Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How We Homeschool - High School Edition

I was looking back over old posts and realized it's been a while since I've done one of these homeschooling posts.  When I was in the trenches of teaching only elementary kids I recall dreaming about the days when homeschooling would be "easier".  When I didn't have little kids running underfoot, toddlers to entertain, babies to nurse and nap times to arrange.  When the older kids could be more independent learners...

I hate to burst any bubbles but the reality of homeschooling middle and high school is not exactly what I envisioned.  Life never is, right?  This is a long post, but it's also real.  I don't want to sugar coat homeschooling, it is an educational choice and one that works for our family.  But for transparency sake I wanted to share what our days look like now that we have two high schoolers in the mix, the good and the struggle.  Homeschooling isn't necessarily "easier", it's just different.

First off, I'm still facing a learning curve myself.  I've taken Chemistry, but it's been quite a few years.  I don't tend to use that stuff in my everyday life.  Teaching at the high school level is like taking a refresher course on everything I've forgotten since college.  Teaching phonics to a first grader takes patience.  Teaching chemistry to a high schooler takes patience and a bit of review.  Not that I have to be an expert in all the subjects but when my kids have questions I have to know where to direct them to find the answers.

Speaking of those high school subjects...gone are the days that we could get up early and fit all our schooling in before lunch.  My older kids are studying four to five hours a day.  Sure, if they could go hard core four straight hours and didn't need my input on anything we could pull it off.  But that's not realistic.  On a day we have something going on (like next week when we'll spend a couple hours at the trampoline park with some other area homeschoolers), we'll need to plan ahead to stay on track.  That means the schoolwork for that afternoon will need to be done the day before/after or over the weekend.  If there is a day I'm out (like going on a field trip with my younger kids) then the older ones have assignments while I'm gone and we have to work in time for me to go over them when I get home.  I'm finding it requires all of us to be more diligent and disciplined about our schedules (which is not a bad skill to learn, something they will need in their adult life).

Speaking of field trips, we haven't been on one in ages.  Again it is because of the academic schedule.  My kids like having the summer break.  They use it for camping, swimming, working and spending time with their friends.  They don't like doing math all summer because they didn't get it finished during the school year.  We tend to save the trips to the zoo, museum, theater, etc. for the weekends when the whole family can attend.

Things my kids like to do during the summer besides math...

Tree swing at Cider Fest 2016

Visit Zoo with cousins

Play at the park

Watch Cardinals Baseball!!

Eat fried chicken (Cider Fest 2015)

More swinging (Cider Fest 2015)

Our two youngest family members are still in the public school so that means our homeschool sort of revolves around that schedule.  This helps to keep me a bit more sane.  If the younger kids are off school I tend to give the homeschoolers the day off too.  My kids can rejoice that they will finally get snow days!  Seriously, I use those break days to get stuff caught up around the house and try to take a break from teaching if I can.  When the younger ones are home they want my attention and I am more than happy to accommodate since I don't get to spend as much time with them during the school year.  I truly do miss them when they are gone most of the day.

So it appears that this whole post is negative, negative, and more negative.  There are some awesome positives to homeschooling high school.  We have great discussions, I love debating classic literature or getting to reread some of my favorite books with my kids.  Since I'm the teacher I can choose which books they read.  Yes, they are more independent, so that means I can assign them work and they don't need me to be right there beside them to do it.  Sometimes they have other teachers assign them work.  For example, they take their science classes with a homeschool lyceum group.  That takes some of my workload off, their schedule and labs are already set, I just do the grading.  They also do some of their schoolwork on-line and I monitor their progress on the computer.  At this stage much of my job is monitoring to make sure they're staying on top of their work.

Homeschooling is still flexible for the older kids.  Normally you would take government as a Senior but I'm teaching it this semester because it is an election year.  We can watch debates and talk about election coverage while it is happening.  I can have them take their history, health and PE classes together.  I do read alouds with my middle schooler and the older ones sit in too.  In fact, this is part of our morning routine.  I take my younger kids to school at 9:00 and when I return home the older kids are up and dressed and usually eating breakfast so we pray together and then start with a read aloud (currently we're reading Tuck Everlasting and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer).  Then we break off, I usually work with the middle schooler while the high schoolers do their own work.  I just rotate through with each of them, break for lunch, then finish up the middle schooler's work followed by the remaining high school lessons.  On a good day we're done by 3:00, most days we're wrapping up around 3:30.  I always end our day by 4:00 because the bus drops the younger ones off around then and I shift gears to help them with their homework and start supper.

Another benefit...the older kids don't have homework at night.  They normally get all of their work done during the day so after supper is completely free.  That learning curve I mentioned earlier?  Teaching Chemistry is tricky this year because it's new to me.  But when I teach it again in a couple years it will be easier.
Required Kindergarten eye exam

Sick days are easier to manage too.  If they're not up to a full day of work I can adjust their lessons to compensate.  Maybe they'll break after lunch to take a nap.  If they're sick for more than three school days I don't need to call the doctor to get an excuse.  We schedule their annual physicals for September/October because that is when the doctor's office is not super busy (and any camp forms we fill out now can be carried over until next summer).  I always hated trying to schedule their annual exams in the Spring when we were so busy with birthdays.  This past week I had to take the 6th grader in for a tetanus booster (he stepped on a nail).  When I called the doctor they were surprised he hadn't gotten it yet because in our state the DTap booster is one of the required immunizations for 6th grade and a majority of kids had to get it over the summer in order to attend school.  I reminded them that he is homeschooled and isn't due for his annual check-up yet.

Last but not least, one of the best benefits of having older homeschoolers is that you don't need babysitters!  If I need to run an errand or go out on a lunch date with my husband I can safely leave the teenagers at home without worry.  Someone saw me out at lunch with Doug last week and commented "don't you homeschool anymore"?  To which I replied "I'm on lunch break".  Seriously, last I checked even the public school teachers got a lunch hour.  She then asked what the kids were up to while I was gone.  I replied they were eating lunch too and that 16 year olds are perfectly capable of eating lunch by themselves.  I suppose you can't keep everyone happy!  Homeschooling still requires a bit of a thick skin, even though I've been doing this for 9 years I still get the occasional odd comment.

Curriculum...if you've made it this far here's the breakdown and links (not affiliated)...

Apologia for science, Saxon for math, we use the Omnibus series from Veritas Press for literature/theology/history although I do additional stuff for history too.  Their theology is very Protestant and can occasionally come off anti-Catholic so I watch for that and try to provide a bit more balanced approach.  We're trying out Reading Horizons this year for additional vocabulary and spelling, so far we like it (we use their "at home" program).  Last year we did some videos through The Great Courses for some history add on and this year we're using a nutrition video series as part of our health class.  In the younger grades we use All About Learning for reading and spelling, great for dyslexics and struggling readers.  This is not all inclusive, just hitting the major stuff.

It's still a bit surreal to me that next year will be my 10th year teaching and our oldest child will be (hopefully) graduating our school!  I still remember teaching him 3rd grade phonics and now he's driving and preparing to go to college.  By far the biggest benefit of homeschooling is getting the privilege of being my children's primary educator.  My kid's number one social network is their family, their brothers and sister are their best friends.  (Not to worry, they do have other friends, they are not social hermits).  The homeschool community is really a great place to raise kids.  As a general rule homeschool kids are a pretty good bunch, I don't worry too much about bullying and negative peer pressure.  If I had the decision to make all over again I would still choose this path, the benefits have far outweighed the costs for our family.  So if you're reading this posts because you're trying to decide if you want to homeschool high school I would encourage you to try it.

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