Tuesday, August 6, 2013

High School Freak Outs

Why does it seem that almost all homeschoolers completely freak out at the prospect of homeschooling high school? Message boards are packed with questions like "Will this be enough credits for 9th grade," "What is the best order to do the Sciences in high school," "Is this enough work," etc. There are also the questions asking if it is alright to do X instead of Y, because people are so afraid to do anything that isn't identical to the public school. Don't forget the many insecure homeschoolers questioning their schedules - are they planning too many hours or not enough.

Time after time, I see comments like "I am freaking out over high school," or "For some reason, the idea of homeschooling high school has me terrified." Even those who have been homeschooling from the beginning seem to feel it. Some don't start feeling it until right before high school starts. Some start feeling it as they start planning middle school. Some get over it by the end of 9th grade, while others stay frightened straight through until graduation.

I guess I understand a little bit of apprehension, a little fear or insecurity, especially if the family didn't start homeschooling until high school or middle school.  I don't really understand the major fear of it, though. I really don't understand it when the family has been homeschooling since the beginning. Now, I'm not trying to invalidate anyone's feelings. I'm not saying you should not feel any trepidation. I'm simply saying I don't understand the massive fear that is so often expressed over high school.

Maybe it is because my daughter started high school level work before 9th grade, as will my son. Maybe it is because my experience in school - high school was not scary, challenging, or overwhelming for me. Whatever the reason, getting to high school level work is just natural progression in our house. It is not a big deal. Nobody freaks out or worries about it here.

I don't know if anything I say will help those who are afraid, but here it is anyway. Here is my advice for how to calm down & not worry about high school.

1. Plan ahead. Don't wait until June to start planning for a school year that starts in August. Plan what courses you expect your child to take in middle school & high school while they are still in elementary school. You don't have to plan the materials that early (after all, not everyone is as uber-organized as I am), but knowing what courses you have planned may help alleviate some of that stress.

2. Gradually increase the amount of time & work until you get to an appropriate amount for high school. I have seen some people post that their kids only did 3-4 hours of work per day, all the way up to high school, then they had them doing 7-8 hours a day. Most often, they were wondering why their child resisted so much or was struggling so much. Some people have said that they don't start formal Writing until high school, and then expect essays & research papers. That would be stressful for anyone. You can't do only informal Math until 8th grade & expect them to be ready to handle 45-60 minute long Algebra lessons in 9th. If you don't grade their work in elementary school, that great. However, by high school, they should be getting graded in all subjects. The same goes for tests. Start in 5th grade, grading & giving tests in one subject. Add more each year until, by 9th grade, all of their subjects have tests & are graded. Have the school day last a little longer each year, so they aren't suddenly expected to work for twice as long as soon as they hit 9th grade.

3. Let them work at their own pace. I have seen many people force their kids to work at a pace different from their natural pace in order to start high school work in 9th grade. I have seen it happen both ways. Some force their kids to slow down, not wanting them to start high school work early at all. Some force them to go at a pace faster then they are ready for, not wanting them 'behind' when they hit 9th grade. Some arbitrarily decide to skip middle school & start high school right after 6th, even if their kids have never shown signs of being advanced or Gifted. All this does is tell the students that high school is a big deal. It builds it up as this huge thing in their minds, and they start to worry about it. Let them work at their own pace, starting high school level work whenever they are ready for it. Don't skip grades, but allow them to move faster, doing more than one grade level of work per year, if that is comfortable for them. Allow them extra time if they need to work slower. Their future will not be horribly ruined if they do Pre-Algebra instead of Algebra in 9th grade.

4. Feel free to customize. Your homeschool does NOT have to look just like a public school. That is true for elementary school, middle school, and for high school. Most homeschoolers have no problem with this idea in the lower grades, but many seem to forget it for the middle or high school levels. You don't have to do 7-8 subjects each year, with all courses done every day for an hour each. Plan each class as only a semester long, still with a full year of work, meaning only half the courses each semester. Plan your school as night school, instead of starting at 7 am. Include some film appreciation & film making courses for your aspiring movie director. Add a few extra Math courses for your Mathy kid. If you aren't comfortable with doing Science labs at home, sign them up for classes at a local community college or co-op. Look for a tutor for the class you find most difficult to teach. Your school can look however you want it to look.

5. Stop comparing yourself/your kids/your plans to others. Just because you see someone else list 3 different foreign languages for their kid, you don't have to be insecure about the fact that you only have 1 planned. Don't stress because your child is in more extra-curricular activities or because they won't be doing Calculus. Just remember that every person is different. Be proud of who your child is. Focus on personal progress, not on beating other people in some imaginary contest.

6. Let it out & let it go. If someone says something that is offensive or hurtful about the way you homeschool, feel free to vent about it. Yell at them. Post to the thread telling them off. Write on your blog about. The key, though, is to think about whether or not there is any merit to what was said. After you've thought & vented about it, let it go. Don't let it keep rattling around in your head. Don't let it continue to bug you. If there was merit to it, consider what changes would most benefit your family & work on them. Not because someone insulted you, because YOU think these changes need to be made. If there was no merit, forget about it. Either way, let it go. What matters is what you, your husband, and your kids think of your homeschooling. Ignore the snide comments. Do not let them make you insecure.

7. Include them. Involve your child in the planning of their high school. Get their input on what classes & what materials to use. Have them help plan the schedule. Let them choose their electives. Explain why you require certain subjects. Find out what they think they might want to do, what career they want, what college they want to attend. It is their future, let them be an active participant in the planning of it. Plus, if you are working together, you can help keep each other calm.

So, that's my advice. Basically, trust yourself. Trust that you know your kids. Trust that you want what is best for them & are willing to do what it takes to provide the education you think they deserve. Don't worry about what others do or what they think about your homeschool. Yes, you should do your research. However, some things don't matter all that much. It really doesn't matter what order you do the Sciences. Chemistry should be done after Algebra 1, as Chemistry uses Algebra. As long as you do that, do them in any order you want. The ACT includes both Algebra & Geometry, so you will want your child to take Algebra 1 & Geometry before taking the ACT. However, outside of test prep, it doesn't matter if you do Algebra 1, Algebra 2, then Geometry or Algebra 1, Geometry, then Algebra 2. Look at your local school district or, better yet, colleges to find out how many/what courses are required/expected to graduate high school/get into a good college. Don't worry about how your number of credits/courses compares to other homeschoolers. Just make sure they meet or exceed what colleges are looking for. There is no magic number of hours a high school student should do per day. There is so much room to personalize it, to make your child's school experience exactly what you both want. You can make sure they are prepared for college, work, life on their own, and have time to explore what they want to do with their life & who they are. Don't get so stressed about high school that you miss the opportunity to watch them choose a path, apply all those things you've taught them about life, blossom into wonderful adults.