Pre-College: Living Life and Loosening Our Grip on the Schedule
A quick note to say that family activites tomorrow will keep me from posting This Week in the Kitchen :: Blog Hop. Let's pick up where we left off next Thursday, okay? Who knows... maybe some of you will have been apple picking by then!
Painting by one of Emily's friends, age 15 when painted. Jordan also homeschools and is an incredibly prolific artist with large windows of time to pursue her passions. She has a lovely Etsy shop too. Also, she free handed that lettering!
True to blogger form, it seems I’ve lost interest in finishing this series on updating our homeschool life. Sorry this has taken me so long to finish. The saddest part is that it’s only a two part series! It's no wonder I haven’t written a book yet. But here I am, tapping out a few thoughts and a collection of hopefully useful resources for my fellow homeschool friends.
Before I carry on, I wanted to clarify our definition of how we do school. And by doing that, I can only tell you we really don’t fit into a specific label. Homeschooling is the most easily understood umbrella term, and so we use it. There’s a lot of discussion around being a “homeschooler” or "unschooler” to the point that it just feels pretty exclusive and unyielding. I've never been very good a rigidity. But for descriptive purposes in my writing, I mostly use "homeschool” because it’s just easier. Truly what we do is we learn... in freedom. It’s as simple as that.
The terms homeschool, unschool, hackschool, immersion learning, freedom based homeschool - it doesn’t matter to me what it’s called. Learning and living in freedom, that’s our goal and our practice.
Okay. Let's get into it, then. If a homeschool family declares they are “done” with high school at the beginning of what should be their teen’s junior year, what exactly are they going to do with their time?
We love the book list section in Honey for a Teen's Heart. All the descriptions right there. This is one of the tools Emily uses to put together her reading lists each year.
Well, the first thing we’re going to do is schedule less. This might not mean we wind up doing less, but we will schedule less. In my last post I talked about how I love the unparalleled spaciousness in life that homeschooling and unschooling provide. Since we began homeschooling four years ago we’ve held evenings and weekends as large, wide open windows of unstructured, low-obligation time. We did however maintain a pretty structured routine to our weekdays - basically the hours of 9am-3pm were dedicated to learning. Now, to understand how this looked, please know it was not us playing school. This was me holding space (yoga teacher in the house!) for pursuits of all kinds - scholarly, creative, community oriented, etc. It just so happens that my daughter asked to fill that time with a fair amount of academic rigor, including expectations to fulfill and goals to meet.
And that was great for a while, but to fully reap the benefits of learning and living in freedom, you have to know when the time comes for change, and honor the new territory ahead of you.
So, “pre-college” is upon us. As described in my last post:
Not to be confused with a “grace year” or “gap year” that is becoming more popular (yeah!) among high school graduates. Pre-college to me is longer, and begins a bit younger - a time of slow and careful preparation led by curiosity and freedom. It is not an “instead of college” experience, it is a “preparing for college and/or life” experience.
Texts for Emily's university classes this semester. I'm jealous!
This year, at various times Emily will be:
- Attending two classes per semester at one of our state universities.
- Taking math and spanish at home per her request.
- Continuing with her competitive debate team.
- Working! Emily has her first job at a museum in CT. She loves it!
- Reading. Continuing her personal commitment to reading classic literature, Emily is forming her list for this year from the lists in this book as well as this one. They are both great resources. You can easily find plenty of great literature lists online, we just happen to have these books in house.
- Learning to drive. The number of behind the wheel hours our state requires before getting your license is far too low. Emily has the time to put into learning to drive, and so that will be a priority for us this year. You can’t have too many practice hours.
- Piano lessons - her fourth year studying piano at Community School of the Arts.
- Gym - she goes to the gym 4-5 days per week. Girl loves building muscle. Also plays basketball for our town.
- Continuing her daily perusal of the New York Times and all the major news networks. My grandfather was a politician, her dad is a lawyer, and it was predicted by a teacher that my future would be filled with political activism (little did I understand how that would not work out for me as a HSP)... regardless, the apple doesn't fall far.
- Preparing for the SATs.
- Working on a (potential) secret family project that I'm not able to discuss at this time. Phooey.
As you can see, her interests still look pretty school-ish. True to form. What is different this year is Emily will be going about all of these things, and whatever else that grabs her interest, from a place of full autonomy. This is something we've always encouraged, but Emily has often preferred to know what the expectations were and to follow them. We've reached a point though where it is time for her to be the keeper of her days. A time to get up at 6am if she is ready, or sleep until 10am if that is what she needs. A time to plan her days according to her own ideals, making adjustments and finding balance as needed. She is so ready for this and I'm pretty excited to watch her live with even more independence and freedom.
Sample of Emily's history timeline illustrations.
The hardest part for us over the years has not been lack of options as homeschoolers, it has been the opposite. The world is in the palm of our hands! When life is free and spacious, you can easily become overwhelmed with the endless choices before you and it’s hard to know when to commit to less. It’s all so good!
This feels a little bit like sharing the contents of my purse, but here goes nothing. I promised I'd share a list of the many materials we've used during our high school years here at home. Most of them we completed to the end, others were put on the back burner when something else came along to replace it.
Homeschool Resources for the High School Years
A History of Us - We have used this book series as a springboard for learning over the last few years. We don't really read the chapters, take the quiz and stop there. The simple text inspires us to dig deeper on particular historical aspects that we'd like a better understanding or perhaps a different perspective of. From these books, other books are read, movies are watched, state capital trips are made, art projects are completed... you get the idea.
World History, Oak Meadow - I loved Oak Meadow during the early years, but I really don't care for the way some of their high school courses use standard public school textbooks. This course, like many, uses a typical high school textbook that is supported by an Oak Meadow syllabus. For us, the textbook was flashy and full of tid-bits that were distracting. It's like the writers assumed none of us had attention spans so everything is delivered in magazine type snippets. However, the syllabus that Oak Meadow has created to use with this textbook is excellent, filled with the meaningful, interesting assignments that we all know and expect form Oak Meadow. Given that, we were able to get a lot out of it regardless of the text not being the right fit for us.
History Timeline Cards - Not really a resource, but something we've done for years. I don't recall how I came up with this idea, but Emily basically creates a drawing based on whatever topic or period in history we are studying. Emily likes the idea of art, and asks to include it in our work, but she gets frustrated when it is too free-flowing so prefers to have an "assignment" to fulfill. Timeline cards take care of at least two birds with one stone, as all learning should. Sometimes this happened once a week, sometimes once a month. The only stipulation I gave was that her finished work was on (or mounted to) standard page size cardstock. This way I could keep all her timeline cards in handy-dandy sheet protectors all tucked into a three-ring binder (can I get an "ooh... ahhh" from my fellow Virgos?).
Vintage Remedies - This wound up being something that was a great fit for me, not so much for Emily. She was moderately interested, but not enough to pull it out once or twice a week and commit to it.
Foundations in Personal Finance - I think if Dave Ramsey was a high school teacher he'd be one of those "favorites" that students remember for the rest of their lives. He's engaging, dynamic, funny, smart, and very well organized. This class has been one of Emily's favorites, and it completely exceeded my expectations. There is a workbook component that is filled with activities (no fluff at all, everything is well thought out and of great value), and there is a large dvd library that contains video lectures to go with each lesson. We love this program and highly recommend it.
K12 Web Design - A class that Emily took "just to see" if web design is something she'd be into. Isn't that what all the cool kids are doing these days? Nope, she's not. Aced the class though!
K12 Honors English Literary Analysis - This was an excellent course with a wonderful teacher who was attentive and thorough. We never did fall in love with the K12 interface or the necessary amount of screen time required for class, so haven't been back since taking these two course (Honors Lit. and Web Design). Part of the intention behind taking K12 classes was to have some accredited coursework with teachers to provide grades and feedback for the sake of her transcript. She achieved the highest grades in both classes which was her goal.
Debate Class - Entering her third year with the Westfield Debate & Public Speaking Academy. It is hard for me to write about this experience without sounding boastful. I will say that it's pretty fun for these (mostly homeschooled) kids when they routinely win state competitions as well as regional competitions against some of the most elite private boarding schools in the country. Yowza.
Learning Unlimited - Do you all know about this? Learning Unlimited hosts on campus days at major universities around the country for teens. The classes are created and taught by graduate students at the various colleges, and the course selections are as vast as you can imagine. The cost to attend is very low as well. Emily has attended classes at Yale University, MIT, and Amherst College. I highly recommend this program to any teen, not just homeschoolers. It's really fun to do with a group of friends.
Rosetta Stone - We used Rosetta Stone Spanish in middle school. Emily would like to buckle down over the next two years and take foreign language as most colleges expect you to. I was considering doing this through K12 so it would be a typical, accredited foreign language course. She decided fluency is her top priority, not how it looks on paper, and so Rosetta Stone it is. She specifically likes their languages that are designed for homeschoolers (ability to keep track of lessons, earn grades, etc.). I have to agree with her, if you're in it to learn and use the language, Rosetta Stone is great for that.
Apologia Science - We LOVE Apologia Science, and we are secular homeschoolers. I don't know what else to say about this other than the science is excellent, really really excellent. I've looked at a lot of homeschool (and regular school) science offerings and this is the very best I've come across. The heaviest theological speak is in the first chapter(s) as Dr. Wile (who is brilliant and has a great personality that comes through in his writing) lays the foundation. Of course he's going to talk about the Christian worldview at this point, he's introducing the course, which is taught from a Christian perspective. This is the sample chapter that many people read online when considering this curriculum and it's a huge turn off. I get it, but I will tell you that all the scientific theories are taught, it's just that if something is seen differently based on Christian beliefs, he will interject with a "but we believe such and such instead and here is why...." I can work with that. And honestly, we've had so many amazing conversations in our home based on this dichotomy. I'm not trying to convince my secular friends to use Apologia, I'm just saying that we are secular homeschoolers and have found this to be an incredible science curriculum. Mama said to never throw the baby out with the bathwater, right? Apologia is not for everyone, but it has been great for us.
Teaching Textbooks Math - We have used Teaching Textbooks since middle school and it is a great fit for Emily.
Brave Writer - We love Brave Writer classes so very much. I'm kind of bummed that Emily likely won't be able to fit any in this year, they've been such a cornerstone of our English/Language work. In 2012 I wrote about Emily taking a Brave Writer course, and that we liked it very much but would have appreciated some sort of feedback to the parents at the end. Perhaps a grade for the course, but really just some kind of feedback from the teacher. Julie, Brave Writer's founder, emailed me and said, "Thanks for that feedback, that is a good idea!" And now when you take Brave Writer classes your child's work will be graded and you receive a transcript at the end which some people find helpful if they keep careful homeschool records for college purposes. Not that my mention changed their policy, rather it was part of the choir I'm sure.
Artistic Pursuits - If you are looking for a fairly traditional high school level art curriculum, this is a very good program. I wish we were able to get though it all last year as I'm pretty sure it won't make it onto the table regularly this year. Oh well, maybe once in a while we can pull it out. It really is fun and we learned a great deal about technique.
Easy Grammar Plus - We used it, it fulfills the purpose, but lots of reading and writing will always be a far better way to perfect grammar usage than rote memorization. Unless we're talking about prepositions, those babies don't memorize themselves.
Workshops Work! - Patricia has been a great cheerleader to me through the years. It's important to connect with other homeschoolers who are a step or two ahead of you. This is a tremendous help in terms of encouragement, resources, inspiration, etc. I've appreciated all that Patricia shares about homeschooling and then she went and wrote a book that spoke straight to my daughter's strengths! I never did get to lead a formal Writer's Workshop based on the book's teachings, but here at home we have used many of the ideas and tools Patricia lays out for her readers. Definitely a great book to add to your homeschool shelf, especially if you are more outgoing than me and are looking for a class to lead at your homeschool coop. This book will guide you right though it!
Field Trips - Want to know something? Field trips aren't really our thing. I know, what kind of homeschoolers are we!? Homebody homeschoolers, that's what. We do head out once a month or so to do local tourist kind of stuff, but we know homeschoolers that just about base all of their learning around field trips and that's never been our thing.
Artistic Pursuits sample.
What a list! Also, don't forget about Kahn Academy, The Great Courses, and Coursera, all are great resources. I could keep going but I have to stop somewhere!
There was also the two years at our weekly homeschool coop and three years with Emily's monthly teen book club. We won't be continuing with the coop this year, but book club should continue as usual. Perhaps that is in part why we aren't much into field trips, once a week at coop and once a month at book club felt like plenty. I know, wicked introverts over here (and New Englanders... yup, wicked true).
Friends have told me they'd love to homeschool as a better approach to education and life, but their kids don't want to leave school, they love the social aspect (and some feel the need to leave because of unhealthy social aspects). I get that, I too was a social butterfly back in the day. But really, that has not been the driving motivator in our family - school social time. Quality of life and quality of education speak to us. We also started homeschooling at a naturally transitional point (at the end of elementary school) so things just flowed for us. Because we live in an area where there is such a large homeschool community, starting this journey didn't feel much different, socially speaking, than if our family was to move and Emily switched schools. There were new faces, yes, but there were plenty of them.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this. If you're on the fence, and nearly every part of your being feels compelled to homeschool, why not just try it? That was our philosophy when we began. I can still remember sitting on the porch with Adam saying, "If it doesn't work out, what's the worst that can happen? We simply stop homeschooling? That's manageable. But we'll never know if we don't try."
Well, that evening on the porch was over four years ago. And you know what they say... the rest is history.
The reason I'm sharing these thoughts is because I get emails weekly from people with questions or a need for support and encouragement around making this decision. I always seem to come back to the one thing that is guaranteed, you'll never know if you don't try. Never underestimate your own intuition. You know better than anyone what your child needs.
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If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them for you. Also, feel free to share your own homeschool resources as well.
The companion to this post: Scratch High School, Let's do "Pre-College"Instead