Homeschooling Fear: What if I don’t know enough?

Generally when I tell someone that I home school, I get a response similar to this: "I could never do that." They follow with their justification of their inadequacies. A frequent fear is the idea that you wouldn't be able to teach math or reading or science or insert subject of childhood dread here. Believe me, if only the people who knew enough were home schoolers, there would be very few people home schooling.

The reality is that no one knows "enough" to teach their kids at home. That is, if you define "enough" as everything you could possibly ever know about a subject. I am no expert at walking, but I did teach my children to walk. Similarly, I don't have a degree in English, but I managed to equip my children with enough vocabulary and syntax to carry on a decent conversation before the age of five.

You don't have to know everything to home school your children. You just have to be willing to learn, and that is where being a part of a Classical Conversations community has blessed not only my children's education, but my own as well.

I'm sharing some of my fears and how CC has helped me overcome them in a series on my blog. If you missed the first post, make sure to go back and check it out.

Fear #1: What if I forget to teach something?

Fear #2: What if I don’t know enough?

Fear #3: What if I’m not cut out for it?

Fear #4: What about socialization?

Fear #5: What if I can’t afford a private education?

Fear #2: What if I don't know enough?

Honestly, no one knows everything they'll possibly need to know before they start home schooling. The good news is that public school teachers experience the same challenge. Even with all of their education, they will get hired to teach an unfamiliar subject, get an unruly kid placed in their class, or find themselves adjusting to a new standardized test that didn't exist when they were trained.

As a teacher then, you really just need to see yourself as the lead learner. This is a term that I first heard at a Classical Conversations parent practicum. The concept fascinated me because I was learning that I didn't need to know every math concept to help my 4th grader; I just needed to be a couple of weeks ahead of where he was to successfully guide him along the way.

Over the past eight years of being involved in a Classical Conversations community, I feel like I've reclaimed my own education. I've been given tools to enhance my teaching skills and techniques to increase my memorizing abilities. Two major rolls within my CC community have contributed to equipping me for the task at hand: being a Foundations/Essentials parent and being a Challenge director.

Lead Learning as a Foundations/Essentials Parent

Since parents are required to accompany their children to their Foundations and Essentials classes each week, there is a great opportunity for learning. I remember in our first year of CC, I picked up that deck of memory work cards and started flipping through. We started in Cycle 2, and I quickly flipped through the history cards and began to get nervous.

Honestly, I couldn't answer any of the questions. Some of them I'd at least heard of, like I knew World War II happened, but I couldn't tell you the leaders or how the United States got involved. Other cards I couldn't even pronounce. Oh dear! What had I gotten myself into?!

Over the year of working on that memory work with my kids, I found that my brain was waking up. Every time that I thought there was no way any more memory work could fit in, remarkably we could all remember more. We were training our brains to retain. And it worked.

That year both my son and I became memory masters. I didn't ask him to do something that I wasn't willing to do. While it wasn't easy, we walked away with the experience of success that would help us believe that we were capable of learning hard things.

What About Essentials?

Oh Essentials. Okay, just a little background on me. I grew up with school being pretty easy for me. I generally worked to get the highest grade with the least amount of effort. When I was at Freshman orientation at Texas Tech, I decided to try the English CLEP test to see if I could get any college credit. I scored high enough to earn me 6 college credit hours and exempt me from any English classes to complete my degree.

While that sounds prestigious, I walked into the Essentials class and realized that while I might have been a good test taker, I couldn't find the direct object, diagram a sentence, or tell you anything about a gerund.

I can say without a doubt that the English grammar skills and writing skills that I learned in my three years of sitting in on Essentials (two years as a parent, and the third year as a tutor) have better equipped me to be a writer and to learn languages than all of my previous training combined.

And let me just say that the success in learning and enjoying it is addicting. That led me to take on another lead learner role that has continued to stretch me into the best teacher I can be for my children: a Challenge director.

Lead Learning as a Challenge Director

I've spent my last four years directing various levels of Challenge. Even though I did not have all of the subjects mastered before I tutored them, I believe that partnering with these kids in the learning of the material actually gave me compassion and understanding for the pains they were feeling. Here are some of the subjects I tutored of which I had no previous experience:

  • Latin (Henle I)
  • Cartography (Drawing the world)
  • Origins (It Couldn't Just Happen, Defeating Darwinism)
  • Persuasive Writing (Lost Tools of Writing)
  • Logic (Fallacy Detective, Introductory Logic, Intermediate Logic)
  • Mock Trial
  • Debate (Current Events, Policy Debate, and Lincoln Douglass Debate)
  • History of Science
  • How the Stock Market works
  • History of US Government (Reading and discussing the original American documents)
  • Writing a short story

Oh my life is so much richer for having to dive into these subjects that I might have missed had I not been helping my child journey through the Classical Conversations programs.

Even if you decide not to direct a Challenge program, as your students get older, you just have to be a willing mentor for them. I haven't kept up with my son's math this year, but when he gets a problem wrong, I just ask him to show me how to work the problem. Usually, it doesn't take long for his mistake to surface and he figures out why he missed the problem.

If you don't have the time or energy to mentor your kids in some subjects as they reach the high school level, keep in mind that there are many great options available for providing help to parents.

Truth: A CC Community Learns Together

You don't get to a high school level of understanding over night. It takes years to reclaim your education. Think of your children as teammates in this learning adventure. As you learn along side them, you will feel more confident to continue learning.

Additionally, the community support in this area is excellent. You'll usually find another mom that loves math or science or writing that you can learn from. Typically, they'll need your gifting and experience as well.

The best part is that you're not alone in the journey. If you struggle teaching your third child to read, the odds are that someone in your community has had a similar challenge in the past and would love to share how they overcame it.

So don't fear not knowing enough. You might be rusty, but a CC community is a great place to refurbish the furniture of your mind and gain confidence in training your children through high school and beyond.

Make sure to check back as I finish out my series on home schooling fears:

Fear #1: What if I forget to teach something?

Fear #2: What if I don’t know enough?

Fear #3: What if I’m not cut out for it?

Fear #4: What about socialization?

Fear #5: What if I can’t afford a private education?


  1. Martha on May 24, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    This is a great article! I’ve had a similar experience where I reclaimed and improved upon my meager language arts skills in Essentials, and now I am tutoring Challenge A this year. Although I had four years of Latin in high school, I did not have a good grammar foundation, so what I learned was by rote. Fast forward quite a few years, and I have forgotten most of it. I did spend this year working on Latin, and it is another ball game now that I understand how everything ties together. I love how CC is geared towards helping parents reclaim their own education and equip them to teach their children.

    • Betsy on May 24, 2017 at 10:10 pm

      That is so great! I feel like I’m more fortunate than my kids because I get to repeat Challenge levels! I have just learned so much.

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