June 1, 2016

On Finding Our Unconventional Path to Homeschooling Through High School

 My family’s home learning style is best described as “eclectic.” We’ve gravitated toward literature-style options, and I’m very confident picking and choosing from among a wide variety of material. I’ve purposely avoided most school-style resources, and when we have used textbooks, I chose ones with an engaging, narrative writing style. I’ve also skipped school-style forms of evaluation in favor of projects and Charlotte Mason-style narration.

And most homeschoolers I know have expressed appreciation for my out-of-the-box approach up until now…even as many have been directing their own kids in filling out “grade level” workbook pages. But I know they fully expected me to jump on the “traditional” bandwagon when my kids reached high school age. After all, playing around with unit studies, hands-on activities, and child-led pacing is all fine and good for little kids. But high school is another story. Come high school, we’re “supposed to” replace material a child enjoys with a whole pile of “what’s good for him” – i.e., dry textbooks, grading scales, assigned “classics,” “higher math” and the like.

I started to actively consider my options well over a year ago. I did toy with using a standard high school program because it would make things very easy; my girls would read textbooks and regurgitate the information to answer test questions, and I’d simply keep a gradebook and average their percentages. But my infatuation with that lasted for about two nanoseconds before I realized I could never subject my kids to it. So then I took a wide swing on the learning pendulum and gave serious consideration to unfettered unschooling. However, my daughters actually balked at that idea; they expressed a desire for some guidance and direction along with their continued freedom to choose.

Last summer, I'd picked up an old copy of an old book – Senior High: A Home-DesignedForm+U+La by Barbara Shelton – and I once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. In some ways, Shelton's ideas mirrored what I'd had in mind about unschooling. But reading her thoughts about delight-directed, self-directed high school inspired me develop a framework all our own.

So we officially began "high school" in January 2016, utilizing what might be called a "guided, delight-directed" approach. That means we discussed what it would mean to earn a "credit" (i.e., finishing a whole math book, for example, or completing roughly 140 hours of study in a certain content area). And - even though my husband and I aren’t hamstringing the girls with a "college-prep" program for a variety of reasons - I provided some general guidance about what sorts of credits are typically expected on a transcript (i.e., four "English" credits). Armed with that information and an array of possible resources that I’d gathered, each of the girls chose the material she wanted to use to begin working toward some of the credits.

In keeping with Shelton's ideas and my own conviction that "grade level" is a meaningless construct of institutional schooling, we're not concerned about finishing particular "classes" during "freshman year" or in a nine- or twelve-month period of time. Why box ourselves in like that? Adult life sometimes comes with deadlines, and young people need them, too. However, "real life" deadlines exist for legitimate reasons, not just because "someone" said a course of study "should" take nine months to complete. In "real life," people learn continuously as their interests and needs dictate, and they learn to meet deadlines when there is a real reason to do so.

Thus, I've helped the girls map out plans for working on each content area a little each month over the next four years so that by the time they graduate, they'll each have just what they "need" on their transcripts. They may choose to move more quickly in certain areas, and we're also very open to adding various electives as yet-unknown opportunities present themselves over time. So we have a basic plan of action with which to proceed while also knowing that in some ways for right now it's just the skeleton.

I knew I didn't want to constrain my girls by using a school-ish approach to high school. After some exploration of the options, I learned that dragging them along on the radical unschooling road didn’t resonate with them and, thus, wouldn't be any better. Instead, I've now provided them with a compass pointing to the end of the journey and I've asked of each of them, "What path do you want to pursue?" So now I'm helping them gather equipment and supplies as they go along and looking forward to enjoying it with them every step of the way. The ultimate goal is the same as it’s always been: helping each one to maximize her potential while maintaining a love for lifelong learning. If we accomplish that, they’ll be more than ready to tackle whatever lies before them later on.


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