Home Education, Mother's Education

The Best Kept Secret of Homeschooling

February 7, 2017 by Brandy Vencel

“I like teaching, too,” said Gilbert. “It’s good training, for one thing. Why, Anne, I’ve learned more in the weeks I’ve been teaching the young the ideas of White Sands than I learned in all the years I went to school myself.”
— L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

My real education began on our first day of homeschooling. All the years of high school and college and even graduate school amount to very little by comparison. I mean, yes, they count for something. And if they were all I had, I’d be grateful for the start they gave me. But teaching? It’s a whole new ballgame.

There is a belief out there that homeschooling is creating a highly educated populace. And it is. The misunderstanding is that this means the graduates.

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Re-reading the Anne books by L.M. Montgomery has been thrilling. It’s long been my opinion that Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women books ought to be read at least three times in a woman’s life. First, when she is a girl. She will likely identify with Jo. Second, in her 20s (ish) when she is newly married. She will likely identify with Meg. Third, in her 30s or 40s when she has perhaps one teen in her brood. This time, she will identify with Marmee. It is only after this third reading that she will fully know Alcott’s powers — and fully learn the lessons Alcott can teach.

I’m starting to believe the same thing about the Anne books. It’s so different from when I read as a girl and identified with Anne and her friends instead of any of the adults.

We who homeschool experience something akin to what was once experienced by the original American teachers — those young adults (and often older teens) — who skillfully managed and taught the youth in tiny one-room school houses across the United States and in Canada as well. In their mid to late teens, Gilbert and Anne and Jane are all teaching the young well, and Gilbert and Anne are still finding time to perfect their Greek and Latin, reading snatches of Virgil (in the original language, I assume), when they can.

Now, I don’t want to overly romanticize the one-room school house. It’s not like it didn’t have its weaknesses. And we homeschool moms have a far more difficult time finding snatches of time to advance our educations because we are also responsible for the rearing of the children, the training in good habits, the discipline, the management of the house, and so on and so forth.

But still: captured in the quote above is homeschooling’s best kept secret:

I’ve learned more in the weeks I’ve been teaching the young the ideas of White Sands than I learned in all the years I went to school myself.

I’ve talked to many homeschooling moms over the years, and they all seem to feel this way, whether they have a Ph.D. or failed to finish high school! You see, homeschooling jumpstarts your own learning in so many ways. By the time you graduate your children, you will know and understand so much more than you would have under most other circumstances.

So why is this? What is it about teaching — especially teaching across all the ages and stages and grades and subject progressions — that is so powerful personally for the teacher?

Reading Aloud

This is how we all get sucked in, you know. We are initially happy in our adult lives, with our television shows and our music and our computers and our friends. We don’t read a serious book by choice after high school or college graduation.

And then it happens.

Our precious illiterate children ask us to read aloud. Again! they plead. Somewhere in the sleepy mists of early motherhood, reading aloud woos our souls, too. One book leads to another, and pretty soon we’ve fallen back in love with books (or, in love for the first time, as the case may be). We start to buy them. Then, we buy bookcases.

It’s all downhill from here.

Understanding

There are a number of mis-attributed Einstein quotes out there, and one of them is that if you can’t explain it to a six-year old (another version is “if you can’t explain it simply”), you don’t really understand it. While it seems that Einstein didn’t say this, Richard Feynman said something quite close. In Six Easy Pieces he wrote:

You know, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reduce it to the freshman level. That means we really don’t understand it.

We often forget the connection between understanding and communicating. We assume we understand something because it seems so clear to us in our own heads. But when we try to discuss it or explain it, our understanding (or lack thereof) is revealed.

I remember when one of my daughters was four. Her interest in all things theological and philosophical knew no bounds (this is still true). She would ask the deepest questions — she wanted to know about death and dying, about the world and how it worked, about the Trinity, the incarnation, and the atonement. I was confident I knew about these things … until I tried to explain them to a preschooler. I found it a truism: when I couldn’t explain it, I lacked understanding.

I never felt stupider than I did that long year of her philosophical beginnings.

We all have to pass through the stage where things go from being unclear to clear — where the things we’re thinking about begin to connect up in our brains. And we’ll have conversations where we fail to explain — and then find that the next conversation goes a little more smoothly because of the previous failure. But there is nothing like being hounded by a child to cause you to get a jump on this process.

Narration

Homeschooling stimulates understanding because explaining is a lot like narrating. We’ve talked about this before: narration isn’t a parroting of information — it’s a process in which the brain sorts everything out. Narration is the act of coming to know. As the brain goes back over everything, the details start to cohere, the important points rise to the surface, and understanding materializes — by putting together the jumbled pieces, the narrator starts to discover the picture on the box.

In many ways, teaching is like narration. A child asks a question, and we have to sort back through what we know — often using the book the child is reading along with whatever reserves we happen to have — to give a good answer. Whether the question is about what went wrong in a math problem, how to decline a Latin noun, or what exactly happened in that confusing history passage, the result is the same: Mom just rose to the occasion. Again.

I mean, yes, she might have had to walk away to think and possibly look it up, but the fact remains that when she returned to explain, her brain had grown a whole big bunch.

Progressing

In the days of the one-room schoolhouse, the same teacher taught algebra and Euclid as taught phonics and addition, and in the same day at that! If you’re like me (meaning you have a big enough age spread), you’ve done this. And if you aren’t like me, that just means you’ll teach those subjects eventually, instead of in a single 24-hour period. Either way, homeschooling is the most intense refresher course you can imagine. You start with the basics and progress all the way to college level. I can’t think of another situation in which a mother would be able to banquet at such a widely spread table.

It used to be said that a well-educated prince ought to be able to talk with any of his subjects. This required a wide array of knowledge. By the time you’re done homeschooling, you’ll practically be royalty, at least in this respect. You’ll likely have touched on everything from world history in all the ages to all the math to grammar and literature and great books to gardening and really good books and poems and songs and music to science and art and and and… It’s an education fit for a king!

In other words, it’s not just the kids who benefit.

There is a belief out there that homeschooling is creating a highly educated populace. And it is. The misunderstanding is that this means the graduates. That, my friends, is only part of the equation. When parents educate their children, they don’t just create the educated populace — they become it.

And that?

That’s the real secret of homeschooling.

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38 Comments

  • Reply Leanne February 1, 2019 at 11:45 am

    Great article. I often say to other homeschool mums when discussing a problem or struggle, “Just remember this is your education not theirs. They will get theirs if they home educate their kids!”

  • Reply Sharon Hillestad March 5, 2017 at 10:20 am

    I homeschooled my three children in the 80s and can attest to the truth of this article. You learn by teaching.

  • Reply Jessica February 22, 2017 at 7:53 am

    I love this. I’m currently in the middle of Kindergarten with my oldest and I feel like I’m standing on the precipice looking out on the expanse of my re-education. It’s wild and exhilarating and daunting and so full of promise and beauty. For the last year I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about homeschooling and while I wasn’t planning on this from the beginning, I’m so thrilled we have been set here and I wouldnt trade it for the world. Your blog inspires me!

  • Reply Homeschool Literature February 20, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Oh I love this! It is completely true…parents learn so incredibly much by homeschooling their kids, more than they ever anticipated. I remember when my mom was homeschooling my siblings and me, and she would constantly tell people that she was learning right alongside us!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 20, 2017 at 2:23 pm

      I love that! I have heard people act like that’s a bad thing — as if learning beside children meant you didn’t know enough in the first place. So sad to have that perspective instead of seeing it all as a huge opportunity. ♥

      • Reply Homeschool Literature March 14, 2017 at 5:26 pm

        Exactly! And there’s bound to be things you forget from high school over the years, so it’s not a bad thing to have a refresher!

  • Reply Tricia Fowler February 14, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    Wow! You put this together sooo well. I have stated summary statements to this effect when younger moms come to me asking about homeschooling. But single statements like “Homeschooling is very stimulating.” just doesn’t articulate the feeling and depth I want to communicate so the next time someone wants to talk about whether they should homeschool or not, I am going to send them this post!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 15, 2017 at 8:36 pm

      Thanks, Tricia! I know what you mean — it’s hard to put into words all that homeschooling does not only for the family as a whole, but for each individual in the family as well. ♥

  • Reply Elizabeth Hafferty February 12, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Thank you for this post. What a gem. It really gives you a new “take” on homeschooling.

  • Reply Erika February 11, 2017 at 7:46 am

    My oldest is only in Year 0 right now, but this is the number 1 thing that I’m excited about. I’m hardly doing anything as far as ‘schooling the kids’ goes, but I’m already on my own re-education journey and LOVING it!

  • Reply Virginia Lee February 8, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Oh Brandy, you made my heart feel full with this post. And I’m an ENTJ, so not prone to bursting heart syndrome, unless it’s babies. 😉 But everything here was like you reached into my mind and heart and put my thoughts and feelings into words. Homeschooling my kiddos is one of the biggest blessings of my life. I pretty much love the fact that I get to read nursery rhymes with my 4 year old, then go do reading lessons with my 6 year old, then work with another on multiple digit multiplication, and then go read Plutarch with my oldest. All while snuggling a baby. Yes, it means when I fall in bed at night I’m beat! But my mind and heart are both so alive. I think it’s just like Mason said, we are not learning how to teach, but learning how to live.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 8, 2017 at 11:12 am

      ♥ Oh my goodness, VL, I cannot tell you how much I love this comment!

      • Reply Brooke Favorat August 21, 2017 at 8:02 pm

        I was going to say pretty much the same thing about this article, then read through this comment and thought I’d second Virginia Lee! I am INTP, usually in the minority when it comes to ‘how’ I think about and understand things, but I ditto Virginia Lee that “…everything here was like you reached into my mind and heart and put my thoughts and feelings into words…”. I cannot get enough of your writing, Brandy. You give me much to aspire to as a homeschool mom. It’s not just in what you write about, but how you convey concepts and thoughts, always so warmly approachable for newbies like me, while so intelligently written that it inspires and excites me in ways I haven’t really felt since I was a child, before my 7th grade public school literature class sadly put my love for reading into a looong coma. Finally waking up! 🙂
        Thank you, thank you, for sharing your thoughts, wisdom and experience.

        • Reply Virginia Lee Rogers August 21, 2017 at 8:14 pm

          ??

  • Reply Patti February 7, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    This post is making the rounds of “retired” homeschool moms. This is so true, and I thank you for reminding me of how much I gained from homeschooling my six children for 25 years. We forget what we were like before.

    I read more serious things before homeschooling. But it sparked so many more things I never would have grown to be interested in if I hadn’t been teaching my kids.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2017 at 5:58 pm

      I love hearing this — and I’m honored that my post is making the rounds! ♥

  • Reply Melissa Greene February 7, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Excellent post Brandy!! Truth be told, I love homeschooling just as much for my sake and the sake of my children 😉

  • Reply Lisa A February 7, 2017 at 11:35 am

    I just had this conversation with my sister in law the other day. She said she would go crazy having to teach all day and I responded that I LOVE it because now I’m getting a REAL education for the first time and it’s amazing! I’m glad I have many years still ahead on this journey. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Yes — it’s something we don’t realize until we’re on the inside I think! But really … it makes so much sense!

      I always laugh when people think they would go crazy, because I think the same thing about having kids in school — just being at the dictates of someone else’s schedule…ew. 😉

  • Reply JoyH February 7, 2017 at 9:08 am

    So true! Loved reading this.

  • Reply Patty B. February 7, 2017 at 8:53 am

    I love this post. It is so true, I felt it the very first year of homeschooling. I am about to start high school for the fourth time. The first time for me, the second, and third with my older two who have since graduated college, and next year with my third child. My youngest are 10 and 11. This has been a rough year, and I am feeling tired and unsure I can do high school again three more times. Thank you for your encouragement.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2017 at 2:46 pm

      Wow! I know you don’t feel amazing right now, Patty, but I think you ARE amazing! I have a friend who was in your shoes a few years ago (she is on her last high school student now and her oldest is in his 30s), and I *so* admire her perseverance at the end. ♥

  • Reply Kathy Wickward February 7, 2017 at 7:45 am

    So, so true! You know the other thing that fascinates me is that so many people can follow a given curriculum, read the best books, read books written from the same point of view, and still come out of it with their own conclusions. We all digest the work in different ways.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2017 at 8:27 am

      Yes! I love that, too. Unity and diversity all at once — it’s so beautiful. That is one thing that attracted me to homeschooled children early on — they were all so different and interesting instead of cookie cutters conformed to a single pattern. ♥

  • Reply Lisa W. February 7, 2017 at 7:31 am

    I SO loved everything about this post as it all rings true throughout my fifteen years of homeschooling. I’m just about to delve into Little Women for probably the sixth time at least as I am nearing the fifty mark, and the Anne books are among my all-time favorites. In fact I recently ordered several books about Louisa and Marmee because my interest levelin their lives grows with each year that passes and with each new reading of Little Women. You wrote down what had been in my heart for many years, so thank you!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2017 at 8:25 am

      Want to share your book titles, Lisa? I wasn’t aware there even were such books! They sound amazing!

      • Reply Lisa W. February 7, 2017 at 8:36 am

        My Heart is Boundless and Marmee and Louisa, both by Eve LaPlante. Found them at Amazon and can’t wait to get them! You know everyone is doing rewrites lately, from additional stories based on Pride and Prejudice to rewritten twists on fairy tales. Being an older mother now, I thought it would be amazing to someday do a rewrite of Little Women from Marmee’s perspective. So I thought I’d start doing some reading and research. Think anyone would read it??

        • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2017 at 8:37 am

          *I* would read it! I hope you write it! ♥

          • Lisa W. February 7, 2017 at 8:40 am

            What is even more fascinating is Eve LaPlante is a direct Alcott descendant. Well I am an amateur writer at best, but maybe someday I will actually do it. I loved Mere Motherhood so much, I hope I can grow up once all mine are done being schooled and publish a book like Cindy did. 🙂

          • Brandy Vencel February 7, 2017 at 8:46 am

            Is she really? That *is* fascinating! Karen Glass once gave me really good advice. She said, if you want to write, then write. Don’t necessarily write for publication or anything like that — just keep writing. I’ve kept going over that in my mind, thinking it’s actually *not* a waste of time when I scribble a scene or two in my bullet journal. And who knows? If you do that, maybe you’ll turn out to be a writer after all. 🙂

  • Reply Jessica Whealy February 7, 2017 at 7:25 am

    This is a wonderful post, and so very true! I remember years ago friends who do not homeschool their children laughing at me when I said I was learning so much from teaching first grade (using AOY1). It has continued to be true every year since and is one of the best parts (for me) of teaching my children at home.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2017 at 8:22 am

      Ha! People may laugh, but it’s still true! 🙂

  • Reply Julie Zilkie February 7, 2017 at 6:23 am

    The heartiest of cheers here in St. Louis! What a great post, and it is all true!!! I am as educated as I have ever been, and I look forward to my continued growth as my children march on through our humble home school!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2017 at 6:44 am

      Isn’t it amazing to look back and see where you started? ♥

  • Reply Anna February 7, 2017 at 5:35 am

    ❤ this Brandy! So true, and so encouraging on this dreary Tuesday morning!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2017 at 6:44 am

      ♥ Hang in there…dreary Februarys are the hardest!

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