One role a homeschooling parent often inadvertently takes on is that of “administrator of curriculum,” providing worksheets, assignments, projects, and writing tasks for his children much like a doctor prescribes a regime of medicine and exercise for his patients. This is most likely to happen in larger families with children of widely varying ages or with newer homeschooling families who feel a compelling need to “cover all the bases.” While this is to some degree inevitable, it is also good for us to consider ways to avoid this trap, which so easily leads to burnout and frustration. Therefore, this month let us contemplate a contrasting idea: Study something yourself.

In the book A Thomas Jefferson Education, Oliver DeMille lists as one of the Seven Keys of Great Teaching, “You, Not Them.” At first, this seems counterintuitive. Isn’t homeschooling about giving your children a good education? Wouldn’t stealing time to focus on yourself cause you to lose valuable time with your children

However, as a wise man once said, “Teaching is the overflow from the soul of the teacher to the soul of the student.” Now that’s a frightening thought, as it has several challenging implications. Initially, we are forced to think about what it really suggests—that education is the filling of a soul. This begs several questions: Does a soul need to be filled? What should it be filled with? How can we effect this “overflowing” from our soul? What do we do if we don’t feel filled ourselves? So let us consider three reasons why we, as home educating parents, should consistently and aggressively study something ourselves, for the preceding questions may be answered in the process.

One reason (and for some the most important) is this: It gives us empathy for our children. It’s so easy for us to forget what it is like to be a beginner—to not know something. Often we lose patience with children who just don’t “get it” or who seem to require more repetition than time allows and workbooks provide. By studying something completely new as a SOTA (Student Over the Traditional Age), we will realize how difficult it can be to master content that might seem simple or easy to others. With struggle we will gain empathy, with empathy we grow in understanding, with understanding we become better teachers.

Another significant reason to energetically pursue learning something new is that we will have another thing to pass on to our students. For those of you with young children, this is especially applicable, since you’ll have time to get a good head start and really know something quite well before you begin to teach it. Study Greek or calculus now, and you’ll be able to teach it to your children it later. For those of us with older students, this can still be done, though it’s harder to stay ahead of the students since most of them can learn faster and more efficiently than we can! But either way, knowing something is prerequisite to teaching it, and planning ahead by studying now what you’ll want to teach later makes a lot of sense.

The third and possibly best reason for aggressively studying something for your own benefit is that it will allow you to illustrate for your children, in the best possible way, the value of study. When your children see you using your precious free time to pore over a history book, work some trigonometry problems, or conjugate some French verbs, for no other reason than to learn it yourself (instead of browsing Facebook posts or watching YouTube videos), you will be teaching them two vital lessons in a direct but nonverbal way: the value of learning and how to use time well. Another of DeMille’s Seven Keys is “Inspire, Not Require,” which is undoubtedly one of the hardest to practice, but certainly one of the most powerful. If your ultimate goal is to nurture independent, self-directed scholars, then you must create a home environment where scholarly pursuits are honored.