Updated: Jun 12, 2018
Truly, homeschooling through high school is not only an experience filled with those traditional milestones we all know, but it’s more, infinitely more, than corsages and tailgating. It’s about living your best life; the life you are called to live from the moment you are born.
Photo by Nicole J Photography
When I began to flirt with homeschooling, it came as a tremendous shock to family and friends. No one they knew homeschooled. I was battered with questions, most of which I couldn’t answer, but my gut was telling me this was the right path for our family. As my conviction grew, their curiosity turned to fear. One day at a family cookout a well-meaning family member (we’re going to assume she was well-meaning) suggested, between bites of an overcooked burger and warm potato salad I would be doing my children a great disservice to deny them the traditional school experience. In what I can only describe as exasperation, she offered that my blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 2-year-old was going to grow up to be so pretty she’d probably be homecoming queen or, at the very least, a cheerleader. Homeschooling meant she’d miss out!
How dare I deny her the opportunity to be popular!
To be fair, I think the point she was attempting, but failing miserably to make, is that life’s milestones, important ones, often revolve around the gravitational pull exerted by a childhood spent in traditional school. I understand this thinking. Don’t misunderstand, I disagree with it entirely; but I understand it. I went through traditional school just like she did. It’s almost impossible to imagine a life with which we have not had direct experience.
Childhood makes a dramatic shift as children leave home to begin kindergarten. It’s an important rite of passage many cannot imagine sacrificing. Backpacks, new shoes, and lunch boxes are purchased; first day of school pictures; and tears as your little one is dropped off. It’s a big deal for kids, but it’s a bigger deal for parents. These markers can be even more important to parents than to their children: competing, performing, graduations, proms, moments parents look forward to enjoying from the time they bring their children home from the hospital. The idea of missing out entirely by homeschooling is cause for panic for family and friends, and possibly even for us a little, if we are being honest.
I have homeschooled for 20 years. My daughter and oldest son graduated from my homeschool program and have gone on to college, trade school, and successful careers. My oldest son (the one with the fabulous beard) is married and they have a beautiful baby girl, my perfect granddaughter. My youngest son is a junior. You can typically find him with drumstick or a guitar in hand. He plays in a rock band and is booked every month this summer!
My daughter is recently married to a handsome Italian hockey player, and I am patiently awaiting handsome Italian babies. Yep, that's the blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl denied her place in Homecoming Court. As you can see she looks devastated. She probably went to 12-15 proms and dances during her high school years. She went to nearly every prom at the local high schools at the invitations of friends. <insert gasp> Yes, friends! Homeschoolers have those. She made them from every area of her life - youth groups, homeschool groups, work, dual-enrollment classes, neighborhood friends, and sports. My son also went to probably 6-8 dances during high school. They went to so many it was old hat. Seriously. I would wager we spent less on all those dances combined than some people spend on one or two. No limos, no professional photos, no fancy dinners, or $500 dresses.
I share the stories of their full dance cards as homeschoolers, not because it was an important component in our life, but because these events are pieces that many considering homeschooling through high school are concerned about missing. It’s my hope that through our experience, you might be able to catch a vision of this life. See, it’s filled with all those photo-ops, though they may or may not look exactly like the ones that you experienced, but they are also exposed to so much more. Homeschooling does not deny your child of any opportunity.
I would argue, homeschooling through high school provides students with more prospects than many are aware and much more in fact, than a chance at popularity.
In high school my kids did job training and worked – Lifeguard & Water Safety Certifications, Red Cross & Child Care Certifications. Working during high school gave them skills and experiences their peers would wait years to learn. Taking advantage of these certifications enabled them to work in fields of their interest and talents and to earn much higher wages than most entry level workers earn in something like food service.
My son, the lifeguard, was interested in swift water rescue, firefighting, and paramedic training. He explored this career field and even attended college to work in this field. By the time he was 20, he decided it wasn’t for him and he moved on to the education, training and work that will probably be his life’s work. Nonetheless those skills served him well. He worked as a swim instructor, lifeguard, and program manager throughout college, and he will always have these skills to fall back on.
My daughter was a nanny and she was in high demand. She turned down more clients than she could carry. Before she was 16 she, like my son, earned $10-12 per hour. She even cared for children with special needs. When she was old enough to be employed, she became a party conductor and birthday party host at a local family entertainment complex. She was accepted to several prominent state and private universities but as the time grew close to leaving for school, she reconsidered. She recognized she wasn’t clear about her goals and weighed that truth against the amount of money to attend university, which was about the same as a starter home. She took the financial obligation seriously. She decided to take a year off. In the months that would have been her freshman year, she decided instead to attend culinary school and be trained as a pastry chef. A year after she graduated, she had opened her own business offering children’s parties, and within a few months, she had over 20 employees.
It’s not an accident they found their way early on. Homeschooling through high school provided time, space, and freedom to figure out who they were in the “real” world. It was time well-spent.
High school at home provided a broad range of memories and life experiences. My teens volunteered, went on mission trips and we traveled the country some 4-6 months of the year at different times. My oldest son, who had a great passion for horses, farming, and the outdoors spent all his spare time working on the farm a local homeschooler and friend operated. He rode horses every day, baled hay, mucked barns, worked on and operated heavy equipment and loved every minute of it.
Both kids graduated high school early, finished early, and were working in their fields and getting on with their life before most kids their age had graduated from college.
And… AND, they still had prom. They went to sports games, and performed in plays and theater. They took music lessons, went camping, skiing, and swimming with friends. They played sports, had talent shows, and science fairs. You name it, they did it. They also got to take classes in the local college that were set up just for homeschoolers. Anatomy and Biology, for example, they took at the prestigious Washington University where they even participated in labs with cadavers. (I know, ew! Right? But pretty cool still!) Local colleges now cater to the homeschool community in many ways, particularly in STEM activities and summer camps. They joined robotics teams and scouts. They worked on the yearbook, journalism, debate, and government. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there was nothing about high school that they missed by being at home.
And as the high school years concluded, there was graduation.
My son didn’t want or need a graduation ceremony, so we had a family dinner instead. My daughter did want one and we did the whole cap and gown thing. Her graduation, like many others I’ve seen for homeschoolers, was beautiful. It was all about her. Her accomplishments and talents on display for all to appreciate. I gave a short speech and invited adults and others in her life to say a few words about her. It was a celebration and an affirmation of her hard work and character. There was not a dry eye in the house.
Most homeschoolers approach the decision to homeschool, with fresh eyes each year, re-evaluating and recommitting one year at a time. Many I meet think of high school homeschooling as beyond them, and even a sort of finish line for homeschooling. “Okay, now they have to go to real school.”
DO NOT BE AFRAID OF HOMESCHOOLING HIGH SCHOOL!
It's not hard. Getting into colleges is easy - yes, easy. Transcripts are not brain surgery, it's a spreadsheet or Word document. Anyone can do it. I promise. You aren’t exploring new territory here, there is help, lots of help to navigate it.
Having said all that, I will tell you this, be prepared as you approach high school. I've experienced it with my own kids and many other kids whose moms I have mentored over the years - 7th and 8th grade can be tough for kids socially whether they are at home or otherwise. When they are home they sometimes feel certain that being home is the source of their struggle (it’s not), and sometimes they start to consider going back into the system.
Socially ALL kids feel a little awkward as they find their place at this age. They haven't grown into their bodies or their brains or their hormones; these are tough years in whatever school you are in. At home however, with their parents to guide them, they can navigate these years with support, encouragement and room to fail.
THEN! (This is the best part) You get them to 9th grade and they start Drivers Ed (oh yeah, you still get to take Drivers Ed!) and they start looking forward to driving and having a job. They begin realizing that they can do their “school work” before 10 am and go to a real job and earn real money and start college a couple years early and have a crazy awesome life instead of wandering the halls, dealing with peer drama and living under the thumb of the system.
Truly, homeschooling through high school is not only an experience filled with those traditional milestones we all know, but it’s more, infinitely more, than corsages and tailgating. It’s about living your best life; the life you are called to live from the moment you are born. It’s a journey that doesn’t stop and start and hold you back waiting for the rest of the class. It’s yours to chase down and embrace, to explore and fail, and change your mind and try other stuff.
I find when parents and children face their fears about homeschooling and high school, when they name them and meet them, they choose this life with great joy. It's a no-brainer really when you are giving them the opportunities to launch into life with excitement and energy. If you are still unsure about it all, or maybe your kids are unsure, it might help for them to meet some young adults who were homeschooled through high school and who are finding success and excitement about their life.
If you haven’t experienced this life, and you are just not able to capture it in your imagination, meet some families who are doing it and loving it. Don’t surrender to fear, and don’t be held captive by the small ideas of what high school was when you were a kid. It’s different and I haven’t even touched on the negative influences, social pressure, or artificial benchmarks. Instead open your mind and heart to a world of endless possibilities for your child. Do what your gut tells you is best for your child, of course. No one can answer that but the two of you. Be a lion, be bold, no one knows them better; and if you want to keep homeschooling through high school, you can do it, YOU got this.