All three of my homeschoolers are grown up now and the youngest is in law school. (Yes, Virginia, homeschoolers do graduate from college and get into law school.) I was the mom who was expected to be a disaster at homeschooling, so the fact that all three have attended college (one taking a Mommy hiatus and one gradually getting through school between moves—both girls are military wives) and one has graduated so far makes me feel pretty good. My general theory is that if I, voted least likely to succeed, can do it, anyone can.
How you do high school will depend in part on how you prepared during the younger years. The goal of high school is to get your children ready for college, a career, and a lifetime of joyous learning. The more you did when they were younger, the less you have to do in high school. Following are a few of the things you need to accomplish during high school at home:
Make sure your child takes all the classes required to be accepted into college.
Your child should start to decide if he is going to go to a community college or to a university. If he isn’t sure, he should plan his courses as if he was going to a university. Although my children intended to go to a community college to cut costs and to give them more freedom in their high school studies, they chose five possible universities, including the one closest to their home, and became familiar with the requirements.
If your child is going to a community college, he still needs a good range of studies in those subjects, but he can be a little more flexible. He will probably still be asked to submit a list of the courses he took, so they should show that the work was serious. He will need good reading, writing, and math skills. If he goes to a university, they will probably want a description of each course—books read, activities participated in, hours spent on the subject, and papers written.
If he doesn’t plan to go to college, prepare as if he is anyway. Kids change their minds. Just add in more career-related electives.
Have your student plan his own course of studies with you as the advisor.
Many colleges told us there is still a worry that the parents did everything. (Yes, I know public school students have no control over their course work, but we have to act on what they believe, not what is true.) At a college fair, when I interviewed schools (without my daughter, who went around on her own), they said they wanted to know the student planned her own curriculum and helped to plan what and how to study. They also wanted to know she studied independently a great deal. At the same time, they wanted her to show she could also manage a structured learning situation outside the home. My girls took a few public school classes, and they all took classes in community settings. In addition, they took classes at the community college once they were sixteen.
Today, you can find lectures on the Internet to make sure they know how to listen to lectures if your child doesn’t take any lecture-type classes formally.
Teach your child to be a self-directed learner.
One reason colleges like homeschoolers is that homeschoolers are often self-directed learners. They are used to learning by sitting down with the book and studying on their own. Although college students do attend lectures, most of their studying is done on their own. Gone are the worksheets that help you focus on the important things or lists of what to learn in the chapter. The student needs to be able to read the material and decide on a plan for learning it.
During high school, minimize your involvement. Ask your student to develop her own plan for carrying out the chapter or unit. Gradually do less and less. By the time my teens were in high school, they completely planned their own courses. My job was to buy the books and supplies and to oversee the work. They created their plan and we reviewed it together before they started. Then I chatted with them about the material each week. If they can talk about it, they know it. All of this helps to prepare them to be joyous lifelong learners.
I hate survey classes. I think the coolest learning happens after you get past the basics. We tended to dig into one subject for a long time—a full year on the Renaissance, for instance. My children did several years of theoretical physics, not the way a school would do it, but merely reading quality books by real scientists that were written for a lay audience and also chatting with a scientist they knew.
Even if digging in means you don’t cover a full range of topics, your student will know some subjects extremely well. They will have had time to get excited about it and to find their passions. I asked my kids to take a life science class every year and their scientist friend tried his best to convince them life sciences were fun, but I invariably caught them studying physics instead, so I gave in. Despite not having done life sciences since elementary school, they did fine when they were required to study it in college. This is because they learned the critical aspects of science learning, including research and experimentation, and those skills transferred to life sciences.
Everyone is afraid of high school at home, but if you teach your children how to teach themselves, you won’t have a problem. Let them tackle the material, seek out mentors, find videos and online lectures, and take outside classes if needed. With the right books, it makes no difference if you know the material or not. The point is for them to learn it, not for you to teach it. Someday, they will want to learn something and won’t be able to take a class. They will know exactly how to go about it, unless most adults.
Skip textbooks, other than math. School textbooks are filled with errors. Instead, buy regular books on the subject written by experts in the field. If you feel you really need a textbook, use a college text, instead.
Develop a habit of intellectual conversations at home. There is no reason in the world dinner time can’t be enhanced by a discussion of whether or not it would be worth dying to find out what is inside a black hole, whether time travel is possible, or whether Shakespeare really wrote the plays he is credited with writing. This allows your teens to learn how to hold an intelligent conversations with adults, to have their views respected (which makes them read and study more thoughtfully), and to get ready for class discussions. If you have younger children, you’ll be surprised at how much they pick up from these, and even how much they contribute.
Know what everyone you know does for a living or a hobby. Take advantage of their expertise.
Have your teens take one or two classes at the community college at age sixteen. This lets them figure out what level of learning they need to hold their own in college. They will find themselves adjusting their learning plan accordingly. We let them take one academic class and one elective the first time.
It’s the final stage of your homeschool and you want to remember it fondly. Although you might not be teaching as directly as you were, let your teens teach you, now. Learn from them as they’re learning. Read some of the same books they’re reading. Be a part of their school by being a facilitator and a fellow student. You’ll find you love those intelligent, thought-provoking, and often passionate discussions. Make these last four years memorable.
Terrie Lynn Bittner is the author of Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath—You Can Do This! and Home a Little Longer: Preschool and Kindergarten at Home. You can visit her website at http://www.terrielynnbittner.com/.