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Using Experts in Your Homeschool

A friend recently asked me the following question: “How do you have time to learn all the different subjects/all the things your children need to know so that you can teach them?”

The simple answer: You can’t possibly, and more importantly, you don’t need to.

When the children were younger, aside from the odd question from left field (and there were a few of those…) I could comfortably teach/help them with most things they couldn’t work out for themselves. (Apart from music, at which I am utterly hopeless!)

We could explore and discover the world together, discuss and debate, and enjoy delving into good book after good book, after good book!

But as they’ve got older, and their skills and knowledge have deepened and diversified, my role has shifted quite substantially.

Sometimes my knowledge of a subject is sufficient for me to help them gain a deeper understanding of the topic. Other times, we need a bit of additional guidance. And yet others, I’m in way out of my depth.

And this is exactly how it should be. You can’t possibly be an expert at everything.

Now my role is more about being a facilitator to their learning, modelling for them how to source required information, develop skills and grow their talents. And ultimately nurturing independence in their learning.

When learning something new, you can either research the topic in books, articles or papers, or if it’s more practically based, dive straight in, have a go and practice until you perfect.

Or you can ask an expert for help.

Types Of Experts in Your Homeschool

Experts come in a variety of guises. Some of these cost money, others are entirely free.

Family & Friends

Let’s start with a free one! You’d be surprised by the range of expertise held within your own group of family and friends. Granted people are busy. On the flip side, people love to share their expertise. As it’s normally their own passion/area of interest, there’s enjoyment to be had from imparting knowledge or teaching a skill they’ve already mastered. Both parties can benefit.

The trick is to be on the look out for opportunities, be open to learning from others and don’t be afraid to ask for help. What’s the worst that can happen? They say no, which is fine, and you move on to another option. But they might just say yes!

It may mean atypical hours of learning as you adapt around the individual’s work/family schedule, possibly fitting it in the evenings, weekends or holidays. But flexibility regarding when you learn is one of the beauties of home ed, allowing you to take time off whenever you need it. Even if this is in the middle of a weekday in “official” term time!

Another option is to do a skills swap with another homeschool mum or friend. In the past, I’ve used my biology knowledge to help teach another home educator alongside my own. And over the summer, I’ll be showing some of Rosie’s homeschool buddies how to row. In return, their mum will be teaching my two how to make their own toiletries – lip balms and the like. Should be fun!

Example Experts in our Homeschool

Here are some examples of where we’ve used this type of expertise in our homeschool:

  • James is a maths graduate, so now that Rosie is better at maths than me, he’s taken over as the primary maths tutor.
  • My sister studied Spanish at university, and when she can, she helps the children with their language skills. They’ve exchanged letters in Spanish as well as practising their verbal skills when they see her. She even bought Rosie a copy of Harry Potter in Spanish so they could read together.
  • All the grandparents share their skills/knowledge whenever we’re together. This ranges from engineering conversations, DIY skills, maths puzzles, and history to the natural world and conservation.
  • My closest friend from university works at Kew Gardens and is only too happy to share her extensive expertise in plant identification with the children.
  • On a recent trip to London, my sister-in-law very kindly invited Rosie and Harry along to her adult oil painting class at Kew. They LOVED this experience and were so excited to show a good friend of ours, an artist, their work! Harry and I visited the Tate Modern with this same friend, who very generously shared her expertise and knowledge of the art world by giving us our own personal tour. We felt super privileged and learned a huge amount.
  • My brother is a sports addict like Harry and loves to practise a variety of sports with him, alongside tips on how to control your emotions on the sports field (a skill not to be underestimated). Below is a picture of him teaching Rosie some surfing skills!

I could probably think of many more examples over the years. I’m sure you could come up with many of your own.

Some of the expertise sharing is of an ad hoc nature, others is more structured/long lasting. But it all contributes to developing and growing the children; and inspiring a love of learning.

Online Tutors

For me one of the benefits to come out of the Covid situation is that most tutors have set themselves up to teach online. As a home educator I can now access first rate tutors even if they happen to live on the other side of the country. For example, Rosie can experience weekly group acting classes with the National Youth Theatre through the medium of Zoom. Something that wouldn’t be possible if they only offered in person classes, since the trip up to North London each week wouldn’t be feasible.

Finding exceptional tutors can be tricky. The most expensive are not necessarily the best. From personal experience, I’ve found that asking for advice/recommendations from your fellow home educators on relevant Facebook sites to be extremely fruitful.

Tutoring can be on a 1:1 or 1:2 basis or in a small group. Group lessons are obviously cheaper. A friend of mine’s daughter opted for this approach to learn the content for a psychology GCSE and found it to be an excellent approach.

Example Experts in our Homeschool

We use 1:1 and 1:2 tutoring for both acting and Spanish.

Acting

On the acting front, Rosie has LAMDA lessons online (see this post) as well as skills training with an acting coach. Both are excellent. Both work in an online format.

For example, her acting coach works with Rosie on scripts she’s preparing for self-tape auditions. As it’s on screen acting, the online format is perfect. Together they talk through the script, discuss how to bring the characters to life and practise the scenes, over and over, often with her coach demonstrating where needed.

The skills and experience her coach, a trained and successful actress (and thus expert in her field), brings are invaluable. Every nuance, movement, feeling, word or look is carefully considered and rehearsed. I had no idea just how much work can go into a short scene with barely any lines. And I certainly couldn’t hope to teach Rosie what she’s soaked up from her wonderful coach.

Spanish

When they were little, Rosie asked to learn Spanish. Since then, the children and I have been learning together using a variety of tools. In this way, we built a solid grounding in the language. But as our aim is to be able to converse comfortably in the language, we really needed to practise listening and speaking to native speakers.

So, last August we started with a tutor, originally from Spain, now living in the UK. She was recommended by a fellow home educator. Each of us has our own 1:1 lesson per week and the kids also have a longer 1:2 session together.

We were blessed to find an exceptional teacher for a reasonable rate. I can’t recommend her highly enough (Iciar of How to Unlock Spanish). All our Spanish has improved leaps and bounds. Having visited Costa Rica recently, we were surprised by how easy we found it to speak, read and understand the Spanish language. This is most definitely thanks to Iciar’s fantastic teaching. For me, there is no better way to learn than spending time chatting to a native speaker in their language. Especially when that person then clearly explains all the underlying grammar to you!

Iciar goes above and beyond, setting and marking all our homework (which has saved me so much time), preparing them for (GCSE) exams and following their interests. I mentioned to her once that Harry had been learning about Franco and the Spanish Civil War. For Harry’s next lesson, I found that she’d prepared a whole lesson on the topic, and they were talking away in Spanish about what life was like under Franco!

For me, this is a perfect example of the huge benefits to be gained from using experts in your homeschool.

Meeting Iciar in person when she invited us over for a delicious Spanish high tea!

Face to Face Tutors

When it comes to learning more practically based skills, face to face tuition is much more efficient. Again, this can be 1:1 or in a group setting. Some of these can be a little more expensive, others free/a minimal payment thanks to the multitude of generous volunteers prepared to give their time to help train youngsters.

Example Experts in our Homeschool

Given my complete lack of musical competence, I’ve outsourced this part of our homeschool from the beginning, with 1:1 lessons in piano, later singing and now guitar for Harry. Luckily, James can support them from home with their musical endeavours, and again we’ve been blessed with excellent teachers all round.

The only other area we use face to face 1:1 lessons is with Harry’s cricket coaching. Since this is Harry’s number one passion, I’m prepared to pay a bit more for what is an extremely high quality of coaching. He’s lucky enough to be trained by James Tredwell, an ex-England bowler and exceptional coach. Not only is he helping Harry to fine tune his bowling skills, but he’s also training him for the long term in aspects such as tactics and game management.

Now they’re older, they both take part in many afterschool groups/classes in their areas of interest. For Rosie, this means theatre-based acting groups and for Harry, a multitude of sports clubs, including tennis, golf, hockey and obviously a lot of cricket! Many of these are run by volunteers with expertise in their fields of interest, to whom I am very grateful for all of their time and energy.

On stage for her youth group performance of a play they wrote called Parasomnia

You Tube/Videos

You Tube has been a bit of a God send to the home educator. Want to learn more about a topic or how to do practically anything you could think of, and someone will have made an instructional video about it! Someone with a deep understanding of the subject and a desire to share that knowledge.

Learning to sift through the vast amounts of data to find the specific instruction you require is another skill in itself. One that’s similar to sorting through a plethora of documents to find the piece of information you need – a skill required in many lines of work.  

Example Experts in our Homeschool

In our homeschool, we’ve mostly used the expertise contained within the You Tube world for watching historical documentaries and science experiments. Oh and random things, like how to speak with a German accent (for a self-tape) or bowling tips!

Although I love science, doing experiments with Harry, particularly if there’s some element of danger, is hugely stress inducing. He has a high propensity for injuring himself… Although we try and do as many as possible, I’m very appreciative of the ability to find clear instructional videos for those experiments which require use of either unaffordable equipment or explosive chemicals!

The other area we use experts in instructional videos is maths. We’ve used the Math U See programme to teach the children maths since they were little. Rosie has only moved on from it now to learn the specific aspects of the UK maths GCSE not covered in the US Math U See curriculum.

As part of this curriculum, for each topic, they watch a very clear initial lesson given by the lovely Stephen! Both children love Stephen; I’ve found that he’s demystified aspects of maths I failed to grasp in my own education; and James rates his lessons very highly. This programme has given the kids an excellent grounding in this subject and I’m grateful for Stephen’s expertise!

Tours/Workshops

We are huge huge fans of the educational tour or hands-on workshop! Being out there, in the real world, learning directly from experts keen to share their passion with others. Can there be a better way to learn?

Although we’ve done lots of these on our travels, there are a whole range of options close to home too. You can easily organise them yourselves, but for cheaper alternatives, check out the many organised group educational tours arranged on the home education Facebook groups. Or coordinate your own group visit!

Example Experts in our Homeschool

Here are some examples (although there are many more):

  • A guided climb of a volcano, lava field and boiling lake with a volcanologist (he answered Harry’s continual stream of questions the whole walk – heaven for this introvert!)
  • Fossil hunting tour in the Isle of Wight!
  • Film making workshop at Harry Potter world
  • Tour of the Melbourne Cricket Ground
  • Falconry day in Devon
  • Exploration of a glow worm cave
  • Guided tour of a submarine and WWII boat in Sydney
  • Bumblebee identification workshop and bee walks
  • Tour of the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace
  • Local foraging day
  • Tour of a former gold mine
  • Expeditions on a glacier, in a lava tunnel and on the hunt for the Northern Lights
  • Animal safaris in Africa
  • Batik art session in Bali
  • Bat walks, butterfly catching, large mammal transects, birdwatching and grasses identification with a variety of experts at the rewilded Knepp Estate, West Sussex
  • Guided rainforest walks
  • Animal encounters at zoos
  • Fruit farm guided tour  
  • An anthropologist led tour of a local Bajau village – the ‘sea nomads’ of Indonesia
  • Snorkelling tours
  • Knife making workshops
  • Tour of an animal sanctuary
  • WWII, Victorian, Viking, Tudor, Ancient Greek, Roman and Stone Age living history days at Kent Life Museum
  • Canoe expedition through the mangroves of Costa Rica
  • City tours
  • Albatross encounter
  • Tour of Hobbiton, the set for the Hobbit films
  • Maori village experience evening
  • Brass bowl making session
  • Chocolate tour
  • Bird mist netting workshop

Yep, learning definitely doesn’t just happen at a desk in when you’re homeschooling!

Benefits of Using Experts in Your Homeschool

As you can see, we are huge advocates of using experts to enhance the children’s learning in our homeschool. There are many advantages of doing so, including:

  • The indepth knowledge and skill the experts bring to the table
  • A passion for the subject that is infectious!
  • As the expert is so comfortable with the topic/skill, it frees their minds to focus on the individual; spot where they’re going wrong; and instinctively know what they could do to improve
  • An ability to bring the topic to life for the children through their own personal stories
  • Opportunities to develop strong, positive relationships with a variety of adults
  • Exam tricks and tips (a skill in its own right) if required
  • A chance for you to learn too!
  • Role models for lifelong learning
  • An occasion to demonstrate techniques or secrets that have worked for them (which you can’t learn out of a book)
Up the volcano with our volcanologist expert!

To Conclude:

So, returning then to the original question I was asked, “How do you have time to learn all the different subjects/all the things your children need to know so that you can teach them?”

My answer is: You absolutely don’t need to, thanks to the many experts in this world who provide a rich learning environment for your homeschoolers.

And the fact that children are actually pretty good at driving their own learning (but that’s one for a whole different post!).

And what about you? How do you use experts in your homeschool?

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