So, I'm working with my kids and it turns out I need to teach them about the French Revolution. Wait a minute, the French had a revolution? Really? How in the world can I teach them about this, when I know nothing about this?
I've been stuck in this situation many times. My daughter was obsessed with dolphins as a toddler and preschooler. I knew nothing of dolphins back then. She's obsessed with dinosaurs now. While I can tell the difference between a toy stegosaurus and a toy T. Rex., my dino knowledge is most limited. (I have a much easier time teaching my son, whose "thing" is math. I'm good there until he gets to second semester Calculus, at which point I'll need to pull out my old text books and do some heavy duty reviewing.)
Should I inform the child of my ignorance?
The first thing I do when I don't know a topic is to tell the kids I don't know that material. What? Mommy doesn't know everything?
Yes, my children are fully aware that mommy doesn't know everything. They figured it out around the age of three. We were in the car and Anna asked me, "how long do ladybugs live?" I explained to her that I didn't know and she told me that I should Google it.
Why tell the kids you don't know? Firstly, it buys you some time. Secondly, and more importantly, this gives the kids the opportunity to see you learn something new. Show your kids that you love learning. Attack the new topic with alacrity. If you're a little timid on the subject, that's okay too. Show your kids how you can overcome your internal reluctance and learn.
Use your lack of knowledge as a way to foster the love of learning in your kids, and in yourself.
If, however, you don't know the topic and have no intention of learning the topic, you might not want to dwell on your lack of experience with the topic.
Then what? How do I teach them the topic?
The way I see it, when you're teaching your kids and you need to cover a topic you're clueless about, you have three choices.
Learn the topic.
Unless I hate the topic, I usually opt to learn it. I love learning new topics and I think it's good for the kids to watch me learn something new. They follow me to the library. They watch me skim through stacks of books. They see me leave with a bunch of books. They see me create graphic organizers. They see index cards. What's more, they talk to me while I do these things and ask questions. So, besides the kids and I learning the topic, the kids learn how to learn.
Pawn the job off on someone else.
Sometimes, it's best to pawn the job off on someone else. Say you have always hated math your kid is studying multiplication and division of fractions. If just thinking about it makes you sick, pawn the job off on someone else. I know plenty of homeschooling parents that freak out at the thought of teaching science and math. Some of them pass the job off to the other parent. Some of them pass the job off to me. I love my homeschooling co-op. My kids aren't going to learn art from me, but they do learn about art in co-op.
If the child is old enough, put the burden on them.
This is also a fun method for dealing with lack of knowledge on a topic, as long as the child is mature enough to handle it. "Kid, you need to learn about aardvarks. I don't know anything about aardvarks. Go learn about aardvarks and prepare a report for me. It can be an oral presentation or you can write a report, or both. Hop to it."
Good luck, and remember that ignorance is an opportunity.