Tips for Keeping "Homeschooling High School" in Perspective

As Jason nears the end of his junior year in high school, I finally feel as if I can breathe a little with this whole "homeschooling high school" thing. Not really because of anything that I am doing, but rather because I am seeing everything that he is doing and how much he has grown since we started this journey and how much he continues to grow.

I spent the first two years of our high school homeschooling working to, once again, overcome that dreaded homeschool panic that I was not “doing enough” which is kind of funny after homeschooling for over a decade. But I think that is natural and can be helpful because it meant that I had to really think about what I felt an education should consist of. I ended up not doing as much reading on the subject as I had when I first started homeschooling but found conversations with other people in the same boat (or a little bit ahead of me) to be the most helpful .

I've pulled together some realizations that I found were the most beneficial for me as we have progressed along this path. Your mileage may vary of course.

Focus primarily on what your child is really interested in and (mostly) fill in the rest.

Let them go deep in places that they are really drawn to. I have come to believe that it will be the more in depth learning in their interest areas that will be what allows our kids to succeed on their path rather than a broad dabbling in all areas across the board.

Schools convince us that we have to be good in everything and what I am finding that I love about homeschooling is that it gives my kids a chance to go really deep in areas that they are passionate about. That does not mean to completely ignore the areas that they are not interested in. Jason is not a science kid, but I still want him exposed to science. But I am finding that it is ok if we don’t have a “rigorous” program for every subject.

Don’t compare what your teen is doing to what you think teens are doing in school.

I am becoming more and more convinced that we don’t do our high school teens any favors by expecting them to take a course loaded with tons of rigorous academic classes all at once. It just stresses them out and they wind up not really going nearly as deep and learning as much as they can because they have too many deadlines to meet.

I recently wrote an article in the VaHomeschoolers Voice called Trusting the Process, Even in the Teen Years. In it I wrote:

"Being challenged is important for teens. It encourages growth (both academic and personal) and allows a teen to start finding his or her place in the larger world. An over abundance of stress for the sake of checking off boxes on a transcript is not the same thing as being challenged.

Challenge is  an individual thing. For some kids it may take the shape of a formal, rigorous academic program. For others, it may take the shape of excelling in a sport or artistic endeavor. For others it may look a bit more eclectic - exploring a subject area that did not previously interest them, delving deep (both formally and informally) into a subject area that truly fascinates them, taking a more structured academic class, taking an art class or getting a job.

What I have realized is that the category of “ways to challenge my teen” is much more broad than “taking 6 academically rigorous high school level classes.”

Look for alternative paths to help them meet their goals.

I think that it is easy to fall back into the “school trap” that there is only one way to get into college--do 4 years of high school which include 4 years of math, english, science etc. What I am finding is that things are a bit more flexible than that, depending on where you look and what your child’s goals are.

If you are looking at going into a competitive field at a large/popular college directly after high school, you might need to jump through more traditional hoops and obviously you would want to make plans for doing so. But there are also lots of smaller/alternative colleges out there and there are majors out there that offer differing levels of flexibility.

Jason’s path looks like it is going to be the community college route (he is taking his first class now as a junior and I swear he is packing a lifetime of school experiences in this one class). We are taking it a year at a time as we have done every other year of our homeschooling.

Remember that our kids don’t turn into pumpkins at 18.

Yes, some of them know what they want to do and are more than ready to go off and do it. These are the kids you just have to point in the right direction and let them take off. But a lot of other kids might not know exactly what they want to do when they graduate (looking back, did you? I know that I did not).

If your child is not sure, it is fine to let them take some time and figure it out. Maybe they need to start at a community college to see what is out there. Some kids may want to get a job while they figure it out. Others may not be interested in college right off. Lots of "teen advice" now includes recommendations for taking a gap year. Both Susan Wise Bauer (Well Trained Mind) and Julie Bogart (Brave Writer) at the VaHomeschoolers Conference in March talked about how they had kids who benefited from not starting college immediately.

So once again, there are no educational emergencies and you don’t need to know exactly what you plan on doing, you have time (sound familiar?)

Start documenting everything that your teen does.

Books they read, classes they take, experiences that they have. It is much easier to do it as you go than to have to recreate it when you end up doing a transcript. It can be something as simple as a text document or you can use something like Evernote.

I got lucky in that we switched to annual evaluations when Jason was in 8th grade so I was already keeping track of what we are doing which helped a lot when I pulled together a transcript for community college. I don’t go too crazy, mostly just lists and class descriptions and anything else that documents/reminds me of what we did. I also don’t go crazy with tracking hours and I find that I have a pretty good idea of how many credits I am comfortable giving depending on what he has done in the area. I don’t track “credits” as we go but rather just everything that we do, then when I needed to pull the transcript together it was actually pretty easy to see where things kind of combined (I also found it helpful to get specific in my credits (Fantasy & Fiction or Dystopian Novels vs English 9 etc)) 

Now obviously a lot of that will vary depending on what path your teen wants to take. If you are planning on going the ivy league route, you will want to keep much better detailed records. But I think for most kids you will want to keep track, but don’t feel like you need to totally stress over it.

I was much more nervous when we started high school. Now that Jason is a junior, I am realizing that just as with most of life, you have to take a leap of faith and trust the process.

He still is not sure exactly what he wants to do (he has interests in history, linguistics, politics/current events and cooking). But he is learning and growing and challenging himself and even if I am not sure exactly where he is headed or exactly what path he is going to take to get there, but I do know that he is well on his way.