“What are you going to do when they get to high school?”
This seemingly innocent question was the source of anxiety for many a homeschool family in the early days. Back when our family began in the eighties, homeschooling was still very much a pioneer movement—young and full of energy, but not yet sure what the later years would look like.
But more than twenty years down the road, homeschooling your highschooler is no longer uncharted territory. It has been done and is being done with ease and success, and needn't be the overwhelming proposition it initially appears to be. Curriculum and support abound, and if you know where you're heading, you can take your students through all twelve years with confidence.
A company would never send an ocean liner out onto the high seas without a destination. In the same way, homeschooling your highschool-age children calls for a port to aim at. Yes, it's possible to look at high school itself as a goal, as many do in the public school arena. But in homeschooling, knowing where you want to end up is a fundamental question that will dictate curriculum choices, course of study, and ultimately, the success of the endeavor.
For some parents, high school is viewed as preparation for college. However, the issue is deeper than whether or not we should send our children to college. A friend of mine recently commented that as homeschoolers, we don't have to raise the next president. If we can help our children become honest, hardworking, responsible adults who love Jesus and seek to please Him in all areas, we can count ourselves successful. Whether or not they attend college is not our decision anyway, but the Lord's, and what we really need to seek is an understanding of the gifts and callings God created them with, and where He wants to take them in their lives. He may want one to be a doctor. He may have created another to excel at mechanics, gardening, or public relations.
Sometimes it is easily apparent which direction the Lord wants a child prepared in. Other times, it seems a profound mystery. Either way, the objective for high school is to get our children ready to take the place in life God has fashioned them for, even if we don't yet know what that is. In short, by the time they reach adulthood, they should be adults.
Seen from the perspective of preparation, high school is a season in which the teen works toward independence in many realms. Firstly, our over-riding desire and prayer is that they will make the transition from outward motivations of parents, rewards, and consequences, to the inward motivation that comes from a consciousness of a personal relationship to Jesus. It's no longer about “Dad said” and “I have to write neatly or Mom will make me do it over again.” By graduation time, we hope to see conduct and motivations springing from a desire to please the Father.
Decision making. It's surprising how many home school parents continue to make all the decisions for their 16, 17, 18-year-olds, then somehow expect that these children-turned-adults will be proficient in the decision making process, without ever trying their wings. A variation of this is that parents say they will let their son or daughter make a decision, but if they don't agree with the conclusion, they over-ride the teen's choice in favor of one that seems safer.
True, there are occasions when age and wisdom may need to step in to avert catastrophe. But no matter how long and strongly parents seek to control, prevent mistakes, and ward off embarrassment, the time will come when their child must stand alone. How sad it is if our children have reached that point not only un-equipped, but actually hindered by we who have been given the responsibility to steward them for God.
Responsibility. We all want our kids to marry someone who is responsible. But how often we fail to raise kids that others will want their responsible kids to marry! If we plan every academic move from kindergarten through twelfth grade and play the policeman to make sure they follow through, we are in danger of producing graduates that stand around waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
I don't know about you, but I'd trade ten teens politely waiting for orders for one who can look around, see what needs to be done, and take the initiative to do it. To that end, one of the aspects to build into a high school agenda is that of independent study and self scheduling.
Goals are inspiring. But their real value is that they guide what we do in the practical realm. Choose curriculum that encourages your teen to become a responsible, mature decision-maker. Top of the list would be those materials that promote independent learning and scoring. Bottom of the list would be ones that put the burden of learning onto the parent by relying heavily on teacher input, expertise, and correcting. If the options that further these goals seem a bit rote or boring—not your dream curriculum—it may be comforting to know that students tend to delve deeply into their areas of interest, thus making up for possible shallowness in curriculum choices, and just about every course available, if followed, will give a student the necessary knowledge to pass a Graduation Equivalent Degree test.
In view of raising responsible adults, have your high schoolers analyze their own textbooks for the coming year, decide how many pages or chapters must be done each week to finish at the projected date, schedule tests, etc. Give them oversight as needed, but increasingly leave it up to the student to stay on track. Mom, don't check up on and nag them six times a day to finish, finish, finish. Have them go over their calendar and progress with Dad each week, or if Dad isn't available, with Mom. You may want to have a parent correct tests, but aim toward leaving it up to the student to keep the academic fires lit under themselves. By the time they're seniors, they should be taking full responsibility for their own education.
Real life experiences come into their own in the high school years as our students prepare for adulthood. Virtual reality, even at its best, is really not reality. Learning how to do things is. Studying about canning green beans is nice. Doing it is real. Studying about woodworking is good. Learning to use power tools, cut, measure and build is real. To this end, seek to open up opportunities in areas of your child's giftedness, giving him or her a platform for gaining confidence and expertise.
Depending on availability and the natural bent of the child, endeavor to get them involved in real life experience. Besides their work at home, they might volunteer at the vets or the local museum or fire station. Clean, weed, or mow at the neighbor's. Teach music. Work in their dad's cabinet shop or on his roofing crew. Each family will have their own variation of real-life opportunities to explore. The important thing is to give the teens room to learn skills and make decisions while they are still able to avail themselves of parental feedback and security.
However, beware of thinking that dabbling in different fields in an area of giftedness is sufficient preparation for adulthood. Becoming an adult is more about attitude than ability, which is why practical life skills/experiences are so valuable. They give abundant opportunities to keep going when the going gets tough. That is where character is forged. A word study on discipline in the best textbook cannot substitute for the discipline and submission it requires to work for someone else, doing the “grunt” work as well as the fun stuff, and doing the kind of job they're asking for, even if all you really want to do is curl up somewhere with a cup of tea and a good book.
Diligence takes on new meaning to your son as he rises at 5:00 a.m. day after cold winter day, and into the sweltering summer, to help out at a neighbor's dairy. Becoming a “self starter” and possessor of a great work ethic doesn't usually happen playing computer games. Determination, self-reliance, and self-lessness—these are hallmarks of maturity, and they are earned, not awarded. It takes consistency and patience, and logging a lot of hours of just plain hard work in order to learn to function as an adult should.
Finding opportunities for your teens to learn life skills is also vital because reality breeds contentment. As parents, we want to avoid revolution. Revolution is almost always a fight for independence, and the high school years can be a battleground. But they need not be. How much better if parents can open doors of opportunity and challenge as fast as the teen reaches them. Or faster. Keep those kids on their toes. Challenge them to go beyond their previous comfort zones. Mental knowledge without the chance to try their hand at what they've learned foments discontent. If highschool kids feel they don't have any essential skills, and if that insecurity is coupled with parental control, they are in danger of feeling trapped. Whether they then try to break out, or just resign themselves, it is not the freedom they should walk in, nor what we as parents have been entrusted to do for them.
Springing from our own public school backgrounds where the responsibility for getting an education falls to the teacher, not the student, one of the myths that has surrounded high schooling at home is that the parent must be able to know/teach everything from chemistry to calculus, or the student will not get what he needs academically. Wrong. If instruction is needed in a realm you don't excel in, there are many ways to utilize the expertise of others. Video teachers. Co-oping. Tutoring. If your child shows a strength in an area that you can't help her with, check out the options. They're out there.
Another fairy story is that the older the student gets, the more important social interaction becomes (meaning peer-related activities). Don't buy into this one. If foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, as the Lord tells us in Proverbs, then pooling a bunch of foolishness is not going to do anyone any good. Rather, as Proverbs also tells us, the companion of the wise will become wise. To this end, what best equips a person for life in the real world is to interact with people of all ages. An interesting exercise is to watch a teen that is used to hanging out with his age group interact in a mixed group. At best he's ill at ease. Usually, he's like a fish out of water. Contrast this with a teen that routinely interacts with old, young, and in between. It can be enlightening.
A certain number of homeschoolers maintain that a diploma is unnecessary. “All it is is a piece of paper, anyway.” True. However, proof that your student has the equivalent of a high school education is often required by employers, colleges, etc. Fortunately, there is more than one way to obtain that piece of paper. Often homeschool co-ops or organizations will hold a group graduation and pass out diplomas. You can also choose a curriculum company that keeps the records for you and issues a diploma upon completion of their course. What we have done that has worked well is to have our students study for and take the Graduation Equivalence Degree test.
By contacting your area GED office, you can find out what is required to do this. For those interested in college, a high score on the GED is an asset. Other college-bound students have by-passed the diploma issue by enrolling in a course or two at a local college or by taking the SAT or ACT college entrance exams.
It's Worth It
No matter what route you take or curriculum you choose, high schooling at home needn't be more difficult, nor should you have to go to college to be the “teacher.” The Lord will help you. And be assured of this: Homeschooling your high schooler is just as important as homeschooling in the younger grades, and the rewards are just as great!
Leslie Wyatt has been married to her husband, Dave, for 23 years. They have six children ranging in age from 6-20, and have been homeschooling for 16 years.
Leslie Wyatt has been married to her husband, Dave, for 20 years. They have six children, ranging in age from 4 to 18. They have been homeschooling for 14 years.