Homeschooling High School: Align Your Expectations

posted in: homeschooler, mother 3

So we’ve successfully finished our first year of homeschooling high school.

In many ways it was not different; we just took the next step. We didn’t drastically change anything about the workload or the process or the system. His level of work did increase, but it was simply another incremental increase in work of the same kind, not a completely different experience.

I had planned to share 3 tips for homeschooling high school, but before I do that I thought it’d be better to talk about our expectations for our high schoolers.

Whether or not Shakespeare said it (and there’s no proof he did, although it’s attributed to him on the internet), it’s still true:

Expectation is the root of all heartache.

After all, the thought is similar to James 4:1-3:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (ESV)

James might seem extreme, whereas the expectations quote appears like the tame version, but when we desire something and do not have it, we start quarrels. When our children desire and do not have, they start fights. For both parent and child, our passions – our desires, our pleasure, our will – are at war inside us, causing us to feel conflicted, anxious, and uncertain. Then, because of this internal struggle and war, we are unstable and lash out.

Your high schooler is a young adult.

Our society today treats teens as large children, when we should be treating them as young adults. Often, though, when we do try to treat them as young adults, we do so by expecting too much.

So before we start thinking about what our high schoolers “should” be doing – that is, what we desire for them – we need to examine our own desires and experience.

You’re an adult. You have duties. How do you feel about them? How long have you been working on accepting and performing your duties cheerfully and willingly? 

Your teen has just begun that journey.

Whereas toddlers and children obey their parents as practice for obeying God, the law, and their conscience, teens must practice discerning what is right and reasonable for themselves, and then acting accordingly, instead of relying on parental edicts for every occasion.

So give them work that must be done sometime in the week, but don’t micromanage every step and dictate all their work happen on your schedule.

Yes, it will mean more conversations and coaching. Yes, it will mean privileges will be lost more frequently because the work will not always be done. Yes, it will mean they will experiment with bizarre and inefficient study plans.

During those experiments and experiences perhaps even more important learning than the math or science lesson is happening. Add it to your curriculum objectives and take a deep breath.

Your high schooler needs accountability.

However, not micromanaging does not mean removing the support of accountability.

Make sure that at least once a week, your eyes land on every piece of work they’re supposed to have done. If you don’t value it enough to make time to check it, they will not value it enough to do it. Then, halfway through the year there will be hell to pay. It happens – a lot. You don’t need to give it a grade, but you do need to see that it was done satisfactorily every week.

It is important to understand something of the dynamics of self-discipline. Self-discipline is easily acquired by first coming under the discipline of someone else. – R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture

Our job is not to dictate what they do when, but our job is to provide the basic structure they need to do what they are supposed to do: we provide the books, the standards, and the accountability.

Your high schooler is a person.

None of us like feeling that we’re in a grind and simply part of the machinery. Sometimes adults have given in and accepted that as how life feels, but teens have enough energy and hormones to resist. They have not yet given up on the idea that life is interesting and meant to be enjoyed.

As parents, we shouldn’t try to contradict or argue with that base assumption, even when we disagree with the way it might be expressed.

Are we demonstrating with our own lives that life is interesting and meant to be enjoyed? Is it not? Do we communicate that duties and responsibilities keep one down and the best life is carefree? Have we lost our interest in the world and in growing? If so, we are not giving our teens a hopeful, attractive picture of adult life.

“Life is a continual progress to a child. He does not go over old things in old ways; his joy is to go on.” – Charlotte Mason

There will be days when schoolwork is a drag and just something they do to be done and move on with life. Just like some days we fold laundry or do the dishes just because we must even though we’d rather not and we perhaps even grumble through it.

However, school work should carry the potential for interest and enjoyment – not with superficially fun activities or unrelated rewards, but in its own right. Do they see progress in their work? Are the patterns of their work the same patterns of self-learning they’ll need as adults or are they artificial? Do the books communicate a dull, trudging attitude or an attitude of lively curiosity?

We prevent the work from being a dull grind by continuing with living books, by continuing with work touched by their personality (note-taking, paper-writing, sketching, not fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice), and by continuing with relatively short lessons so they don’t get bogged down and feeling helpless and hopeless.

Just because the typical teen attends school for most of the day and then has hours of homework does not mean we need to load our teens up with work to fill their day.

They are young adults. They are people. They should have interests, hobbies, and a life outside school work. Homeschooling allows them this freedom, and we should not steal it from them.

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3 Responses

  1. Amber
    | Reply

    We have a very fluid fluid schooling schedule…. I try to schedule short days and just move on with each subject when the other is done. So when she finished Logic, Economics will take it’s place. We don’t plan weeks (since some work may take longer to master) but just tick off our list as we move along. We stick to a 4 day school week for the little kids and a light Friday for her.

    She and I have the same “binder” with her classes which includes each lesson (for tracking), how many lessons are expected to be completed in a week, and ALL expectations spelled out. It’s amazing how that to turn back to has decreased her desire to argue when told to try again.

    My new high school student has access to our online family calendar and she takes any events into account when she schedules her work load. She does all her scheduling, but I do grade a few times a week to make sure she is keeping up with her work and she is grasping the new topics.

  2. Abby Wahl
    | Reply

    My first born is entering high school this year. I have see so much growth over the past year in self discipline and control in my oldest. He is more often than not doing his chores efficiently and cheerfully. I do need to be careful of reminding him too often, he tells me I’m nagging. Clearly communicating what education is for has been very helpful as well. He is a deep thinker and loves to read but challenging him to read more non-fiction will be a stretching opportunity.
    Weekly checklists and reading books with him so we can discuss helps with accountability and independence.

  3. Sarah deVries
    | Reply

    We are nowhere near this point (just about to begin my oldest of 5 kids in 1st grade!), but I love this list and these thoughts as they give me something to think towards as we work our way up to the point of homeschooling high school. Thanks!

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