If someone asked you to put on a blindfold and walk down a winding passageway in the dark, you probably wouldn’t jump at the chance. Walking in the dark is something few people enjoy. The anxiety that builds with the unknown route is no fun. We don’t like surprises. We prefer to know a safe route is available before we start.
But isn’t that exactly how many parents feel about the possibility of homeschooling their children through high school? For many, homeschooling their children through four years of high school sounds like walking while wearing a blindfold. They fear the unknowns, imagine the difficulties, and dread what they envision to be a challenging journey. These parents may even feel so much anxiety about the four-year task ahead that they choose to put aside their own convictions about the benefits of homeschooling to enroll their children in an institutional school.
But why not change the conditions? What if you decided to remove the blindfold, grab a flashlight and a map, and ask a guide to walk the path with you? Many of your apprehensions would disappear. Parents who choose to homeschool their children through high school do have light available for their paths. Just as you found the curriculums, co-ops, and doses of patience you needed to teach your children to read and learn multiplication when they were young, everything you need to homeschool through high school is available to you. Yes, like any year of homeschooling, teaching high school requires dedicated work for the parents, but if you take off the blindfold, grab a map, and find wise mentors along the way, the high school years can be a joy for you and your children.
Below are several keys to removing the blindfold and overcoming the fear.
Take High School One Year At A Time
Like any large project, homeschooling high school is overwhelming when viewed as one large endeavor. But when broken down into smaller steps, as a project manager would approach any project in the business world, it becomes more manageable. Why not approach it—in relation to planning, not to commitment—one year or even one semester at a time? In homeschooling, the long-term goal is for your child to graduate. How we get to graduation looks different for each family and each child, year by year.
I have relied heavily on resources from Home School Legal Defense Association to help me guide my children toward graduation a year at a time. HSLDA has two great pamphlets, Developing a Plan for High School (with sample four-year plans) and Keeping on Track: A Timeline for High School, available online or in print. By breaking the journey into one-year chunks, then planning a semester at a time, these brochures have kept me organized. For me, high school has involved five years of planning and execution, from eighth grade through the senior year’s graduation.
Let the Student's Interests and Abilities Dictate Direction
By the time my children are twelve or thirteen, my husband and I have a good idea of their academic abilities and general interests. By eighth grade, I sit down with each of my children to talk about their futures and cast a vision for high school. I try to make it a very encouraging time, full of specifics on all the good traits and abilities I see in them. I explain that in high school, most of the responsibility for learning will be theirs. I seek their input about whether they picture themselves a) going to college, b) joining the military, or c) pursuing a career directly after graduation. Based on that, together we have used the HSLDA brochures to create a plan for their high school coursework. The plan is flexible and will undoubtedly be tweaked, but it’s our working plan for the year to come. Then I repeat this conversation for each of the next four years till graduation.
Based on the outcome of those conversations, we take steps to craft a high school plan toward whatever requirements their desired direction (college, military, or workforce) entails. For instance, colleges require at least two years of foreign language study on a high school transcript. So if our child, my husband, and I determine that this child is college bound, we know a foreign language needs to be part of his or her high school course of study. I then help my student weigh the pros and cons of different languages (say, French vs. Spanish) and set out to research and purchase the language program our student will use based on individual learning style. But a foreign language may not be necessary if the child is heading directly into the workforce. How do I know what colleges, the military, or future employers want to see on a high school transcript? I lean heavily on HSLDA’s brochures, then do plenty of Internet research as verification.
As homeschooers, we parents legally dictate the requirements for graduation for our “school” in most states. We are truly blessed with lots of flexibility as to what our children can study prior to graduation. But we want to create a plan that’s in step with the child’s interests, abilities, and future goals, and that means making high school course selections which keep future options open.
Gradually Relinquish the Role of Teacher as You Adopt the Role of Counselor
For me, the biggest change from homeschooling my younger children to homeschooling my older ones is just how much less teaching I actually do. By high school I am there to select curriculum, provide overall deadlines and schedules, grade assigned reading and writing, and serve as a tutor or answer key when a child gets stuck, but I find I do very little of the actual instruction. In middle school, my children learn how to study: to read critically, create outlines and take notes, do research, and prepare for quizzes and tests. But once they hit high school, I move from teacher to a new role: counselor.
Just like a public school counselor, I invest more of my time toward providing encouragement; finding deadlines and registering my child at nearby schools for college tests like the PSAT, SAT, and SAT; overseeing paperwork needs like developing a transcript; and providing career counseling. Nobody knows our child as well as we do, so my husband and I are always on the lookout for opportunities that might interest him or her, including job shadowing experiences and volunteer opportunities. For instance, based on his interests, my sixteen-year-old son spent four days at TeenPact workshops at our state capitol; spent another two days shadowing our county’s soil, water, and wildlife officials; and visited a technical college that offers a wildlife management program.
Find (or Create) Social Options
The biggest blindfold that exists for homeschoolers is probably the fear of missing out on social opportunities in high school. After all, God created us all as relational, and at no time is that more evident than during the adolescent years. Fortunately, homeschooling need not mean isolation. Take off the social blindfold and find options. Consider the possibilities: volunteer options; theater and music groups; church ministries; and sports and recreation leagues—as participants, coaches, or referees. My daughters have been student teachers for little girls at their ballet studio, served as mock patients in a hospital’s disaster drill, taught in a community ESL program, and worked for a friend’s political campaign.
Other parents have reserved gyms to offer monthly recreation nights, opened their homes to ice cream socials and movie nights, or hosted other types of events. These options allow parents to participate alongside their young adults, which makes them available to guide teens through the sometimes rocky social challenges of the adolescent years. And for the many dads who harbor the “what about sports?” fear, some states now have “Tebow laws” which allow homeschool students to participate on public school sports teams.
Develop Academic Supports
Removing your fear of teaching high school courses includes honestly admitting what you know you don’t know. When my science-oriented daughter made her way into advanced biology and chemistry courses in our homeschool, I knew my limitations and called another homeschooling mom who has a strong science background. I asked if she’d be on call whenever my daughter had a question the curriculum’s teacher guide and KhanAcademy.com couldn’t answer. Over the course of the next two years, my friend graciously tutored my daughter several times. By the same token, I have served as a French tutor and editor for other students. In addition to tutors, look for strong curricula and online resources, and create student study groups in your home.
When you first started to homeschool your young children, you undoubtedly sought counsel from veteran homeschoolers and prayed a lot. May I challenge you to seek wisdom again, now that your children are older? Read good books about homeschooling high school (see list of resources below), and talk to moms who have graduated children to soak up their advice. Don’t try to go this all-important phase of home education without light and wisdom for the journey.
Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, are the parents of six. They have homeschooled since 1998 and have actively served new homeschoolers. They recently moved cross-country as God leads their family on a grand adventure! Melanie enjoys traveling, reading to stay one book ahead of her kids, and many outdoor pursuits. Melanie created curriculum for her homeschool, including a U.S. National Parks Unit Study, which she makes available to others at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com. Feel free to contact her there.
- Homeschooling High School: Planning Ahead for College Admission by Jeanne Gowen Dennis
- Accelerated Distance Learning by Brad Voeller
- What Color is Your Parachute for Teens by Carol Christen and Richard N. Bolles
- Do What You Are by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron
- Transcripts Made Easy by Janice Campbell
- www.KhanAcademy.org, www.coursera.org, and www.YouTube.com for specific course content
- SAT practice question of the day at www.collegeboard.org or mobile apps
- http://www.self-directed-search.com (a career interest test), or a shorter, free version: http://www.salisbury.edu/careerservices/Students/Holland/Quiz/default.asp
Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, started their homeschool journey in 1998. With two graduates and four children still at home, they ask the Lord to teach them how to uniquely educate each child. The Hexters love to travel the US, using their Colorado Springs home as a western base. Melanie is working on two books and offers several homeschool curricula, including the U.S. National Parks Unit Study, for download at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com. LEMILOE is their family motto: Live Every Moment In Light Of Eternity.