How to Teach What You Don't Know

How to Teach What You Don’t Know

It’s finally happened. Your baby has moved past ABC and 123 and on to Trigonometry and Ancient history. This is such a proud moment for us as homeschool parents. We bask in the moment and congratulate ourselves on raising a miniature Albert Einstein or Marie Curie.

That’s when it hits you. I’d like to say it comes upon you gently but for me, it went something like this…

Me (to myself): Oh look, my baby is going to study Biology. He’s so smart.
My tiny Einstein: Mom, what is this word?
Me: Mit… Mito… Mitochondria
My little conduit for anxiety and stress: Mom, what’s a mitochondrion?
Me: …
Me: …

How are you supposed to teach what you don’t know?

At some point in your homeschool journey, your child will need to learn a subject that is beyond you. It could be algebra. It could be engineering. It could be sewing. However, unless you happen to have a Ph.D. in everything, I can guarantee your child’s curiosity will outpace your knowledge base.

But never fear, there is an answer. It is possible to teach what you don’t know.

There are several methods that you can choose.


This one is my favorite. By “Learn” I don’t mean I don’t mean learn and then teach your child (although you can certainly do this). What I am referring to here is the idea of learning WITH your child. Learning with your child has several wonderful advantages.
• It fosters the idea of learning as a lifestyle. I cannot stress this enough. Learning should be something that you ARE not something that you do. Being a student should be a state of being, not a stage of life. The best way to convey this message to our children is to show them that as parents, we ourselves are continuing to learn. We are continuing to seek out new knowledge and growth. Which brings me to the second advantage…
• Learning WITH your child takes the topic from instruction to exploration. Together, you are exploring new ideas and concepts or facts and experiences. All of the sudden you are not just studying algebra, you are algebraically bonding. (Yes, I said Algebraically bonding. It’s a thing – Go with it.)
• You are modeling how to learn. By learning WITH your child, you are showing them not just what the information is, but also how to discover things outside your realm of understanding. You are teaching your child how to be his own seeker of knowledge.
• It cuts down on the pre-work. Let’s face it. I’m busy. You’re busy. We are all busy. Learning WITH your child will cut your preparation time way down. You don’t have to pre-learn the topic. While you may have to decide how best you and your child will learn it, most of the legwork can be done with your child, not for him.

However, there are times when learning with your child is just not a feasible approach. I am a single mom with a full-time job. I don’t have time to sit next to my middle schooler and experience every subject with him. This is where the next item on this list comes into play.

Books are my happy place

If you walked into my home at any given moment, you might think you had stumbled into a library. You may also think you were in a very quaint used bookstore. I’m not ashamed to admit it – books are everywhere in my home.

Whatever my child wants to learn about, it’s a safe bet I have a book about it somewhere. If I don’t, I will soon. When I first started homeschooling preschool I mentioned in a video that I thought that preschool had two main goals. Teach your child to love learning and teach them to read.

I read to my children. I read with my children. My children read to me. My children read to themselves. We listen to others read books on tape.

In the world of just now information, there is something to be said about the act of reading and experiencing and exploring the world through the written word.

YouTube/Google It

I’m not going to lie – while books are my happy place, Google and YouTube are my new best friends. I often pair a book with a video and a Google research scavenger hunt as an impromptu study of topics that I’m not familiar with. This method also approaches learning as a lifestyle of exploration. It emphasizes the idea that if something interest you, go find out more.

The Internet is a powerful tool that allows your child to reach experts and information in real time. They can see how things are made and discovered and search out hidden gems of their favorite topics. However, I must point out that the Internet is a double-edged sword. It requires more supervision than may at first appear. We must always be on guard against our children encountering (a) false information, (b) inappropriate information and (c) predators.

Hire a tutor

Tutors can often step in when your child needs that one on one interaction to grasp a concept and it is a fair distance outside your wheelhouse. Two examples that come to mind are music lessons and foreign language. Sure, you can learn piano from a book or a video, but it’s really not the same. However, modern technology is making it easier than ever to access the services of great tutors. My younger son has a Spanish tutor from Venezuela that teaches him over Skype. He gets that intense language immersion and I don’t have to attempt to butcher a foreign language in the process (although I am learning Spanish by default with him).

Send them to a class

Let me start by saying that having your child take a class with other children does not make them less homeschooled. Some subjects are easier to learn in class settings. This could be something like chemistry where having a larger group allows you to access tools that may be otherwise unavailable or something like Dance where a larger group allows for larger choreographed numbers. Older children often benefit from taking a class at the community college. This allows them to both learn a subject that you may not feel qualified to teach and experience a taste of what their future college plans may look like.

So, how do you teach what you don’t know?

The answer is simple. Focus less on teaching and more on learning. Instead of looking for ways to teach, look for opportunities for your child to learn. There are so many opportunities for learning out there. There are so many books to read and so many videos to watch. There are so many people that know things that are interesting and useful and worth discovering. Everything that your child could ever want to know is out there waiting to be uncovered and experienced. The resources are there. All you have to do is look.


Check out Brandy’s books, Tip and Ben Find a Friend & the accompanying activity book at SEA Books & More.