By Stephanie Elms, Annandale
Originally published in the March-April 2014 VaHomeschoolers Voice.
You would think that after homeschooling for over a decade, I would become immune to those moments of homeschool panic. You know the ones…where you worry that all those wonderful ideals of what education can and should look like will somehow wind up doing your child a disservice when you finally acknowledge how “different” they are.
So imagine my surprise when I found that entering the homeschooling high school years brought these fears quite nicely back to the surface. I suppose that is because of the idea that the high school years “count” more. After years of only worrying about the end-of-the-year evidence of progress requirement, suddenly what we accomplished during the year seemed to take on more importance…after all, I would now be expected to create a transcript to document our learning and to worry about the “after graduation” years. Will what we have done be “good enough” to allow my child to achieve what he or she wants? Not to mention the feeling that there is a dwindling amount of time before my child goes off into the world as an official adult.
My oldest just turned 17 years old, and it has been fascinating to watch him come into his own these past few years. When he was younger, he definitely fell into the “loves learning but hates to be taught” camp—if he was interested in a topic, he soaked information up like a sponge. But if he was not, you could forget it. We fell into a relaxed, unschool-y approach out of necessity, and I took a leap of faith that, even if I could not see exactly how, it would all work out.
I am happy to report that I have seen that leap pay off. My son has naturally been taking on more ownership of his learning, identifying areas of interest (history, cooking, and politics/current events) and seeking out ways to learn more. He has taken a few more “structured” classes and done a remarkably good job at managing his time and schedule in order to complete his assigned tasks and homework. He has some “gaps,” most noticeably in the math and writing areas, but he is now motivated to work on these areas and is catching up quite nicely. His most recent accomplishment was taking the English placement exam at the local community college and placing into English 111, a requirement for the history class he wanted to take.
But…(there is always a but when it comes to our kids’ progress, isn’t there?) despite being beyond thrilled at the progress he had been making, I still found myself at times pulled into that comparison mindset that breeds self-doubt. Worries such as “he does not have enough responsibility, enough things that he ‘has’ to do” started creeping in.
“If he were in school,” I told myself, “he would be expected to write more and to juggle more than just a few academic classes.” I started to compare what he was doing to what I imagined “typical” school kids were doing and, of course, I found my worries increasing. I listened to friends with kids in school talk about the SAT prep classes their kids were taking, the advanced academic classes, the hours of homework and school projects, and all the activities in which they were participating. I started worrying that my son had an awful lot of “free time” and that maybe that time could or should be used for more “productive” pursuits.
Luckily, I had an epiphany before I gave into those fears. When I finally boiled down my scattered worries to their essence, I realized that what I was worried about was that my teen was not stressed enough. Truly, what was going through my head was that I was not preparing him for the stressful rat race that our society seems to promote. Putting it like this made it easier for me to keep things in perspective. It also made me start to question whether the typical high-stress approach to high school is really the best approach for raising children.
Being challenged is important for teens. It encourages growth (both academic and personal) and allows a teen to start finding his or her place in the larger world. An overabundance of stress for the sake of checking off boxes on a transcript is not the same thing as being challenged, however. Challenge is an individual thing. For some kids it may take the shape of a formal, rigorous academic program. For others, it takes the shape of excelling in a sport or at an artistic endeavor. For others, it may look a bit more eclectic: exploring a subject area that did not previously interest them, delving deeply (both formally and informally) into a subject area that truly fascinates them, taking a more structured academic class, taking an art class, or getting a job. What I realized is that the category of “ways to challenge my teen” is much broader than “taking six academically rigorous high-school-level classes.”
My son has been on a very out-of-the-box educational path for a while now. It has served him well, and it really does not make sense to expect him to jump back into the box just because he has hit high school. So, once again, I am taking a leap of faith and trusting that, even if I can’t see exactly where he is headed or how he is going to get there, I can trust where he is right now. He is learning and growing, and he is challenged and enjoying his life. As for me, I am once again learning to trust the process and embrace the fact that there is no one right way to learn…even in the teen years.
About the Author
Stephanie Elms is constantly trying to find that elusive state of balance in her life while enjoying her two energetic yet vastly different boys. You can read about their ongoing exploits on her blog, Throwing Marshmallows. Stephanie also volunteers as a member of the VaHomeschoolers Board of Directors.
Originally published in the March-April 2014 VaHomeschoolers Voice.
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