A common refrain on the homeschooling message boards I frequent is when a parent, usually a mother, comes asking about which math program she should switch her child to because the child just isn’t getting it. It needs to be “self teaching” as the mother “never understood math either.”

What to do?

The best thing to do would be to avoid this situation in the first place. A parent intent on homeschooling, who knows she has trouble with math, would do well to take an active role in teaching her young child from the start. At the same time, it is important to learn as much about math education as possible. Liping Ma’s Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics and Parker and Baldridge’s Elementary Mathematics for Teachers are two excellent resources to start with.

Relearning elementary math this way, with an eye toward the conceptual big picture, will enable a homeschooling parent with weak math skills to approach algebra with confidence, but it will take a lot of preparation. A few years before the child will be ready for algebra, a parent in this situation should find an excellent algebra book and work through all of the problems. For those short on time, the ALEKS Algebra I course will jumpstart a better understanding of algebra, but no matter what, it is important that the homeschooling parent be able to do all of the problems her child will encounter in his math textbook. This might mean doing all of the child’s homework problems the weekend before they are assigned.

Most importantly, algebra and beyond is not the time to check out of the process. It is critical that math not be farmed out to a computer program or a series of DVD lectures. If this type of program is chosen, the homeschooling parent should stay involved, watching the videos and doing many, if not all, of the problems alongside the child. This way, the homeschooling parent remains able to help the child when he gets stuck.

But the one who really benefits from all of this work on the part of the homeschooling parent is the *second* child to progress through the homeschool. Ask me how I know!

Assuming responsibility for homeschooling a child is a big deal. If the goal is academic excellence, it is imperative that the homeschooling parent be willing to put in the work necessary to develop, in Liping Ma’s words, a “profound understanding” of the material she is teaching. If she is unable or unwilling to do that, she needs to be willing to farm that aspect of her child’s education out to a real person, be it a tutor or a classroom teacher. Our homeschooled children deserve nothing less.