Lessons Learned from Homeschooling

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“Grampa? Whatcha doing?”

It was my granddaughter, Randi, standing behind me as I read the latest instalment of Frazz on the GoComics website.

“Um, I was just working,” I replied.

“Doesn’t look like work,” she said with a look that mimicked the look my daughter gives me when I say something stupid.

“Can we do some of that math that we did when you were teaching me? I really liked those questions, and we never get to do them at school. Math is sort of boring there right now.”

The math that she was talking about had been a point of contention during the period that I was teaching Randi. For six months after the schools closed because of the pandemic, I was conscripted as a replacement Grade Five teacher and, surprisingly, while it was a role that I first dreaded, I came to love it.

A little context, though.

When I started my teaching duties, I did all the research to find out what Randi was supposed to be learning at her grade level find out how she was doing. To my dismay, I found that my granddaughter—who I had always considered reasonably bright—was hopelessly behind in maths, testing at about a Grade 3 level.

It only made me feel a little better when I spoke to the parents of some of her classmates and discovered that Randi wasn’t alone in being behind.

So that was our starting point and for the next six months we worked on a full range of subjects for about three hours a day. Some days, Randi wanted to go longer.

After a month, Randi had caught up to expectations in math. She’d come to realize that there is a certain poetry to mathematics and that most of our day-to-day challenges can be expressed and solved using numbers.

Sensing her enthusiasm, I moved beyond the Grade 5 curriculum and started teaching her simple algebra and geometry. By the end of the third month, she was expressing word problems as algebraic equations and asking for speed tests so she could show off to her mom.

“She doesn’t have to know that stuff yet,” my daughter growled. “You’re showing her math that she won’t be doing until Grade 8 or 9.”

My response was to cite George W. Bush—something that, I assure you, I rarely do—when he railed against the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

The point is that Randi could understand so much more.

And it wasn’t only math.

We explored history, discussing topics that ranged from early humans and how Darwinian evolution explained the world. We talked about politics, past wars, science, history, and even modern political events.

“Why do people have different skin colours, anyway?”

“Has there always been racism?”

“What was the Roman Empire and why does anyone still care about it?”

She was full of questions and, together, we embarked on a sprawling journey of discovery.

It was fun and it was a rare day that she didn’t bounce into my office, anxious to pick up from where we’d left off the day before.

But then the schools opened, and Randi was equally excited to go off to Grade 6, a new school and a bevy of friends that call themselves “the squad.”

Those were experiences I couldn’t duplicate.

I learned a lot from the half year of playing teacher.

I learned that one can’t assume that your child is learning as they should. I learned that we don’t give our children enough credit. They need to be challenged.

As for Randi and me, we still have our talks about what’s going on in the world and, sometimes, we still play with math.

I’m working on getting her to read “Frazz” as well. You can learn a lot from the comics.

Tim Collins
Tim Collins
Tim Collins is a writer and freelance journalist living and working in Victoria.

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