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The #1 Qualification for Homeschooling Your Children: An Interview with Tanya Smith-Johnson

May 22–26, 2017   |   Vol. 130, Week 13
Previously aired:   April 25–29, 2016   |   Vol. 126, Week 13

Do you want to homeschool your kids, but aren’t sure if you’re equipped to teach them yourself? This week on Homeschool Heartbeat, hear our guest Tanya Smith-Johnson reveal the #1 qualification for teaching your children.

(Hint: It has nothing to do with how much you know.)

In this podcast, you’ll learn:

  • Why you can homeschool
  • How to homeschool when you feel inadequate
  • Two ways to set specific, achievable goals for your children
  • A fresh approach to teaching children at different grade levels
  • How to avoid burning out

“You don’t have to have a PhD to really be invested in your children’s education.” — Tanya Smith-Johnson

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Do you want to homeschool your kids, but aren’t sure if you’re equipped to teach them yourself? On today’s Homeschool Heartbeat, hear our guest Tanya Smith-Johnson explain the number 1 qualification for teaching your children.

Mike Smith: Today’s guest is Tanya Smith-Johnson. She’s a homeschooling mom who shares her ideas and experiences on YouTube—and her video series on how to homeschool has over 30,000 views. Tanya, welcome to the program today!

Tanya Smith-Johnson: Thank you for having me.

“Let’s try homeschooling!” [0:31]

Mike: Tanya, why did you and your husband decide to homeschool your kids?

Tanya: We’re a military family, so we move a lot—we move every 2 to 3 years. And at the time—this was about 10 years ago; it was in medical school. And we were actually stationed in Virginia at the time, and moved to Philadelphia. My daughter was 4 at the time, and we were starting to consider school. I didn’t think anything of just putting her in public school, like I went to.

But once she was there, I started to notice some things. She would dread going to school in the mornings. I had a newborn at the time, too, and she would just ask to stay home with me and the baby. And so I had to do a little investigating to see what was going on. And what it looked like was: she was a kindergartner who really was like a 3rd grader. She would come home with a backpack full of books, lots of homework—and this was kindergarten. So I went to her classroom. There were no learning centers; it was desks in rows. They had 10-minute recesses, no art, no enrichment, because the whole focus was on No Child Left Behind and really gearing them for test-taking. And it troubled me. 

So one day at home turned into two days, then three days. And I thought about; I was like, “Hey, let’s try homeschooling and see what that looks like.” And we haven’t looked back since. She’s 14 now, and we have four more children, and it’s been a beautiful journey.

Mike: Tanya, if there’s one thing that you wish you had known before you started homeschooling, what would it be?

Tanya: I would say that there’s no right way to do it, that there are many ways to homeschool well. And that looks different for every family. When I came into homeschooling, I was overwhelmed from all the information, all the things I thought I needed to know in order to homeschool. And it threw me for a loop.

I had to sit down and really think about what was important to our family, [and] what I wanted my kids to know and learn by the time they left our house. So I realized that I didn’t have to recreate traditional school in my home as I knew it. It could be whatever I envisioned it to be, and whatever worked best for our family.

So I would tell people that it’s going to look different from family to family. You just need to figure out what it looks like for you.

You don’t need a PhD [2:55]

Mike: Tanya, what would you say to parents who are considering homeschooling but don’t feel qualified to teach their children at home?

Tanya: I would say first and foremost that you don’t have to have any specialized training to homeschool. Lots of people go into homeschooling thinking that they either have to be a teacher, or they need teacher credentials. And to be honest, you don’t. You just need to have a desire and passion to explore and learn right along with your children—to want the best for them. And with that comes your ability to want to find the resources you need to teach them, to go out and even research and spend your nights learning on the internet whatever it is you want to teach to.

So you can do it! You don’t have to have a PhD or degree to really be invested in your children’s education.

Mike: Well Tanya, what are some of the benefits your children actually got in homeschooling that they wouldn’t have gotten any other place?

Tanya: First and foremost, I would say family closeness. Today, families are so packed with all the things they have to do, all the things that take them outside of their home, that keep them from really being together and learning and knowing each other.

With my kids being home, they are around each other 24/7—so they have to learn how to get along. They are with multiple ages. I take them out into the world. And it changes who they are as people, as opposed to being in a classroom for eight hours a day with other kids their age and really not being able to be in an environment that’s just like the world that they’re going to enter when they’re adults.

The beauty of homeschooling [4:30]

Mike: Tanya, let’s say a parent has made the decision to homeschool and fill out all the paperwork; what do they do next?

Tanya: I would say first, take some time to figure out what your homeschool philosophy is. And that’s different from person to person. Many people have different reasons for why they’re homeschooling and what they want out of it. So I’d say stick with that and figure out what it is that you want to do. There are classical educators, there are Waldorf educators; there’s lots of different philosophies out there. So figure out what that is for you, and then go from there and find the resources that you need.

And you don’t have to buy curriculum to do that. You really can just sit [and] figure out where you want your kids to have learned when they’re 18, 19, and they are out in the world. Who do you want them to be? And then from there, work backwards all the way to the age that they are now, and fill in the blanks of what that is that you need to do to get them there. And that’s how I approach it.

Mike: Tanya, did you find that your kids all learn differently?

Tanya: Absolutely, absolutely.

Mike: How did that impact your homeschooling?

Tanya: Well, it caused me to realize that my kids aren’t me. Lots of times parents approach homeschooling from what they know from their education and their time in school, and they try to teach like that. But you have to realize there are multiple intelligences, there are multiple temperaments and personalities, and you have to figure out what that is for yourself as well as your children. 

Once you figure that out, then you know how to tailor the way you teach them and reach them in different ways. I have a visual learner, I have a logical learner, I have one that is very kinesthetic, who needs to learn by touching things.

And traditional school doesn’t tailor to that, and they don’t encourage it necessarily. They have 30-plus students in the class, and they have to teach one way. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can tailor your education and the way you teach to your children. 

The juggling act [6:24]

Mike: Tanya, it can be hard to juggle teaching children at different grade levels. How can parents keep all of their children engaged and involved in the learning process all at the same time?

Tanya: I have five children, so I juggle this issue every day. And what I do is, I have a morning session with all of them, where we open up our day and get ready for a day of learning. And then I have breakout sessions with each one. So while my older kids who are 14 and 11 are working pretty independently on things where they don’t need me as much, I’ll work with my 6-year-old where she can have some one-on-one time with me. And then maybe one of the older kids is working with the baby.

So I pick a subject, whatever that subject is, and I tailor it to their learning and their grade level, so to speak. Say we’re learning a history lesson, say we’re learning about medieval times or something like that; I will tailor it to the 6-year-old as well as the older kids who are all learning the same thing, so I’m not doing multiple subjects and lessons. We’re doing the same lesson, but just at their age levels. And then each one takes time with the baby so I have time with the older kids, time with my middle-age kids.

So it works. It’s just a combination of group learning as well as individual learning where they each get time with me so I can focus on where they need more work on their weaknesses as well as their strengths.

Mike: Well that’s fantastic! Now Tanya, let’s turn to curriculum. You know that’s a big issue with homeschoolers. What are some of the tips that you would give homeschoolers in choosing a curriculum for their children?

Tanya: I’d say: before you even think about purchasing a curriculum, do some research. Play around with it; feel it out, to see if it’s something that you really like. Lots of times people buy a curriculum and then they realize that it doesn’t work for their kids, or they just might not like it. So what I like to do is do a little research and I look things up. And then I might go to the bookstore and peruse it for a bit; I’ll go to a Barnes & Noble and look at things, to see if I really like it. And then I’ll see if I can find that same resource at the library for free. So there’s lots of ways that you can pick and choose curriculum without having to be committed to just one text.

I like to consider myself an eclectic homeschooler. I’ll pull from various different resources and philosophies—whatever works for my kids, that’s what I’m pulling in to the way we learn and our curricula.

Avoiding burnout [8:48]

Mike: Tanya, homeschooling is a wonderful gift, but it can also be challenging. For you, what is the hardest part about homeschooling?

Tanya: To be honest, the hardest part is preventing burnout. And I know it’s something that lots of parents experience. We think that we have to be all things all the time, to not only our families and our kids but the other people that we nurture and take care of. So it’s very easy to get to a place where you’re just completely overwhelmed or burnt out.

I have to be very cognizant of self-care—making sure that my kids and I know that it’s okay to take a break when we need a break. It’s okay to slow things down if need be. And that’s what we do. We go with the rhythm of our day, as well as the rhythm of the year. Any time there’s a time where I’m feeling a bit—or we just need a break, that’s when we take our break. And that’s the beauty of homeschooling, unlike traditional school, where you have built-in blocks where you take a break. We take breaks where we need them, and it works out for us, where we continue to do what we love, and still learn at home.

Mike: Tanya, this may be the easiest question I’m going to ask you: What do you like best about homeschooling?

Tanya: I love learning with my kids. I love learning with them and them being able to really get to know each other and to really enjoy the beauty of family. When we go out into the world, people come up to us all the time and they say, “There’s something about your kids. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s something about them.” And I have to tell them, that something is [that] they’re homeschoolers. And then they say, “Aha! That’s what that is.” And it’s because they are very dutiful, they get along well, they’re very social—which is one of the things that people think homeschoolers are not, but they are, because they are immersed in the world in a way that traditional schooling doesn’t allow them to be.

Mike: Tanya, we’ve really enjoyed you being with us this week, especially all those great tips you’ve given about homeschooling. And I know our listeners will appreciate those fantastic insights as well. So until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Tanya Smith-JohnsonPhoto of Tanya

Tanya Smith-Johnson is a Navy veteran, wife of 16 years, and mother of 5. She has been on the homeschooling journey for 10 years, through several military moves and in various states. Tanya has a BS in Biology and Masters of Science in Medical Science. She plans to continue homeschooling as she finishes her final year of midwifery school. Tanya resides in California.

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