Early Graduation and Young College Students

I’ve been homeschooling for a very, very long time.

It’s been 15 years. (Wow. It seems impossible that it’s been that long!)

When I first started homeschooling, I was fascinated with the idea that my teens could graduate early from high school and get on with college, work and normal adult life. See, as a high schooler, I loved school. I would have loved taking classes all summer and graduating a year or two earlier so I could go onto college and take more classes. So this was kind of the picture that I had in my head for my kids’ high school.

Then we began using the county virtual school and they didn’t allow that kind of thing, so I shrugged and graduated my oldest on what was a typical time frame.

Now that I’ve been through the teen years and graduated on myself, and having met many other homeschooling families, I can see some of the pitfalls of graduating a student early.

Of course, let me say what I mention so often on my blogs–there is no one size fits all solution to anybody’s life. Everyone’s homeschooling journey will be different. I think that early graduation could be appropriate for certain situations–students who have babies themselves might benefit from this type of arrangement, as could students who are extremely advanced academically. But by and large, I’m not a fan of early graduation for homeschoolers.

Often I see a pair of siblings close in age…both are slated for graduating in the same year. The younger sibling was sort of folded into his sibling’s high school material, and before the parent knew it, had completed most of the credits needed for graduation. So parents think…hmmm. Why not do it? Younger student can get on with life, and (perhaps they don’t always verbalize this) parents can focus on the younger siblings and their education with the high schoolers otherwise occupied.

Striving for Excellence, Rather Than Box-Checking

There’s a couple things that are hard for me to swallow in the above scenario. First, the younger sibling may have gotten the work done, but did they really do stellar work, demonstrating a mastery of the material? In our homeschool, checking off the boxes isn’t only what I want to accomplish. Particularly if I can move a little slower, at a more age-appropriate pace, an average student can become an excellent student. Giving a middle schooler more time to mature before he starts trying to keep up with his older sibling’s high school lessons is okay. I’d rather move more slowly for my younger child and allow him to expect to accomplish mastery rather than moving on for the sake of keeping up with an older sibling.

Sibling Rivalry

My kids constantly compete with one another for attention, for time with mom, for time in the bathroom. I don’t want to add another layer of competition to their relationship. Do I want the older student to feel constantly threatened by his younger but possibly academically brighter sibling? Do I want my younger student to feel that her sister is always going to out-do her (because with an extra year of brain maturity the playing field is not level) so why should she even try? Combining students in high school can yield these types of dynamics, so homeschooling parents should be extra aware of the relational challenges that combining can present. If either student starts to seem demoralized or doesn’t give good effort, parents may want to figure out a way to do levels separately, even if it seems inefficient.

Scholarships

Our state has excellent college scholarship opportunities. The very best scholarships, however, go to students who perform well academically and can test well. If my student has checked all the boxes for high school graduation and I feel good about their academic accomplishments, but they still aren’t scoring well on the ACT or SAT, I’d rather they waited a semester or a year, and prepared completely for these important tests. Taking that extra year to beef up on test skills can be worth thousands of dollars in scholarship money.

Maturity

Students mature differently. And they also mature in different areas of their brains at different rates. As a parent considering early graduation, be sure that you take into account emotional maturity, academic maturity, and social maturity. Additionally, many young people, girls in particular, are really good at presenting a mature face to adults. However, these young people may not have the social maturity to handle some of the demands of the adult world. Don’t forget, either, that having a sense of responsibility in some situations doesn’t necessarily mean that a young person is fully mature. One of my kids was very responsible with younger siblings and our family’s pets at very young ages. I would have trusted her to care for these things at the age of 14, 15, and 16. However, she was slower to develop emotional and social maturity. Had I graduated her early, she would have struggled to relate to the other students at college.

Friends

“If your friends all jumped off a cliff…” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know we shouldn’t make decisions based solely on friends. But full time college changes things socially. The friends who are still able to clown around doing high school things are going to struggle to relate to a serious college student. A college schedule is demanding, leaving less time for the friend group at co-op. Sometimes, friendships can be left behind as life shuffles kids in different directions. For the teen who is younger than the college aged peers in all their classes, it can be difficult to find new friends in the first year or two.

Grades Are on the Record

Are you 100 percent certain that your student is academically ready for college? For sure? Are you sure they have the time management and organizational skills to keep up with all that college will ask of them? Because once they start college, those grades will become a permanent part of their academic record. You don’t want an unprepared student to permanently lose a scholarship or jeopardize his academic future because he wasn’t ready.

What’s Your Hurry?

Kids grow up all too fast. There’s no rush to reach milestones before anyone else. Enjoy your teens, and don’t push them to adult places until your completely sure this is for them. With all of the options for dual enrollment and online school you can take your time with the step of college. They can take a few classes while still being classified as a high school student and you can see how they do, easing their way into the world of college.

Of course, I don’t know you and your kids. I won’t be presumptuous enough to tell you it’s always a bad idea to graduate a student early, but please consider these points before you graduate your child early. Take your time with these decisions, pray about them, talk to your kid about it, and talk to other parents about these decisions.

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Why I Use a Virtual School–The Back Story

I love homeschooling. We started out with my oldest in Kindergarten. As the other kids grew and changed, we adapted. My oldest learned to concentrate on math when younger siblings were crying, destroying the house, and mom’s attention was scattered.  It was great.

And then we hit high school.

Let me explain something right here. I adore high school material. I am much more of an older kid person than I am an infant or toddler person. Teaching basic skills bores me to tears and I eagerly anticipated teaching, explaining, exploring, and discussing deeper topics like chemistry, biology, world history, and literature.

But when my oldest hit high school, I had four children, all of them needing me desperately. My youngest was at Kindergarten level. And yes, I know Kindergarten is easy and not time consuming at all. But he still needed me. I also had an elementary student and a middle schooler. Every day became more difficult. I wanted to teach them all. But nobody was getting a good education. Someone was always drawing the short straw.

Some moms of homeschooled high schoolers said things like, “They can teach themselves.” or “If someone really wants to learn something, they will.”

Two statements that I entirely agree with.

The problem is that my 15 year old, really didn’t care all that much about learning what the school system and I expected her to learn. She really didn’t want to read Shakespeare, learn Geometry, or read about events of the Russian Revolution. She knew that school was a “have to.” There was no option. But she wanted school to get done each day in the most efficient way. She was not good at teaching herself most subjects. She wanted immediate feedback on her work, so she could be assured that she was done and could move on to more interesting-to-her things with a clear conscience.

What did she hate? She hated having to wait 45 minutes to get a misunderstanding about algebra cleared up. She hated not getting her papers graded until she was already involved in something else and having to come back to finish something that was incorrect or incomplete. She hated that mom had to read over math instructions for 15 or 20 minutes before I could explain a difficult topic, because it had been awhile since I’d done it.

Of course, these things happen in every school system. But, we wanted our homeschool to be MORE streamlined than brick and mortar school. If she had to spend all day long waiting on a question to be answered, a paper to be graded, a misunderstanding cleared up, what was the advantage of homeschooling?

So, I thought hard about our problems. We tried homeschooling her freshman year and it worked okay. I bought a computer based math program and that helped. But I still felt that my daughter was capable of more than I was giving her. I wanted her challenged in school. I wanted her to be able to get the scholarships I knew she was capable of getting.

And I discovered the county virtual school.

And after some tests, talking to the administrator of the program, and asking a ton of questions, I enrolled her for her tenth grade year. She graduated from the program in 2016

And I am forever grateful for this opportunity. It wasn’t perfect.

It wasn’t the way I pictured my homeschool looking all those years ago.

But she was learning. I was able to focus on my younger kids and give them what they needed. I was able to enjoy life without always feeling that I was failing.

And now my second daughter is using the county virtual school.

And it’s working for our family again.

Homeschooling looks different at different stages of life. A truly successful homeschool mom will find something that works for her kids, even if it’s not her ideal.

 

 

Unexpected Things About Homeschooled Teens

I was a great mom of teens before I had teens.

I read all of the homeschooling literature. I was sure that my teens and I would discuss interesting literature and history. We’d do science experiments together. They would work in their math books, reading lesson after lesson, and somehow, the intricacies of algebra, geometry, and trig would be grasped. They would help their siblings with school work and perform much of the housework for me.

That was before I had teens.

I’ve been surprised by many things in my life, but many of the biggest surprises have been the way real life goes down with homeschooled teens. I’m sure parents with their kids in conventional schools have many surprises, but because I’d read all the “right” books and because I was homeschooling, I was sure that my kids’ experiences as teens would be different.

Here are several of the biggest surprises that I encountered in homeschooling my teens.

  1. They often develop just like typical teens.

I was certain that teenagerhood was just something created by society to excuse bad behavior and poor parenting. All of the conservative Christian homeschooling literature talked about how helpful and cheerful their kids were. How motivated the young people were to do chores and help with siblings. I was shocked when my kids displayed moodiness and bad attitudes because “they’re homeschooled!”

The teen years are not an excuse to let your kids get by with bad attitudes, but don’t be surprised when these things crop up. Teens are trying to figure out their place in the world. They’re learning about love and friendship. They’re dealing with strange feelings toward the opposite sex and figuring out how to make their own way in the world. Some days they can’t wait to grow up and other days they wish parents had never been invented.  Teens are dealing with all of this conflict using very immature, inexperienced brains along with huge rushes of hormones.

Homeschooled teens have just as many bad days as traditionally schooled teens, so there’s nothing wrong with your family. Deal with the attitudes in a compassionate loving way and don’t smother your kids under the expectations that they will never have those rotten times.

2. Homeschooled teens teach themselves all their lessons.

I can’t believe I fell for this homeschooling myth. There are many smart homeschooled kids who do teach themselves chemistry, algebra, and calculus. However, there are just as many who need a little–or a LOT–of hand holding and direction in their lessons.

This concept scares many homeschooling parents (myself included) because their math skills may be a little shaky. I’ve seen these nervous parents dump the responsibility for learning these lessons into the laps of teens, saying that “People can teach themselves anything if they really want to.”

Of course, this is true. But most homeschooled teens don’t really WANT to learn these difficult subjects. If left to themselves, they’d rather do anything else than struggle alone through lesson after lesson of upper level math. These kids are aching for a teacher to come alongside them to teach them what they need to know.

I’ve dropped the ball far too many times in this department. It isn’t fair to my kids to just glibly tell them to figure it out. On my better days, my kid and I spend time together looking up website after website, lesson after lesson until the two of us figure out how it is done.

It IS hard. But it’s the right thing to do. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with my kids when they ask me to do what I signed up to do when I decided to homeschool them. They’re asking for a teacher. I can either do it myself, or find one for them.

If I want them to have an excellent education. I am going to have to make that happen.

3. Homeschooled teens need friends.

I read all the books that said that homeschooled teens love hanging out with their families and siblings more than anyone else. Don’t get me wrong, my family enjoys spending time together, but around the age of 12 or 13, my kids really longed to step away from the family a bit and make friends with their peers.

This was tricky for me because I read the books that said that my kids should be best friends with their siblings.

But, it’s developmentally normal. I had to step it up socially for my teens. And, yes, as an introvert, it was very, very challenging. But it was SO important.

My kids have the best group of friends. I love these teens so much, and I am so glad that my kids have this peer group. In fact, their concept of friendship is so much healthier than mine was as a teen.

I figured out that I saw teen friendships through the lens that I had developed as a teenager–teens that encouraged one another to develop poor attitudes and to do wrong things. In reality, teens can have healthy friendships that spur one another toward growth, spiritually and emotionally.  I’ve seen it happen in my kitchen every time their group gets together.

The energy that I expended making these relationships happen has been so worth it.

Teens do need friendships. I’ve learned to encourage the healthy ones, making them a priority, and talk, talk, talk to my kids so they know what healthy friendships look like. This helps them spot unhealthy relationships and manage the challenges relating to needy or unhealthy people.

4. Homeschooled teens need just as much prodding to get things done.

There are many tales of homeschooled teens who happily do their chores, their schoolwork, and start home businesses.

In my 15 years of homeschooling, I’ve never met one of these homeschooled kids. I am sure they exist somewhere, but most of the kids that I know…are just like mine. They’ll leave their shoes laying around, have to be told to do the chores that they do every single stupid day, and need external motivation to get their schoolwork done every day.

That’s normal teen behavior. They do grow out of it. At least, I’m told that they do. The jury is still out on my kids.

The teen years are hard but they’re not impossible. Just remember that kids are kids everywhere and don’t hold yours to an impossible standard just because they are homeschooled.

The Beegees and the Bible

The drama class that I teach is doing a show with a 1970s theme. In keeping with this, I’ve been checking out music from this decade. I ran across this beauty.

I was born in 1979, so I’ve heard the song. It’s one of those earworm songs that you sing for days after hearing it. I even knew that the Beegees sang it.

But, I’d never seen a picture of the Beegees.

I was shocked. At first, I thought someone had made a lip synched video of this song using weird white guys in tight pants with windblown hair singing Stayin’ Alive.

And then I realized…That IS the Beegees!

All these years, my impression of that group was that they were a group of black ladies! I don’t know where that idea came from but it’s been firmly cemented in my brain for my entire life.

I’m questioning everything I know abut my life!

Seriously, though this situation reminds me of myself far too often.

How many times have I thought something was in the Bible, perhaps even telling it to someone else to learn later, embarrassingly, that it’s not.

Stuff like

“Cleanliness is next to godliness.” (Not in the Bible)

“God helps those who help themselves.” (Nope. Not in the Bible either.)

“Hate the sin, love the sinner.” (Ironically, this is usually said when people are being rather unkind toward the people whose sins are being discussed. But nope, not in the Bible either.)

Anyway, there are things that people say all the time that sound good, but they’re not necessarily part of the Bible. As Christians, we need to make sure that all that we believe is grounded in the truth of God’s Word. And the only way to know God’s Word is to get in it.

We won’t know if we’re hearing Biblically based preaching, reading a book that complements the Word and our understanding of it, or know whether or not that statement that our relatives always say is, in fact, true.

The whole foundation of our faith rests upon the Holy Word of God. Don’t take for granted that you already know what’s in it. There’s no substitute for picking up the Bible and reading, studying, and learning about what is in it.

Yes, it is that important.

Even more important than knowing who the Beegees are!

 

Christmas…A Story of Grace


**This is an edited excerpt from an email that I wrote to my students.

I’m gonna say something surprising here, but really, Christmas kind of stresses me out. Yeah, I know. In the blog world, there’s tons of posts of crafts and decorations and “Yay! I
love Christmas stuff.”
But for me, that’s not my experience of Christmas.

The busyness overwhelms me. I dislike shopping, decorating, and the frantic pace of Christmas, and the fact that it starts before Thanksgiving makes it even worse.

The last few weeks, I’ve wanted to hide under the bed until it’s all over. There’s just too much to do, and the pressure to make things magical and special drains the fun right out of it for me. I’m generally a grumpy cat about the whole deal right up until the week before Christmas when things start settling down.

I feel that God turns my heart to Him in the final week before Christmas and I can truly consider the whole celebration from a spiritual perspective.

That happened this morning.  I was reading my Bible, and I turned to the first chapter of John. This isn’t one of the typical Christmas passages in the Word. But I really love reading it during the Christmas season. I guess it’s because it takes the whole baby in a manger, shepherds, and such and plops it right into the greater narrative of Grace that is threaded throughout the Bible. Because even if we do consider that Christmas is about Jesus, it’s not just about a young woman giving birth in a stable. It’s about Grace. Grace that is utterly undeserved and greater than I can ever fathom.

John 1: 14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory. Glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” and in verse 16, “And from his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace.”

Have a wonderful Christmas and consider that it’s not about parties, pageants, angels, and gifts. But rather, it’s all about grace.

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Should You Put Them Back In School?

In many areas of the country, school has been ongoing for a few weeks. For homeschoolers and typical schoolers, life has settled down into a somewhat predictable routine. For those who have started homeschooling for the first time this year, generally one of two things have happened. Either the routine is working and you’re loving the homeschooling life or things are way harder than you expected and you’re having some doubts. If you’re in this second category, this post is for you.

You feel that you’re in over your head. Perhaps the toddler dropped an entire roll of toilet paper in the toilet during math yesterday and the baby just won’t stop crying. The laundry is piled so high you can’t even see the washer, and you ate the kids’ leftover pizza crusts off their plates for your supper last night. You’re wondering if you’re cut out for the homeschooling life and that big yellow school bus rolling down the street at 7 a.m. is extremely tempting.

Should you put the kids back in school before the rest of the class gets so far ahead they won’t catch up?

Are you going to damage their educational success by continuing to try this experiment?

Wouldn’t the whole family be better off if you could get a few things done each day instead of adding ‘educate the kids’ to your daily to-do list?

The answers to these questions are not simple. The decision to homeschool is an extremely complex one and individual to each family. Here are my thoughts.

First, regarding “being behind the rest of the class;” If your child is younger than the fifth grade, I wouldn’t worry too much about this one. A few weeks or months of slow but steady learning will not hurt your child.If you don’t get to history, science, or art for pretty much the whole year, your child will not be damaged in any way. The key is to keep trying and make a diligent effort every day to do *some* math, *some* English, and *some* reading, at least for the first month or two. If you don’t get to do a full lesson each day, just do what you can. Put in a reasonable amount of effort and let the rest go. The key is to start getting the whole family into a learning routine. As you go, you and the kids will get a bit better at time and family management.

Second, are you going to damage your kids learning like this? As long as your kids are learning and progressing, they’ll be fine. Slow for the first few weeks is okay. Just be diligent.

Third, the doubts about whether this is working are much more difficult to assess. I’m not one of those people who believe that homeschooling is for everyone. Each family is different. However, I would encourage you to give it three or four weeks of diligent effort before you throw in the towel. You can discern then whether or not it’s going to work out long term.

If you feel constantly overwhelmed with the chaos of juggling littles and teaching lessons, perhaps you should put this undertaking off for a year or two. It’s okay to admit that this is not the season for homeschooling for your family.

However, if you really want to make it work, figure out some strategies for making it doable.

If household chores are making you crazy, learn a solid housekeeping routine and get the whole family on board. Be realistic though and understand that your kids won’t like that very much and you will have to tell them again and again to do their chores. You could hire a maid or just do all of your cleaning and laundry on the weekends. After all, you are working when you are teaching your kids, so treat your household work like other working moms do.

If littles are an ongoing struggle, try to figure out a way to address it. Perhaps there’s a homeschooled teen living nearby who would love to earn some money playing with your toddler for a few hours each week. Maybe you could put your toddler tornado into mother’s day out once or twice a week. Use nap time as a good time to study. Or, just study with your kids while your little guy takes a bubble bath, plays in the sink (the floor needs mopping anyway), or sorts Fruit Loops. Your kids can also have a rotating assignment of entertaining the toddler as a part of their school.

If the kids are struggling to adjust to mom teaching them and taking their turns with her, brainstorm ways of making school work better for the family. Everyone should take turns and be fair. Maybe the kids can figure out better ways of juggling mom and the baby. I promise that they’ll be more invested in working a plan if they have a hand in creating a solution to the problem.

In the end if you do decide to put the kids back in school, know that it’s okay. You didn’t fail. You tried something and it didn’t work out the way that you planned. Maybe next year. Let go of the guilt and enjoy your kids while they are home in the afternoons and evenings.

 

 

Summer

Can it be that summer is almost at an end?

Sigh.

It’s never long enough.

This summer has been busy but not quite in the way I expected.

On a side note: Is my life ever the way I expected it? Each time I make a plan it falls to pieces. And yet, the most important things get done.

I never did get my big vegetable garden. I still have to write about 4 scripts for my drama class, which begins in about 2 weeks. I haven’t planned anything for school. (Was hoping to start next week)

So…

It’ll be okay. Remember what I said about planning? Have I really given up on it?

No.

I’m just procrastinating and not wanting this summer to end.

What I did get done:

Re-did my house’s landscaping.

Wrote quite a bit. (not on this blog, but on some others)

Painted all the exterior doors on the house.

Organized the garage.

Spent time with my baby brother who will be moving to Turkey soon.

Next week is our Estimated Start Date.

And if the schoolbooks don’t come. It’s okay. We’ll get started when they arrive.

 

 

 

Homeschooling Myth: Homeschooled Kids Don’t Have Activities

This homeschooled kid myth makes me chuckle. In fact, on the right day, I might just laugh out loud. This homeschooling myth is totally out of date. In many areas, there are limited homeschooling opportunities. But for many other places, the homeschooling community is vibrant, interesting, and exciting.

Homeschooling parents usually don’t wait on the community to offer fun homeschooling activities. To wait on someone else means that it won’t get done. So all over the nation, homeschooling parents band together to make memories for their kids.

Through my daughter’s school career she participated in the following:

Handbell Choir

Drama Club

Monthly Homeschooling Enrichment Days

Homeschool 4H Club

Homeschool Game Night

Writer’s Club

Homeschool Prom

Homeschool Graduation

These are the activities that she did that were open only to homeschoolers. Other activities that she did were not merely limited to homeschoolers. The 4H Club for our county included her in many of their activities when the homeschool club no longer met. She also volunteers at a community food pantry where low income people come for food assistance. She’s done youth group at our church and gone to church camps.

Even if the homeschooling community is limited in your area, your kids don’t have to sit at home, bored and lonely. And, you don’t have to just limit your kids’ social interactions to other homeschoolers. Many public schools allow homeschoolers to participate in the extra curricular activities in the school for which they are zoned. So, things like sports, clubs, band, and other activities may be a possibility for your kid.

There are so many homeschooling activities available in our area, sometimes I despair of getting our schoolwork done!

Job 26:6-14

Job is not my favorite book of the Bible. Poor Job. He’s got a lousy set of know it all friends, a rotten wife, and one tragedy after another hits him. The book can be a little depressing. I’ve always felt sorry for him because he probably didn’t know why he was tormented.

However, in the book there are some lovely scriptures. This one is one of my favorites.

Job 26:6-14

Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering.

He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing.

He binds up the waters in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not split open under them.

He covers the face of the full moon and spreads over it his cloud.

He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of heaven tremble and are astounded at his rebuke.

By his power he stilled the sea; by his understanding he shattered Rahab. By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?”

 

I love the last verse; it reminds me that all of the beauty and glory that we see on this Earth are a tiny fraction of the power of God. And despite his amazing, unimaginable power, wisdom, and majesty God still wants to love us and have a relationship with us.

It truly is amazing.

 

Musical Monday: Danny Gokey

I just love this song and I LOVE the music video. I mean, who puts a boxer and a ballerina in the same music video?

I discovered Danny Gokey about a year ago, and I think he sounds a lot like Phil Collins.

At any rate, this song means a lot to me, and it’s rare that I hear it without tearing up.

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