Facing the High School Challenge

“We will be starting high school next year.” These words can scare the most seasoned and effective home schoolers. They can lead to anxious discussions and endless catalog searching. Most serious of all, these words can end our home school journey altogether if we become daunted by the responsibility and decide it is time for the professionals and real school to take over.

Undoubtedly, home schooling on the high school level presents challenges quite different from teaching elementary-aged students. During those early years, we enjoyed our freedom. We planned activity-laden unit studies, had long cuddles on the couch while we read interesting books together, and breathed easily knowing we had years to accomplish our goals. Then high school hit.

We may at first find ourselves asking, “Are the relaxed times gone for good?” Next a line of formidable courses parades before us. Can we teach subjects we never took ourselves in high school or, worse yet, teach that dreaded course we passed only through the mercy of a compassionate instructor? Finally, we become increasingly aware that only four more years are left before our prodigies are turned out into the world; but are they prodigies? Or will they be failures? The validity of our entire home school experience and the effort of years hang in the balance. As all of these questions tie us in knots, let us untangle them one by one and perhaps gain some confidence in the process.

First of all, are the relaxed times gone for good? As I finish bringing my third child through his high school program, I have to give a yes-and-no answer to that question. Yes, unit studies and the excitement of reading relevant and well-written books can continue; but now our meander down the path of learning follows a more carefully considered path and includes rockier terrain. Now we need a carefully designed plan that never loses sight of college preparation. How do we accomplish that?

In planning our high school program, we should always consider what is best for our child’s future. Although we have no magical vision into the future, we can see strengths and weaknesses in our children’s abilities. Our goal, then, should be to strengthen and challenge in the areas of greatest ability and prop and support the areas of weakness.

When I plan my high school program for each child, I take these natural abilities into consideration. My current high schooler loves literature and history. Since this bent may represent a future career direction, we work hard on composition and follow an in-depth, home-designed program that combines reading in literature, history, theology, philosophy, original documents, etc. This is a labor of love and far exceeds a textbook presentation.

However, the math that is so dreaded by this child is designed to prepare him for the college algebra that most liberal arts degrees require, and no more. We do not see a career that requires a lot of higher-level math likely for this student and prefer to spend the majority of his time increasing his competency in areas of future importance to him. In contrast, our firstborn son, who is now pursuing a degree in computer science, had a high school program filled with math, a thorough composition and grammar program since it is important in all fields, and a competent but less extensive study of history and literature. An exception to this approach would be the student vying for scholarships at highly competitive universities. In that circumstance, a rigorous program in all academic areas will most likely be necessary.

Regardless of what a student’s current career thoughts are, I believe we should plan a high school program that meets college admission standards. Even students planning to bypass college can change their minds; it would be unfortunate if an insufficient high school program hindered new goals. With these thoughts in mind, begin collecting college catalogs. Most catalogs contain the core high school program they want their applicants to have taken. Eighth grade is not too early to begin collecting so you can map a four-year high school program that meets normal college requirements. Meeting these standards does not mean all your home school creativity is at an end. A high school government course can be planned primarily around a textbook, or it can be planned around an active involvement in a political campaign, using a textbook or other reading to fill in the gaps. A very creative course can be hidden under the mundane title, American Government, on a high school transcript. The difficulty for the home schooling parent lies in creating objective standards to grade and to credit these non-traditional approaches.

Second, what about the difficulty of courses that we feel unprepared to teach? With the expansion of Internet and video courses and the existence of junior college dual credit or early enrollment, these challenges can be met. I was happy for my eldest son to get the advanced math courses he needed from our junior college during his senior year of high school. I had no competency in those areas nor any desire or ability to acquire it! Look for help to cover your areas of weakness. Create a division of labor, and let others do what you cannot. Your student’s academic program will be stronger for it, and you will be able to turn your attention more profitably to other areas.

Finally, what will the future hold for our home schooled students? Will we have done our jobs well? As home schoolers, we have kept our children more closely by our sides than most parents. The growth in independence that begins gradually when most children are left at the kindergarten door can hit us almost overnight, as our high schooler finishes his home school program. Despite after-school jobs, summer camps, and other wing-testing opportunities, the break can be more sudden for home school parents. Will we like what we see?

The last seventeen years of my life have been consumed with teaching my five children. As two have entered adulthood and a third will soon, I have often found myself on a roller coaster of emotions. Every right decision they make can leave me in triumph, justified in my labor of love. Unfortunately, every wrong decision can leave me wondering how they could forget the lessons we worked so hard to instill. Many home school friends share similar struggles. How do we gain a biblical perspective?

Primarily, we must give our children the same opportunity to grow in grace that God gives us. God’s work of sanctification in the Christian’s life unfolds over a lifetime, and a newly graduated home schooler is continuing in that process, not completing it. Secondarily, we must remember that home schooling does not create perfect homes, perfect parents, or perfect children. That is the life work of Jesus Christ. While home schooling can contribute greatly to the nurturing of our children in the Lord, it does not cause the problem of sin to disappear. In fact, as we live closely with each other, sometimes it seems that our sin abounds! Keep home schooling in perspective. A God-honoring, home schooled upbringing is a wonderful gift to any child. But let us not tarnish our efforts by placing expectations on them that only God can fulfill. As your child completes high school, your home schooling may be over; but God’s work in the heart of your young adult continues faithfully and undiminished.