by Andrea Longbottom
Marcia Somerville was ready to quit homeschooling. When her husband, Scott, came home from work one day, she met him at the door. "This is where we stop homeschooling," Marcia said.
"But, honey, I work for Home School Legal Defense Association!" he replied.
The Somervilles had started homeschooling their six children when the eldest reached school age. Marcia prepared an average of 150 lessons each week, an approach that worked when the children were in the lower grades. But when the two eldest began high school, Marcia felt she did not have the time to give them the excellent education she had envisioned, or that she herself had received at a prestigious liberal arts–based private high school.
Following Marcia’s announcement, Scott and Marcia spent several weeks in thought and prayer, determined to find the best answer for their family regardless of what it meant for Scott’s position as an HSLDA staff attorney. They talked with other parents who were homeschooling their high schoolers, including Elizabeth Smith, wife of HSLDA President Michael Smith. Elizabeth challenged them, "Who did God choose to be a role model for your children?" The Somervilles evaluated their goals and decided homeschooling was the educational option that met their criteria.
With their homeschooling priorities firmly in place, the Somervilles realized they would need a new approach to make it happen. For Marcia, that meant coming up with a master strategy that involved teaching unit studies. Each week, all the children would study the same subject on a level appropriate to their age. Once a week, they would come together as a group so Marcia could teach them and see how well the children were prepared to discuss the material they had learned. Later, Marcia taught a homeschool co-op using this unit study method and compiled it into a curriculum, Tapestry of Grace, which 3000 homeschooling parents now use.* Today, after five of their six children have graduated from homeschool high school, Scott and Marcia use their experience to encourage other families.
Perhaps, like the Somervilles, you feel overwhelmed and discouraged, wondering if you really can homeschool through high school. Or maybe you stand at the other end of the spectrum—you’re considering pulling your children out of a school and plunging into the new world of homeschooling. Regardless of your starting point, you want to do what’s best for your child.
As you weigh the pros and cons, ask yourself, "Who did God choose to be the role model for my child?" You don’t have to write your own curriculum to take advantage of the unsurpassed opportunity homeschooling offers to strengthen your relationship with your child and provide him with the best education possible. We hope the following responses to some common parental concerns will encourage you to take the road "less traveled."
Marcia Somerville is not the only homeschooling mom to have experienced feelings of inadequacy. One of the most frequent reasons given by HSLDA members who stop homeschooling is that they feel inadequate to proceed to high school instruction.
Elizabeth Smith, homeschooling mother and wife of HSLDA President Mike Smith, has "never met a parent who truly wanted to homeschool but was unable to do it." Dr. Brian Ray’s 1997 study on homeschooling in America supports her statement. Ray found that parent’s education background has no substantive effect on their children’s homeschool academic performance. Home educated students’ test scores remain between the 80th and 90th percentiles, whether their mothers have a college degree or did not complete high school."i
Refocusing on their goals and adjusting their approach enabled Marcia and Scott Somerville to continue homeschooling their children (L-R) David, Christy, Mike, Charity, Nathaniel, and Marjorie.
Although you may have qualms about teaching certain subjects, you don’t have to be an expert in every subject your child takes—teachers in traditional schools are not. Figure out your strengths as an instructor, then supplement your child’s homeschool program with other resources: try a unit study, use a self-taught course, or ask for advice or tutoring from someone with expertise in a certain subject. (Read "Choosing the right options" for more ideas on teaching unfamiliar subjects.)
Scott Somerville advises parents not to be intimidated by difficult subjects. "If you feel threatened by academic challenges," he says, "there’s a risk you may be losing sight of your goal: to prepare your child for life."
Mention the word "teenager" and parents exchange rueful smiles. They love watching their kids learn, discover, and mature into the amazing adults they will become. But some days . . .
So much of the typical parent-child frustration during the teen years can be attributed to the onset of hormonal changes. Even the most easygoing,
cooperative, respectful child will, at least occasionally (if not daily), shock both himself and his parents with an unexpected emotional outburst.
Another stress-causing factor between parents and teens is the natural maturing process. The teen’s cognitive ability is developing. He is making connections between the facts he’s learned, the things he’s experienced, his family’s standards and expectations, and the world outside his home and community. He is questioning, challenging, and pushing the limits. But Mom and Dad can see that he isn’t ready to fly the nest yet—emotionally, spiritually, or physically.
Barb Shelton, a homeschooling mother since 1982 and author of several books on homeschooling, suggests that parents "talk [with their teen] about what he wants in life and how he thinks he’s going to get there. . . ." Spend time in prayer and discussion about your teen’s walk with God. Shelton reminds parents to treat their teen differently than they would a young child. She explains, "You can’t tell an older child that ‘this is the law, just DO it!" Instead, parents must find ways to motivate their teen, to "get into his mind and heart." On the other hand, Shelton warns parents not to invite rebellious behavior by expecting it from their teens.ii
"One common concern that emerges as I talk with homeschooling parents around the country is how to motivate teens—especially teenage sons—to take responsibility for their schoolwork," says HSLDA President Mike Smith. To address this issue, homeschool parents may need to think outside the box. Joel Moughon, a 2000 homeschool graduate from Erwin, Tennessee, shares how his parents combated his lack of motivation: "The biggest thing my parents did to motivate me in high school was to get me involved in debate. . . . I think I’ve learned . . . academically through debate. [It has] forced [me] to research a number of different policy topics. I’ve learned how to speak in public in a way I was never able to before."iii
Jeremy Sewall, a 2004 Patrick Henry College graduate who was homeschooled in Falls Church, Virginia, says he was motivated by music. "As I started playing piano and getting good at that, it was something I knew I could do, and it’s something that gave me motivation to do other things well."iv
Consider involving your teen in a class or program that will spark his interest, even if he doesn’t want to do it at first. The opportunity to focus on and improve a skill can inspire him in other areas of his life.
"I feel like quitting," Elizabeth Smith once told another homeschooling mother.
"How often do you feel that way?" asked the mom.
"Every few weeks," replied Elizabeth. The other mother looked surprised and exclaimed, "Is that all?"
With a dawning sense of relief, Elizabeth realized that her feelings of discouragement and fatigue were normal. "It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong," she says.
If you’re too weary to face another schoolday, let alone the thought of high school, maybe it’s time to reevaluate why you are homeschooling in the first place. It’s easy for any of us to lose sight of the purpose behind the day-to-day routine. Maybe you need to take a break and revise your schedule. Talk to a friend. Go on a date with your spouse.
Elizabeth says that setting unrealistic teaching goals can frustrate and overwhelm parents. She suggests looking at the "whole child"—a future adult who will one day live on her own. Perhaps your student is falling behind in math or writing at the moment, but she is also learning to manage money or is volunteering for the library reading program. It’s not only good grades that comprise an excellent education—it’s emotional and spiritual growth, as well.
But what about . . . ?
What about sports? Music? Art instruction? You may wonder how your child can develop her unique talents if she’s not in public or private school. Thankfully, your child’s options do not need to be limited to the traditional school setting.
Finding sports opportunities is probably one of the biggest concerns for homeschooled high schoolers. Though it is still challenging for homeschooled students to join regular team sports and attract the notice of college recruiters, the opportunities are increasing.
The National Christian School Athletic Association (NCSAA), which is dedicated to promoting "Christ-centered excellence" in Christian school athletic programs, is currently working with HSLDA to become a liaison between homeschoolers and Christian school leagues. Their two main objectives are to convince Christian school leagues to allow the participation of homeschoolers (either as members of existing school teams or as separate homeschool teams), and to oversee eligibility and other issues that may hinder homeschoolers’ participation in these leagues. "We have recognized the need to step in because of the position we’re in, so that homeschoolers can have the opportunity to participate in organized Christian athletics," says NCSAA Director Nate Hartman.*
In some states, public schools allow homeschoolers to participate in classes or sports, but you should investigate and evaluate any strings attached to these "opportunities." At the very least, the school district will require proof that your high schooler is legally homeschooling, meeting the state requirements for public school students, and meeting his core academic requirements.v
Local college courses and continuing education classes are another option. Or find out what your local homeschool co-op has to offer—perhaps another homeschooling mother has an art degree or teaches piano. Check out churches, newspaper ads, and library programs. If all else fails, consider starting your own class!
Many colleges today accept—and even recruit—homeschoolers.vi However, parents still wonder if their home education program will prepare their child for college. What about transcripts, test scores, and college admission?
|Prepare early for college, advises Judy Davis. She and her husband Steve are still homeschooling Lydia and Josiah (L), while Jonathan and Elizabeth (R) have gone on to Washington and Lee University.
Ideally, preparation for college should begin in middle school. Talk with your teen about his interests and possible career choices. It is a rare 13-year-old who can identify the driving passion that will define his future career, but his interests, strengths, and ideas can provide direction in researching colleges and admission requirements.vii It is also wise to investigate beyond the admissions brochures and college websites, especially if your child is considering a highly selective school. "It’s not enough to meet the college’s requirements," says Judy Davis, a homeschooling mother whose oldest son was a 2004 graduate of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and whose daughter will graduate from the same school in 2006. Judy advises parents to look at a profile of the freshman class (call the admissions office to inquire). Usually, incoming students at highly selective colleges have surpassed basic academic requirements. For a homeschooled child to stand out when applying to such schools, he will likely need to take additional courses during high school.
Maybe your child has his heart set on attending a top university. Can you afford tuition? "The key is to plan wisely," says Judy Davis. She encourages students to prepare early (use practice tests) for scholarship-qualifying and college entrance exams such as the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test), SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test, www.collegeboard.org), and ACT (American College Test, www.act.org). Plan to have your child take the test several times to improve his score.* The higher your child’s score, the better his chances of getting into a selective college or qualifying for merit-based financial aid.
Judy also strongly advises parents to research Advanced Placement (AP) classes. If a teen scores well on an AP exam, he not only gains credit at many colleges, but he also attracts the attention of top-quality universities. Judy’s two oldest children took AP classes in high school, qualified as National Merit Scholars because of high PSAT scores, and received full college tuition. AP classes can be taken at a community college, a high school, online, or even at home through independent study. Judy recommends researching AP class locations the December before the school year in which your student plans to take the class. (For more information about AP, see www.collegeboard.org.)
How much schoolwork should you require from a teen? Rebecca Rupp’s book, Home Learning Year by Year, outlines the type of work a high schooler should be doing. (Mary Schofield’s The High School Handbook also includes suggestions for high school coursework.)
|Feeling overwhelmed by high school? Marcia Somerville (R) recommends consulting veteran homeschooling parents for advice. After facing and overcoming her own crisis point, she graduated five children and is homeschooling her youngest, Marjorie (L).
In addition, you can gain valuable suggestions from experienced teachers. Course descriptions on college websites can help you gauge at what level your student should be working by his senior year in high school. Or talk to a student who’s majoring in the field in which your teen is interested.
"But I don’t have time to think about college," you might object. "I’m trying to focus on this 8th-grade science course!"
Relax! You have plenty of time, and this is the best time to start. Simplify the research and planning process by breaking it down into steps. Before your student’s 9th-grade year (summer is a good time), create a four-year plan, listing the courses that most colleges consider prerequisites for admission.
Researching colleges and careers can even be incorporated into your child’s regular school hours. Assign your 8th- or 9th-grader a paper describing a career track that interests him and how he would prepare for it. In subsequent years, reassign the same paper. Vary and expand the assignment to include researching specific colleges, investigating the educational and background experience required for a specific career, and interviewing someone working in that field of interest. In addition to assembling valuable information, this assignment will allow you and your student to see how his interests and goals are developing or changing.
HSLDA members can visit www.hslda.org and click on the section entitled "Forms and Resources" to see a list of materials offering guidance in high school planning and college preparation. The "Choosing the right options" section of this article explains how your child can gain simultaneous high school and college credit.
Throughout each year of high school, keep regular, accurate records of your student’s work. Evaluate his progress at least once a semester. When your student begins applying to colleges, you will need to create a transcript listing the courses he has taken, grades received, credits, SAT/ACT scores, grade point average (GPA), paid jobs, and extracurricular activities.viii There is no need to create a high school transcript from scratch. Transcript forms are readily available online, and there are even DVD courses on preparing transcripts.†
While academic achievement is important, so are strong study habits, such as self-discipline and perseverance. Elizabeth Smith says her children were successful in college because of the solid work habits they developed through homeschooling.
College junior Christina Ishizu says, "Being homeschooled taught me to be motivated to do my work for the work’s sake, not simply to spend time with friends or have fun. It also helped me to identify a plan, given the amount of work I had to do and the amount of time I had to do it in, and the process by which I could reasonably achieve those goals."
Marcia Somerville urges parents to talk to others who have successfully homeschooled high schoolers. These "veterans" can share how they handled certain subjects, prepared their children for college, or dealt with attitude problems. HSLDA members who have a specific question can contact one of our new high school coordinators for additional ideas, resources, and encouragement. (See "Notes to Members" for more information.)
Choosing the right options
Parents who are homeschooling their high schoolers have a myriad of options and resources to choose from. Not only can you design a course of study that is suited to your child’s strengths and goals, but you can complement your own unique teaching style and interests.
For instance, maybe your student needs to strengthen her math skills. But you were an English major at a liberal arts college and promptly forgot all the algebra you ever learned. Don’t panic! Online classes, correspondence schools, and private tutors are just a few of the possibilities available to you. The following overview lists some common options.
Your student can take online classes (distance learning) from home. Things to consider when selecting a correspondence school include:
|>>||Is it recommended by someone you trust?|
|>>||What is the school’s worldview, and the worldview/character of the professor teaching the course?|
|>>||What do others say who have used the program?|
Homeschooling parents who pool their efforts usually form a co-op. Parents offer to teach classes in exchange for their children’s participation in the co-op. Parents who prefer not to teach can usually enroll their children for a fee.
From a friend who is a portrait artist to a church member who’s a math professor, a granddad who has a degree in organic chemistry, or an older sibling who’s majoring in German, potential tutors are everywhere. Homeschooling mother and speaker Cafi Cohen also suggests contacting a nearby college to ask for the names of students interested in tutoring.ix
Another option used by many homeschoolers is taking dual-credit courses at a community college.* Through these classes, your teen can earn both high school and college credit (make sure the credits will transfer to the four-year college of your teen’s choice). Aside from offering instruction in subjects you may feel inadequate to teach, community college classes will save you money in the future if your student enters college and is able to transfer his credits. Judy Davis, whose two oldest children took calculus and physics in community college during high school, points out that students benefit from knowing excellent professors who can write letters of recommendation to colleges or scholarship programs. Judy recommends that a teen enroll as a high school student—this is usually called "dual enrollment." Because some freshman scholarships have limits on dual-enrollment credits, students should beware of accumulating too many credits and thus forfeiting their freshman status. Check with the colleges administering the scholarships. However, if the student is going to transfer to a four-year college rather than apply as a freshman, his freshman status is not an issue.
Before enrolling in community college, find out what worldviews are upheld in the classroom and what kind of students your high schooler will be socializing with. Look at the professors’ qualifications, the syllabi, and the textbooks. If possible, talk to others who have taken the class your student plans on taking.
Scott Auslund, a 2004 homeschool graduate, is now attending community college near his home in Sacramento, California. Challenging social and political topics are commonly threaded through Scott’s classes, but he is learning to respond to them by meeting regularly with a discussion group of close Christian friends.
Complementing your homeschool with outside classes is a valuable, flexible option for many families. Marcia Somerville encourages parents to evaluate their goals for outside instruction, concluding that for Christian parents, their child’s soul is most important. If your goal in homeschooling is to produce a child strong in faith and rooted in truth, choose only teachers and classmates who will help your child achieve this.x
Your homeschool experience with your high schooler can be a wonderful opportunity for you to strengthen your relationship with your teenager and to have fun along with him as he grows. You may be struggling or hesitating now, but be encouraged by the many other parents who have taught their own—or several of their own—high schoolers. These families are reaping the rewards as their children graduate from college and begin jobs or start families. As homeschooling mom Elizabeth Smith says, "The teen years were the best years. I wouldn’t have traded them for the world."
* For information on Tapestry of Grace, see www.TapestryofGrace.com.
* Visit www.ncsaa.org/homeschool_news.htm to sign up for free email updates, discussion groups, and further information about this new homeschool athletic liaison service.
* To qualify for the National Merit Scholarship competition, students must take the PSAT in October of their junior year, although it’s wise to also take it in the sophomore year for practice. The SAT and ACT can be taken and retaken throughout the high school years.
† Find out about Transcript Boot Camp on DVD at http://www.edplus.com/tbc.asp.
* Dual enrollment is only allowed in certain states.
i Home School Legal Defense Association, "Home Education across the United States: Family Characteristics, Student Achievement, and Longitudinal Traits" (1997), 7, http://www.hslda.org/docs/study/ray1997/07.asp.
ii Barb Shelton, "A Letter to Moms with Burned-out, ‘Bad Attituded’ Teenagers," The Homeschool Oasis, http://www.homeschooloasis.com/art_to_moms_with_burned_out_teen.htm.
iii Joel Moughon, interview by Michael P. Farris, "One Parent’s Solution to Teaching Boys," Home School Heartbeat, June 5, 2003, http://www.hslda.org/docs/hshb/45/hshb4519.asp.
iv Jeremy Sewall, interview by Michael P. Farris, "Does Homeschooling Pay Off?" Home School Heartbeat, June 2, 2003, http://www.hslda.org/docs/hshb/45/hshb4516.asp.
v Home School Legal Defense Association, "Equal Access: Participation of Homeschooled Students in Public School Activities" (August 20, 2004), http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000000/00000049.asp.
vi Jeanne Gowen Dennis, "High School: A Great Time to Homeschool," Barefoot on Holy Ground, http://www.barefootonholyground.com/High.html.
vii Jeanne Gowen Dennis, Homeschooling High School: Planning Ahead for College Admission (Lynnwood, WA: Emerald Books, 2000), 40.
viii Inge Cannon, interview by J. Michael Smith, "Cutting through the Confusion of High School Transcripts," Home School Heartbeat, August 26, 2003, http://www.hslda.org/docs/hshb/47/hshb4707.asp.
ix Cafi Cohen, "Running through Walls," Home Education Magazine (May/June 2000), http://www.homeedmag.com/HEM/173.00/mj_clmn_ok.html.
x Marcia Somerville, "Which Class Is Most Important?" (workshop, 2005 Montana State-Wide Home Educators Convention and Curriculum Fair, Billings, MT, June 24, 2005).
|About the author
Andrea Longbottom is a student at Patrick Henry College and works part-time in HSLDA's Communications Department. She grew up in Southeast Texas and was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. Andrea will graduate from PHC in December 2005 with a degree in literature.