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Making the Highschool Journey - Part 1

  • Andrea Longbottom Contributing Writer
  • Published Sep 14, 2005
Making the Highschool Journey - Part 1

Marcia Somerville was ready to quit homeschooling. When her husband, Scott, came home from work one day, she met him at the door. "This is where we stop homeschooling," Marcia said.

"But, honey, I work for Home School Legal Defense Association!" he replied.

The Somervilles had started homeschooling their six children when the eldest reached school age. Marcia prepared an average of 150 lessons each week, an approach that worked when the children were in the lower grades. But when the two eldest began high school, Marcia felt she did not have the time to give them the excellent education she had envisioned, or that she herself had received at a prestigious liberal arts–based private high school.

Following Marcia's announcement, Scott and Marcia spent several weeks in thought and prayer, determined to find the best answer for their family regardless of what it meant for Scott's position as an HSLDA staff attorney. They talked with other parents who were homeschooling their high schoolers, including Elizabeth Smith, wife of HSLDA President Michael Smith. Elizabeth challenged them, "Who did God choose to be a role model for your children?" The Somervilles evaluated their goals and decided homeschooling was the educational option that met their criteria.

With their homeschooling priorities firmly in place, the Somervilles realized they would need a new approach to make it happen. For Marcia, that meant coming up with a master strategy that involved teaching unit studies. Each week, all the children would study the same subject on a level appropriate to their age. Once a week, they would come together as a group so Marcia could teach them and see how well the children were prepared to discuss the material they had learned. Later, Marcia taught a homeschool co-op using this unit study method and compiled it into a curriculum, Tapestry of Grace, which 3000 homeschooling parents now use. Today, after five of their six children have graduated from homeschool high school, Scott and Marcia use their experience to encourage other families.

Perhaps, like the Somervilles, you feel overwhelmed and discouraged, wondering if you really can homeschool through high school. Or maybe you stand at the other end of the spectrum--you're considering pulling your children out of a school and plunging into the new world of homeschooling. Regardless of your starting point, you want to do what's best for your child.

As you weigh the pros and cons, ask yourself, "Who did God choose to be the role model for my child?" You don't have to write your own curriculum to take advantage of the unsurpassed opportunity homeschooling offers to strengthen your relationship with your child and provide him with the best education possible. We hope the following responses to some common parental concerns will encourage you to take the road "less traveled."


Marcia Somerville is not the only homeschooling mom to have experienced feelings of inadequacy. One of the most frequent reasons given by HSLDA members who stop homeschooling is that they feel inadequate to proceed to high school instruction.

Elizabeth Smith, homeschooling mother and wife of HSLDA President Mike Smith, has "never met a parent who truly wanted to homeschool but was unable to do it." Dr. Brian Ray's 1997 study on homeschooling in America supports her statement. Ray found that parent's education background has no substantive effect on their children's homeschool academic performance. Home educated students' test scores remain between the 80th and 90th percentiles, whether their mothers have a college degree or did not complete high school."i

Although you may have qualms about teaching certain subjects, you don't have to be an expert in every subject your child takes--teachers in traditional schools are not. Figure out your strengths as an instructor, then supplement your child's homeschool program with other resources: try a unit study, use a self-taught course, or ask for advice or tutoring from someone with expertise in a certain subject. (Read "Choosing the right options" for more ideas on teaching unfamiliar subjects.)

Scott Somerville advises parents not to be intimidated by difficult subjects. "If you feel threatened by academic challenges," he says, "there's a risk you may be losing sight of your goal: to prepare your child for life."

That attitude

Mention the word "teenager" and parents exchange rueful smiles. They love watching their kids learn, discover, and mature into the amazing adults they will become. But some days . . .

So much of the typical parent-child frustration during the teen years can be attributed to the onset of hormonal changes. Even the most easygoing,
cooperative, respectful child will, at least occasionally (if not daily), shock both himself and his parents with an unexpected emotional outburst.

Another stress-causing factor between parents and teens is the natural maturing process. The teen's cognitive ability is developing. He is making connections between the facts he's learned, the things he's experienced, his family's standards and expectations, and the world outside his home and community. He is questioning, challenging, and pushing the limits. But Mom and Dad can see that he isn't ready to fly the nest yet--emotionally, spiritually, or physically.

Barb Shelton, a homeschooling mother since 1982 and author of several books on homeschooling, suggests that parents "talk [with their teen] about what he wants in life and how he thinks he's going to get there. . . ." Spend time in prayer and discussion about your teen's walk with God. Shelton reminds parents to treat their teen differently than they would a young child. She explains, "You can't tell an older child that 'this is the law, just DO it!" Instead, parents must find ways to motivate their teen, to "get into his mind and heart." On the other hand, Shelton warns parents not to invite rebellious behavior by expecting it from their teens.ii

"One common concern that emerges as I talk with homeschooling parents around the country is how to motivate teens--especially teenage sons--to take responsibility for their schoolwork," says HSLDA President Mike Smith. To address this issue, homeschool parents may need to think outside the box. Joel Moughon, a 2000 homeschool graduate from Erwin, Tennessee, shares how his parents combated his lack of motivation: "The biggest thing my parents did to motivate me in high school was to get me involved in debate. . . . I think I've learned . . . academically through debate. [It has] forced [me] to research a number of different policy topics. I've learned how to speak in public in a way I was never able to before."iii

Jeremy Sewall, a 2004 Patrick Henry College graduate who was homeschooled in Falls Church, Virginia, says he was motivated by music. "As I started playing piano and getting good at that, it was something I knew I could do, and it's something that gave me motivation to do other things well."iv

Consider involving your teen in a class or program that will spark his interest, even if he doesn't want to do it at first. The opportunity to focus on and improve a skill can inspire him in other areas of his life.


"I feel like quitting," Elizabeth Smith once told another homeschooling mother.

"How often do you feel that way?" asked the mom.

"Every few weeks," replied Elizabeth. The other mother looked surprised and exclaimed, "Is that all?"

With a dawning sense of relief, Elizabeth realized that her feelings of discouragement and fatigue were normal. "It doesn't mean there's something wrong," she says.

If you're too weary to face another schoolday, let alone the thought of high school, maybe it's time to reevaluate why you are homeschooling in the first place. It's easy for any of us to lose sight of the purpose behind the day-to-day routine. Maybe you need to take a break and revise your schedule. Talk to a friend. Go on a date with your spouse.

Elizabeth says that setting unrealistic teaching goals can frustrate and overwhelm parents. She suggests looking at the "whole child"--a future adult who will one day live on her own. Perhaps your student is falling behind in math or writing at the moment, but she is also learning to manage money or is volunteering for the library reading program. It's not only good grades that comprise an excellent education--it's emotional and spiritual growth, as well.

[Editor's Note: This is the first article in a series of three. Don't miss next week's edition!]


Andrea Longbottom is a student at Patrick Henry College and works part-time in HSLDA's Communications Department. She grew up in Southeast Texas and was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. Andrea will graduate from PHC in December 2005 with a degree in literature.

Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is a 22 year old, 80,000 member non-profit organization and the preeminent national association advocating the legal right of parents to homeschool their children. For more homeschool news check out

i Home School Legal Defense Association, "Home Education across the United States: Family Characteristics, Student Achievement, and Longitudinal Traits" (1997), 7,
ii Barb Shelton, "A Letter to Moms with Burned-out, 'Bad Attituded' Teenagers," The Homeschool Oasis,
iii Joel Moughon, interview by Michael P. Farris, "One Parent's Solution to Teaching Boys," Home School Heartbeat, June 5, 2003,
iv Jeremy Sewall, interview by Michael P. Farris, "Does Homeschooling Pay Off?" Home School Heartbeat, June 2, 2003,