College isn't the only post-high school option for homeschooled teens. Whether you're in search of an alternate path or a great gap year, here are some options for what's next.
Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better! Today, Amy's talking about how she homeschooled 9th grade this year.
Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 9th grader. (You can see what 7th grade and 8th grade looked like for us in the archives, and you can see my high school planning post here.)
So first things first: We survived our first year homeschooling high school! In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s been one of our most enjoyable homeschool years to date. I felt like we were trying to strike a difficult balance—I wanted to make things academic enough to prepare her for a competitive college (in case that’s what she decides to do) without giving up the fun parts of homeschooling that make the experience worthwhile. Overall, I think we succeeded reasonably well.
U.S. History and Literature
We did this as a sort of combination class, but I did go through the steps (they’re not difficult) to get my syllabus approved by the College Board so that we could call the history part AP U.S. History on her syllabus. For our spine, we used a pretty traditional textbook, The American Pageant. I am not a fan of textbooks generally speaking, but it helped to have the whole class outlined in one book. We supplemented with tons of books (if people are interested, I can do a 9th grade book list in a future post—Edited: I wrote one!), some of which we read together and some of which we read separately.
The big challenge with history — for us, anyway — was following such a specific timeline. We are year-round, as-we-go homeschoolers, so we’re used to taking our time with things. Having to cover a set amount of material within a set timeframe was a new thing for us and not always easy — we’d sometimes have to keep moving, even though we wanted to spend more time on something. (We kept a list of things we want to return to this summer, but it’s not the same.) We also did several practice tests and essays to prepare for the AP test this spring, something else we wouldn’t usually do. My daughter did well on her practice tests and said she felt good about the exam, but whatever score she ends up with, I think working toward a focused goal on a focused timeline was a good experience for her — but I definitely wouldn’t want every class to feel this narrow!
For literature, we worked our way through the Norton Anthology of American Literature (the condensed, two-volume 8th edition) and read a range of novels, from Hawthorne to Faulkner. (Favorite: The Great Gatsby. Least favorite: The Red Badge of Courage.) Our interest here was in what, specifically, made this literature American, and reading it as we studied U.S. History really helped with that, I think. Literature is always one of our favorite classes, and we did most of the readings together as readalouds. (We love readalouds.) We did read a lot of novels by white men this year, but I’m actually proud of that fact: We’ve done such a good job keeping a diverse reading list that we had to catch up on some classics this year.
We’d typically work on history three-ish days a week, reading a chapter in The American Pageant and working up a list of short-answer questions as we read. There are lots of online resources for this book, so we’d usually check our list of questions against one online to see how they compared. We do annotated reading, so we mark the text as we go, making notes, highlighting important terms, dates, and people, and summarizing key points as we’re reading. Each night, my daughter would use her annotated book to copy notes down into her history notebook — she enjoyed this part because she got to make her notebook pages aesthetically pleasing, and writing things down is almost always helpful for remembering them. We also made notecards for important people, terms, and events so that we could review them — we’d pull them out after dinner or when we were waiting at the doctor’s office or something, and flip through them together. And we’d do a three-question quiz for each other each week and grade it according to the AP test rubric— I feel like grading my answers was as helpful for her as writing her own. We’d read related books — sometimes together, sometimes separately — to broaden and deepen our understanding of different topics and to make sure our class included women and people of color in a meaningful way.
We read together every day, so literature is part of our daily routine. I have never found a literature curriculum that I really like, so I didn’t even try with high school — I knew I would be making it up myself. We read aloud together every day, but with the amount of reading we did, we also had to read on our own to keep up. Again, we do annotated reading, so we mark up our books for discussion as we go. (This does mean that we’re often reading books or parts of books twice—once together out loud and again to annotate. I’m a big believer in rereading, so this is fine with me.) We had a particular theme this year — what makes something American literature? — so that was the thread running through all our conversations. As usual, we wrote several short essays throughout the class and one large (25-page) research paper at the end of the class. We also continued our family poetry tradition by memorizing a poem every week or so — we focused on works by poets from the United States.
As far as the AP test goes, whatever her score ends up being, I think it was a good experience for us. We did have to call around to find a spot for her to take the test, which got a little stressful (though now I have a great place for future AP test-taking!), and we took two full practice tests before the actual test, which felt very school-y. She said she felt pretty confident coming out of the test, and she scored well on the practice tests, so at least I can feel like she was well-prepared. This is probably the first of a few AP classes that we’ll do for high school, so we can apply all the practical things we learned this year to future classes.
If you read the spring issue, you know all about how we put together our Studio Ghibli-themed comparative literature class, in which we watched Studio Ghibli’s adaptations of books, including The Secret World of Arrietty (an adapatation of The Borrowers), Tales from Earthsea (an adaptation of A Wizard of Earthsea), Howl's Moving Castle (an adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle), and When Marnie Was There (an adaptation of When Marnie Was There), and compared them to the books. This was probably our favorite class.
I’ve mentioned how sad I was when my daughter decided to trade Latin (which we’d done together since 3rd grade) for Japanese, but it’s awesome that she was so excited about something none of us really knew anything about. At first I thought we might be able to piece it together with an online program and a good textbook, but that did not prove successful, so we ended up hiring a native Japanese speaker for twice-a-week one-on-one lessons. This was not cheap, but it has been totally worth it — my daughter has learned a lot, and I have someone I can ask when a question comes up. (That was the hardest part of introducing something I really don’t know to our homeschool — not having someone to ask my stupid questions!) The books we ended up using were Japanese From Zero and the Genki textbook. My daughter’s not fluent or anything, but it’s helping her make sense of anime and manga in their original forms, which was one of her big goals, so I say it’s a win. We’ll be sticking to this plan for next year.
Schedule-wise, we used a similar pattern to the one we used when we were studying Latin: We make vocabulary flashcards and review them about three times a week. (My daughter loved making these because she got to write Japanese characters.) She’d study a chapter in the book with her tutor, then work on the exercises between sessions and go over her work with her tutor at their second session. About once a month, we’d all watch a Japanese movie with subtitles together — I am not sure this actually helped with her Japanese study, but it was a fun way to connect the rest of the family to her studies.
I did nothing for math this year, and it was wonderful — Jason did it all, and he did it brilliantly. (If you are in Atlanta, he teaches a few classes, and I am not the only person who raves about his high school math teaching ability!) He has his own curriculum that he uses, but it’s basically a spiral approach that reinforces middle school concepts that kids might not have totally grasped while moving kids into high school math. He mixes up algebra, geometry, and trig, so that you’re always working on something new and on something that feels familiar, so he builds his student’s math confidence and skills at the same time. I was worried that it might not work for our daughter, but it’s been terrific. (And not that we are obsessed with test scores, but her math SAT score took a huge jump this spring.)
High school science is really hard to homeschool — there’s just not a lot of good stuff out there. I wanted something that’s more rigorous than “oh, hey, here are these fun experiments,” but also something that still had lots of hands-on experiments (that I could swing in a reasonably equipped home laboratory) and that really explained scientific ideas. This year, we used Holt’s Physical Science, and while it was fine, it wasn’t earthshakingly great, and I ended up doing a ridiculous amount of supplemental book and lab hunting. Physical science covers a wide range of topics (from the laws of motion to geology), so tracking down good books and labs took a ton of research. It was worth the effort, though.
We did roughly a lesson a week, usually reading the text as a kind of orientation and then following up with a more engaging book about the topic at hand. We did an experiment for each topic, keeping a lab notebook for lab reports. (We’ve progressed beyond worksheets, so we just broke down the sections in her notebook so that she could give each section as much space as she wanted.) We usually did our experiments during the weekend, which was a time when I knew we could set up, perform, and clean up a lab without anyone having to get stressed out. (My daughter didn’t love this, so we’ll try something different in the fall.) As with history, she did annotated readings and transferred notes to her science notebook every day.
She also did a science fair project — none of our groups does a science fair, so it was really just her doing a project, but it sounds more fun to call it a science fair project. She had to come up with a question and a hypothesis, figure out a way to test it, and present her results. She really enjoyed this — I definitely want to incorporate more projects like this into her high school experience. (Maybe I can get a proper fair going at Jason’s school this year—it would be more fun to do this as a group, I think.)
What I think of as “actual hands-on class time” took up more time this year, which I guess isn’t really surprising. My daughter found time to take a couple of Craftsy drawing classes (one was great and one was so-so — read the reviews before you sign up!), and she continued with her guitar lessons and worked on several crochet projects. She joined me and her 3rd grade brother for nature journaling occasionally, but it was definitely not a frequent occurrence this year. (That was a little sad for me, but she really did have a lot going on.)
As far as scheduling goes, we stuck (mostly) to our regular routine, which means my daughter started schoolwork whenever she woke up and felt ready—usually around 11 a.m. We’d work together for a few hours (usually about three), and she’d also do a couple of hours of work on her own, usually after the rest of us went to bed, which is when she likes to work. She did go to Jason’s math lab on Tuesdays and Fridays, so she had to wake up early on those days, and we did set the alarm for the one SAT practice test she took this year so that we could more accurately reflect the test conditions. Because our schedule is loose, there’s no compelling reason to implement an early morning start time, and my daughter really likes sleeping in. We’d sit down on Sunday evening and talk through the week ahead — what our schedule looked like, what we wanted to accomplish, any looming deadlines, etc. — and review the previous week together. My daughter kept up with her own schedule and deadlines — last year, there was a big learning curve with that, but this year, all went smoothly. Her transcript came together pretty easily, probably because we did so much big picture planning up front.
I think it helped that we’ve been homeschooling for several years now, so we know what works for us. It’s not as hard to plan out the year or figure out the right resources because we have a clear idea of what we want: We’re very bookish, and my daughter learns best through reading and writing, so we tend to build our year around those things. (That also happens to be how I learn best, so I got lucky there.) We like to go for depth rather than breadth, so we’re likely to build a framework that allows us to focus on a few specific areas instead of trying to recreate a survey class. I feel like we tried a lot of different things over the years to figure out what worked best for us, and now we kind of get to reap the rewards of those efforts, which is kind of nice.
I was nervous about homeschooling high school, but this ended up being such a great year — I think we both really enjoyed it once we figured out how to make it work. (The Japanese thing was hard to get sorted!) One of my big goals was not to lose the fun, relaxed spirit that I think is one of the best parts of homeschooling for us, and I think we managed that, even though the workload for both of us definitely increased. The work we did last year to prep for high school — working on papers, practicing taking notes, setting concrete goals for classes, adding more to our to-do list — definitely helped make the transition easier. I highly recommend building some of those skills before you get to the classes that require you to use them on a regular basis. I would say my two big lessons from this year were 1.) get help if you need it — you probably can’t teach everything, and 2.) don’t get so bogged down by details that you lose sight of what you want the big picture for your homeschool to be. Wrapping my head around homeschooling high school was a little scary, but I’m so glad we took the plunge. It’s so much fun.
Expensive doesn’t mean better, but some things are worth paying more for. Do your research before you commit your resources.
Take lots of pictures. You may not run into as many obvious photo opps as you did during the early years, but you will treasures photos of your high schooler at work.
Don’t feel like a failure if your teenager decides to try traditional school. Giving him the freedom to come to that decision on his own totally counts as success.
Keep quarterly records of classes and reading lists.
Let her stay up late. Let her sleep in.
Travel as much as you can, as many places as you can.
You will realize sometime during your child’s senior year that you left a hole somewhere in his education. Let it go. Everyone’s education has some holes.
Take your time. The worst thing that can happen is that your child graduates later than his public school peers. That’s not so bad.
Sign up for a community college class, just to get a feel for what it’s like.
Stick to what has worked. Don’t feel like you have to break out hardcore curricula or make your daily work time serious business just because your child hits high school.
Give your teen freedom to set his own goals and schedules. Let him mess up.
Make everyday activities, like budgeting for groceries or doing laundry, part of your curriculum. Your teen will thank you later.
Plan like your teen will be going to college. Expect that he might decide to do something else. You’ll cover your bases and minimize senior year stress.
Do not stop taking field trips and baking cookies together.
Give lots of feedback. Your high schooler needs to know how her work measures up.
Don’t panic. Yes, suddenly it seems like there is so much to do and so little time. There will be even less time in six months when you realize you just spend the last half-year freaking out.
Take a few SAT prep tests. Don’t take an SAT prep class unless your teen is applying to a super-competitive school.
Invest in what your child cares about most. If that means scavenging free math curricula and grammar lessons to pay for drama lessons, that’s okay.
Do not get so caught up in the this-should-be-on-your-transcript checklist that you suck all the fun out of homeschool.
Keep quarterly records of classes and reading lists.
Find a way for your child to do real labs. Even if she’s not a science person.
Visit lots of colleges.
See as many concerts, plays, ballets, poetry readings, films, and other performances as you can.
Plan ahead for timing-matters issues, like college applications and driver’s license testing.
Make plenty of one-on-one dates with your teen. These years fly by so quickly, and you’ll be glad you made the time when she’s not living at home anymore.
Help your child define what a successful high school experience for her would be. Then help her find ways to achieve it.
Talk seriously about technology and social media. Give your teen freedom to find her way and information to guide her.
Bask in your own glory. You did it. And you did great.
This list is adapted from a feature in the summer 2015 issue of HSL.
Once upon a time, homeschoolers were more likely to turn to traditional schools when high school rolled around—fewer than 17 percent of the 210,000 homeschooled kids reported by the U.S. Department of Education in 2001 were high school students. There are lots of reasons parents may choose not to homeschool their teens through high school, but don't let false fear be one of them.
Myth: High school is too difficult for the average parent to teach.
Fact: You don’t have to teach everything.
In many ways, homeschooling high school can be much simpler than the early years because your teen is capable of independent study. Just be honest with yourself: What are you capable and willing to teach, and what do you need to outsource? Maybe you love the thought of digging deeper into history, but the prospect of teaching trig makes you want to break out in a cold sweat. Outsource subjects you don’t want to tackle—co-op classes, tutors, community college, online classes are all great options. As your student advances, your job will shift from teacher to educational coordinator—listening to him and guiding his class choices and extracurricular activities to prepare him for the college or whatever post-high school path he's interested in. It also means keeping track of classes for his transcript, staying on top of testing deadlines for standardized and achievement tests, and helping him start to hone in on the best people to ask for letters of recommendation.
Myth: Homeschoolers can’t take Advanced Placement (AP) tests.
Fact: Homeschoolers can take AP tests—whether they take official AP classes or not.
AP is a brand-name—like Kleenex or Band-Aid—which means the College Board gets to decide whether or not you can call your child’s course an AP class. (The College Board has a fairly straightforward process for getting your class syllabus approved on their website, and few homeschoolers run into problems getting their class approved.) You can build your own AP class using the materials and test examples on the College Board website and call the class “Honors” or “Advanced” on your transcript—and your child can take the AP test in that subject as long as you sign him up on time and pay the test fee. (Homeschoolers have to find a school administering the test willing to allow outside students, which may take some time. You’ll want to start calling well before the deadline.) If you’re nervous about teaching without an official syllabus, you can sign up for an online AP class or order an AP-approved curriculum. And remember: just because you take an AP class doesn’t mean you have to take the test.
Myth: It’s hard for homeschoolers to get into college.
Fact: Homeschooled kids may actually be more likely to go to college than their traditionally schooled peers.
This myth may have been true 20 years ago, but not anymore. Researchers at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) found that 74 percent of homeschooled kids between age 18 and 24 had taken college classes, compared to just 46 percent of non-homeschoolers. In fact, many universities now include a section on their admission pages specifically addressing the admissions requirements for homeschooled students. In 1999, Stanford University accepted 27 percent of its homeschooled applicants—twice the rate for public and private school students admitted at the same time. Brown University representative Joyce Reed says homeschoolers are often a perfect fit at Brown because they know how to be self-directed learners, they are willing to take take risks, they are ready to tackle challenges, and they know how to persist when things get hard.
Myth: You need an accredited diploma to apply to college.
Fact: You need outside verification of ability to get into college.
Just a decade or so ago, many colleges didn’t know what to do with homeschoolers, and an accredited diploma helped normalize them. That’s not true anymore. (In fact, you may be interested to know that not all public high schools are accredited—only 77 percent of the high schools in Virginia, for example, have accreditation.) What you do want your child’s transcript to reflect is non-parent-provided proof of academic prowess. This can come in the form of graded co-op classes, dual enrollment courses at your local college, SAT or ACT scores, awards, etc. Most colleges are not going to consider whether your child’s high school transcript was accredited or not when deciding on admissions and financial aid.
Myth: A portfolio is superior to a transcript.
Fact: The Common App makes transcripts a more versatile choice.
Portfolios used to be the recommended way for homeschoolers to show off their outside-the-box education, but since more and more schools rely on the transcript-style Common Application, portfolios have become a hindrance. (Obviously, portfolios are still important for students studying art or creative writing, where work samples are routinely requested as part of the application process.) In some ways, this format is even easier to manage than a portfolio—you can record high school-level classes your student took before 9th grade and college courses he took during high school in convenient little boxes. And don’t worry that your student won’t be able to show what makes him special: The application essay remains one of the best places to stand out as an individual. Some schools even include fun questions to elicit personal responses: The University of North Carolina, for instance, asks students what they hope to find over the rainbow.
Myth: Homeschooled kids don’t test well.
Fact: On average, homeschoolers outperform their traditionally schooled peers on standardized tests.
All that emphasis on test prep in schools doesn’t seem to provide kids with a clear advantage come test time. Homeschooled students score 15 to 30 percentile points above the national average on standardized achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of education or the amount of money parents spend on homeschooling. That includes college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. Research compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics shows that homeschoolers scored an average 1083—67 points above the national average of 1016—on the SAT in 1999 and an average 22.6 (compared to the national average of 21.0) on the ACT in 1997. This doesn’t mean these tests aren’t important—good scores can open academic doors—but it does mean you may not have to worry about them as much you’d thought.
Myth: Homeschooled kids are not prepared for college.
Fact: Homeschooled kids adapt to college life better than their traditionally schooled peers.
This one always makes me laugh. Homeschooled kids probably have more hands-on life experience than their traditionally schooled counterparts. Homeschooled kids are usually more active in their communities, and because homeschooling is a family affair, they are more likely to have everyday life skills—the ones you need to make lunch for yourself or comparison shop for a tablet. Homeschooled teens also tend to be active participants in their own education, figuring out ways to manage their time and workload with their social lives long before they start college. Most importantly, they are able to interact and work with people of different ages, backgrounds, and cultures in a positive way, which is really the most important life skill of all. Perhaps that’s why homeschoolers are more likely to graduate from college (66.7 percent of homeschoolers graduate within four years of entering college, compared to 57.5 percent of public and private school students) and to graduate with a higher G.P.A. than their peers. Homeschoolers graduate with an average 3.46 G.P.A., compared to the average 3.16 senior G.P.A. for public and private school students, found St. Thomas University researcher Michael Cogan, who compared grades and graduation rates at doctoral universities between 2004 and 2009.
This article was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home | school | life, and we’re reprinting it online in 2016.
So this is happening, y’all: This fall, my homeschooled daughter starts high school—and we’re planning to homeschool all the way to graduation.
We’ve always tried to leave the decision about whether to continue homeschooling up to our kids—as long as they’re actively engaged in their learning, it’s their call whether to keep homeschooling or look at a more traditional school environment. There was definitely part of me that hoped, as we visited hybrid schools and Montessori high schools over the past couple of years, that my daughter would want to continue homeschooling, but apparently there was also an equally sized part of me that hoped she’d find a school she loved, because when she made her decision, I had a little bit of a panic attack. High school is scary, and the stakes feel really high. It’s definitely taken me some time to get comfortable with the idea, and if you’re in the same boat, I think it’s important to give yourself that time. Freak out. Panic. Spin your wheels. Get it out of your system so that you can focus because once you do, homeschooling high school is not that different from any other grade.
Going into high school, we have two big goals. The first: We do not want to lose all the things we love about homeschooling just because we’re keeping serious transcripts. I’m not willing to give up lazy mornings and readalouds and afternoons of crafting and conversation in exchange for workbooks and homework. Our second goal, which may seem contradictory, is to make sure we cover the bases so that my daughter can do whatever she wants college-wise after she graduates. Since she’s not sure whether she wants to be an astronomer or a You Tuber or a graphic designer when she grows up, covering our bases should keep us busy!
To keep things simple, we’re making sure to cover these bases, which most liberal arts schools seem to be looking for, over the next four years:
- 4 years of English
- 2 years of a foreign language
- 3 years of mathematics
- 2 years of a laboratory science
- 2 years of a social science
Some of these classes we’ll do as proper classes; others may happen more organically as part of our regular homeschool lives. My job is going to be to keep up with what we’re doing and write everything down so that when the time comes to make that official transcript, I have all the information I need and then some.
As usual, my daughter and I had our annual planning meeting, exchanging ideas and book lists for 9th grade over chai lattes at our neighborhood coffee joint. As has become our way over the past two or three years, she led the conversation, and while I may have double-checked our academic requirements list a few times, I let her lead. Here’s what we’ve landed on for her first year of high school:
- Japanese. After six years of Latin, my daughter wants to try something new, so we’re giving Japanese a whirl. I’m not sure yet what resource we’re going to use for this—I’m sure as heck not going to try to teach it myself—so finding a good beginner Japanese class will be my summer project. (Suggestions welcome!)
- U.S. history and literature. My idea is to teach a U.S. history class that prepares my daughter to take the AP U.S. History test, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ll likely use my battered old Norton Anthology of American Literature as the spine for the literature part of our class.
- Comparative literature: Studio Ghibli’s adaptations. This class was my daughter’s idea, and I think it’s genius: We’ll read books (Howl’s Moving Castle, When Marnie Was There, The Borrowers, etc.) and then watch Studio Ghibli’s film adaptations of them, looking for similarities and differences and thinking about what they mean.
- Physical science. I’m not sure what resource to use for this either. Good secular high school science is hard to find.
- Math. Now that our daughter is in high school, Jason is taking over her math lessons. He’s kind of famous in our homeschool circles for what I call his “kitchen sink” approach to math—he’ll cover a hodgepodge of algebra and geometry over the next two years, and then our daughter can decide if she wants to try something like trig or calculus.
- Etc:. We’ll continue our Craftsy crafting adventures with a more advanced crochet class for amigurumi makers—my daughter is hooked. (No pun intended!) She'll also join her littler brother and me for art and nature study when she wants to, and she'll continue with her music practice. She'll also still memorize a poem every week or so. She'll also take one of our online classes this fall—probably history or philosophy, but she mentioned that statistics and probability sounded interesting, too.
As you can tell, we’re covering our bases by ticking off items in our goal list, but we’re still doing things in a way that allows my daughter to plot her own educational course. I’m sure we’ll hit bumps and roadblocks, that we’ll need to course-correct along the way, and that I’ll forget something really, really important until it’s almost too late, but that’s par for the course with homeschooling.
What about you? Are you homeschooling high school? How is your planning shaping up?
I am so pleased to welcome Molly Dunham to the home | school | life blogging team! When we first started homeschooling our daughter, her blog (now archive-only) was such a resource and inspiration for me. I’m thrilled to read her thoughts on homeschool life again—and I bet you will be, too.
We circled the parking lot several times before settling for a parking spot a block away from the library. So many station wagons and minivans signaled that today was preschool story time. It had been years since I loaded my preschool aged children into our Volvo wagon to make our weekly trek to the library, where we’d sit on carpet mats on the floor of the community room to hear our favorite librarians read out loud.
“It seems like just yesterday that we were going to story time, and now you’re driving me to the library,” I said to my daughter as she parked my Subaru.
Times change, cars change, roles change. And just like people tell you when your kids are young, it happens so fast. My little girl is now taller than I am. She has her driver’s permit and has claimed her own set of keys to my car. In a few weeks, she will be done with high school, two years ahead of schedule. In a few months, she will get her driver’s license and begin taking classes at the local community college. If all goes according to her plans, she will also get a job. These are the events she’s been preparing for the last ten years of homeschooling, but it’s hard to believe they’re scheduled on this year’s calendar.
Even though I have one child on her way to college, and another child who has opted to attend a traditional middle school after homeschooling throughout the elementary grades, I am a homeschooler at heart. Some things don’t change. As my kids have grown and chosen their educational paths, our classroom has expanded beyond math at the dining room table, science at the kitchen island, PE at the park, literature via audiobooks in the car, and field trips to historical monuments. Learning together has become our family culture, and I imagine our shared education will extend far beyond their graduation. I look forward to the lessons they have in store for me. There’s so much to see from the passenger seat.
Living books to inspire a reluctant reader, learning how to take notes, and other stuff that's happening in our high school right now.
There are emails in my inbox from my children this morning. My son has sent a link titled, “Best Worst Game Trailer Ever,” and my daughter, the middle kid, has sent an email titled, “How Utah Solved Homelessness,” and “TV Return Dates.” My latest email exchange with the oldest is titled “21 Things you can do in London that are Free.”
This habit of emailing each other throughout our day has grown, I think, from something my husband started. He sat down a couple of years ago and made a list of things he heard the kids bring up in conversation often. He created a list of Google Alerts for himself with keywords based on those topics and the alerts became fodder for email exchanges with the kids (and me — he outlined my interests, as well). At first I was perhaps a little skeptical of his motives, but I soon saw how often those exchanges started spilling into our conversations, sparking exchanges we might not have otherwise had, and how many times an idea or concept picked up in this manner turned into a whole family dialogue.
Even better, the kids began responding in a similar fashion. When they came across something they found amusing, enlightening, or curious, they’d send an email titled, “What do you think of this?” or “Something we should consider.”
It’s become another way for me to peek inside their universe at an age where kids are often accused of being less accessible. I may not know every detail, but in this small way I think I am gaining a greater understanding of what captures their interest and imagination. I don’t always understand what draws them to the things they are drawn to, but these glimpses have opened my eyes to things I might not have noticed on my own. I learn a little something with each note and what evolves into conversation helps me understand where a topic ranks in importance.
Many of these exchanges burn out quickly, while others have become subject of daily conversation between a few of us and sometimes all. I like the point of contact that fits between schedules that are increasingly filled with job and school obligations, something our lives were free of for so long.
These email exchanges are indicative of our changing roles. We serve as the primary resources for our children less and less with each passing day. More and more, they are teaching us, showing us the things we need to learn to keep up with this ever-changing world.
When the kids were younger, September was a month of settling into a new routine.After summer 4-H activities and nearing the end of the summer farmers market season, we looked forward to making plans for fall projects and defining just what it was that we wanted to accomplish in the coming year as the days grew shorter and the temperature dropped.
New routines don’t feel like so much of a joint effort anymore. I’m feeling, in fact, like the month of September snuck up on me. Our family has managed to wrap up a summer full of 4-H, quite a bit of travel for the kids, farmers market events, extended family gatherings with cousins one-two-and-three generations down the line, and we’ve celebrated the middle kid’s 17th birthday.
What has changed?
I find myself asking if it is more the kids or me. As they’ve gotten older, my routine has slid toward working more and hanging out at home less. A defensive mechanism, perhaps? A way of keeping myself from hovering? A reaction to the fact that I realized, at some point, my kids would benefit from a little less mom time?
Five years ago I took a job as the farmers market manager (part-time summers, somewhat less than part-time through the winters) and what my vendors have been reminding me lately is that the kids were there, near weekly, helping out. My youngest learned to count change by sorting the market money bag. The oldest helped by plugging the numbers into the accounting program for the first few summers. She also became the market’s official photographer for events. They carried corn and watermelons for shoppers and were often there to ring the start of market bell.
“Haven’t seen your girls all summer,” a vendor said to me on Saturday, and, “That boy of yours, I barely recognized him. He’s gotten so tall.”
Some days I feel I don’t see much of them either. My oldest seems to be having an easy semester. When she’s not in school, she’s working… saving her money for big plans down the road. She’s spending more time out with friends, studying… or whatever it is the college kids do these days.
The middle kid is also on campus, for only one class, but it is five days a week, and she works in the office for her dad the one day I’m not there. We took a break together at lunch yesterday to review the state’s guidelines for high school graduates. We then went to the university’s page for incoming freshman. She’ll have no problems getting in. She could be “done” in fact if we chose to look at things that way. In the spirit of being thorough, we decided to add a Crash Course/Khan Academy chemistry unit to her transcript. I volunteered to sit beside her as a student, too. I’m looking forward to the time together.
My son took on a two-half-days-a week babysitting job in the summer that has morphed into three-more-or-less-full days this fall. When I worried that it was too much time, too much responsibility, he talked me into letting him give it a try. I still worry, but he is finding his way, and we are keeping the lines of communication open about it. In addition to the babysitting job, my son remains dedicated to daily “edu-pack” time, his self-titled selection of topics/themes/lessons that has evolved from what I once urged as a daily things-to-do list. The last I looked, in included things like DuoLingo lessons, a history series on YouTube, and daily time on Khan Academy. In addition, he has signed up for a German cooking class, and has been studying the area technical school catalog, trying to decide if there is a certificate he might like to apply for (he has learned that high school students can begin taking classes at minimal cost their junior year of high school).
I have moments where I ache to have it all back again… days centered at the kitchen table, rolling out egg noodles for lunch as little voices take turns reading out loud from the latest Harry Potter novel. Last night middle kid made pizza for the whole family. Tonight we each ate what was found in the refrigerator as we arrived home, varied leftovers as varied schedules permit. Last night’s pizza maker has her nose in a book, and it’s not the same book I saw her reading a few hours ago. My son has retreated to his room, feeling the need for some alone-time, I suspect, after another full day of babysitting. I crawl into bed without seeing the oldest. Hubby and I have a conversation about it. Should we ask her to check in more often? We hear the key in the lock as we drift off to sleep.
September will soon turn to October, and I will be doing my best to balance keeping out of the way, while spending all the time I can manage with them.
Lately, I keep thinking back to a dance class my oldest daughter took when she was four. It stands out in my mind as one of my early parental blunders. She didn't want me there, you see. It was an “all by myself” moment which I failed to honor.
From my lap, she had turned and whispered, “I don't want you to watch.”
I remember sitting in a chair outside of the dance studio, watching mothers enter with their daughters as I stirred my feelings of jealousy. “I'm paying for the class,” I reasoned. “She’s my kid. I deserve to watch.”
I also remember the look on her face when she spied me there, hiding at the back of the room near the doorway. It completely erased the delight I had felt at watching her dance. In that moment, I was transformed into someone she couldn’t trust, and to come entirely clean with her about my emotions and desires seemed the only option.
Truthfully, it broke my heart a little, but I also understood that it wasn’t really a rejection. She was simply saying that she was prepared to go this one on her own... as she would be prepared, over the years, to try many things I may or may not have enjoyed watching.
“I messed up,” I told her clearly. “This was my error, my selfishness. Though it may have felt that way, it had nothing to do with a lack belief that you could do this thing on your own.”
Until last year, when she started college, she’d never been in a traditional school setting. That decision, which originated with me, had given us ample hours together. Some mothers cringe when they think of time with teenaged girls, but I have no regrets. That conversation we started having when she was four and I screwed up at dance class? We are continuing it still.
I had expected to experience a bit of heartbreak when she decided to try college full-time. The change wasn't necessarily easy for her. As an unschooler accustomed to taking charge of her own time and planning her days and weeks to meet her own agenda, she had some struggles with “someone else” making so many demands on the way she filled her calendar. I honestly wasn’t sure she would commit to continue past the first semester.
But now we had more to talk about than ever before. For those first few weeks of college, in fact, I remember having this feeling that we had returned to that hand-in-hand place. Though she was more frequently gone, when she was at home we were often in the same room and interacting with an intensity that hadn’t existed between us since she was young enough to need me for things like reading directions and reaching the projects on the highest shelf. She was constantly filling me in on her experiences and observations. She was full of questions and eager for my input.
Today I’m generally comfortable standing on the sidelines or completely leaving the room when asked. I recall from my own childhood that it was sometimes easier to be brave, bold, and experimental when my mother wasn't around.
She knows I’m her biggest fan and supporter. But she also knows that I trust her and will listen when we disagree. When she says, “I've got this,” I know now to walk away, to keep my opinions to myself, and to leave her needs above my wants.
Homeschooling high school doesn’t have to mean acquiring organizational super skills. This easy organization method won’t stress you out and will make your life a whole lot easier when you start working on transcripts and other official paperwork for high school graduation. (This is our most-requested reprint from the magazine.) The envelope solution is elegant, effective, and so simple you can’t screw it up. Start it in ninth grade — eighth if you’re feeling particularly ambitious — and when it’s time to start the college application process, you’ll be all set. Here's how it works.
Label a large envelope for each class with the full name of the course and grade number (such as 9-Honors English 1 or 11-AP U.S. History). Add a separate envelope for extracurricular activities — if your child is serious about an activity, like soccer or theater, you may want to create a separate envelope for that particular activity as well as one for general extracurricular activities.
Label another envelope with your teen’s grade level and Honors — you’ll use this envelope to stash certificates of achievement, pictures of science fair experiments, and other awards and recognitions. Add one last envelope for community service — again, be sure to label it with your student’s grade level.
Make a basic information sheet for each class your child is taking. Include:
- the textbook(s) used, with ISBN number
- a copy of the textbook’s table of contents (Do this now. The last thing you want to do is end up rooting through boxes in the garage in a couple of years to figure out if your son’s freshman biology class included a section on genetics.)
- the course description and syllabus
- the name of the teacher (yes, even if it’s you!)
- the number of credit hours the course entails
Tuck this information sheet securely in the envelope. Add items to envelope as the year progresses. Things you’ll want to include:
- graded papers and tests
- samples of presentations, lab reports, or other work done in the class
- a running reading list (Add titles of books and essays to the list as you read them so you don’t have to try to remember everything at the end of the year. Even better, have your student keep an annotated reading list — with notes about each book.)
- notes about associated activities — visits to museums, lectures, theaters, etc. — that relate to the class
At the end of the class, write the final grade and total credit hours on the front of the envelope. Inside the envelope, add:
- official grades — community college report cards, printouts from an online class, or your evaluations
- Ask any outside teacher to write a recommendation letter or evaluation for your student. Do it now while your student’s work is still fresh in their minds, and add the recommendation to your envelope. If you decide to ask this teacher for a recommendation when you’re working on college applications, you can give him his original recommendation to refresh his memory.
- If your student ends up taking an AP or CLEP exam in a subject, add the exam results to your envelope. Similarly, if your student publishes or wins an award for work she started in the class, add those credits to your envelope.
Use a binder clip to group your envelopes — depending on how your brain works, you may want them grouped by grade level, by subject matter, or by some other criteria. However you group them, they’ll make writing that final transcript a lot easier since all your information will be organized in one place.
Reprinted from the winter 2015 issue’s Problem: Solved feature, which also tackled writing your own curriculum, keeping up with library books, getting over bad days, how to tell the difference between a homeschool slump and when you’re ready to stop homeschooling, and lots more