Homeschooling High School in a Houseful
- 2010 19 Nov
As a long-time homeschool mom to quite a few kids, I have to admit it: Despite some people’s assumptions, I am certainly no Super Mom. When my first child reached high school age, it simply never occurred to me that I should suddenly change the way we were doing things. Looking back now, having graduated my oldest two children and with two more leaving the homeschool nest for college over the next two years, I am so glad I followed God’s leading and my gut instincts. After considering what practical means have helped me most in homeschooling my teens through high school alongside my many other children, I see three key elements I’d like to share so that you, too, might have the confidence to choose high school at home.
Juggling the many demands and desires, obligations and activities that make up a large household might seem daunting, but the path to a smooth, successful household routine lies in organization. I know some women think they just can’t be organized. They equate organization with elaborate filing systems, they fear it will stifle their creativity, and they know it won’t work for them. I feel their pain. I used to be one of them.
I’ve heard some people say that large families need to be extremely controlled and organized or complete chaos will ensue. I must say this is not true in our family. Organization is important, but it has often been misunderstood and sometimes overemphasized. Actually, effective organization can look very different from home to home.
If you, like me, are not naturally gifted in the realm of organization, if your spice racks are not alphabetized and your linen closet is not color-coded, then take heart. Those techniques might help some people, but they are not necessary for an efficient, multi-grade homeschool. As we homeschool high schoolers in a large family, we should focus on a realistic coordination of schedules.
For example, look at a typical household budget. It has fixed monthly expenses that must be paid on specific dates (such as a house payment or car insurance), regular necessary expenses with flexible due dates (such as groceries or gas), optional expenses (such as hobbies, field trips, or takeout pizza), and unexpected expenses (such as a trip to the emergency room). To avoid financial problems, we must determine how we can best allocate our money to meet our goals, and then we must follow through with our plan. It’s helpful to use this type of approach when it comes to our homeschooling schedules, too.
For each of your children, first determine what activities, classes, and events must be absolutely fixed in your overall schedule. These might include a Pre-Calculus class for your daughter at the community college three days a week from 1 to 2 pm, a Civil Air Patrol meeting for your son on Thursday evenings, and the Awana club at your church every Wednesday night.
Next, decide where you will place the flexible fixed items. These are events over which you exercise at least some control in relation to timing. Arrange those weekly trumpet lessons for your son; set up regular orthodontist appointments for your daughter. Schedule the kids’ daily piano and foreign language practice times to avoid conflicts, since pianos and computers usually must be shared.
Finally, decide when the remaining academic areas will be covered. Keep the time blocks general, such as History or Math, rather than going into great detail. Remember, one of your goals is to retain as much flexibility as possible. Flexibility always comes in handy and promotes a sense of spontaneity in your homeschool.
Now you are ready to make up a chart for each day of the week. Put a different child’s name at the top of vertical columns going across the page. Down the left-hand side, label half-hour time increments. Fill in the charts according to your children’s individual lists of fixed commitments. Teenagers tend to have many more fixed events than younger kids, so it is best to determine their schedules first. What remains are empty boxes that can be filled with the optional items that are most important to you and your family.
This is the time to decide what fun stuff you will be doing this semester. Perhaps you and your daughter have always wanted to learn calligraphy. You probably have realized by now that it will never happen unless you plan for it. Maybe your son wants to try woodworking. Do you think the skill will somehow develop by itself? Not likely—ask around for a teacher and pop that into the mix somewhere. Don’t forget to leave a few boxes blank. White space will make you feel rich and leave you room to shift things should one of those unexpected events occur.
When you finish filling in those boxes, you might feel overwhelmed at all there is to remember! However, the schedule should not make you feel pressured. Instead, it should free you from pressure. You won’t need to worry about remembering when to pick up your 14-year-old from CAP; you won’t need to wonder whether or not your kids have done their piano practice this week; you won’t need to feel guilty that you haven’t been able to “find the time” to finish that scrapbook for your parents’ wedding anniversary. Your schedule has these things neatly arranged for you.
On the other hand, if so many little boxes all in a row make you feel as if you are tied down to a life of boring servility, loosen up a bit (or a lot). Without throwing away the valuable scheduling of those important fixed items, you can still do much to make your schedule fit your individual personality. If your children will be studying their main academic areas (reading, math, history, and science) in the mornings, just label that entire block “learning time” and let the children proceed at their own pace. If you need an hour to unwind, sip a cup of tea, garden, read your Bible, or crochet, find a likely spot in the schedule (perhaps during the kids’ afternoon quiet hour) and call it “Mom Time” just for you. Doesn’t the schedule seem more appealing already?
The second element that can help you immensely as you homeschool a houseful of kids is to encourage them to be independent learners from a young age. A strong reader can handle and enjoy almost all other subjects without much outside assistance, so reading should be the main academic focus of the early years. You can achieve this goal through a solid phonics foundation, as well as through reading wonderful books to your children regularly and through modeling your own ongoing appreciation of the beauty and usefulness of books. As my students grow older, they need less of my focused attention in connection to their studies, and this frees me to spend my valuable time on targeted areas such as advanced math, writing critiques, worldview discussions, and making spaghetti for dinner.
Please know that I am not saying your kids should all be working quietly in their own little cubicles on their own little workbooks. No, that is not what I mean at all. Much of our work is done together, but there are certain studies my children can handle easily and efficiently by themselves, depending on their ages—such as poetry copywork, typing practice, or reading historical novels. This gives me the time necessary to explain quadratic equations to my 8th grader, have a 15-minute conversation in French with my daughters, and then gather my emerging reader on my lap and listen to those amazing Bob Book stories yet again.
High school students should be able to study completely independently if necessary. They should have the ability and self-discipline to research, analyze, and write about any given topic of interest. This doesn’t imply that teens will never have questions or that they need no adult input: Obviously, there will be many times when discussion of people, events, and philosophies will be important and beneficial to them.
However, our homeschooled teens need to become independently responsible for their academic studies. They need to begin independently growing spiritually and developing their views on current world events. The gradual process of equipping them for adult life and “letting go” should start long before our teens leave us. As a bonus, such independence helps teens gain self-confidence, a stronger work ethic, and greater leadership ability.
To inspire your teens to become more independent, involve them in the long-term goal-setting process that should occur before high school starts and again each year during high school. They need to think deeply about what interests them, what they want to accomplish in their lives both in a general way and specifically, and what commitments they are willing to make in order to reach those goals. You can help them in the brainstorming process, you can remind them of their gifts, and you can pray for them. In the end, however, they should be the ones who make these choices, as they will be the ones who must live with them.
(For more information on the self-teaching method, see “The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom,” parts 1-3, by Joanne and Lauren Calderwood in the Jul/Aug ’07, Sep/Oct ’07 and Nov/Dec ’07 issues of Home School Enrichment Magazine.)
Shared Core Studies
I fell naturally into the third element I have used through the years, one that has helped me enormously in my efforts to homeschool so many kids across a broad age range. My kids, from kindergarten-age right on up to the high school seniors, all study the same core historical theme each year. Of course, they study the topic on varying levels. We don’t all sit down every day to do craft projects together, but some of us do. We don’t all make costumes and cook recipes that correlate to the time period we are studying, but some of us do. We don’t all write 20-page research papers on the topic, but some of us do. Studying the same theme means that we are all learning about the same people, events, trends, and ideas, so we discuss them frequently, having many common points of reference, and we create many fun memories together.
In addition to our main theme, my high school kids often study a secondary history topic on their own in more depth. For instance, if we are covering modern US history, a teen might follow a tangent and delve into the Depression era in more substantial ways. This method works with our science theme as well. Whether my high school students are studying Astronomy, Botany, or Chemistry, they are covering the same topic as the younger kids, but with more advanced reading, writing, and experiments required of them. If my teens are particularly science-oriented, as was my oldest son, they can take classes (such as a four-semester Physics series) at our local college.
Centering our studies on a common history theme has been a big advantage for our homeschool. My children’s writing, whether they are in 2nd grade or 11th grade, flows from their history studies. We don’t have nonessential busywork papers to do, so there is less time wasted. Our days are full but positive, relaxed, and enjoyable, and we all feel connected through what we are learning.
Homeschooled high school students who are blessed to live in a house full of other kids face many challenges. Yet crying babies also let our teens slow down, read, and pray as they rock our little ones to sleep. Toddlers encourage our teens to relax, play, and just be a “kid” again. Tweens give our older kids the opportunity to be teachers and role models, and they will all benefit in future years from the long-lasting friendships they are forging now. Lastly, teen siblings usually make sure everyone learns the valuable art of compromise.
Organization, independence, and shared core studies can help the large homeschool family to flourish. These elements lead to homeschool graduates who are enthusiastic learners, teens who know what they want to do with their lives, and young people who understand the importance of a plan and the value of a family.
Kim Lundberg is the busy mom of 10 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.
This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec ’08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Get more great homeschooling help by downloading our FREE report entitled “The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom” by visiting http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htm