Homeschooling High School: Seasonal Checkpoints

This month’s Homeschool High School Carnival topic is “Finding Our Stride”:

(Gae at Cherished Hearts at Home will be hosting on Monday, January 7th!)

Homeschoolers with highschoolers, particularly long term homeschoolers, tend to find a groove.  How has your family’s educational philosophy evolved over the years?  Where do you find yourself in the highschool years?
I’m not sure we’ve actually found a stride yet in our homeschool… or at least a stride that keeps going without stumbling, tripping over roots in the road, crashing to the ground, and struggling back up.  I think, to some extent, that this is both a function of our personalities and learning quirks and also a large family thing.  When you’re adding new babies and new students every couple of years, the family dynamic is constantly changing.  It’s always a new mix, something new to be able to juggle.  What worked last year with a one year old and a non-reading third grader and twins in kindergarten and a child who wasn’t old enough for a driver’s permit doesn’t work this year with a two year old and the throes of morning sickness and a teenager asking to learn to drive and a fourth grader who is still not reading and a brand new kindergartener to add to the mix.  And next year will be entirely different, when a teenager has his driver’s license and there is a three year old and a newborn and a dyslexic child in fifth grade… and please God, hopefully someone under the age of 9 will learn to read!

Anyway, it does seem as if the terrain is always changing around here… and not much of it seems to be level ground, I’m afraid.  I guess I cope with this by frequently revisiting our goals and reviewing our progress (or lack thereof).  I do this on a seasonal or term basis.  Our year usually falls into five natural divisions in which we more formally “do school”.  Our “terms” are:

1. Summerbeginning the week after the 4th of July and continuing until Labor Day weekend.  Summer term is usually a little more creative, with lots of reading.  Sometimes I feel a little frantic trying to fit everything in.

2. Fall — mid-September to Thanksgiving (end of November).  We usually settle down somewhat in the fall, or we get off track somewhat and I realize that I can’t keep up with quite such a creative curriculum (whatever that happens to be that year) and fall back on books that have things a little more laid out for me.  Usually this happens in subjects like math and language arts.

3. Advent — exactly what it sounds like; the week after Thanksgiving up to the week of Christmas.  We do some Christmas-related reading (picture books for the younger set and Christmas literature for the older set; this year I read aloud A Christmas Carol to everybody, combining high school, middle school, and elementary literature very satisfactorily) and we focus on basics.  The high schoolers work on Latin and Math, basically, as required work, and then fill in with other subjects of their own choosing.  This year both my teens participated in NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s program in November, and so there has been a lot of novel writing going on for the past two months.  

4. Winter — week after New Year’s to mid-March, which this year corresponds to Holy Week and the (scheduled C-section) due date for a new baby.  Most years it’s spring break, and we also might have taken a winter break in February.  Winter break was much more important during upstate New York’s long, cold winters than it is here, though, because spring apparently arrives in northwestern Mississippi about Valentine’s Day. At that point, all of us just go outside, and some of us try to get the spring garden in.  Traditionally, we get a lot of good academics done during the winter term.  I’m not sure if it’s because we’re inside more or if it’s because I’ve taken some time to review our mid-year progress over Christmas.  In any case, with a little longer break between Advent and Winter term, I can usually figure out what’s been going awry and get some ideas about how to steer us back on track.

5. Spring — end of March to whenever it is in May that formal work slows to a dribble and then dries up completely.  This year Spring term is going to be rather up in the air with a new baby to take care of, and so I am hoping that we can all get a lot of work done between now and the end of March.  I’m usually trying to track down resources for next year during this time period, unless I’m really burnt out. 

During the lull between every period of more formal work, I try to check my records and check in with the kids so I can figure out how things are going.  Last summer I made a big chart which briefly summarized some of the resources and goals I had for all the kids, so I could see them all together.  I do combine kids a lot, including high school kids with younger kids, so I really need to see how things fit together.

Here’s a screen shot of my chart from the beginning of the school year:

 This shows some of the religion resources I hoped to use for the year, but the document continues on through all the subjects, for about 10 pages.  This is the first year I’ve made such a formal chart, but I just couldn’t keep everybody straight in my head anymore, and post-it planning doesn’t work for me because I don’t have anywhere to keep the chart while I work on it.  I mean, anywhere safe from a two year old.

What my “reviews” in the past month have told me is that we’re heading toward more structure in a few subjects with my 16 year old.  I have to be careful here not to let my anxiety about a few subjects color my view of his learning as a whole.  To combat this tendency, I worked on his transcript, and his transcript — while by no means “traditional” was nevertheless reassuring.  Mostly what we will be focusing on in terms of “more structure” will be science and American history.  Science is actually one of our more problematic subjects, not necessarily because he isn’t interested in it or I don’t feel capable of teaching or supporting it… but because his main interests lie outside or combine the standard “biology, chemistry, physics” categories.  I still have no idea what to do with astrobiology.

Anyway, this is one of the reasons I don’t know if I can claim to have found a stride: my 16 year old is my oldest and I’m just figuring out all of this for the first time.  I felt like registering him for the PSAT on time was a major hurdle! Next school year — his junior year — we plan on seeking out more classes for him to take, either online (which I can handle) or at local universities or community colleges (which will require a little more work).  That will be another accomplishment to tuck under our belts, and maybe (hopefully) we’ll be more confident as we tackle our daughter’s high school years (she’s now 13).  

But for now I just check on how we’re doing when it makes sense to stop and breathe for a while.  I wouldn’t say that I always feel like I’m on top of things… but I know that if I didn’t do this, I would feel like we were really out of control. 


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