Homeschooling High School? Relax!
- Friday, September 14, 2007
Can it be true? Is it possible to homeschool through high school in a relaxed yet productive way? Doesn't high school have to involve loads of detailed work, complicated record-keeping, expensive lab equipment, higher-level math frustrations, and confusing transcripts?
I believe it is important to encourage homeschool parents to become confident in their ability to do a great job with homeschooling their high school kids. So let me reassure you: it is not only possible, but also extremely rewarding and enjoyable, to homeschool your teens throughout their entire high school career in a relaxed though purposeful way.
Unfortunately, the term "high school" sends many homeschool parents scurrying to enroll their students in the best institutional school they can find. Parents might make this choice for several reasons. However, one of the most common triggers mentioned for placing a homeschooled child into traditional school at the high school level is that the parents believe their student suddenly needs a more structured learning environment and a more demanding curriculum than they can provide at home.
The great majority of us who homeschool our children were not homeschooled ourselves. We went to the usual institutional schools, and whether they were outstanding, pathetic, or mediocre, they set us up to doubt our qualifications and competence when it comes to guiding our own teens through the challenging high school years at home.
If our high school was superior in its quality (at least in our dim and nostalgic memory), we wonder how we can ever measure up to its standard. After all, we don't have the same facilities, the same budget, or the same expertise, do we? If our school was miserable in both its approach and its results, we fear we will produce the same type of sub-par product. After all, why should we think we can do any better than trained professionals? If our school was merely average, we worry that we have no excellent model after which we can pattern our children's education. After all, who are we to think we can properly determine which goals should be pursued by our students, and how can we plan in a practical way to reach such specific goals?
One of the most important things we can do to build our confidence level and our resolve is to remind ourselves that we are these children's parents. We know them better than anyone else does. We know their strengths, we know their weaknesses, we tolerate their quirks, and we encourage their individuality. No one can love them more than we do, of course, but also, no one can understand them better, and no one can want them to succeed as much as we do.
What does success mean to you? In your homeschool? At the elementary level? In high school? In adult life?
The answers to these questions will be different for everyone to a smaller or greater degree, and that is fine. God made us all individuals with specific purposes to fulfill in this life. However, before you can be comfortable and confident in your homeschooling—especially in homeschooling a high school student—you must know what success means to you. You must take the time to think through some hard questions, and you must discuss them with your teens, too. Only then can you outline a workable program for your high school at home, and only then can you relax.
Yes, relax! So many people, both long-term homeschoolers and newcomers to homeschooling, have a difficult time grasping the idea that the high school years can be relaxed. "Relaxed" means you accept who your teenage children are and help them to focus on their strengths and interests. "Relaxed" means you are not constantly second-guessing what you decided yesterday or last year. "Relaxed" also means you are flexible enough to consider change when the need arises.
SO HOW CAN WE BECOME MORE RELAXED?
Some people seem more relaxed by nature. Perhaps, we think, it isn't a possibility for everyone. What exactly does the "relaxed" mode of homeschooling entail anyway?
First of all, as parents, we know that our kids are different from each other in many ways—personalities, needs (emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental), learning styles, gifts, passions, etc. I marvel at this phenomenon again and again with each of my children. You'd think that somewhere in my gang I'd find "twins" of sorts, but no—the variations are endless!
As a matter of fact, after more than sixteen years of homeschooling my own kids and watching hundreds of other families do the same, I have to say that I do not believe there is any one right or best way to homeschool. Of course, those of us who have homeschooled even just a few years know this quite well—in our heads. However, sometimes we fall into the trap of comparing our kids and our methods to others, and that almost always leads to problems.
Over the years I have seen many different methods of homeschooling work quite well with various kids. I know homeschoolers who followed an unschooling path all the way through high school and who are now doing an excellent job in college. I know several teens that were educated through classical homeschooling, many whose families utilized the unit study/hands-on homeschooling method, and of course, those who went the more traditional "textbook" route. I know families who are devoted followers of just one curriculum, and I know people who swear by an eclectic mixture of this and that.
Yet, all of these styles of homeschooling can be done in a relaxed manner—or not. The exact method used really has very little to do with the relaxed element that is so important. Those homeschool families who suffer burnout and who often end up placing their teens in the local school system are usually those who never learned to enjoy the benefits of relaxed homeschooling.
Many homeschoolers think the relaxed method of homeschooling sounds great for the younger years, but they fear that following this route during high school might not be a wise idea. Perhaps their teenaged children would miss out on the advanced level of academics necessary for college, or perhaps a relaxed education might lead to a lack of discipline and order in the home and in the student's life.
Actually, the reality of a relaxed high school education is quite different than what some people expect. When teens enjoy the benefits of relaxed homeschooling, they have the chance to learn and practice self-discipline on a daily basis. When students have the opportunity to choose what they will study, when, and how, there is no limit to the advanced level of academic achievement they can reach. Our personal experience of relaxed high school homeschooling has led to such results as early high school and college graduation with high honors for our first child, as well as acceptance to many respected, selective colleges and full academic scholarships for both of our oldest children. More importantly, we have watched our three oldest children grow into strong leaders who are sure of their convictions and their special calls in life.
So what does relaxed homeschooling really involve?
ELEMENTS TYPICAL OF THE "RELAXED" HOMESCHOOL
- There is no pressure to keep up with a certain pace or timetable for specific studies. Instead, be comfortable with the fact that each student has the right to proceed as quickly or as slowly as the need dictates—and when the time is right for them.
For instance, do not worry that your hometown high school covers Algebra in 9th grade, Geometry in 10th grade, and Advanced Algebra in 11th grade. This timetable doesn't matter. If your teen wants or needs to study higher math, he or she can do it more slowly or quickly than this arbitrary schedule implies. Some students manage to cover the entire "year" of Geometry in only three months, while others may take much longer or perhaps cover the same topics in a more practical rather than analytical way. Alternatively, some students will determine that it would be better for them to concentrate on consumer and business math during the last years of their high school education. None of these choices are wrong.
- There is no pressure to follow a pre-determined curriculum. Instead, a practical plan that works well with the student's natural learning style should be followed (both in methodology and materials) in order to achieve each student's particular goals.
One of the greatest strengths and pleasures of homeschooling is the freedom we have to choose our own style of education as well as exactly what materials we will use within that style. Don't let the onset of high school delude you into thinking you must suddenly switch gears from the personalized method you have been successfully using all along to a more standardized, traditional route. While students occasionally thrive with a structured curriculum, more often they do not. For example, many teens will learn about WWII much more memorably and deeply if they research key people and events through primary source documents and biographies and then write a play on the Holocaust than if they merely read a couple of ordinary chapters in a textbook and take a quiz. (In addition, Language Arts would be covered in a thorough yet relaxed way!)
- There is no pressure to compare a teen's progress and goals with the priorities of others. Instead, the unique interests and goals of the student should be evaluated on a regular basis (with the full involvement of the teen), and this evaluation should include both short-range and long-term goals.
If your daughter has a keen interest in biology and chemistry and thinks she wants to pursue nursing studies in the future, by all means, let her soak herself in those fields to her heart's content. She cannot become too advanced in a topic that is her passion; there is always more to learn. Don't feel that she has to study geology, astronomy, or physics just because that is the "normal" set of science studies offered in your school district. In addition, realize and accept that while a broad survey of various common topics is a good idea, and a certain level of competency in basic foundational skills such as composition and arithmetic are necessary and right, no one can be master of everything. Specializing in specific areas, even at the high school level, can be an excellent thing. College admission officials (as well as future employers) look upon such specialization favorably.
- There is no pressure to "fit in" with the traditional school crowd and its accompanying peer influences. Instead, each family (teens and parents alike!) should grow increasingly confident in their own priorities, gifts, and callings in life.
One of the most wonderful benefits of homeschooling your children through high school is watching them grow into strong, unique individuals. Your teens will amaze you with their ideas, their optimism, and yes, even their persistence. Truly, the difference between institutionally-educated high school students and those who stay home for their education is enormous—but never more so than if the student proceeds through their high school years in a more relaxed fashion than their typical counterpart. A relaxed high school homeschool student knows that he or she is learning for the joy of discovery and not just for a high score or grade, and such students have the time and opportunities to grow into what they are meant to be. If you as the parent give them the needed affirmation and encouragement to explore and study and create, you will be astounded at what they achieve and the people they become.
Listen to your teens, involve them in decisions, don't compare, have fun with learning, focus on your relationships, and go forward, confident that you are doing your best. But most importantly, relax!
*This article published on September 14, 2007.
Kim Lundberg is the busy mom of 9 great kids. She and her family have been homeschooling for 16 years, and they make their home in beautiful northern California. Kim enjoys teaching drama, writing, and world history classes, as well as reading mysteries, baking goodies, camping, and listening to her kids talk, sing, and make music.
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