My daughter was a month into 7th grade when we decided to remove her from the public system and homeschool her. We didn’t make our decision hastily. We spent weeks deliberating, talking, seeking advice from friends and family, and doing extensive research. There are some things I didn’t know then that I wish I had known about homeschooling an older child. They might not have changed my mind about keeping her home with me, but they are things I think you should consider if you are thinking about making a switch in the upper elementary, middle, or high school years.
First of all, it isn’t impossible, or ridiculous. If your heart is telling you to consider this change, there is a valid reason for it. You are your best guide, so listen to your heart – but consider your child’s heart, as well. Homeschooling, especially if it’s only 1 child, will have an incredible set of challenges that you’ll have to face. One of these is that your child is used to having friends or at least other peers around them all the time.
If bullying or social issues are a reason to remove your child from school, a reprieve from their current social scene might be just the right medicine for your child. But, if they have a thriving social world which primarily stems from school, it’s important to consider how you will be able to maintain the healthy aspects of this element of your child’s life. In our home, Laine has drifted from some of her closest school friends, despite a valiant effort by us to maintain the relationships. New friends enter when old ones aren’t at the lunch table everyday, and sometimes, friendships fracture because of this. Talk to your child before hand about this possibility so that if friends lose touch, their hearts were prepared for it, at least a little bit.
Seek out community, and keep in mind, many co-ops and homeschool groups have strict registration deadlines. Sometimes, if you aren’t enrolled in the summer, your child won’t be permitted. For us, this meant a year of homeschooling without a community around us, and therefore, Laine knew a much smaller pool of other kids in her position. Some homeschool groups offer field trips, group learning, sports, drama and other activities. Get involved in your state homeschool association so you will have access to all these great homeschooling opportunities, if you think your child will need the additional socialization (and most likely, they will).
Plan financially. When homeschooing younger kids, many families can gain enough resources online that their education is virtually free. This will be much more difficult with your older student, since as math, science and other core subjects increase in difficulty, and a comprehensive curriculum is necessary. Also, as is the case in my house, we like to break free from the monotony of learning at the kitchen table. We love to hit up museums and science centers, and these things are not usually free.
It’s worth checking websites of educational exhibits for teacher resources, or homeschooling days. Often, downloadable curriculum is available, and sometimes, there are special days for homeschooling families, which can save some money. Finding freebies for teens, though, is difficult.
The biggest challenge we’ve faced is almost obvious – it’s also common, and you need to expect it. Your child is going to kick back your authority as their teacher. It’s almost a given… that transition will be hard, and will be its absolute worst during the first year you homeschool. This is true of just about any age, or so I’ve heard. The first year is always the hardest, as your kids test their limits and fight you for control. The best weapon I’ve used to combat this is organization.
Staying organized – having a plan for each day that your child assists you in creating – will help drastically. My daughter, at 12 years old, absolutely loved to make schedules for her week. She’d make them on the computer, with check boxes and time frames, and she was pretty happy to stick by them. Some weeks we would fall off the wagon, and when it got rough again, we’d get back on the wagon! But having very clear expectations ahead of time that can’t be argued about on the spot will help.
There will be days that are hard. The sweet picture that you have in your head of you and your child learning together, in harmony, around your kitchen table is possible – just not every day. But how I love those days! When we are laughing and learning, and when we put the books away for the day, I feel so accomplished and at peace with my decision to do this. Other days will find one, or both of us in tears, angry and frustrated, and wondering why she’s not getting on the school bus with all the other kids! It’s natural, because people aren’t perfect, and we can’t expect every day to be, either.
Allow your son or daughter the chance to help choose some curriculum. By middle school, they are old enough to have input, and if they chose what they are learning, they are more likely to participate willingly. Consider their motivation levels when choosing curriculum with lots of projects or hands on work. Do they love to be on the computer all day? Maybe an online school or curriculum is a better choice than texts and workbooks. Perhaps narrow it down to a few options that you feel are best and allow them to select their favorite.
Participating in a group centered homeschool experience, such as Classical Conversations, is a great way to nurture some tender areas in your homeschool. We use this program to foster relationships, build confidence and force accountability to produce quality work.
Create opportunities to allow your older students to shine in front of others. Co-ops that offer talent shows, drama clubs, music lessons with recitals… all of these things will give your student incentive to work hard at things. Older students need a reason to produce quality work. Send great essays to off to Grandma for praise, and keep exemplary work on display for awhile. Even older kids like to see that you are proud of them.
Even before you make a decision to homeschool, you can join forums on facebook where like-minded people will be able to answer your questions or provide you with feedback about curriculum, or other topics that pop up. It will give you a sense of community, and peace of mind that you aren’t going it alone. And you aren’t. Lots of us are out here ready to help you out!
There are so many great reasons to homeschool your older child – and in my home, the plan is to stay on this path through high school. We all have our own trails to blaze, and sometimes our directions must change. But whatever the reasons you have for feeling the necessity to homeschool through the middle and high school years, keep them at the forefront of your planning and decisions. Allow your reasons to become your goals, and your goals to lead your planning. You won’t be sorry you followed your heart and your head. And neither will your kid!