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Ten Reasons To Homeschool Through High School

Yes, it sounds scary. Homeschool through high school. Nevertheless, more and more people take the plunge every year. At your next homeschool conference, check out the increasing number of vendors and workshops catering to families with teenagers. Leery about joining these folks? If so, consider these reasons to keep on keepin’ on.

Efficiency Teenagers with good reading and math skills (through pre-algebra) can master the content on most high school Scope and Sequences (lists of Who Learns What When) in twelve to eighteen months. Yes, you read that correctly. It takes less than two years to complete an average high school academic program, including English/Language Arts, four credits; Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II, three credits; History and Geography, three credits; and Science, two-three credits; plus extras like Physical Education, Foreign Language, Music, and Computers. One credit corresponds to what most high schools call a year long course. Of course, many homeschooling families see no reason to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s on the arbitrary Scope and Sequences various educationists and publishers generate. For those who worry about approximating what schools offer, though, many homeschoolers have proved that grades 9-12 can be completed in less than four years. How can that be? Well, it turns out that homeschooling’s efficiency far surpasses that of schools. Your son or daughter need not have future-Nobel-prize-winner intellect to complete a typical year-long Biology course in three or four months (or even less, in some cases). Generally, homeschooled teenagers focus, work at their own pace, use self-instructional materials they chose, and work one-on-one with an adult when necessary. With this combination, most teens can cut the time for traditional high school courses by half. As one school defector, working at home in a self-paced program, said, "Having flunked everything, I left school the middle of my sophomore year. Now, as a homeschooler, I expect to graduate six months ahead of my former classmates."

Head Start On College Because high school does not take four years at home, many teenagers take college classes concurrent with their high school homeschooling. Others complete high school "early," say age 15 or 16, and proceed to college. Our son began courses at the local community college at age 15, concurrent with his high school work. At first, he admitted to being a little intimidated. We picked his classes carefully, though - focusing on computers and science, subjects he felt confident about. By age 16, he realized that the junior college courses offered no more challenge than typical high school courses, so the following year, he supplemented his homeschooling with university classes. With the advent of the Internet, college during high school or early college is easier than ever before. Even if your state’s homeschooling statutes make it difficult for underage teenagers and non-high-school graduates to take classes at community colleges, there are now hundreds of institutions that offer college courses and credit via distance learning, either through the mail or via the Internet.

Self-Directed Learning Homeschooling promotes self-directed learning to a much greater extent than traditional schooling. Contrast the different environments. At school, administrators, principals, and teachers dictate courses, class content, scheduling, even depth. In home-based programs, both parents and their teenagers take control of content and timing. Homeschool graduate Ariel Simmons explains, "I was set free when I was seven - not just from the school building, but from the notion that I could learn only what was given me to learn, when the powers-that-were deemed I should learn it. Since then, I have been the power-that-is, designing my schooling around my own interests. The audience is much more receptive this way." Unschoolers say that people learn best when their interests direct the learning. Families using an interest-initiated-learning approach to homeschoooling allow their teens the freedom to allocate time in concert with their interests, and, thereby "learn best." Musicians and writers and artists follow their muse - all day, if they choose. Budding scientists and engineers immerse themselves in hands-on projects. These teenagers often outstrip their parents, not only educating themselves, but also learning - through trial and error - to find their own resources.

Travel When children reach their teens, most parents feel ready to let them travel alone. Of course, kids in school can and do travel, as well. But there is a difference. Our two homeschoolers found that they could take advantage of more travel opportunities than their schooled friends, simply because they had time. Examples? When we lived in New Mexico, both our kids - at ages 13 and 14 - took several two-week trips to fix houses in an impoverished Pittsburgh neighborhood. Our son Jeff traveled to the Alabama Space Camp facility for seven day sessions three times. In addition, from the age of 13 to 17, he attended four or five Civil Air Patrol encampments all over the nation. Our daughter Tamara, having completed what we defined as high school by age 16 and not ready for college, spent nine months in Australia on a student-exchange program. Both kids traveled alone frequently to see out-of-state extended family.

Work Experience Many kids who attend school hold volunteer and paying jobs. Homeschoolers are no different. They volunteer at hospitals, libraries, radio stations, museums, and parks. They hold a wide variety of paying jobs, ranging from entry level McDonald’s positions to running their own businesses.  What advantage does homeschooling offer, then? Our kids found two things. First, they could get better volunteer and paying jobs as homeschoolers. Why? Because they were available during the day and could schedule academics around work and volunteer opportunities rather than vice versa. And they could work more hours. Coordinators of volunteer programs, especially, appreciate this and reward it with more responsibility. Second, as homeschoolers, our kids had time to explore more community activities. From ages 13-18, each of our teenagers was usually volunteering in two or three places and working for pay in one or two other places.

Time Homeschooling - by virtue of its efficiency - creates time for our kids. (In my more melodramatic moments, I liken home education to giving children back their lives.) Creating time is important for two reasons:

1.You and your teenagers can use that time to customize learning. As described above, homeschoolers have enough time for personal projects, college courses, travel, volunteer and paying work - and for family.

2.More importantly, teenagers freed from the scheduling demands of school can actually spend time alone - sitting outside on the grass and watching the clouds roll by, if they feel like it. I agree with John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year and homeschooling supporter who, in Dumbing Us Down, says, "Private time is absolutely essential if a private identity is going to develop, and private time is equally essential to the development of a code of private values, without which we aren’t really individuals at all."

Family Closeness One HEM Bulletin Board poster recently wrote, "Many teens pull away from family, discounting parents' attitudes and philosophies. In contrast, our son has grown closer to the family and actually asks for our opinions! I love being able to discuss news events and anything else based on our value system and life experience rather than allowing a classroom teacher ‘first crack’."

I agree. Now that my kids are out on their own, I am so glad we spent their teenage years together. We played games, hiked and biked and skied, made gourmet meals and desserts, traveled, played piano, enjoyed movies, and talked and talked and talked. Both kids, now 23 and 21, tell me they would not change a thing.

Reduce Peer Pressure Another homeschooling mother and poster to the HEM bulletin boards reports that homeschooling gives teenagers "a chance to mature and grow in a safe, measured way." She says that her son can pursue interests and endeavors when he feels ready. As an example, she pointed out that he would turn 16 in a few weeks, but will likely wait several months before getting his driver’s license. At school, we all know the pressure this young man would feel to get that license, whether he was ready or not. Homeschooling does not eliminate peer pressure. Even in the homeschool co-op where I teach handbells and recorders, we have a contingent sporting backwards baseball caps. There is an important difference, though. Homeschoolers, unlike those who attend school, do not have to deal with peer pressure every 45-50 minutes, six to seven times per day, five days per week. Instead, homeschooling reduces peer pressure to manageable levels that occur when teens see friends at activities, in informal gatherings, and in the neighborhood. The difference is pronounced. While the backwards-baseball-cap homeschoolers have been influenced by a teenage fad, they are, each and every one, conversational and pleasant to be around.

Save Money Is it possible that it could be cheaper to homeschool than attend public school? Yes, it is. Discounting the salary mom or dad might be earning elsewhere, a typical high school homeschooler might spend $200-$400 per year on academic materials (many spend less). In that same period of time, a homeschooler, with a 10-hour per week minimum wage job, can earn $150-$200 per month. Homeschooled teens also have time to trade work for lessons and tutoring. As an example, I (a music teacher) trade housekeeping for piano lessons. Contrast this with the near-constant fund raisers and money for "special" events and programs at high school. Many schools now charge fees for everything from computer time to cheerleading uniforms. Then there are dances, sports, music - all require extra payment. One parent described how it can mount up, saying, "Last year, for our daughter’s tenth grade education at a public school, we spent close to $1,000, all told. And that doesn’t count the clothing purchases needed to ‘keep up’."

The Biggest Secret   I attended grades K-12, followed by four years of college. In all that time, the notion that I could direct my own learning never occurred to me. Someone may have suggested it, but the scheduling, grading, and teachers sent just the opposite message: "We are the experts; do this Our Way." Maybe that was the reason that my 1960’s friends and I laughed at anyone who suggested that learning might be fun. In contrast, homeschooling my teenagers gave me, the parent, the opportunity to reassess my own education and the bigger opportunity to enjoy learning. Homeschooling teenagers is fun! My life experience made biology and American history much more interesting the second time around. We discussed our current reading. We gardened, leading to many "aha" moments for both me and my kids. My daughter and I studied Latin together - and the background has enhanced my understanding of both the English language and Western civilization ever since. We practiced for the Geography Bee for months - enriching all our travel.

It’s great time. Don’t miss it.

© 2001 Cafi Cohen. All rights reserved. Re-printed with permission.

Cafi Cohen began homeschooling in the 1980's and together with her husband Terrell educated both of her children at home through high school. Both her son and daughter were admitted to their first choice colleges on substantial scholarships. She contributes to several homeschool publications, including Home Education Magazine, Homeschooling Today, and the LINK. Her books include: "And What About College?" How Homeschooling Leads to Admissions to the best Colleges and Universities, Homeschooling the Teen Years, and the Homeschoolers' College Admissions Handbook. Visit Cafi's web site, Homeschool Teens and College

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