Homeschooling High Schoolers on the Homestead
The Key to Success is Crafting a Purpose
When I share anything it is done in the hope that someone may pick up a helpful tidbit or two and that you will have the wisdom and discernment to discard ideas that will not help you as you serve your family and community.
In a world of “authorities,” “experts,” and “influencers” I strive to be none of those things.
Far from being a John Ridd, this isn’t a humble brag, some contradictory boastful humility… it’s just I’ve been around long enough to realize I’m only an expert in my marriage, an authority on my homestead, and an influencer of my children. Always remember, the “You Need To Be _______” quip is a meme.
With that in mind, let’s talk a bit about homeschooling high schoolers.
Undoubtedly, there is more fear swirling around educating the upper grades. Parents feel they aren’t smart enough to tackle the subject material and no one wants to shortchange their kid.
But in reality, parents are shortchanging themselves.
The fact is, we have just as much capacity to learn as our high schoolers. We don’t need to know everything before they do… we can learn together. Seeing our enthusiasm for soaking up new knowledge will be infectious, and perhaps the most valuable lesson they’ll carry with them through life.
When last we chatted, I had republished a piece I wrote a decade ago summarizing our home education philosophy in the younger years. Rather than rigid conformity to systematized education, one of the beauties of homeschooling is the marriage between the mother’s teaching style and each child’s way of learning. It was the Charlotte Mason method that most resonated with me. The simplicity and focus on literature and the natural world were attractive to my children.
But as they grew older, life expanded, and the homestead became more demanding. (Turns out they eat a lot more as they grow.) Tidbits of Miss Mason’s principles are all that is left with us today: reading inspiring literature, spending plenty of time outdoors, and relieving the mind before work becomes too tedious are habits that remain.
Homeschooling High Schoolers on the Homestead
The Importance of a Mission
After homeschooling for 21 years and “graduating” three children (with another currently wrapping up her last year), I had settled into a comfortable place with realistic expectations for myself as their teacher and my children as the independent people I have to educate.
That comfortable place became a tail I couldn’t chase as my children grew older.
In the busyness of life, my expectations never met reality. Each time one of my children has turned 16, I have found myself panicking about the material I haven’t covered, the projects we never did, the classes they never took, and the places we never discovered. Terrified at the prospect that I failed at my primary mission to teach lifelong learners, I have to confront the truth and find peace that what they did learn is adequate. And, yet, before the smoke clears when the next 15-year-old blows out their candles, I’m staring down my fear of failure again.
The most important thing I’ve done for myself as a home educator has been to solidify my purpose and mission. When they were young it helped me stay the course when it was so tempting to give up the struggle and enroll them in school. As they have grown, it has been key to allaying my mama-guilt and refocusing on the vision cast during a time when I wasn’t swayed by the emotion staring down the light at the end of the tunnel.
When I envision what our family will look like in 20 years and beyond, I see a close-knit group living and working selflessly to support each other, bear one another’s burdens, and share each other’s joys. I hope to see each of my children with families who are serving the Lord and looking forward to the day when they too will be surrounded by a cloud of grandchildren. Of course, I desire my children will be financially comfortable in a career they enjoy, but degrees, positions, and bank account balances are social metrics that are meaningless to me. I want them to feel a sense of freedom in their lives, be able to adapt to change, and learn independently wherever their interest guides them.
Discovering Their Purpose
Our goals, whatever they are, should go beyond mastering algebra or memorizing the periodic table of elements. Perhaps those things will fit in for one child, perhaps they won’t.
While every young man or woman begins to plan for the future at different ages and in diverse ways, high school is the time when we should be nudging them along in their search. Begin observing their strengths and weaknesses, help them identify their passion, and explore various potential paths. Once they have found their way, you’re better able to outline a plan for your school days. Why waste time studying in-depth chemistry if your son wants to be a mechanic?
The fact is most of us don’t need or will not use a college education.
There are far too many young adults out there pointing the phone camera at their faces these days while lamenting their debt burden and inability to find entry-level work. The six years they could have spent gaining skills, experience, and income are gone with the wind.
No, it’s not going to be easy having to explain this to Grandpa and Grandma who raised their kids in the “you can’t make anything of yourself if you don’t go to college” psyop of the 80s and 90s. It’s worth perusing the family tree and realizing that nearly every generation that lived and died to bring you into existence did so without a college education.
I listened to an excellent podcast this fall titled, “How to Prepare Your Kids for Wealth & Financial Literacy.” While I can’t speak to the necessity or merits of his app, there is much wisdom and food for thought in that show. It’s a great starting point for younger kids and teens who haven’t figured out what direction they want to take their life yet, but wherever it leads they will need principles for financial wellness.
The teen years are a time of letting go. Children should increasingly be spending time in their community- working, serving, shopping, etc. It may seem contradictory for me to say that when I otherwise live and thrive in such a home-centric way. But this is my lifestyle, and while they are part of it and are required to participate in our household and homestead economy, they are not my personal labor force. We all work together for a common goal and they pull their weight, but the primary burden of our choices should fall to my husband and myself.
These children, once connected to our bodies by a physical cord, have ever since been connected by an invisible one. It is good and natural that this proverbial cord stretches as they grow older. Whether we shelter our children until they reach adulthood or not, the cord of bond will either strengthen or snap when it’s too late.
We live in a world where Place holds little weight. It is something to escape from. Family is a trauma we had to endure. A snapped cord allows sheltered children to flee for the freedom they have been yearning for for years. The lure of distant lands and the false promise of a better life and higher wages (the cost of living in cities and away from family is never taken into account) will draw them from the only true source of support and camaraderie-ship in this increasingly fractured world - family.
Contrariwise, I see a teen who has been given the freedom to become a participant in the community as one who is weaving their cord into a beautiful fabric each time she leaves and returns, strengthening the bond, yet giving it a different and unique pattern of experiences all her own.
(Please note, I am not advocating for unsupervised time with a peer group, fruitless “hanging out,” but rather structured time with a purpose, production, or service.)
Though I encourage it, and sometimes even push them into getting started, I consider time away from home to be part of their free time. While my youthful and idealistic fantasies about not allowing teen angst and isolation to take root in our family, I’ve come to terms that it is natural. To varying degrees, they need to spend time alone or apart from the center of household activity. Leaving the home feeds that need and refreshes them before returning home. Two birds, one stone.
In the “school room” this independence takes shape in self-guided lessons wherever possible. This, of course, is quite freeing for Teacher and is key for fostering the child’s lifelong ability to self-educate.
Our children are free to suggest their own courses of study, though they rarely do at the beginning of a planned year. Mostly, things pop up. We provide guidance and accountability. We help them learn to set goals, keep schedules, and stay on track. It’s important to build flexibility into your plans to allow for these spontaneous areas of study to guide learning. This year I’ve set some general goals but we’re trialing 6 week lesson plan objectives so we can switch gears more quickly and accommodate new interests without my being riddled with guilt at the end of the year because my plans were foiled.
To kick off much of their independent studies, I have a subscription to Wondrium which has almost any topic they could ever dream of learning. While none of us find the format of lectures particularly exciting, it’s good for them to learn in that style should they ever find themselves in a college classroom one day and the courses give them the basic information to expand on topics in later research.
Introducing Ideas and Building Skills
The traditional high school method of in-depth coverage of topics makes little sense for most kids who will never put the information to good use. Why skim a net through the water to catch the few fish who will make use of the materials? Ultimately, it is a disrespectful waste of their time and yours. A rudimentary introduction to topics should be made to spark interest and if it doesn’t light their fire, move on to find out what will.
For example, we spent the early years learning Creation science and apologetics, natural science and biology, anatomy, weather, and astronomy. Some of these topics spanned several years, particularly the animal kingdom. In high school, we do an overview of physics and chemistry, usually through subscription science kits, and that is sufficient for most children. My fifteen-year-old currently has no ambitions for further education after high school but I can see he has an “engineer’s brain” so he is the first one that I am pushing a little further in the study of physics and mathematics. That way the door is open for him should he change his mind, but, whatever line of work he finds himself in, his capacity to think in this way will help him excel.
Since my current group has studied all the rest of those topics, we are taking a year off to learn about the lives of scientists and inventors. My three youngest (9-13) were pretty little when we covered Creation science so I will circle back to that next year and give my then 16-year-old a chance to brush up before being bombarded with the wheedling of nominal Christians who believe a different theory than the one God gave us and is manifest in the world around us.
There are other skills we study, regardless of their intended career path: computer literacy and typing proficiency, and communication skills, both written and verbal. All of which will serve them well no matter which direction life takes them.
In a world full of trash, alluring advertisements, and peer pressure, it is my heart’s desire not to see my children squander the foundation of health I’ve worked tirelessly to provide for their growing bodies. With their hormones raging and fertile years just around the corner, now is not the time to relax. It is heartbreaking to watch your fine-fleshed and ruddy healthful child go out into the world and neglect their “temple of the Holy Spirit,” knowing that weak bodies foster a fragile mind and soul.
Not only do I spend a lot of time discussing why I have made the “crazy” choices I have, but I read labels, talking about the source and purpose of ingredients. That guy who gives junk food a health food label is gold.
While we have never been sports people, our kids have a membership and/or classes at the local gym and are encouraged to spend time there. It doesn’t take much for them to feel the difference when they slack off. And when I nag them not to skip, they never come home regretting it.
Hopefully, by making that investment in themselves now they won’t let it go to waste on addictive substances and long-term consumption of garbage food and their minds will be strengthened now and as they grow into adulthood.
Sons and Daughters
Are different. Like it or not, it’s an incontrovertible fact.
And they should be treated as such.
Whenever possible, sons ought to be spending time with men, learning how to be men. Our high school age boys are given a basic chore list and self-directed coursework, and after they’re through ought to be with Dad helping him with his work. For most young men, learning how to navigate the world and be masculine will be far more valuable for them than extra hours of busy work in the schoolroom or doing housework and childcare to help mom.
I have basic subject goals for our kids, and our sons, in particular, know that once they meet them they’re free to get a job. In my experience, once they have a job, schoolwork takes lower priority. If they have met those goals early, our lessons for the last couple of years while they work can be more focused on more flexible topics such as history, literature, etc.
Not conforming to stereotypical roles, however, I do lightly train my sons in household matters. They need to be able to keep clean, do laundry, and function in the kitchen. Perhaps, they’ll never marry (God forbid), in which case they’ll need to know how to do these things. Perhaps, doing them will encourage them to want to find a wife to help them bear their life’s burdens. Undoubtedly, wives get sick from time to time or have children. Being able to competently care for her without leaving her work to pile up will be a tremendous blessing.
Likewise, despite the cliche, my daughters spend a lot of time with me and naturally learn how to run a household. They’re delegated chores and expected to do them. As they age, I delegate some supervising of the younger children to an older daughter so she learns management skills. I introduce them to planners or calendars to manage their own time and chores.
I can’t express how critical it is to be discussing current events with your teens.
I want to ignore the ridiculousness of the post-modern world as much as anyone and my mental health has been improved in the past by doing so, but it came at an expense. All the broad apologetics discussions do nothing to teach application to the rapidly changing specific issues we face in the world. No matter how uncomfortable, we need to be talking. (It gets easier.)
These conversations help them learn how to apply the lessons you’ve been teaching and refine their worldview. It doesn’t take much poking around online to discover that, these days, a parent’s right to disciple their children is met with scorn. We are expected to expose them to a broad range of ideas, people, and political thought and allow them to find their own way.
But the reality is there is only one way of thought in our society permissible to settle on. And without clear exposure to firm, righteous principles, they will be indoctrinated to arrive to the same hive-mind conclusions. These psychologies and narratives have been carefully crafted for decades for maximum, seemingly empathetic, effectiveness. This is the cold war of our time.
Someone will indoctrinate your children, it might as well be you.
Much of our time, sometimes hours a day, is spent around the dining room table discussing issues. This time is spontaneous and not in the lesson plan. It usually runs the daily schedule off the rains, but it’s just as critical as learning trigonometric functions.
I want to emphasize this once more:
I don’t think moms, especially first-generation homeschoolers, are prepared for exactly how much time they will spend talking to their teens and grappling with sundry issues. You will have less free time now that your kids are teens than you did when they were in diapers.
Mamas talk about being “in the trenches” when their children are little, blowing out diapers, smearing applesauce in their hair, and having a never-ending tap dripping from their noses.
Dear Mama, that was basic training.
I remember when I graduated high school and was daily with my mom. She struggled with me at her heels all day wanting to talk, talk, talk. I was oblivious to it then, but, in retrospect, it must have been a major disruption to her normal life. With homeschooled children, there is no such transition. You may not even notice at first how your time is shifting. But I can just about promise, one day, you will find yourself contemplating how you thought things would get easier and would have more time for yourself and your interests. What ever happened?
The laundry pile might be bigger than ever, but that question means you’re doing something right.
Navigating the Machine
In every discussion about teens these days, it’s inevitable that we must consider balancing technology. In the long term, our current event discussions often trend toward the merits of technological advances and applications but the immediate application is how they will use technology in their lives today and why we make the decisions we do.
Giving predators private access to your children aside, there is no denying that access to a smartphone is also destructive to their minds, habits, and eventually bodies. They may be nearly grown, but their minds are still developing, and putting off phone ownership as long as possible is key. Every day counts. Every day they have a “normal” human childhood is one more day they have to compare with later in life and realize what their inevitable screen addiction has taken from them.
In our home, the rule of thumb is they need a way to communicate once they start driving. So, at 15 ½ they get a Wise Phone. It has the basic functions of phone- maps, texting, photos, music, and a few utilities, but no app store, no social media.
After dealing with two teens with a phone addiction- one who already struggled with screen addiction and one who I expected wouldn’t follow in their sibling’s footsteps, I’m not going to be responsible for bringing another smartphone into the home. Parental controls completely failed us, passcodes were hacked, and it is the foolish behavior of a Pantless Thunder Goose to think your kid “is different.” There is an army of well-trained social engineers dedicated to addicting each and every one of us to the screen. We are all vulnerable. While there may be special circumstances where one is needed for some folks, that is not the case for us and I’m here to encourage you that most kids don’t neeeeeeeed a smartphone.
We have one household computer the children use in a space that provides for easy accountability - absolutely no computers or televisions in the bedroom. (We are officially TV-free for a decade this year.) You’re just asking for trouble if you allow private access. If your teen neeeeeeeeds social media (like my 17-year-old is insisting these days) and you choose to allow it with supervision, they do not need an app to access the primary ones. Facebook, Instagram, and TwXtter all have desktop login capabilities that provide accountability. (Others might, I’m just not familiar with them.) All logins are stored on the browser and they know that we do occasional checkups on the computer.
Next week, I will dive into the nitty gritty with supporting subscribers what homeschooling high schoolers looks like on our homestead, how we find balance, and streamline their education without getting (too) overwhelmed.