Homeschooling During the High School Years – One Family’s Approach
by Daya Solomon
I am one of the many parents who have, one way or another, managed to homeschool with my kids until they finished high school. I am here to tell you that the kids do fine, and sometimes the parents survive, too. One of the hardest things about homeschooling through high school is that the kids are teenagers. If you have teenagers already, you know what I mean. If not, just wait.
Seriously, it’s not as hard as you might think, especially if you have already been homeschooling. It doesn’t take any specific qualifications or attributes other than the desire to do it--and perseverance. Like homeschooling in the younger years, if something isn’t working well you can try another approach. I have to say that if we can happily and successfully homeschool teenagers, anyone can. I feel our family is not particularly well organized, not very efficient with housekeeping, often overextended, and we have had many different kinds of stress over the years that interrupted our well-intentioned plans. Life is often messy and homeschooling doesn't exempt us from that reality.
I think that one of the things that has helped my kids flourish is that early on we identified our philosophy of raising and educating our kids and that has served us well and helped us over some of the hurdles of adolescence. I basically see two different approaches. They are both valid. I do not know if this was a good way to choose how to raise and educate my kids, but what I did was pick a philosophy that resonated with my own personality and adapted it to the needs of each child. One philosophy is that our children are clay to be molded and formed by us, the parents being the sculptors. The other philosophy is that the parents are gardeners. In this mindset our children are seeds waiting to blossom and our job is to nourish, fertilize, sometimes fence in, and mostly let them blossom and grow into fulfilling their own potential. I am the gardener type of parent and this has influenced our way of homeschooling.
Our family has been on this homeschooling journey for nearly 22 years now, with two grown homeschoolers and a nine-year-old left in the nest. The best way to describe our approach to homeschooling is eclectic unschooling. We mostly use interest-directed learning, which is often hands-on and experiential rather than textbook- or curriculum-oriented. In our day-to-day life we rarely pay any attention to grade level. And more often than not our homeschooling curriculum is whatever life dishes out to our family. We have employed every type of resource available except online courses, although both Deva (our oldest) and Dan (my husband) are online teachers with Compu-High. We use unit studies, the co-op run by Learning Options, activities sponsored by the Mon County group, apprenticeships, classes at a nearby high school and colleges. Both older ones have traveled to other countries more than once and the younger one insists I mention that he has also been out of the country (to Canada). We participate in our synagogue’s programs, in the Y and recreation department sports, independent study at home, etc. We use John Holt’s approach of “learning all the time.” Our goals for our children have been to learn how to learn, to become responsible adults, and to be mensches, which is Yiddish for a good person who cares about helping others and helps the world be a better place.
The best piece of advice I ever heard and that I think can especially help during the high school years is to stay connected to your kids and never lose faith in them. It sounds simple but is actually hard because developmentally high schoolers are working on breaking some connections in order to find their own individual identity. We found it helpful to look at the books on teenagers and we even took a course on teen issues. Another piece of advice that helps often and came from a homeschooler I looked up to is: Do what you need to so that you don’t worry and can sleep at night. Parental peace of mind is adequate justification for insisting your kids learn to write, or do their math, or help clean house.
Hibernating is something that many kids do at the beginning of adolescence, although it can occur anytime and last for extended periods. Sometimes kids will look like they are unmotivated, not learning anything, lazy, and you wonder if they ever will amount to much. This phenomenon is not unusual and as long as you know that your kid is not ill, depressed, or having serious problems, it is probably best to keep connected to them and not lose faith that they are just fine. Lots of kids hibernate and then break out and soar. The hibernation can be a needed phase to gather one’s strength and resources and to take stock. Even though they may look like lazy slugs, a lot can be going on inside. I like to think of it as a time of metamorphosis. Another thing about teens is that at times they need lots of sleep and lots of food. Our homeschooling flowed more smoothly when we respected those needs.
Here is what our experience has been with preparing transcripts. Dan created a homemade high school transcript using a spreadsheet. It looks like a fairly normal transcript (except that many credits don’t have grades), with a section for each academic year. Work is categorized into subject areas: English, Math, Social Studies, Science, Language, Arts and Music, and Other. In addition to actual courses taken, credit is given for material such as Algebra I, justified by standardized test scores. Even though we do not keep daily records of our homeschooling work and activities, it was not difficult to look at our student’s life and interests and write them up to fit into typical high school subject areas. The transcript makes it clear that the student is a homeschooler. Also in the transcript are PSAT and SAT scores. Examples of how a homeschooler's life can easily show competency in a transcript are: Aikido lessons resulted in a credit for Phys. Ed.; museum trips and reading earned history credits, and so on.
We consider ourselves the “principals” and have never questioned our right to evaluate and give credit for learning. If we were not trying to model the transcript after a traditional looking high school transcript, there would have been even more in it because learning from real life experiences encompasses far more then academics in a school setting. We did not, but could have, given credit for material mastered before our children reached high school age. College applications and financial aid forms give an opportunity to include a student's employment, community service projects, clubs, any performances, and any other achievements not already indicated in the transcript.
If your kids take college classes during their high school years, be sure to indicate on their transcripts that they did this during high school. Financial aid packages are much more generous and numerous for incoming freshman than for transfer students. If many college credits are accumulated during high school, the student might later skip a semester or more of college and graduate earlier than the traditional four years. Deva completed a double major and graduated college in three years. He entered as a freshman and after one year had junior standing.
A long time ago I attended a workshop like this. The speaker had homeschooled her daughter until she decided to go to public high school. The mother was not happy with this, but her daughter said, “Thank you for giving me a wonderful childhood. Now I want to get on with my life in a serious way, and I think high school is my next step.” The next step may come before, during, or after the high school years. Our kids may take one step forward and two steps backwards, like they did as toddlers. They will no doubt fire you as their teachers before you are done with them. My older kids did. But try and remember that you are still their parents, even when they reach out beyond homeschooling for their educations. When I could sense that my influence over my kids was waning, I was frustrated. They were done, but I was not. I felt the weight of the enormity of so many life lessons (forget academics) that I still wanted to impart to them. I believe some kids need to be encouraged to leave the nest and others will fly when you least expect it. You do not necessarily have control over when your children stop homeschooling and move on. So make the most of the time you do have, and also try and relax and remember that you will always be their parent. At some point your focus will shift from homeschooling to primarily forging a relationship that will ensure closeness and sharing between your adult child and yourself. It was hard, but I had to shift my goals with my older teens from things relevant to homeschooling to wanting to be on good terms with them when they are in their early and mid-twenties and beyond. I didn’t feel done with them, but in reality it is up to them to carry on. And I am not done with myself, so how could I ever be done with someone else?
Neither of our older kids got a high school diploma or graduated from any recognized high school. Graduation from high school is an important rite of passage and homeschoolers can have graduation with ceremonies or parties, as formal or as laid back as you and they want. I often wondered just when to consider them graduated. We had a set number of courses we required them to finish, based on what colleges would expect should they want to go to college. We told them these expectations when they were 13, and 14, and 15, and 16. We wanted them to have the option of being able to get into college if they chose it, but we did not insist they go to college. It was obvious that when they completed those courses they would be done with high school and graduated. However, I saw other signs, equally if not more important than finishing certain academic requirements, that signified graduation, or that rite of passage known as maturity and young adulthood. Sure, academics are a part of it, but for me it was so much more. Graduation, in my eyes, actually took place before all of the academic courses were finished, when the kids were still 17 but clearly mastering the ability to be self-determined and self-supporting life-long learners. They each demonstrated their ability to successfully fulfill meaningful major goals of their own choosing. I told Deva I considered him graduated when he gave a solo piano concert during his senior year. I did not tell Meera because she might not have taken those math and science classes if she thought she was done with high school and didn’t have to, and now she is glad she did it.
If you have a homeschooling high-schooler who is not ready to leave home for college, but you just can’t stand having them around anymore, it is likely that they are actually close to being ready to move out. Consider having them live with another homeschooling family to test their wings when you still want them to have some adult support and supervision. Almost grown homeschoolers are often great assets to busy families if they can contribute to the household with childcare, cooking, errands, cleaning help, etc. Teenagers who are not your own are sometimes the best ones to have around. Seriously, we will have an extra bedroom soon.
Daya Solomon is attempting to prove wrong a statement she once heard that you can't homeschool when your aging parent lives with you. She homeschools her son Matanya (nine) and takes care of her 89-year-old handicapped mother. Meera (18) has completed high school work and already has 43 college credits; she plans to attend college fulltime in the fall, out of the state. Deva (21) now attends WVU law school. Meera is partially self-supporting and Deva and his wife have been supporting themselves for the past year. Daya lives in Fairmont with her family, including her husband Dan, who works fulltime for NASA, part-time for CompuHigh (www.compuhigh.org) and still manages to help with the homeschooling. In another life Daya was a waitress, social worker, yoga teacher, and nutritional counselor.
Adapted from a talk given at a Homeschooling High School workshop in Morgantown, December 2005. Published in WVHEA Report February 2006
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