with Mom’s coordination, utilizing stickers, stamps or some other means to reward great work. Try to let the children demonstrate the knowledge they have learned, such as re-creating a science experiment or doing a craft. Or explore deeper—use an encyclopedia together, investigate the topic online, watch a video or share your own knowledge on the subject.
But wait! Check your attitude before you even start. You may be exhausted, but this is important. Like little counterfeit investigators, kids can spot a fake a mile away, and it sends the wrong message if you seem checked out or impatient. Show your enthusiasm, interest and appreciation, and don’t forget to praise both the children and their teacher.
Strategy Two: Pass on Your Knowledge
You have skills! Everyone has areas of expertise and interest, and the first step is recognizing that you have something to share—even in an academic setting! It might be woodworking, auto repair, finances, playing a musical instrument or building a model ship. Whatever it is, identify the skill and discuss with Mom how and when to work it into the curriculum. It doesn’t have to be on a school day—you can give a Saturday “class.”
If your area of expertise seems too advanced, remember that most skills can be broken down or learned at basic levels first, as with the apprenticeship model of olden days. Adapt the class to your children’s age and grade level so it is challenging but not frustrating.
Where possible, find ways to connect knowledge across subjects. If your child is learning about currency and the value of money, and you are teaching her how to replace a spark plug, take her to the auto parts store and have her buy it and count her change.
Also, look for ways to capitalize on your children’s interests. If you’re teaching woodworking, and your child is crazy about ponies, woodcut a horse together. If you’re teaching how to paint, it doesn’t have to be a bowl of fruit. A dragon or a pirate ship works just as well.
Strategy Three: Support the Lead Teacher
I can’t stress enough the importance of this intentional choice. If your wife does the bulk of instruction, support her. Ask what she needs and then follow up, even if it means late-night grading.
Teaching a class is a tremendously time-consuming and energy-intensive undertaking. There’s a reason teachers are considered “community heroes.” It’s a huge, sacrificial role and a full-time job. This is 100 percent true for home school teachers.
The first step in support is good communication. Find out what is easy and what is rocky, then identify specific areas needing support. This may involve grading, planning the next day’s schoolwork, purchasing classroom supplies, or just sitting down with the kids after you get home to help them focus on homework or finish a science project.
What helps the teacher helps the students, so your support could also involve lowering Mom’s stress level by providing lunch, watching the kids so she can get a nap, or even providing her favorite treats or pick-me-ups. Look for ways to support the lead teacher, both logistically and emotionally, and the whole class will benefit.
Strategy Four: Take Part as Much as You Can
There’s no substitute for being involved; therefore, rearrange your schedule to connect with your children in various activities or to be home with them during part of the school day.
As technology allows for more and more jobs to be done remotely, parents have new opportunities to work from home for at least part of their work week. If possible, pursue telecommuting one or two days a week. If working from home is not a possibility in your position or line of work, you might consider working longer hours one evening and then going in late the next morning, allowing you to teach (or co-teach) the first class of the day.
If, however, your schedule is fixed, and working from home is not an option, there is the potential for communicating with your family long distance. The smartphone or computer allows you to talk, leave messages or interact face-to-face. Whether it’s on your lunch break or during your walk into the office, check in to encourage the kids, to support their mother, to ask what they are working on, to share insights or advice, and to generally be a part of the school day even from a distance.
Strategy Five: Watch for Teachable Moments Every Day
Remember that home schooling never stops, which is one of the greatest things about it. Grab hold of learning opportunities when they appear. Capitalize on home schooling’s amazing plasticity. You can take a family vacation in the middle of the school year, but you can also turn that vacation into a learning experience—writing a report about the states you travel through, studying geography and maps, or learning about nature, cultures, history or science, whether at museums, parks, zoos or monuments. Daily, regular experiences also offer chances for teaching. If you take your kids grocery shopping, teach them about store operations, or health and nutrition, or money and spending habits or even about different cultural foods you find in the aisles.
Use downtime for practice time. Quiz your kids on what they have been learning: everything from Bible verses to American presidents. Make it a game to see who can run multiplication tables the fastest while standing in line or have younger kids recognize colors, shapes, letters and numbers in the world around them.
Stay keenly aware of teachable moments and watch for them as they arise—not just for teaching facts and figures, but also for teaching character and values. Talk about the right thing to do in a situation, about what pleases God, and about what the Bible teaches regarding what your children are seeing, hearing, experiencing or doing themselves. Don’t just lecture; ask questions and help the children to arrive at the truth. Reinforce this by modeling godly behavior and using critical thinking skills. Realize they are always learning from you—they are continually watching and listening. Seize the opportunity this affords, and look for ways to teach your children every day.
The time and energy you pour into your children’s lives and learning will produce untold dividends in their education, their character, and their relationship with you. With all the other obligations you have on your plate, the easiest approach is to leave everything home school-related to their mother, but don’t take the path of least resistance. Be intentional. Be involved. Make that investment and watch your home school thrive as a result. Make a point to be engaged with your kids’ education. It matters. And you can take great satisfaction in knowing that you are much more than your home school’s principal.
Tim Boswell, Ph.D., (home schooled from kindergarten on) earned a doctorate in creative writing and is managing editor for the peer-reviewed journal “Studies in the Novel.” He has edited or ghostwritten over thirty books (www.BookExpeditions.com) and teaches fiction workshops in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for writers in grades 9-12 (www.Storytown.us). A home schooling dad, Boswell lives in Fort Worth with his wife, three sons and far too many books.
This article is reprinted with permission of Texas Home School Coalition and the author. It originally appeared in Review magazine. Visit THSC.org.