Homeschooling Advanced Subjects

This week the 4 Moms are answering the question “How do you teach advanced subjects like trig, dissection or a foreign language in your homeschool?”

moms of many manage
My experience of graduating from homeschool and entering college had a significant effect on how we view and handle this question with our children.

First, I’m sure many people would have said that my high school years would NOT have adequately prepared me for college. There was only one ‘class’ I ever took outside of the home. When I was in high school, my parents got a local Christian high school to allow me to come in for a couple of sessions where the biology teacher stepped me through a few dissections, that’s it. Other than that I learned at home with my mom or my dad as my teacher.

Additionally, I was not focused on academics during high school, I was much more interested in gymnastics. I easily spent 40-50 (often more) hours a week at the gym, working out or teaching classes and my studies were firmly in second place.

Second, I did extremely well on the SAT, ACT and other tests and/or college entrance exams.  I was offered academic scholarships, received national academic awards and tested out of first year college English and Math (and math has never been a strong suit). When I entered college (at a school that is widely respected for it’s science program) I found the courses simple, even biology and chemistry, received excellent grades and graduated with honors.

Not only did this experience give me confidence as we entered the school years with our children, it also has given our family a unique perspective.

We don’t think that classes outside of the home are necessary!

Kaitlin (14) and Savannah (7) working on a project.

Kaitlin (14) and Savannah (7) working on a project.

I know, I know. This is not a popular idea in today’s homeschooling circles, where parents seem to spend more time in the car taking their children to the next activity (educational or not) than they do at home actually teaching their children, but that’s ‘ok’ with us. Having 11 children isn’t a popular idea either and that’s worked out very well for us!

[I’m not saying that classes outside of the home are bad, just that they aren’t necessary.]

Nicholas (4)

Nicholas (4)

So how do we teach those advanced subjects?

Seek God’s Kingdom

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. ~Matthew 6:33

“all these things” includes higher level academic learning!

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge ~Proverbs 1:7a

There is no way around it, if we wish for our children to gain wisdom or knowledge, we must be seeking first the kingdom of God.

Sometimes seeking God’s kingdom may mean that our children will not participate in a specific learning opportunity, sometimes it will mean that they will take time away from school work to serve others and sometimes it means that others may appear more thoroughly “educated” or appear to have more or better opportunities.

Take a deep breath and stand on the promises of God’s Word. We’ve been there, we’ve time and again felt that we were failing our kids because we didn’t think that this or that opportunity that “everyone else” was giving to their kids was a good fit for our family, and yet time and again God has amazed us by blessing our children with knowledge above what they should have, given their opportunities and even better than that we’ve seen God’s blessing our children’s hearts with a love for others.

Teach Kids to Teach Themselves

bella savannah colby

The little kids develop a simple lifting system.

One of our primary goals as we educate education our children is to teach them to learn on their own. I believe that this is why I excelled in my college classes, it wasn’t that I necessarily knew all of the information, I just knew how to learn.  After all, how many of you have learned new information or new skills without any classes? Plus, when you learn as an adult, your children will learn right along with you.

So the primary way that we’ve ‘taught’ advanced subjects is by preparing our children to learn on their own.

I think that perhaps this is one of the most negative influences that the public school system mentality has had on the homeschooling community. We have swallowed, hook, line and sinker, the idea that ‘professionals’ are the ones who should teach those ‘difficult’ subjects, but this simply isn’t the case (and nowhere in Scripture do you see a command to make sure to have professionals come in to educate your children).

You can do it! They can do it!

savannah colby bella house

The little kids in a house they designed and built.

Our older children have been very successful learning math, science and Greek (are there any other ‘advanced’ subject areas?) independently.

Our kids have done high school chemistry and biology, complete with experiments and dissections all on their own.

Algebra 1 and 2 have been completed with very minimal help. (I asked our three children who have taken these classes and they each said that they sat down with their dad on a couple of specific problems (not concepts) and that when they finally figured it out, it was by going back and reading the text more carefully. i.e. the answer was there all the time.)

Our kids are working their way through a college/seminary Greek course on their own. Recently, God has provided a special addition to their Greek learning, which I’ll speak about shortly under the heading of “Christian Community”.

How to Teach your kids to be self-teachers

Bella beach

Bella (2) exploring the beach

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but I think that it’s vitally important for children to have free time. It is my opinion that in many (perhaps most) cases in the U.S., having more free time will be more beneficial for a child than any type of scheduled activity.

Encourage your children to pursue things which interest them. They will learn more than you think and they will thank you for it when they get older.

Choose the right curriculum

Most of the homeschooling curricula and classes available today do not encourage children to be self learners because they spoon feed the children information that ‘someone’ deems important and then ask the children to regurgitate it back. Choose books and resources that encourage both you and your children to think, evaluate and  examine.

It shouldn’t be an issue of getting the right answer, but of asking the right questions.

We LOVE “Life of Fred” math starting with 5th or 6th grade. In the front of the book it encourages parents to point their children back to the book when they come with a question because it explains that children need to be able to learn by reading the information.

Apologia also has this mindset. In Biology, it steps the children through the first several dissections and then tells them to do the research and figure out how to do the last dissection on their own.

Encourage your kids to try, even if it means ‘failing’

Our children come to me frequently with, what I consider, crazy ideas. I think that it’s part of my job to encourage them to try (as long as it’s safe and legal) because in that trying they’ll learn and one of the things that they’ll learn is that it’s fine to fail.

A few years ago they built a raft with some scrap lumber that we had left-over from a project. We then helped them transport their raft to a pond and they all took turns navigating around the pond on their raft. Honestly, I never thought they’d get anything that would float and, while there is some relativity in regard to the term ‘float’, they enjoyed the experience and have built several more effecient  rafts since that time.

Teach them to secure their own learning resources

Carter (10), Kaitlin (14) and Colby (6)

Carter (10), Kaitlin (14) and Colby (6)

Rather than telling them what they need to know or where they should go for help or signing them up for a class, allow them the freedom and opportunity to take responsibility for their learning. Encourage them to figure it out on their own. If they’re new at this and need additional help, offer up some suggestions, but be clear that your list of ideas isn’t exhaustive and encourage them to think of resources on their own.

One of the practical ways we teach this in the younger years is by having a couple of shelves full of science resources and pointing our kids to those shelves when they come inside with any kind of nature question.

One of my frequent questions when the children come tell me about something new they learned is, “How did you learn that?” It’s beautiful to hear my children explain to me the different ways in which they’ve acquired knowledge. Trust me, that skill is much more important than whatever they’ll be taught in a chemistry class.

Mom and Dad

I know this may seem obvious, but you really are your child’s best teachers. You may not know the most about a given subject, but you care the most about your children and their proficiency with any given subject.


Matthew (13) holds Valor (3 months) for mom and a baby doll for Bella (2)

Matthew (13) holds Valor (3 months) for mom and a baby doll for Bella (2)

We’ve seen the beauty of this frequently with our children. Two of our older children excel at math and science and two are more creative and gifted with words. As they work through different subjects, they will go to each other for help to explain something they don’t fully grasp.

This type of learning is so much more than just understanding a subject; patience, humility, selflessness and simply taking instruction are all valuable tools that we want our young adults to learn.

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

This teaching is generally spontaneous, it’s not that we assign one of our children to teach any of our other children, although I have been known to direct a child to one of their siblings when they come to me for Greek help. 🙂

Christian Community

Your Christian community should be one of the first places outside of the family that you turn to when your children need additional instruction.

We have recently been blessed by a lady in our community who is taking the same Greek course that our older children are taking. She asked if she could come over and work with our children on their Greek. She provides the blessing of accountability and more thorough explanations.


Not only are there lots of online classes and other educational resources, but there are a plethora of information available for free. Matthew and Carter have learned to skin, prepare and cook both squirrels and chipmunks thanks to youtube videos.  The girls and I appreciate when/if we run into techniques with which we are unfamiliar. And of course Google is a good friend of all homeschoolers.

You may also be interested in:

How have you tackled those advanced subjects in your homeschool?

Visit the other moms of many to see what they have to say:

Enjoy the 4 Moms posts? We wrote a book together. Buy the 4 Moms, 35+ Kids Parenting book available as an ebook or on Kindle.

Share on Facebook0Pin on Pinterest34Email this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

27 Responses to Homeschooling Advanced Subjects
  1. Julie
    April 11, 2013 | 9:55 am

    Hello Kim! I appreciate this post SO VERY much as we are homeschooling our kids in Peru! It has been a struggle for me, as I’ve more and more come to realize all of the “opportunities” and resources that were available in the US which are not available here ;-), and at times I’ve felt as though our kids are missing out. Thanks for the reminder that we can stand on the promises of God, seek His Kingdom FIRST, and not be afraid! Thanks also for the practical tips! Blessings to you!


  2. Katie
    April 11, 2013 | 10:03 am

    Thanks for the encouraging article. These are my thoughts, but my oldest is only 9 so I have no evidence to back them up yet 😉


  3. Lisa Potter
    April 11, 2013 | 10:05 am

    Thank you so much for this post. I am a friend of your friends Mark and Christine and attend the church where they minister. I am in my 5th consecutive year of homeschooling two boys, ages 16 and 14. The main reason I brought them home from the public schools was to have a greater spiritual influence in their lives and hearts. It’s as if God has used you to speak to me as I’ve been “freaking out” about my older son studying Chemistry next year and Algebra these last two years and my lack of expertise or even comfort with these subjects. Your thoughts have reassured me that he will learn what he needs to learn at home (and learn it well due to his self-learning) and university will work itself out. Thank you so much!

    Blessings to you and your family,



  4. Dora
    April 11, 2013 | 11:24 am

    I love this! We have a very laid back homeschool house and (what I think) are brilliant children. By brilliant I mean they know how to figure out a problem or find an answer to a question they have. They are not walking textbooks by any means. I had such a shock when entering college after public school. I had a whole year of failing classes after great success in high school. Because of this my philosophy has been to teach them to learn independently. Thank you for the encouragement!


  5. Amanda Free
    April 11, 2013 | 12:28 pm

    I love your blog, it has encouraged me greatly with my small and growing family. What i would like to know is if you remember any words of wisdom when your oldest was just reaching school age. Maybe if you already wrote a blog on those experiences send it my way. Thanks


  6. Shelly
    April 11, 2013 | 12:42 pm

    Thank you so much! I have a daughter entering 9th grade and was looking into a co-op for her when she told me she just wants to learn at home. I was a little insecure because I’m more of a language arts/fine arts thinker, but you’ve just given me a confidence boost!


  7. Deirdre
    April 11, 2013 | 12:46 pm

    Good article. We have two in high school at the moment. I agree with all you said. I would only add that a large part of my high school educational philosophy is that I want my children to go off college with excellent communication skills… in writing particularly, although being able to carry on complex conversations is also important and I want their thinking skills to be honed. My husband is a college professor and he sees a lack in these areas sometimes in the students he engages. We are willing to keep our kids home a fifth high school year to get them all the more ready to face the college classroom. I went to a mediocre rural high school, yet I was accepted at a liberal arts college that had been ranked #4 in the nation that yr. I was not prepared in knowledge for the classroom. However I had strong writing and thinking skills and did quite well at college, although I felt like I was drowning at first and joked that I was an admissions mistake. My point is that if you don’t cover every last great book or some part of your scope and sequence is lacking (according to an “educational expert”), if your child can write well and speak and think through complex topics on their own two feet, they will be well prepared for college. This said, I think that high schoolers should cover several years of math and science and cover literature and history, etc., they do need a foundation to build on. However, a wise homeschooler knows as you allude to that there are “many ways to skin a cat”.


  8. Laura
    April 11, 2013 | 1:28 pm

    My husband and I have been discussing this very thing. Most of the things other people point to and tell us “wow, they are so smart!” are things they have learned on their own. We don’t do outside classes. We are doing 4-H this year and raising chicks, but that is limited to 1 hour every two weeks and all the real learning is done at home. Our goal is to teach them how to learn. The rest is easy after that. 🙂


  9. Caryn
    April 11, 2013 | 3:18 pm

    Loved this Kimberly! Having graduated from homeschool as well, I remember wondering if I was prepared enough for college. During my college scholarship interview, they actually told me they love homeschoolers as most have a tendency to be hard-workers, self-motivated, and excellent students.

    Also, I just read this article a couple weeks ago about the damage highschool has on teens and how it is not something that most generations encouraged in the past, but rather always did apprenticeships and having youths around adults to help mature through the “rough years.” Really interesting stuff, especially from a secular perspective.


  10. Anna
    April 11, 2013 | 4:54 pm

    Thanks so much for this wonderful, wonderful article!!! Having gone to fairly fancy schools most of my life, I have found myself worrying about my children missing out on some things all the while knowing that the most important thing I learned through those schools was how to learn rather than the actual facts, and there is so much really that I learned on my own at home.

    I love what you said about the fear of God being the beginning of knowledge. And I so love what you said about siblings helping each other. I only have two young girls right now and am blessed by how much the older teaches the younger. I hope as they get older this will continue and they will learn to learn from each other too. 🙂


  11. Jessica
    April 11, 2013 | 5:29 pm

    Thank you so much for your encouragement through this blog post! My husband and I are gaining in our unpopularity within even our own families with our growing family and the way we encourage our children to learn independently as much as they can.

    Since we only have our fourth child on the way after having three boys, we really don’t feel like our family is all that large. I especially don’t consider it to be large since I grew up in a rather large family setting. One of my grandfathers was from a family of 14 while the other was from a family of 13 children. Each of my grandmothers were from five and six children. My dad was one of five while my mom was one of six. I was raised in a very close-knit family in which we united each summer for a big reunion and then again each Thanksgiving and Christmas. While my grandmother was in the hospital in her last week there were 30 of us who came to be with her and visit daily, all day each day.

    I wonder where we’ve lost the importance of family in our society.

    Anyhow, we got a lot of grief during our third pregnancy and even more after our third son was born. Hubby’s parents were very angry we had a third child as was my dad. My husband’s parents were especially angry that we attempted a VBAC after two cesareans. We are following our convictions in The Lord. After much research, prayer and consultations with a supportive doctor that is the path we were led to by The Lord. This time, we feel led to birth at home. We have not shared that with our families due to all the harassing phone calls during our third pregnancy about how selfish I was being and I was sure to die. It was stressful, but we knew it was The Lord who was leading us and we’d be fine. We took an especially long time announcing this pregnancy and there are still many who do not know.

    And then…there is homeschooling and our children’s education. Homeschooling isn’t exactly popular in the eyes of the majority. My mother-in-law was absolutely opposed to having “weird” grandchildren. If only she could see just how socially awkward her two children are (actually, my husband is no longer socially awkward since having our own children and coming to know Christ). We like learning alongside our children and embarking upon new experimentation just to see what happens and then research the “why.”

    We give minimal instruction to our children and encourage them to learn on their own even in their young years. They get a lot of free time. Even among our fellow homeschooling parent peers I have felt lacking as if I’m failing our children because we don’t co-op, we don’t do Scouts and we haven’t signed them up for any sports.

    What we do is make sure we have a plethora of educational books at their fingertips. We also have many open-ended manipulatives and we encourage their creativity. It has led to more critical thinking and problem solving than we could have ever imagined. When our first-grader came to me with the solution to a basic algebra problem I was speechless. He wasn’t quite seven years old at the time. Our second son has been doing math in his head for quite a while and he’s not quite six years old yet. Still, I have felt I’m letting our children down. The first trimester in my 3rd and 4th pregnancies have been very challenging so I haven’t been able to formally sit down with them to teach. This mindset that children can only learn when specifically taught is silly, I admit, but it still plagues me every now and then. Even I appreciate that I took so many independent studies in high school because I learned the value of self-teaching before it was absolutely necessary for college. I was among the few of my peers in college who could learn on my own. Yet, until today, I have still worried myself over the fact that my children are independently learning.

    Thank you once again! This is exactly what I needed, when I needed it! God’s timing is perfect as always.


  12. Paula
    April 11, 2013 | 9:50 pm

    How much free time do you give your children?


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Paula,

    The amount of free time depends upon the specific child and their current needs. It also depends upon what activities/projects we are currently involved in and what we’re focused on learning.

    Here is a link to our most recent school time schedule. We rarely stick to it exactly, but it will give you an idea of the general flow of our day.


  13. Cheryl
    April 11, 2013 | 10:26 pm

    Hi Kimberly! My boys are sitting here next to me while I was reading this and are asking me, “Mom, what kind of project did they do?” So I said, I don’t know, but I’ll ask! So they’re curious. It will probably provide us a learning experience, too, if you can share! Thanks!


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    That was a for fun art project that we tackled during Christmas break. We mixed shaving cream with Elmer’s glue and created a 3D snow scene with a snowman. Then we used construction paper, fabric scraps and glitter to decorate them.

    They turned out cute and it’s something that we definitely want to do next year. It’s super messy, but even the little ones had lovely results. We also all decorated each others noses with the goopy shaving cream mixture (even mommy and daddy). 🙂


  14. Bambi @ In the Nursery of the Nation
    April 12, 2013 | 9:39 am

    Wow Kimberly, When you decide to write a post you **write a post**!!! This post is going to keep me busy for awhile re-reading and then following the links. Thanks a ton…so very, very helpful. Love your focus on real living and learning to *think*. This is the crux I believe of a good education.

    Funny that our children have also taught themselves some of the same things you mentioned, even down to our son using youtube to learn to tan hides. LOL.


  15. Janet
    April 12, 2013 | 9:32 pm

    Maybe I am the lone dissenter here. I really WANT that approach work, but it has pretty much failed us. My very bright 18yo hs senior son IS NOT adequately prepared for college. In fact, I am reluctant to hand him a hs diploma. He was always a good independent learner but starting in “grade 10” or so he started hitting brick walls in science and math. When he would come to me for help he had already struggled with it for some time, have scoured the solutions manual and the teaching DVD. It would take me a long time to even get to him because of little kids. Since it has been a loooong time since I’ve had pre-calc it would take me a long time to figure out how to help him so I’d send him to in the mean time. My husb. works long hours and wasn’t involved. He never got very far in chemistry or the next year in physics (both Apologia) because despite a long slog, couldn’t “get it” and I had no resources for him because I was buried in little kid and elderly parent issues. In this now, his “senior” year he has had to re-take Alg2 and now Pre-calc at community college. We, of course, don’t qualify for scholarships because we have no decent hs records to show for it. I am so disappointed that I have let down this beautiful boy I could cry. In retrospect, while he is adamently against the idea of going to hs, he is ALL FOR community college and is getting A’s in both classes-“because there is no substitute for a good teacher to explain it to me.”


  16. Kimberly @ Raising Olives
    April 12, 2013 | 10:34 pm

    Hi Janet,

    It’s late so perhaps I’m missing something, but you said that your son, who is a senior in high school, isn’t prepared for college so he is taking (and getting A’s in) college classes. This despite the fact that neither you nor your husband were able to provide him with timely help when he was struggling with the curriculum that he was using in your homeschool.

    If he’s getting A’s in college classes as a senior in high school, then I’d say he is prepared for college. 🙂

    Be encouraged. Great job, Mom!


  17. char
    April 13, 2013 | 1:45 am

    You mentioned life of fred math. I just discovered it and have been going over research for the last few months about it. I am 98% convinced it is what we will start using next year but I still get nervous because it is soo different from any way I ever learned math. I would love for you to post about it and if you use it as a stand alone math program. My son will start high school and my girls would both be about 5th grade.


  18. Debbie
    April 13, 2013 | 10:58 am

    I love your blog! I always come here when I need encouragement! I feel like my family is a LOT like yours, although we only have seven kids.

    The reason I always turn to your blog is because of posts like this one; I’m a firm believer that that there’s much more to life than academics–and that NOT “idolizing” academics does NOT lead to a life of failure! But we sure are swimming upstream, and sometimes it’s easy to start panicking, especially when we hear about the latest activities our friends are involved in.

    Thank you for encouraging homeschool families to DO what we know we were called to do!


  19. becky
    April 14, 2013 | 12:18 am

    Thank you for writing this. I would love to know more about this:

    “One of the practical ways we teach this in the younger years is by having a couple of shelves full of science resources and pointing our kids to those shelves when they come inside with any kind of nature question.”

    What kinds of things are on those shelves? I am just starting out with littles, (0,3,6,7) and am trying not to be the “answer mom.” My oldest already asks me to look things up on the computer for him when he has a question about the way the world works.


  20. Abby
    April 14, 2013 | 5:04 pm

    So very encouraging. Thank you. In our endeavor to exclusively homeschool our 8 children we often (briefly) wonder if we are crazy. Especially the last two years our 13 year old has struggled with Algebra concepts and general study habits. Clearly we failed to teach him some basics along the line… Thankfully he is slowly recovering as we spend vast amounts of time with him teaching him to honor God with his work ethic. If he can learn that, he can learn anything.


  21. Nicki
    April 16, 2013 | 4:09 pm

    As always, an unpopular but brilliant post. I couldn’t agree more! Our family is very different from so many homeschoolers in our area (even my good friends) because we don’t sign up for every class that comes along. But we DO have time for outdoor play, trying new recipes or craft projects, catching toads, gardening, and RELAXING. We attend a co-op once a week, 10 weeks per semester. That’s it! Everytime I consider a great class or group, I think, “We could do those same things at home on our own schedule.” We also have time to have friends over, which is always fun!

    Sadly, I have so many friends that don’t have time for the simple things because they’re never home, or “all booked up.” I truly believe that these kids are being raised to expect constant activity, and that’s what they’ll expect as adults, too.


  22. Nicki
    April 16, 2013 | 4:21 pm

    I would also like to add that, while I was homeschooled from 6th-12th grade in the 1980’s, my sister and I were given lots of free time. We quickly learned to study independently, and then were free to pursue interests all afternoon. During that time, my mom taught us about sewing, cooking and gardening. I then took that knowledge and expanded it, learning to quilt and learning organic gardening methods on my own. I also fell in love with American History and Government so I assigned myself passages from historical documents to memorize. For fun. : ) I practiced these while jumping on the trampoline.

    My sister was interested in babies and cameras. So she had babysitting jobs in our home. She also posed her dolls for portraits. To this day, she does all of our family photos. : ) And she had six babies of her own.


  23. Dawn@OneFaithfulMom
    April 16, 2013 | 9:12 pm

    I remember well the year a fellow homeschooling mother proudly told me how her sophomore son was “all signed up at the community college for all his classes this fall.” My response?
    “How can you call that homeschooling?”


  24. MomStarr
    April 23, 2013 | 9:23 am

    Thank you Kimberly, I really needed this very encouraging post. I feel lost and inadequate OFTEN and fear my children will one day say ‘Gee mom couldn’t you have done better to prepare me for life.’


  25. Erin
    May 14, 2013 | 12:21 am

    I agree with Debbie when she says that not idolizing academics does not lead to a life of failure. there are things that are simply not taught in public schools that can be learned with homeschooling


Leave a Reply

Trackback URL