Words by: Chelsea Silva
Between my life as a homeschool student and a homeschool parent (albeit a brand new one,) I started a career as a public school elementary teacher. As a new teacher, I tended to focus on the information my students could repeat back: math facts, spelling lists, sight words, and the like. But when the school switched to a Singapore-style math curriculum, I finally learned to go a little deeper and to do that I only had to add one question to my lesson plans: “How do you know?”.
During a kindergarten math lesson, I might draw three circles and two squares on the board and ask how many shapes there are in all. Someone answers “Five!” right away, which is great! They can add! Then I ask, “How do you know there are five shapes?” and what follows is a conversation that includes problem-solving and thinking skills. Every day, at least one little learner would say, “I know it in my brain,” which is both adorable and unhelpful, so I ask again. Then I get more interesting answers: “I remember 3+2=5,” or, “I know 3+3=6, so I take one away, and that’s 5.” Now I see what they understand and how they think, what needs to be retaught and what is mastered. In the meantime, my kindergarteners have learned from each other different ways to solve the same problem and are aware of their own thought processes. In the immortal words of Michael Scott, “It’s a win-win-win.”
Now that I stay home with my kids and my oldest is finally starting preschool, and I get to adapt my teaching skills to a new setting. I still love asking, “How do you know?” Some of my favorite conversations with my four-year old have started there. I love seeing how her amazing mind works, which is something I might not get to see if I didn’t ask her. As a homeschool family, we have incredible “teacher/student” ratios and can take the time to have conversations about what and how she’s learning. So far, I’ve learned she has a solid grasp of letter sounds, but not sight words; she can manipulate small numbers in her head and enjoys it; and while she is good at using contextual clues, she is also a little too quick to either guess or just make up what she doesn’t know.
As she gets older, I’ll keep asking how she knows what she knows, and I hope that someday she turns that question around on me and every other authority figure and information source she encounters. As homeschoolers, we get to make education a way of life free from a traditional school calendar. Because I want my children to be lifelong learners, I need to equip them with facts and information and excellent critical thinking skills. My hope is that by asking now, “How do you know?” I can be a better teacher, and my kids will be better thinkers.
Chelsea Silva is an uber-nerd and mom of two crazy little girls. As a former homeschooled kid who couldn’t get enough of school, she left university with grand visions of teaching middle school but ended up having a great time in elementary school. She stays home and teaches her little ones as they figure out what homeschooling looks like for her family. Her number one goal as a homeschool parent is to raise critical thinkers who never stop learning.