Identify four basics to consider when approaching the high school years.
Many moms (and dads) have encouraged and supported me in homeschooling. But two mentoring experiences have greatly influenced me during my 16-year adventure in home education.
First, I vividly remember sitting in the kitchen of a veteran homeschool mom as I grilled her with my three-page written list of questions as I contemplated educational choices for my then-4-year-old. Other parents told me it was just kindergarten and that I needed to relax, but I remember thinking they must not value education as much as I did. Of course, after completing that first year of homeschooling, I was telling mothers similar things — it really wasn’t as hard as we feared and was in fact quite doable.
The next picture I carry with me happened several years later, when my oldest was in sixth grade. I eagerly attended a local support group meeting where a veteran homeschool mom of four high school–age and college-age boys gladly expounded on what parents need to know about homeschooling during high school. I remember this mother also telling us that with thoughtful preparation, high school did not have to be a big, scary, awful thing. I found myself thinking that if she could do it, I probably could too.
We parents tend to worry that we aren’t doing enough, or we aren’t preparing our children well — you know the drill. Today when I counsel those thinking about homeschooling during the high school years, and now that my oldest is in nursing school, I find myself saying, “Relax — most of the things you worry about never happen.” With that in mind, here are some of the things I share when leading FPEA High School 101 orientations.
First off, I start by asking everyone to remember the feelings they had when they first began homeschooling. Then I ask them to recall how they feel now about all those issues they worried about way back then. I tell them it’s the same way with high school — you start out with the same trepidation and end with telling everyone that it really wasn’t that hard. Just like when you first started, there is new vocabulary and vernacular to get used to, but before you know it, you will be a pro. With other local moms, the Guide to Homeschooling in Florida, FPEA Florida Homeschool Convention workshops and a few well-chosen resource books, I knew I had the information that would guide me along the way.
Whether your child is in middle school and you’re looking ahead, or you’re just starting ninth grade, each family has four basic decisions to make about high school. It may seem overly simplified, but the first decision is whether or not you will continue to educate at home. Individual families must make the decisions that are best for them, but don’t make your decision based on fear, because as I’ve already said, a large percentage of what we fear never occurs, and there are plenty of people and resources to help us. Life is unexpected and we can’t predict the future, but if at all possible, one should try to do the high school years in a single setting. Going from home into public or private school, one must be aware of the amount and type of credits required to graduate with one’s peers. If going into public school from home, an important resource is a Technical Assistance Paper “Transfer of Credits Guidelines,” found at www.floridaschoolchoice.org. Going from public or private to home is probably easier, but one still must closely watch eligibility rules and deadlines, especially when dealing with the Bright Futures Scholarship.
Another thing to think about is what method of education to use during the high school years. Just because your child has started higher education does not mean you should change what has previously worked well. All methods of education, even those less formal, can be translated into a high school transcript (and I highly recommend that each high school student have a transcript, whether they plan on college or not.) There are many resources to help with documentation of a formal transcript or portfolio. I remind parents that those pioneer homeschool families that were being recruited by Ivy League schools did not use textbooks, because no one would sell to them back then. They got into college and continue to get into college because they don’t look like everyone else — they’re unique, involved in a variety of interesting pursuits and passions. So don’t think you have to change to an all-textbook approach just because you’re starting high school, unless it meets the goals and needs of your particular child.
The third decision to be made is whether or not to follow the home education law and register with the superintendent or follow the private school law and register with a nontraditional private school. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, roughly 60 percent of Florida homeschoolers register with the county and 40 percent with a nontraditional private school. There are pros and cons of both choices. For some, this choice will boil down to whether or not they want a parent-generated transcript and diploma. For others it will depend on the costs and flexibility of one program over the other. Again, there isn’t a right way or a wrong way, only what is best for your family and your child. Just don’t let anyone scare you into thinking your child can’t succeed because he or she doesn’t have an “official” diploma and transcript.
The last thing to consider, but probably the most important, is what future you are preparing this child for. You’ll be structuring your high school years around this. It’s best to start your planning with the end in mind. For example, if you know your child wants to go to Georgia Tech and major in engineering, what type of educational experiences are required to get there? Is your child interested in college, or does she have the aptitude for a trade school, is he better suited to entrepreneurial activities, or is an apprenticeship or the military in the future? Or is your child not sure? In our home, we started by identifying what we knew our child didn’t like and then focused in on where her giftings, skills and interests lay. Extracurricular options also help in determining a child’s future plans.
In preparing for the high school years there are at least four basic questions to answer: whether to educate at home or not, the educational method to pursue, a method of accountability to use and what future to prepare for. Generally speaking, the more time one has to look into these choices, the better choices one makes. Fellow homeschool parents are an excellent source of information — they are real people who have been there and done that, and can share the good and the bad. So come by the Mentoring Moms booth at the Convention to talk with veteran moms, bolster your courage, brainstorm together, get ideas and get answers to your questions.
By Kim Coley. Kim served as FPEA District 5 Director for five years.