I’ve been skimming a new favorite on the homeschool circuit, Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. I’m trying to determine whether it would be the right selection for a living book on character next school year. This book, written by homeschooled teen twins, prompts teenagers to rise above the low expectations that society sets for them. While I’m still undecided about the book, its content left me thinking. In fact, I thought so much about it until it prompted me to have the discussion with our Sunday school class about the gap between what God thinks of them and what they think of themselves.
One of the realizations the book expresses, and our class expressed as well, is that, for the most part, when you see something about teenagers, it’s generally negative. Whether it’s teenage pregnancies, teens and drugs, teens and peer pressure (almost always negative peer pressure, not positive), the news is just not good. I can remember surfing in Blogland and finding a meme on raising and homeschooling teenagers. I found it intriguing that the authors actually had to articulate the need to be nice when speaking of your own children.
There are changes that occur in children at this age, without doubt. On one hand, the homeschooling environment gives us the opportunity to be more sensitive, hopefully reducing everyone’s stress level during this accelerated growth phase. On the other hand, the homeschooling environment gives us more of an opportunity to pray because we don’t get a break when the stress levels are high. As I’m no child expert or medical doctor, I won’t presume to offer any advice on teen development; this is simply my observation based upon conversations with friends in similar situations.
So, where do all the studies, the research, the articles, and the countless “how to” studies leave a parent of a homeschooled teen? With tons of information on home educating a high schooler; why not add my two cents? (smile)
After a looming sense of dread during my daughter’s 8th grade year, I would say at this point that high school is not the big, hairy monster that I thought it would be. I am convinced that most of the changes existed in my mind rather than in the way that we adjusted our homeschool. For us, the core course requirements stayed the same. Our oldest still needs a steady diet of grammar and composition, math, science, and history. Yet, I would tell another parent that the age-old wisdom of knowing your child becomes tantamount here: knowing strengths, areas that need development, life/ career interests, learning styles, and how to marry all of this with the opportunities around you can make all the difference in the high school experience.
What else would I tell a parent who is considering a homeschool that includes high school?
Include the Bible in your studies. It amazes me how many Christian parents decide to forego Bible studies as children grow. Several parents that I know will say something along the line of “we just don’t have time,” or in some way insinuate that since it’s not important to a college administrator, its value is somehow diminished. I shared with such a parent recently that it is possible to do both as a part of your studies–integrate God’s Word and prepare your children academically for college. (Her comment was, “I want my children to know who god is but I want them to get the information that will get them into a great college first.”) I talked about the historical significance of the Bible, and how even non-believers recognize the significance of the Bible, if nothing more than as a history text; it is included in almost every study of ancient World history. But that’s really not reason enough to include Biblical studies. The real reason in my mind is what I alluded to earlier: what teenagers are challenged with today makes me realize how very sheltered my world was 25-30 years ago. As our pastor shared this morning, a walk with our Lord shouldn’t be a Sunday morning event, but should permeate the remaining hours in our week as well. Simply put, a Christian parent can no longer afford to limit opening a Bible to Sunday morning. The enemy is too cunning, and the price—our children’s souls—is too high.
Don’t slack off because your child’s academic goals don’t include college. I’ve shared previously that my father had to quit school at an early age in order to sharecrop with his family. My mother had more education, and fought to become a registered nurse when the highest position most black women held was generally a teacher. Because they understood the value of higher education, we were never given a choice about college; we simply got to choose where we wanted to go. My husband and I have raised our children the same way, and we’ve geared our homeschool toward that end. However, I also recognize that college is not everyone’s goal. I do believe, however, that regardless of the path, this is the last opportunity for you to pour into your child those habits, that knowledge, and those values that will define her as she leaves home. Lee Binz of the Home Scholar does a marvelous job of discussing why an academically rigorous education is important, especially to a child who is not pursuing higher education.
Having said that, what should you add to a high schooler’s curriculum to give it uniqueness? Electives, which can take many forms. A high schooler can also take advantage of art studies, music studies, and whatever electives are of interest. Composition can take a number of forms: blogging, editing a family newsletter, or volunteering for an organization that needs a public relations person (free press releases), as examples. The oldest has a friend who writes plays and short films, and will see his first manuscript brought to life this summer at a local library. For that math enthusiast who likes to play video games, how about a course in applied mathematics such that he can design his own interactive fun?
An unschooler would give better advice than I would on designing electives. There are also books and resources on the subject. In our home, given our daughter’s interest in fashion, I put together a reading/ writing project for her using the Biblical character of Esther (since we studied Ancient World History). She drug her feet in completing the project, but when she asked me, “So, who are we going to study next year?” I knew I was on to something.
Pick your battles; win the war (the dragging of feet prompted that one). Our high school doesn’t start when I want; it ends later than I want. I make a choice each morning to not start my day fussing. I don’t always remember the choice when the beauty regimen takes closer to an hour, but I make it (smile). Toward the end of the year, I began to follow up on our pastor’s worship series regarding “The Worshipping Life,” and I walked around in the mornings with my MP4 player listening to worship music. This changed my whole outlook on the day and its troubles. It probably made me more relaxed than I should have been, but at least I wasn’t screaming at anyone to hurry. Well, not too much.
Early is never early enough. Again, I am writing from the perspective of a parent whose child, unless the Lord sends a burning bush to say otherwise, will leave here and attend college in a few short years. Yet, I’m sure that whatever your children’s plans are, there is one constant: you must prepare them to increasingly live a life of self-sufficiency (minus human interventions, I mean). This has meant, in addition to day-to-day lessons of managing time, money, and a stack of dirty clothes and/or dirty dishes, the following tasks:
Coordinating with the public school system for standardized test taking
Researching college alternatives
Researching scholarship and grant possibilities
Understanding what a given college wants and needs and how that pertains to what we do in high school
In short, all of those activities that the public school system handled for me, complete with the expertise and the power to delegate, now fall flat in the laps of my husband and I to get done. I have at least two examples of making a few calls in a half-embarrassed state, thinking that someone would consider me a slave driver of a parent for starting so early. In each case, I had narrowly missed some critical deadline to position the oldest to accomplish some major milestone in her college preparation. My advice to any parent who is walking a similar road would be to start early enough that others will laughingly say to you, “You’re already doing that?” As others have wisely said to me, you will laugh last.
Pray. Though prayer is nothing new for a Christian, I believe the Lord gives a special grace for those with teens. Here are some specific needs that I know I’ve become acutely more aware of in raising my teen:
1) We have to pray for them to stay with Christ, whether they leave us or not.
2) We have to pray to grow in trusting them as young adults whose plans don’t always align with our own.
3) Because there is no other teacher to point to regarding the gap in your child’s knowledge (whether going to college, to the military, or straight to work), we must do our best, but we also have to know God as a gap-filler.
4) We must pray to grow in grace as we come to the revelation that everything we think is wrong with them ain’t them (pardon the vernacular). In praying, realize that the Lord will change you as much—or maybe even more–as He’ll change your child.
We are given a wonderful opportunity during these years, and with the right resources, it can be a tremendous time in our lives. I have other thoughts, but this post has gotten long enough. I’ll share other musings in posts to come. God bless you.