Homeschool to High School-Year One

Photo from Cornell University LibraryAt some time or another, most of us who homeschool send one or more of our kids to regular school. Far from the us vs. them mentality that seems to get all the press, many homeschoolers are also schoolers at the same time. We see the advantages of each, and know that sometimes the same kid needs both settings over the course of his or her school years. Making the transition from being one kind of family, whether a homeschooler or regular schooler, to the other kind, or both kinds, is always interesting, and frequently challenging.

This transition has been on my mind a lot this year. My oldest, heretofore homeschooled, son is finishing his freshman year in our local public high school. It seemed a good time to start, when so many students from different schools were coming together to form a new freshman class, and when he wouldn’t stand out so much as the new kid. In fact, Otto’s said most of his high school friends have no idea he’s a former homeschooler. For him, the switch to a new school setting seems to have been seamless. Socially, he’s thriving - at parent-teacher nights, the teachers frequently mention how funny and independent-minded Otto is, one going so far as to say that he should consider the drama club because he’s a natural performer (perhaps a nice way of saying he’s the class cut-up). Academically, he’s doing nicely as well, and in honors classes. He seems to have made a successful transition to a more structured, rule-bound setting - as a homeschooler he took many traditional classes, so he had some familiarity with the setting already. My concern had been that he wasn’t conditioned to care about grades, not having ever had much to do with such things before. As the academic pressure mounts next year, and in subsequent years, his committment to such things as extra credit and re-writes may come to be an issue, and make the difference between good grades and outstanding ones.

For me, the stress relief from not being solely responsible for providing a teenager with an adequate high school curriculum has been wonderful. While I certainly expected him to take as much responsibility for his own education as possible, Otto has always made it clear that he wanted a more structured program. Relinquishing much of the job of creating that program has been liberating, and has allowed me to focus on my younger children and trying to meet their growing educational needs and wants. I know many homeschool families plan to “homeschool ‘til high school” but we’d always said we’d homeschool just as long as each child still wanted to do it. I’m starting to see, however, the appeal of planning for a transition to high school. The recurring uncertainty every spring over whether or not I needed to plan for the next year of homeschooling was stressful. Eli, my 12-year-old, insists he’ll never want to go to high school, but Otto said the same thing, until suddenly, in the space of two weeks, he changed his mind. Of course, they’re very different people, and while it’s tempting to think I can use this experience with Otto to predict what Eli will need or want, that’s rarely been the case thus far. The one thing having more kids seems really to help with is putting things into perspective, and helping one sort out the big-deals from the who-really-cares (e.g., orthodontia consult as soon as you realize you might possibly need it = big deal, baths every night = who really cares; semi-regular bedtimes = big deal, getting dressed every day = who really cares).

The transition for my other children has also been interesting to watch. For weeks after Otto started school, my 5 and 8-year-olds would ask if he was home today, or in school. (Seemingly arbitrarily, Otto has days off or half-days - a fact that makes simple explanations of which days are school-days harder to convey.) His brothers miss him, but it’s been fun to watch how they’ve shifted their roles in his absence. My youngest creates things just to show Otto when he gets home, or will save certain activities to do with him. My 8-year-old has shifted into more of an active schoolwork mentality, because he self-identifies more as an “older” kid now that the oldest is out of the home most days (as if a vacuum had opened up, creating a space for more maturity among the younger ones). Eli has grown much more mature, and more helpful with the younger boys, which leads to some power struggles when Otto gets home and naturally thinks his way is still best. Eli has also started flourishing academically, earning a 100% on the National Mythology Exam, completing his NaNoWriMo novel (check out www.NaNoWriMo.org if you don’t know what this is), and being elected Senator (O.K., that last was in his community-based homeschool Civics class).

Photo from the Library of Virginia
The shift from being a homeschooling family, to being a family who lives in both learning worlds is tricky, but it works out. You make your way and your family learns some new skills - like not answering the phone on Sunday night at 6 pm when the automated phone call from the school principal rings through with an extensive message on all the school happenings over the next week (90% of which relate to sports), or learning to remind your son that he’s carrying around a report card that he should show you so you can sign it and he can turn it back in for extra credit (how weird is that?). You also learn surprising facts, that you, reading this, may already know - like that my son is the only 15-year-old left in the United States without a cell phone. This was told to me by the woman working the front desk at his high school when I called to find out why my son hadn’t come home one day. The substitute bus driver had missed Otto’s bus stop, as it turned out, and had dropped him off by the side of the road once it was pointed out. Otto hiked home over a mile and a half, arriving home quite late, tired but invigorated.

It’s been a good year, with occasional struggles over how to study when three little brothers just want to roughhouse, or how to squeeze gaming time in between homework and chores. Watching Otto rise to the challenge of becoming more of a partner with the prevailing system in choosing his own school career path has been reassuring. He’s chosen a wonderful course load for next year - exactly what I would’ve hoped for, without any input from me. Now if I could just get him to see the inherent beauty in extra credit, and the joys of the re-write.