Homeschooling through high school
By Janet Leake
Issue #65 • September/October, 2000
Why not? Whether you’re experienced or inexperienced, whatever your situation, you already know why you want to homeschool your kids through high school. Now, what about how?
We have been homeschooling our three sons since the eldest, now a sophomore at a neighboring state university, was in the seventh grade. So you can see that most of our experience is with the adolescent years. We have a ninth and an eleventh grader still at home.
First of all, relax. Teenagers are just young people. They need your experience, judgment, and guidance, but if you had a good relationship with your kids when they were elementary school age, there is no reason that the advent of hormone surges makes you any less responsible for them. With a little tolerance and patience—on both sides—you can continue your good relationship.
Ignore the people that say “You’re not going to try to homeschool in high school, are you?” as if you were embarking on some wild rafting trip. Homeschooling is fun, and it’s even more fun with older kids. They can do more, think more, persevere in long-term projects, and even help with the driving on long field trips. Removed from the most damaging parts of peer pressure, they’re a lot easier to get along with than when they went to public school.
Be assured about your abilities. Homeschooling is growing at such a fast rate that you may have trouble choosing from among the multitude of programs and curricula. Nor do you have to turn your home into a chemistry lab or invest in football tackling dummies to do an adequate job.
Warning: Nothing in homeschooling takes as long as it does in a class of 25 to 35. If you take a realistic look at how much class time is spent actually presenting, learning, and practicing material in a public school day, it’s about as much time as our high school homeschoolers spend every day—maybe two to four hours. When you don’t have morning announcements, homeroom, lunch money collection, hall passes, late slips, pep rallies, dressing, showering, and redressing in PE, assemblies, and standing in line, you’ve got the serious time left. In homeschool, you don’t waste time. Most high schoolers have other interests than schoolwork, and efficient homeschooling allows them time to sew, read, paint, and build computers, tree houses, or birdhouses.
The “relaxed homeschooler” attitude seems to work best for our family, and I recommend it for high schoolers. Choose your battles—win the war. Does it really matter if they start promptly at 7:30 on algebra, or do their coursework in a certain order, as long as it gets done?
First, do your homework. You need to take a took at what you expect of your students and yourself. Are you planning on college for them? Technical school? Degree at home program? If you’re considering doing your own, fairly free-form program and having your student take the GED exam, check into the rules in your state. In our state, people taking the GED must have been out of high school for one year, which would have led to a long delay in our eldest starting college.
What do you want them to achieve in their teen years? What are your goals for them, and what are they willing to take on? You’ll certainly want input from the student, but don’t take it too much to heart if his or her current goal is either “I dunno” or something contrary to anything you would wish. People have time to change their minds at this age. You just need to show them the possibilities. I suggest writing down your goals rather specifically for the semester, the year, and the program. Not that they won’t change, but it gives you a framework. The really important goals will come to the fore very soon.
Get a copy of almost any homeschooling magazine from a homeschooler or the library, or put the word “Homeschool” into a search engine, and you’ll have more mail-in offers and websites than you can look at. Websites can give you a good overview, and many curriculum publishers will send out samples upon request. Homeschooling has become big business and the number of homeschoolers is growing at about 15 percent a year. Wade through the hype, talk to other homeschoolers, and use your own judgement. If you’re not comfortable with a program, no matter how highly recommended, don’t buy it.
I’ve been sounding a little free and easy about other government rules for homeschooling because I live in Wisconsin where we have an easy-to-get-along-with system. Our only requirement is to file a form with the state giving the gender and grade level or age of the children being homeschooled, promising to give 180 days of instruction, and assuring them that we’re not homeschooling to escape giving the children any schooling at all.
Other states are much different. The problem is that every child not attending the public school means that much less money going from the state to the school district. Of course, we pay exactly the same property tax to pay for general education as anyone. Look carefully into the rules in your state. There are a lot of websites for this.
Join the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund. It’s not expensive, and it is worth it just as an insurance policy and to help others who may need it. You, too, may need it. High schoolers are more noticeable homeschoolers, especially after they start to drive or go to part-time work. They may not be doing anything but meeting you at the library, but their age is against them. A teen out of school is often seen as “guilty” until proven innocent.
Make sure that your proposed program meets the requirements for graduation in your state, if that is one of the rules in your state.
After making sure that your basic curriculum covers the subjects you feel, or your state feels, are must-haves, you will find shortfalls in every curriculum. If it is your stated goal that no child leaves your home without having learned to read music, or do electric wiring, or bake a loaf of bread, you will probably have to find additions to your curriculum that will help organize these lessons. I’ve found that a well-meaning idea that I should do something about gym class, for instance, doesn’t get much done compared to a written plan.
When you’re new to homeschooling, you tend to follow curricula slavishly. Sometimes disappointment follows, or the kids hate it, or you hate it, or you don’t think it goes fast enough or slow enough. Don’t worry too much if you have to change and start over. Every curriculum falls short or needs additions and subtractions. It may have sounded great in the sales blurb, and your neighbor loves it for her kids, who also do all the housework and never complain about taking care of the baby. But if it doesn’t work for your family after an honest try, sell it for half price at a book fair or on the net and get something you enjoy. It’s disappointing to have high hopes for a program and have to make a change, but no one is going to be seriously hurt educationally if you work to make the change a positive one.
Homeschooling in high school will certainly cost money. High school programs are not cheap. Higher price does not necessarily mean better material, or more complete material. But neither do you want to give your children a bargain basement education. Our family has been pleased with the American School, which is a very traditional correspondence program. It costs about $30 per month per student.
There are lots of ways to save on enrichment materials, too. You can go out online and check eBay, then go to some of the used homeschool material websites. Use your library. More than 50 percent of books loaned by public libraries on any given day are checked out to homeschoolers. Libraries stock or can get things like CDs, videos, and reference books that you should not buy, but you certainly should use. You may not be able to get basic curriculum in a timely fashion from the library, so don’t count on it, but isn’t it wonderful to have the PBS documentary, The Civil War, available without paying $156 for the set?
One caveat on libraries: Be aware that what is being read or recommended in public high schools for teen reading might not be what you want them to read. The emphasis in teen literature now is on so-called “reality,” but most homeschooler’s reality is not divorce, death, abuse, and addiction. Your teens are probably much more sensitive than they would want you to know. Be careful what you require them to read. Read it yourself, first, so that you can assign it with a whole heart. I’m not saying that teens should be kept unaware of problems in our society, but they don’t need their noses rubbed in it.
If you have a specific college or group of colleges in mind, you might be able to get a recommended reading list from them that states what they hope or expect high school graduates to have read by the time they get to college.
Homeschoolers and jobs
One of the problems with teens is their tremendous physical energy. They also can use an awful lot of money. Solve both of these problems and add to your school with useful work. Even if all they’re doing is flipping burgers, they can learn economics, punctuality, getting along with others, and money management. Because your homeschooled teen can work hours that other high schoolers can’t (if you’re a little flexible), they can often get employment even in areas where jobs are scarce. My middle son, for instance, is lucky enough to work 12 hours a week at a local woodworking shop. He had learned the basics from his Dad, but this is a great shop class with pay.
Moderation is important here. Keep an eye on the energy level of the young person. A week or two of feeling tired, simply from the stress of starting a new job and wanting to do well, is to be expected. But if they’re not getting assignments done in a timely fashion and are sleeping in six days out of seven, it might be time for a change. Remember who is in charge here, and make school work, not paid work, the number one priority.
Volunteerism is another useful outlet for the homeschooled teen’s energy. Animal welfare societies, children’s organizations, hospitals, and libraries all need volunteer help and a responsible, energetic teenager can learn a great deal. Follow the teen’s interests here. Don’t volunteer your son or daughter for a job they’ll hate.
Many people imagine homeschoolers never talk to anyone but their parents. I suppose that there are families or situations like this, but it’s not true of most of us. One of the artificialities of public school is the segregation by age. This does not reflect the real world. Homeschoolers, having more, not less, experience talking to people of all ages, just naturally seem to be comfortable with talking to people in general, which is a great bonus for the future.
Work towards independence and self-discipline in school work. Be available for questions or suggestions, but don’t do the work for them. You’ve already been through this, remember? It’s their turn now. I usually keep a notebook for each student, and I write out assignments the evening or the week before. Here’s a typical day.
American Literature—pages 278-290, answer questions 1-6 in study guide mentally, skip questions 7 and 8. Come talk to me about how you think this essay applies to life now.
Algebra I—pages 175-177, whatever Dad said as far as the problems on 177-178. Please use graph paper.
General Psychology—pages 234-238, answer quiz question on bottom of 248, then set up the fishbowls for the experiment we discussed yesterday. You’ll need a separate notebook for this—get one from the closet.
Have you finished the trip plan for the Civil War sites in Illinois? No, you may not use TripMaker. Please see me—I want this written out, with maps, as we’re going to need them Friday.
Simon has to work at 4:00—would you drive him?
This student also did a load of laundry, took out the trash, tore down a snowmobile carburetor and repaired it, talked on the phone with a friend for an hour and a half, and worked at his paying job from 4:30 to 7:00. Reasonably productive, except for the phone time.
One more thing to remember. Lots of homeschoolers say, if you’re not learning something, you’re not teaching. There are lots of opportunities for you, also, to learn something in high school homeschooling.
Here are just a very few of the many resources available that can help you get started in homeschooling:
C/O Home Life
PO Box 1190
Fenton MO 63026-1190
2200 East 170th
St. Lansing, IL 50438-6001
Chalk Dust Company
Eagle Christian School