Monday, August 13, 2007

So You've Decided To Homeschool Your Teenager...


Picture this…you just pulled your child out of high school or middle school and are now faced with the prospect of really doing homeschool. You’ve thought about this, agonized over this decision and maybe even fought with family over this. Now what are you supposed to do???

Well first of all, don’t panic. Take a deep breath and say several times, "Our family can do this".

I can vouch for the fact that
(a) you will not damage your child,
(b) you will not hurt his/her chances of getting into college later on and
(c) you will have good days and bad days.

The first thing you want to do is give yourself and your child some breathing room. You do not have to hit the ground running as you leave behind the frenetic world of institutional schooling and all of its rushing around and mixed up priorities. You have freedom now. Freedom to pursue subjects that really mean something to your child, and time to make it worth while. The hardest part will be to get your child to express exactly what his/her interests are. Remember they have been told for so long what to do that they have probably forgotten what it is that they enjoy. Maybe they have lost all interest in anything, especially things that resemble school. That is o.k. and to be expected. They have probably left a system that has made them feel inept and like a total failure. They have left a system that has had their entire day scheduled for them. Keep this in mind when you start having trouble figuring out what your child wants to do or discussing trying to put together a daily routine or course of study. Some people say that leaving school requires sort of a "detox" period.

A big help here is to talk about it, allow for alone time and do not jump into a full plate of bookish academics unless that is what is they desire. Do not force curriculum on your child and remember that they are old enough now to have a say in what it is that they wish to study. There will be time for Algebra and Economics later on when they are ready for it. Together you can lay out a plan for high school, and that may or may not include a formal structured program.

Here are some suggestions for starting in this new journey:

1) Support the interests that your child expresses. If (s)he is interested in singing or dancing or auto repair or cooking then get some resources to help them explore and practice skills. If (s)he is interested in video games then you may want to get some good ones that develop skills of strategy and logic (Like Civilization, or Myst) and also get some books about how those games are programmed – maybe (s)he can begin doing their own programming. Support their interests with books, videos, field trips and activities that will ignite that passion. You never know where it will lead…and I guarantee it will not be a waste of time. How many hours did Bill Gates spend in his garage tinkering with computers???

2) Respect his or her reading choices. This may be hard to do but if you continually criticize or nag then most likely they will not want to read at all. You can always have some lively discussions about what they are reading. Eventually they may even become interested in what you are reading. Believe it or not, the bathroom, or a living room coffee table, is a good place to put some interesting things to read (for everyone in the house). Limiting TV time and violent or mindless video games is a really good idea, and it helps to develop more diverse and worthwhile interests.

3) Make sure that your child is involved with daily family chores. It is important for children to be depended on to perform tasks the family needs – like laundry or dusting or taking care of family pets. Not only are they learning valuable life skills, but they will see that they are competent and valuable family members who make important contributions to everyone in the household.

4) Have your child try to do things they have never done before like trimming the hedges or fixing a lamp or planting a garden. Get a home repair book if necessary. Your child will learn new skills and find out how things work.

5) Get your child interested in community affairs by doing volunteer work, either as a family project or on their own. They can work as docents in a museum (a great way to learn history etc.) or they can help out playing bingo at the local nursing home, or read and record books for the blind. They can work in any number of places. You can check the newspaper as they always have a "volunteers needed" column. This allows your child to be counted on by others while learning the value of giving. Don't forget that you can also accumulate letters of recommendation later on, from the people your child works with. That will certainly come in handy later on when your child applies for college.

6) Go outdoors and get some exercise! Hike, bike, walk, or whatever suits your child. Walking can be a great time to connect, share ideas and discuss pretty much anything. They can also get some practice with orienteering and reading maps and studying the flora and fauna. Get a group of kids together to do this too!

7) Get connected with a local homeschool support group and see what friendships may emerge. There are so many activities available in our homeschooling communities for your child to take advantage of. There is really no excuse for a homeschooled teen to say they have no friends or social life. While you don’t want to force friendships, you should still help them find opportunities for them to meet other kids. It also doesn’t hurt for your child to organize a teen activity and get the word out to other teens.

8) If you child is old enough,(s)he may be able to take local community college courses and start accumulating college credit, while getting some of those pesky "intro" courses out of the way. Also check local colleges for some of their "dual enrollment" programs which may allow for your child to take a course (sometimes for free). Even auditing a class can be very worthwhile.

9) If you are looking to complete an accredited program for high school check out my previous post about diplomas and look into homeschool high school programs.

10) If you and your child are curious as to what the scope and sequence is for any particular grade level you can check out what World Book recommends. Also for more information on suggested curriculum get/read the book The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home- there are also lots of other really good ones out there.. so go and check out the library also.

Remember the purpose of your decision to homeschool. It wasn’t to make your child more miserable. Sometimes the biggest mistake is to try to replicate school at home. Talk everything over if things aren’t going smoothly at first, and maybe it might be a good plan to make an agreement not to argue over things but instead to discuss them. Solving problems, co-operation and working together as a family are also important goals to work on.

Starting homeschooling is akin to moving to a new town and starting to go to a new school. Your children don’t have to leave their school friends behind, but it may be harder to keep in touch. Also remember that there will be new people to meet and new experiences to explore. While your child may support the decision to homeschool, it is still a fairly scary proposition for some people. Remind your child that homeschooling is mostly what they make of it. Sometimes choices, like choosing a course of study to follow, can be overwhelming. On those days when you feel uncertain, just remind yourself that with time, patience and a little creativity everyone in your family will surely come to appreciate the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling. Take your time with it, and above all have fun with it.

(Thanks to Einstein Generator)

4 comments:

Tamara said...

Thanks for this wise and encouraging post.

I'm committed to homeschooling my guys through high school, but there are days when I wonder "Can I truly do this?" After all, grade school is one thing, but high school level is something else! Thanks for reminding me that yes, we can homeschool teen aged kids!

lynnak said...

I've found with my own kids that the HS years get progressively easier as they pursue their own interests. They began to take charge of their own education looking ahead to work and college.

As part of a homeschool charter school we see desparate parents with defeated kids who have failed in a traditional classroom. Homeschool is their last hope. It's a real delight to help these folks discover how individualized learning can change their child's life. For parents and kids willing to take on the task, homeschool has been the key to turning around their child's learning. It's a real thrill to see these kids regain their love of learning and then to graduate.

Anonymous said...

Hi I am a "desprate parent with a defeated teen who has failed in the traditional classroom". Thank goodness for homeschool, but we are off to a rocky start. I would like to move away from traditional learning, but fear I will not have the dated samples of work requested by the superintendent. Do you have any suggestions on how to accomplish both. Right now we are a month into books and paper work and my son is still miserable.HELP!

Judy Aron said...

Is there a local homeschool group that you can join and get some advice from.. They may have more experience in dealing with your specific superintendent.
Do not be afraid of moving away from following what your local school does.. one should not feel compelled to follow what is done in that classroom, because that is probably one of the reasons that you chose to homeschool: their curriculum and practices were not working.
Sit down with you son and figure out what he'd like to learn about and go from there.. look into enrolling him into a local community college as well.. the purpose is to make learning fun and interesting, not to be miserable.
Learning should not be about paperwork - it should be about experiences and doing things.. who cares what the superintendent wants.. you should be able to show your son's accomplishments in other ways rather than just meaningless paperwork.