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How to Teach What You Don’t Know


You do not have to be an expert in reading, writing, arithmetic, history, literature, science, or art in order to teach your children in grades one through seven. You simply have to be willing to learn. Learning before you teach – even the night before you teach – is not as difficult or as disorganized as it might sound. But there’s another mode of learning that pays double dividends: learning as you teach. I don’t recommend it for all subjects, or for all topics in any given subject, but it does work and even provides some distinct advantages.

The Truth of the Matter

First, let me give you two reassuring truths. One: God will equip you to do what he calls you to do. And Two: You, the parents, are the world’s leading experts on your children.

No one knows your children as well as you do. No one loves your children more than you do. This gives you unique advantages over all other potential teachers in regard to teaching your children. Other teachers may have more subject matter knowledge than you do, but you will have a much better sense than anyone else about what topics will delight your child and how best to present new information to your child.

The Advantages

There are many advantages, as well, to a family setting versus an institutional setting for instruction. Families have more flexibility than institutions. Families are more comfortable and relaxed. Families can adapt and adjust much more easily.

The family is God’s natural schoolroom and means for education. From the command in Deuteronomy to fathers, instructing them to teach their children, to the imagery in Proverbs of a mother’s (and father’s) wisdom being imparted to a child, it is clear that God’s design for the family and calling to parents is to instruct children.
Above all, families are the natural setting in which God intends for children to learn wisdom and faith. Sunday school, private school, and public school are all inferior substitutes for parents as a source of instruction in wisdom and faith.

Wisdom comes from the Lord as we study the Scriptures, pray and listen to God, and reflect upon the experiences of our own lives. Blessed is the husband who has a wise wife. And blessed is the wife who has a wise husband. And doubly blessed are the children who have wise parents.

For knowledge, no less than for wisdom, the family is the natural structure for teaching and learning – and offers many advantages over any of the alternatives.

Knowledge comes by experience, practice, instruction, and study.

But, the objection is often raised: “You cannot teach what you don’t know.” This is true, but there is a companion truth which is equally important: “You CAN teach anything that you are willing to learn along with your child.”
You will never know the subjects that you are unwilling to invest the time and discipline to study. This is as true for us as it is for our children.

Don’t remember the outline of events or key figures from American history? You can still teach your child that subject, IF you are willing to learn along with them. Don’t remember how to find common denominators and add fractions? You can still teach that skill to your children, IF you are willing to learn it with them.

In fact, there is a triple extra blessing for those who are willing to learn a subject with their children.

  1. It communicates that learning is important, important enough that mom or dad is willing to work and study to learn something for themselves. Learning with and in front of your children demonstrates to them the great value of learning.
  2. It models the learning process for children, helping children understand that their parents were not born with brains stuffed full of facts. What we know had to be studied and worked for.
  3. It teaches children the skill of finding answers to their own questions. Some of the best learning moments occur when a child asks a question that you don’t know the answer to. This is the “teachable moment” in which you can say to your child, “I don’t know the answer to that. What do you think we could do to find the answer? What book might have the answer? Who could we call (or go visit)? What website might have the answer? And how will we decide if that website is trustworthy?” These are tremendously important questions. And they arise naturally when a child asks a question that parents don’t know the answer to.

Never be afraid to honestly answer a question with, “I don’t know.” And always be prepared to spend some time with your children in those moments on the adventure of learning together.

Robert G. Shearer is the husband of Cyndy Shearer, the proud father of 11 children, an Elder at Abundant Life Church, Director of the Francis Schaeffer Study Center, Publisher of Greenleaf Press, and vice president of the Tennessee Association of Church-Related Schools. He has been a college professor, a marketing VP, a demographer, a healthcare planner, a publisher, an author, and a small business owner. He has been reading, writing about, pondering, musing, and reflecting on the lessons of history (Ancient, Medieval, & Modern) for over thirty years. You can find Rob on the internet at and

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