Homeschooling for the Long Haul

My friend, Jen, over at Homeschooling in High Heels asked me for a post to encourage homeschooling parents that are facing the high school years. So here goes…

(disclaimer: this is not written from my experience as a homeschooling parent for the long haul, rather from my experiences as a homeschooled student from 1st through 12th grade. I understand that the task of homeschooling all the way through high school is a difficult one and I pray that God gives me the grace and strength to do so when the time comes. May He grant you the grace and strength to walk the path He has laid before you too.)

When I was at the tender age of 5 my parents were introduced to the idea of home education. I wish I could remember what their initial reaction was…I mean, as common as home education is today it was downright strange back then. I’m not sure how much time passed between hearing the idea and deciding to take the leap but leap they did. Right into the deep end of the pool. By faith alone. My sister was going into 3rd grade, I was ready for 1st and little sister was along for the ride. They faced rude and pessimistic comments from the private school we had been attending. Most family members were not antagonistic, rather, they were curiously doubtful, but I am sure they all thought my parents had lost it. Still, my parents persevered.

There were struggles. Teaching a child to read isn’t easy. Teaching math, science, history, and geography while simultaneously coaching good character and conflict resolution is exhausting. There was also the fear of some government authority knocking on your door and taking your children away.

Fast forward 25 years. My parents have graduated 6 out of 7 children. (my youngest brother is 14 and for the first time ever my mom only has one student) We can all read, write, add, subtract, multiply, and divide. We can locate countries on a map…as well as use a map to figure out how to get where we are going. We can share delightful tidbits of information on many historical topics. Oh, and thanks to my Dad’s influence, we will never forget the Pythagorean equation. We have jobs, families, and function well in society. (there goes that “homeschoolers aren’t socialized” argument. ha!) We each have a strong faith and an even stronger bond to each other.

Now, I’m not sharing this to brag. The thing is, my parents are not perfect. Our life and education was not perfect. My Mom, in particular, has struggled often with feeling like she was failing as a homeschooling mom, that there were gaps in our education. From my perspective as a second generation homeschooler, I admit there may be some information that my siblings and I missed along the way. However, we learned how to learn. How to follow our interests and find answers to our questions. Personal Opinion? Learning how to learn is more important than what you learn.

So that is my history in a nutshell.

I’ve been asked before about what I missed out on as a homeschooler. As a young teenager, there was a time when I wanted to attend public school. (Mostly because I had an older cousin who was so cool.) I have to tell you though, there was also a time when I was ready to pack my bags, leave my family and move to Soviet Russia to be a ballerina. I also wanted to change my name to Cassandra at one point because “it is a much prettier name than Heidi.” None of these wishes were based in reality, only passing fantasy and I am no worse off because my parents refused to give in to my notions. Perhaps I am even better off.

And what about that whole rite of passage that is public high school complete with clubs and proms and the like? Allow me to answer by giving you a glimpse into what high school was like for me…

  • I worked with a team of fellow homeschoolers teaching character education in a local (public) elementary school. We adapted curriculum, wrote & preformed skits, made two short films, designed & created costumes & props, tutored…we had as much fun as any club.
  • I worked with a catering company. They liked hiring homeschoolers because our hours were more flexible. It was work but it was also fun. It was also part of how I met my husband. 🙂
  • I played in the Tampa Bay Youth Orchestras for several years and enjoyed every minute of it! Musically, I have never found anything that compares with being on stage with a hundred other musicians creating something almost electrifying in its magnitude.
  • I’ve always had a bit of a theater bug and after being on stage with orchestra I had the fever something fierce. The problem was finding an outlet for that– an acting group that would accept a teenager with little experience and that only preformed family friendly fare. What does a homeschooler do when they can’t find something that meets their needs? They create it! And so I did. I researched, I planned, I rounded up some friends and started my own Drama Club. Eventually, a friend and I wrote & directed 2 Christmas plays for our church.
  • My sister and I started a cake decorating business. It started as a hobby that I was interested in, then we both took the Wilton classes. We made wedding cakes, graduation cakes, birthday cakes…we learned how to keep records, figure cost, and set prices.
  • I helped my grandfather with the care and training of his horses and competed in a horse show.
  • We (2 of my sisters and myself) had the awesome opportunity to spend two summers working with a photographer near Atlanta. We did everything from scheduling appointments to arranging backdrops & props to mounting negatives to assisting during sessions.
  • Around the time that “everyone” was going to prom and having a”great time” we planned our own special event. My sister, a good friend and I had our hair fixed up nice and spent the day at Cypress Gardens dressed as Southern Belles. Our mothers and siblings played paparazzi and we did our senior pictures there.
  • A lot of people ask about graduation and, to be honest, when it came time to graduate a ceremony was important to me. Nowadays the FPEA offers a statewide graduation ceremony each year as part of their annual convention in Orlando but it wasn’t an option then. I had several friends that were finishing school that same year, after getting approval from our parents and pastor (it was a church event) we organized and planned our own ceremony. We included elements that were important to us. For example: a speech from a graduate thanking our parents, followed by presenting our parents with a rose; the presentation of diplomas was done by the family of the graduate and each father & mother spoke a blessing over their child. The only detail that was not decided by the graduates was the color of our caps and gowns. We were at an impasse, so the parents stepped in and decided. In order to be impartial, the parents chose to refuse all the color options that had already been discussed and go with something completely different…they chose teal. I’ve almost gotten over my bitterness about graduating in such an undignified color.

I didn’t realize how busy my high school years were…and that is without considering that actual bookwork! Now that you know what I did, here is what I missed:

  • School lunches – my husband avoids tater tots to this day. Enough said.
  • Early mornings – I come from a family of night owls, so we especially enjoyed the benefit of starting our day when it worked best for us instead of heading out the door at 0:dark-thirty.
  • Stereotypical social groups – I was never called a nerd, jock, band geek, teacher’s pet, etc. I was never labeled based on where I lived, how I dressed, or what my hobbies were. I am particularly grateful that I missed out on this part of public high school. I know myself, I know who I was then. There is not doubt in my mind which group I would have been relegated to and the negative effect it would have had on me for the rest of my life.
  • Learning at the same speed as everyone else. I have a friend that graduated at 16…he was smart and motivated and because he was homeschooled, he was able to move at his own pace.
  • Prom – ok, yes, I missed out on prom. There was a time in my life when that fact bothered me. Then I grew up. Two of my sisters had the opportunity to go to prom with friends and they were, shall we say, a little let down after all the hype.

This is my experience. Just as everyone who goes to public school comes out with a different viewpoint (some see high school as the pinnacle of their life and for others it was like sitting on death row for 4 years) so all homeschoolers have a different experience. The beauty of home education is that the parent and student can have greater control over the negative aspects and make room for more time for the positive aspects. Talk to your child, tell them about your high school experience, listen to their concerns and interests. Then you will be well prepared to form a plan that will maximize your child’s strengths and give them the high school experience they desire. Then breathe deeply. No education is perfect. It will all turn out ok.

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