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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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.

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