Thursday, August 7, 2014

Can you homeschool high school?

That was the title of this week's The Homeschool Minute e-mail from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. (You can read this encouraging free email HERE.)  When I saw the question though, my first thought was:
"Yes, you can! But it won't always be fun or easy."

I've now graduated one daughter from our homeschool high school and I have another homeschool senior this year.  I also have a homeschool sophomore and an 8th grader waiting to enter our high school next year. Our journey through high school hasn't always been a smooth one, but I've learned a few things along the way.

Ten Things I've Learned About Homeschooling Through High School

1. Listen to your teens and their learning preferences.  Don't keep forcing your own preferred homeschool style on them if it's just going to create more stress for them or more tension between you both.  For me, that meant giving up my literature-based unit study approach and moving to textbooks.  It also meant allowing two of my daughters to gear their subjects to align more closely with what their public school friends were learning, even though I wanted them to have the freedom to diverge from that. My oldest daughter wishes I'd made the switch sooner, but she was our guinea pig.

2. Set firm deadlines.  I am not good at this.  I don't want too much tension and I hate confrontation.  I'm also too merciful (though my kids would disagree with that.)  Because of my weakness in this area, our teens have often fallen behind in their school work.  We've tried to correct that by having our seniors take a course or two at the community college their senior year, to get used to deadlines and class room settings.  It has worked, but it's an expensive solution.

3. Prepare yourself mentally for conflict.  I'm sorry to tell you this, but if you have strong-willed, independent children (as I do) there will be conflict in homeschooling, especially as they grow older. Homeschooling does not prevent all drama and conflict in the teen years.  You may be accused of ruining their life, especially their social life. There will likely be arguments, and even tears. Expecting that will help you deal with it calmly.  Do not take everything they say personally.  My oldest daughter actually thanked me for homeschooling her after she left for college.  I didn't expect that so soon, but it meant so much to me.

4. Remind yourself OFTEN of why you homeschool.  You will be tempted to send them to school.  Accept that.  They will complain about all they're missing out on: drama, band, prom, dances, football and other sports.  Sometimes they complain subtly and sometimes vehemently.  You will doubt whether you're really making the best choices or if you're ruining them (as they claim you are).  You have to KNOW why you're homeschooling, and be in unity with your spouse.

5. Keep good records, and backups of the records.  While it isn't necessary to have quarterly report cards, it helps to tally their grades in each class throughout the year and record them.  I've kept a running transcript since my oldest daughter's freshman year.  Earlier this year, I discovered one fault with my system.  It was all on my computer.  When my computer crashed, I didn't have a backup, other than the last print-out I gave to my daughter in the Spring.  I need to re-create the file now, for each of my high school daughters, and unless my files can be retrieved, I don't have a copy of my oldest daughter's final transcript.  The only hard copy is at her college. (I'm still praying my husband can save my computer's data ... it has lots of helpful e-books and software on it, too.)

6. Teach your children to do their own weekly planning.  At the start of each new textbook, my teens and I sit and look at how many chapters the book has.  We then decide if they need to do one chapter per week, week and a half, or every two weeks.  They then have  a plan to follow, and they fill in their weekly planning charts for what they need to accomplish in each subject.  I check in with them periodically, and they come to me with questions, but they are largely self-directing.  When I don't check in with them often enough, they sometimes fail to keep up in the less fun subjects.  That is my fault, in the long run.

7. Let them pick their subjects. If one child wants to study astronomy and the other one wants to take Anatomy and Physiology, let them. (If you can find a curriculum for it, that is.) They will do better when they get to pick something that interests them. Sometimes they'll realize they made a mistake, as my daughter did with Chemistry 2, but usually they'll enjoy the class more. We also use Total Language Plus and Progeny Press for English courses.  I let them pick what books they want to study each year.  If they end up disliking the book, they know they picked it ... and it wasn't forced on them.

8. Work with your child to set guidelines for electronic devices and other personal distractions. We try to talk with our kids, and ask them what they think a reasonable set of rules and guidelines will be.  We reach an agreement, which we usually sign, and then we can refer back to it when we need to remind them they're letting themselves be distracted too much. Those distractions could include social media, movies, gaming systems, or even just time spent with friends.

9. Be willing to help them find answers, and resources, that will help them succeed.  Sometimes that just means doing some research with them.  Sometimes it means finding supplemental materials to purchase.  We have always attempted to homeschool as inexpensively as possible.  That has been less possible in high school. We have had to buy more curriculum for the high school years than we ever did in the elementary and junior high years.  As our collection of high school materials grows, that will be less of an issue for future years.

10. Help them think about their future.  Not only are you their teacher, you're also their guidance counselor.  What are they working towards?  What goal do they have in mind? If it's the military, college, or a future career ... remind them of that when they are dragging their feet about their work. And they will drag their feet sometimes.  I am actually nervous about my son starting high school next year.  He'll be the first boy in our high school, and I'm not sure yet how I'm going to keep him motivated.

BONUS:  Don't isolate your teens. For us, we needed to allow our teens to have time with friends and interaction with the community as a whole.  Each of our teens has had a job outside the home and been allowed to spend time with friends from church or homeschool group, and others they met through those friends.  We didn't want them to feel completely alone or rejected.  We also wanted them to have the experience, responsibility and independence that working would give them. This has actually been vital to their emotional well-being, though it wasn't without issues at times.

Yes, you can homeschool through high school. 

It is a big commitment of energy, time, and finances. It has been a learning process for me, much like when I started homeschooling, but it has been a good experience. Handing my daughter her diploma at her graduation ceremony made it all worthwhile, and watching her succeed in college is such a blessing. 

Research, talk to other parents, talk to your spouse and your kids, and be ready to make changes as needed. Pray, rely on God's strength, and jump in!  You can do it!

April E.

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