We have been homeschooling for so long that I often forget to blog about it, it is part of our everyday life, but I decided that this year I would begin the year intentionally by writing a series on homeschooling and particularly focusing questions that folk ask me a lot. Firstly, a galactic post on all our previous homeschooling posts and then I followed that up with homeschooling resources for teaching children about our rainbow nation, South Africa. This week I am going to write about a question I get from every single homeschooling parent ever…
How on earth do you homeschool high school?
How do you know your kids will be ready for college? How do you teach your kids topics that you aren’t comfortable with yourself? How do you get your kids up and out of bed in the morning? How do you get them to do the things they hate doing? How will they get into college? These questions usually come from folk who are really thinking about homeschooling, homeschooling their little ones – and I know that can be a bit of a circus, and they just can’t imagine homeschooling big kids. I have blogged about homeschooling high schoolers before and answered loads of those questions already. Take a peek at that post for the answers to those kinds of questions. But I understand… the longer you think about it the more questions arise. The problem is not so much how we homeschool through high school, but rather that we are full of doubt. We needn’t be, if we gave them a good foundation, then high school is just more of the same… and yet we worry. Possibly because:
High Schoolers Tend to Be Teenagers…
Let me say that again, High schoolers tend to be teenagers, and therein lies the trickiness of homeschooling through high school. It is not the subject matter so much as the stage. When folk with preprimary school aged children ask me about homeschooling high school, they tend to be worried about teaching rational human beings the intricacies of calculus, or astrophysics. These subjects, are not the issue… the child that is studying those topics usually have a passion for them and will have outstripped your knowledge by the time they are ten. They tend to have to follow their passions with vigour and inexplicable bursts of energy.
That being said… there is the problem with the teenage brain, they are not, and I don’t mean to be offending (it is a thing), the most rational folk around. And THAT’s OKAY… nobody wants to live with small children forever, we want our kids to grow up, we want them to take responsibility, we want them to push boundaries, we want them to learn ALL the people skills that they are ever going to need. But at just the same time they also have to take advanced algebra, and learn how to write 10 000 word essays. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, especially a hormonally muddled teenage brain.
Your High Schoolers Top Priorities
Your teenagers biggest need, in terms of high school is a school leaving certificate that will equip them to pursue their passion… that being said, most teenagers do not have a clue what career they would like to pursue… I know there are some children that know from age 3 or even younger that they want to be a palaeontologist, or whatever… and I am generalising here… most children have no idea what they want to do even when they are finished school. Our job as homeschool parents is to keep as many doors open for them as possible and expose them to jobs, so they can see what they are.
For example, one of my teens thought being a psychologist meant chatting to people all day, this was a short lived plan when I got them a psychology text book to work through… yes they liked talking to people, but they really didn’t want to listen to other folks’ problems all day. Fair enough, lesson learned… what other careers might require lots of chatting to people? That’s a whole ‘nother post on choosing a career.
As I was saying, your homeschooling child will naturally aggregate to friends with similar interests, they will find friends all over the place… writers will find writers, talkers will find talkers, coders will find coders… don’t worry about that. As the teacher you are there to look and see what do they need to pursue their interests further. Start by asking what their friends are doing. Might your child need to go to college or university, do they need to apprentice somewhere. This all takes a lot of time and effort, and should definitely fall under the life skills section of high school… it could involve writing letters, it could involve job shadowing, summer jobs… at this stage they need experiences. There is no connection in your child’s mind between a grammar text book and writing endless essays and possibly becoming a lawyer one day, they need to meet and chat with a lawyer, you probably know one and they could have a coffee.
As soon as your child has an idea of the requirements they need for college or university or whatever they would like to pursue… you then can adapt their curriculum and include the necessary requirements in that. So for example, our children have gone to a local college after high school, that requires them to have completed their SAT’s, which are an American standardised test… so we quipped them for that, while completing their high school coursework. They wrote the exams and got into college. It worked for us, some friends have needed to complete the Cambridge system for high school, because it was the easiest option (not an easy option!), for their children to pursue their careers at their university of choice. There are many ways to finish school, and a matric certificate from a particular school is not necessarily the only way to move on from school. Your child might want to get a job and find out if they like doing a particular job first. This is their season to try many things.
When your teenager enters high school it is a grand and new era for them, they feel more grown up, they want a lot more freedom and with freedom comes responsibility. I have found that by the time my children reach high school they have a fair idea of what is expected of them from a school day and they work through their work… there will be seasons when they don’t… never fear, they will do what needs to be done to finish, trust me nobody wants to be sitting around the kitchen table doing school, or a desk in the schoolroom for their entire lives. They will realise that folk around them are growing up and moving on and even the most reluctant student will figure out that they have to do something to move themselves along.
Se7en Priorities for your High Schooler
1. They need YOU to be their Cheerleader.
Not many teenagers are going to admit this, but it is what they need… They need to know that they believe in them, that you trust them to get this right. They need to rely on you to give them the path they need to travel through high school. They need to know that you have their back… they are going to make mistakes, little mistakes and massive mistakes… just keep in mind that the might grow two or three rulers taller than you, but they are still kids… and those teenage brains are not adult brains – even if they think they are. In fact, there is a book called The Teenage Brain, (amazon affiliate link) that I read and left lying around for my teenagers to read as well. They need to know… they can make mistakes and things will still be okay. They need to rely on you to pick good work for them to do, work that is challenging them and leading them in the right direction, and they need to know that some of it is going to be extremely challenging and some will be a breeze… at this stage you need to have built up a trust that you will help them find topics of interest and that they will get the necessary work done.
2. Food is Their First Priority…
Teenagers are hungry ALL the time, not a little bit hungry… starving. Some more than others… but having raised several boys I am telling you that a loaf of bread a day, each, is just satisfactory. At every meal… now that would be their dream. I do bake bread daily it is a lot more filling than shop bought bread. But more important than that, they need to know that you have a plan. You have a plan for lunch, you have a plan for supper… and if they do manage to get up in the morning… there is a plan for breakfast too. No I do not have the sort of teenagers that would be happy with a smoothie for breakfast, they want real food, and loads of it. The trick is to fill them up with wholesome food before they fill up on junk… because they seem to be able to source and absorb food that isn’t great without batting an eye. Get them in the kitchen, get them cooking and if they cook dinner, then they need to make the shopping list and do the shopping with you, until they can do it on their own. This is a life skill… they need to know what things cost… they need to know that some meals, while fantastic are not affordable on a daily basis and they need to know what are cost effective ways to feed themselves.
3. Screen time is Their Second Priority…
Our teenagers have been raised with devises in their hands, that is their normal and that is their life. Taking their screen away for this or that or the other reason does not teach your child how to manage their screen time, but it will alienate you from them. Rather think of ways that your teenager can use their phone for school… ask them to find a scheduling app, ask them to make a 3 minute video of a topic, rather than hand in an essay… videos are communication skills, they are going to need them. Let them learn online, if they find a course that they are keen to explore let them pursue it. My high schoolers have spent hours and hours on online courses, from Photography, to Shakespeare, Coding to the Cold War, Literature Studies, loads of things… they have absolutely loved learning online. That is screen time… and in a good way.
Also, they need to learn to manage their screen time. You have expectations of work that needs to be done, these are deliverables, and as with any job there are expectations, your kids need to know that their work is their responsibility. You cannot at this stage do it for them, if they truly loathe something then chances are they aren’t going to need that for their career of choice. Adapt your curriculum to suit them. If you have a child that can’t stand writing essays, keep in mind that that child might not become a journalist, and the skill you are trying to give them is how to fill in a form adequately. Obviously, don’t drop writing all together, but possibly a research paper twice a week won’t be necessary for that particular child… and so on for other subjects too.
4. Friends and Mentors are Their Third Priority…
Much as we would like to direct our children’s ideas and focus, because “we know what is best for them,” this is the season of their lives when they need to explore more and they do rely on friends for opinions and ideas. Honestly, we think our kids are pretty perfect. They know they are not… they needed a clearer viewpoint. I would rather my kids spread their wings amongst friends, than “influencers.” What can I say, lockdown has been really hard on this age group. Being a teenager can be horrifically lonely at the best of times, being a teenager during lockdown when your best friends are unavailable and virtual “apparent” friends are around 24/7 is tough.
I cannot stress how important it has been for our kids to find older folk to mentor them and just walk along side them… it has been really important for all my kids to have a friend who is a year or two or three ahead of them, someone that they can look up to and talk to. Your kids have ideas they want to talk about, not necessarily with their parents… they are trying new things, experimenting with new things. And for all the parents that think… “No, no, my kids can talk to me and do talk to me about anything.” I am going to whisper in your ear and say that “They can, but they don’t.” As soon as your teens can hang out with other teens again… let them.
Also, learning online, or from outside sources helps them to learn from teachers other than their parents… how to behave in the context of a class environment and how to understand work that is presented in a different way to the way that they have learned at home. Don’t hover, let them spread their wings… if they hate it, try something new, and keep looking for resources that will interest them. Usually my kids sign up for courses that might be more than they can do, but it is a topic that intrigues them… and they have raised their game. It’s great to see them do that.
5. Exercise is A Priority, but Maybe Not Their Priority
A teenager that exercises well, sleeps well and can face school work. And you don’t need a medical degree to know that between better sleep and exercise your child will be able to cope with a lot of those emotional peaks and valleys. And yet it can be almost impossible to get your teenager off the couch, let alone out of bed. If you have one of those teenagers that love to work out for the sake of working out, or they have a long habit of loving to run, swim, train… in some manner of fashion, you are one of the lucky few. You may have had super active small children, and you might be grateful that they appear to be slowing down… its quite simple the teenage body is using a massive amount of energy on growing. Energy is hard to find.
Not all my kids are natural athletes, quite the opposite in fact… but as a family we do things and as a family our teens do join us. Also, they walk to their extra murals together, that helps… I know that they are getting a good walk two or three times a week. Otherwise, I do send them on errands to the store, I do send them all together out for a walk on the beach… we are lucky enough to have open spaces to go to. You might need to get a little sneaky… trust me my kids don’t naturally want to climb to the top of the mountain before breakfast, they don’t really care too much about the sunrise, however if I mention that there will be hot chocolate and muffins up there… they are quite happy to join the family.
6. Sleep is The Biggest Advantage of Homeschooling High Schoolers.
Your teenager is growing and they need to sleep… sleep and sleep and sleep. The advantage of homeschooling is that while teenagers battle to fall asleep at night, they have no problem sleeping late in the morning. This is the nature of the teenage body clock and really not something that they have too much control over. Trust me neither do you. My teenagers rearrange their schedules to suit themselves, I don’t mind when they get their schoolwork done, as long as it gets done. So we all do family school together and sit around the table at some stage in the morning before lunch. The rest of the time is pretty much scheduled up to them. The online courses that they do, tend to be based in the States… so they work in the evenings. The is absolutely no point in spending a morning trying to get a sleeping teen up and out of bed to do schoolwork at eight o’clock sharp… it is a waste of your time and theirs. Firstly you are interrupting their good sleep (and interrupted sleep leads to grumpiness, just saying) and secondly, you are wasting productive time of your own. I use this time earlier in the mornings to teach the younger kids, that haven’t yet reached the sleep situation that is indeed teenage life. The biggest argument against that is: “What happens in the real world?” “What happens when they get a job?” Well, I can honestly say that more than half of my kids have had summer jobs and they might have slept late every single school day of their lives, but they were up and out the door and on time every single day of their working lives… when it counts it counts and money talks. Basically, pick your battles and let them win the sleeping late battle, for you sanity and theirs.
7. Your Teens Need Free Time, Loads of It.
You cannot expect your high schooler to spend hours and hours on academic work, join a local sport squad, attend several other lessons, grow a couple of inches, think deep thoughts about life, make wise decisions and still figure out what they want to do after high school… they need time to just be. They need time to stare into space, they need time to just mess around… they need time to put all those thoughts and ideas into the right compartments in their brain. Possibly the biggest gift we can give to our teenagers is free time… when they can mooch around and eat and think, think about life and the world and…do stuff. One of my kids spent, all his free time, when he wasn’t working, this summer making wooden furniture… I never expected that, but it has been great. He really has learned a lot, stretched himself and well, I am not going to lie… it’s been very useful!!! Let your teens be and they will surprise you with what they find to do.
And Top Priority for the Teen’s Teacher
This is the time to concentrate on yourself, fully and completely. This is the season of self care… you thought you gave up every moment of time during toddlerhood, but toddlers sleep. That’s all I am saying…
Nope, I am saying more!!! I had this idea that I would always be there for my kids, whenever they needed to talk I would be there… two in the morning, ten at night… anytime they needed to, they could talk to me. I wanted to keep those communication channels open. It’s a myth, being available to your kids 24/7 by the time they are teenagers is not actually required. I nearly died from lack of sleep… I am not even kidding. Teenagers are not babies and you cannot sleep when they sleep to catch up. I set some limits… I am not available for deep chats after I have gone to bed at night… if they need to talk about life, love and everything else… they need to do that during my waking hours… if they want privacy… they can take me for coffee, if they just want to hang, they can join me in the kitchen preparing dinner any time at all… they can hike with me, run with me… I am available… but I also have to sleep.
What I am saying is that your teens are going to exhaust you… you need to be ready for that and you need to sleep. Know your teenagers are going to grieve you… you have dreams for them, and they have other dreams. They don’t match up, it causes a certain amount of grief… its not bad, because eventually you realise that you want them to be happy and so following their own dreams becomes your priority. Also, your kids are going to mess up, as will you… they are going to fail things that you thought were essential to their lives, but life will go on. They are going to excel at things you never ever expected and you can’t believe your child actually did that. Your kids are going to fight with you, because you are the easiest person to fight with (remember they are learning people skills) and they are going to love you fiercely and if they ever earn cash they will take you for ice-cream. ALL OF THAT. I know it, I have lived it. It is a rollercoaster. You need to prioritise your sleep, you need to eat right, you need to exercise right, so that when you want to storm off in a huff, you actually can… or when your teen wants a long walk on the beach to tell you about their entire life, that you can actually keep up. Forget toddlers, you are dealing with teens here and you need to be in the best possible physical and mental shape to survive this challenge. Be kind to yourself and be patient… it will pass and they do get through high school.
Throughout this rollercoaster… you will continue to love them no matter what, there will be tears: theirs and yours, there will be laughter… loads of it. Teenagers are surprisingly funny. They know more than you do about so many things, and surprisingly they will be happy to teach you… if you don’t believe me, just think who helped you last time you had to set up a new phone.
I know it feels like you have been homeschooling forever, but in four or five years time your teenagers will be launching into the world. You need to have a life to get on with… now is the time to pick up those hobbies that you thought you would never get back to… join a class, it is the easiest way to make friends… that are not necessarily homeschooling friends. If you love cooking, writing, running… find a club, join a class and make some friends of your own. Do it, you are going to need it and funnily enough friendships get better and easier as you get older, don’t wait until your kids have flown the nest… gather some good friends round for encouragement and support to get through these tricky years.
And above all, believe in yourself… believe in your kids, celebrate their victories. Together you learned the basics and together you can get through high school and don’t be surprised to discover just how lovely living with teens can be… they are funny, they care and they turn into surprisingly nice adults. Don’t give up on your teens… give them time. Let them grow and more than that, remember that their teenage brains are conquering a lot more than academics right now. The trick is simply to find the balance between pushing them to do more and stepping back and leaving them to it… time flies, they will find their feet… you don’t have to know all the answers on the first day of high school, you can just start and keep on going.