When our eldest two were in their mid-teens, I was involved with a Charlotte Mason (CM) email group that had started up with the intent of encouraging families who were using the CM method in their home schools. The question came up about how to know when a student needed to go to school, and there were a number of responses, some of which I totally disagreed with. I didn’t join in with the discussion because none of our children had been through their teen years and come out the other side at that stage and I didn’t know anyone else’s who had.
Now we are mostly on the other side with six of our seven children graduated after being home educated beginning to end. Four of them are boys, so when I was asked some questions recently about homeschooling boys through high school, I decided to write about our experience.
The questions vary but this comment below conveys the essence of not just what I’ve been asked recently, but also at different times in the past:
“I have come across a lot of discussions on social media and/or blogs about how their boys ended having to be in regular school once they got into high school because CM style or homeschooling wasn’t working for them at that age. Some even say it is beneficial for them to take direction from someone other than mom and that their boys thrived in that setting. My boys are 10 and 6, but I wonder if that is something I will have to worry about?”
I have mixed feelings about this because I have seen situations where a teen may have been better off going to school for different reasons, but it wasn’t always the teen years that were the problem per se. Entering the teen years often amplified the problems that were already there.
I also think much depends on the personalities involved (mother and son).
Most of the homeschooling families we have known sent their children to high school at some point. There were a few reasons for this. Some parents were concerned about how their children would get into university; some were fine through the elementary grades but were not confident about teaching high school, others didn’t think they could provide a quality education themselves and didn’t have any external assistance. In many cases the decision was taken because of conflict in the mother/child relationship.
The homeschooling situation in Australia is very different to that of the USA, and although it has become more visible here in the past five to ten years, it’s not yet a mainstream choice. School students go through the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in years 11 & 12 in order to obtain the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) which is the primary criteria for university entrance. However, this isn’t an option for students taught at home and they need to find another way. In the past this has been an obstacle to many parents, and it was a significant challenge & learning curve for us the first time around, but in the last couple of years alternative pathways to university have been increasingly easier to access.
My intention here isn’t to bag those parents who decide their child needs to go to school for the later years. I know families who made the decision with heavy hearts due to difficult circumstances and I have a close friend who made the commitment to teach her only child for the elementary years, knowing that it wouldn’t be an option for high school. This decision came at a cost for my friend and I applaud her and acknowledge that both decisions were wise ones.
My aim is to encourage those who have the desire to continue homeschooling through the high school years, believe it’s the best decision for their family, but are worried about the unknown. It is also to point out some pitfalls or areas of potential difficulty so that they don’t come upon you by surprise.
As the questions I’ve been asked came from mothers who mostly follow the Charlotte Mason/Classical method of education, I think it’s a good idea to start with some comments Mason herself made about boys and school in A Philosophy of Education.
Charlotte Mason makes an important point about too much leisure and it’s something to keep in mind if we are teaching our boys at home so that we offer sufficient mind food and physical work.
One of the temptations we face at home is to avoid conflict by allowing boys to slacken off academically. It’s much easier to take everyone to the park, let them run around and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that they need to burn off some energy. Of course physical activity is necessary, but there needs to be a balance of both or we are doing our sons a disservice.
I think it safe to say that Public Schools in Mason’s time, while they were by no means perfect, didn’t have the extent of problems we see today. They didn’t have access to drugs, pornography, the internet and mobile phones. The prevailing culture was contained within parameters that ours has overstepped. Christian schools often have to contend with the same issues.
We’ve had a lot of opportunity to see the results of the education system via friends’ children who attended Christian & public schools. I don’t think their parents had an easier time than we did. Their children had opportunities that ours didn’t but the opposite is true also. They were not immune to problems and conflict because they were away from home all day.
Raising children is hard work and sending a child to school is swapping one set of circumstances for another, each with their pros and cons.
This is something that concerns me about the school system. A friend’s 15 year old son had to write a composition on ‘my life as a carrot.’ Absorbing? Compelling? Interesting? Not unless he wanted to go into agriculture, perhaps.
Another concern is the increasing propensity to add the latest politically correct agenda to the curriculum. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hear, ‘people need to be educated about this…’ during a current affairs programme or a news report. From substance abuse to applying sunscreen – ‘schools need to teach this.’ But what about the time taken from other areas of study?
‘Much sound food…’ This is a challenge for us as home educators, but I’m not convinced that schools necessarily supply boys with what they need in this department either.
As the homeschooling movement has grown, so have the options for external support. Online courses, tutoring, correspondence studies, DVD material, and other assistance are options that can help lift the load from our shoulders. Even here in Australia, the options have mushroomed in recent years, although we still look with envy at what’s available to home educators in places like the USA where the homeschooling movement has gained wide acceptance.
Personally, when I think back on the times I had difficulties with my boys, sending them off to school would have been giving the problem over to another person to try to sort out. It would have been out of sight, out of mind, but not dealt with. Plus, some of the best conversations I’ve had with my boys wouldn’t have happened if they’d been at school all day, and the more important topics often arose after we’d wrestled with differences of opinions.
Some questions we need to answer are:
Why did we decide to homeschool in the first place?
What has changed since then?
What alternatives do we have that could help our situation?
For many of us, there are not a great number of options in the choice of schools or if there are, they are unaffordable.
For those specifically identifying as CM educators who don’t think their son is challenged sufficiently, I would ask whether you are really following her methods or if you have been practicing an adaptation. Have you read A Philosophy of Education? This was a game changer for me. I used to regularly hear that a CM Education wasn’t rigorous enough for high school but it came from those who really weren’t familiar with what a real CM education involved. It is challenging and full – and it certainly isn’t a tea party.
Too many boys are allowed to have ‘empty minds.’ Whether or not a boy is academically inclined or wants to be a plumber or a concreter, he needs to have his mind filled with ideas.
Sometimes when we are homeschooling a few children, we can focus more on the younger ones and leave the teens to work independently without much input from us. It’s easy then to forget you haven’t gone over their maths or read their composition. They become slack in their work because they know we’re not checking up on them. By the time you get around to doing it, the mole hill has become a mountain and bad habits have become ingrained.
How we managed:
• Prayer! – no one else is really qualified to decide whether you should or shouldn’t homeschool your son through high school. Listening to advice is wise and may save you from making some bad decisions but it’s not a substitute for talking to God about what you should do. As mothers, most of us tend to be vulnerable concerning the opinion of others. As much as I enjoy community and being a part of discussion groups/forums, there is a drawback to them at times if we’re not careful. We can be more impressed by the opinions and advice of others and neglect to find out what God has to say.
• At the risk of sounding totalitarian!! I am amazed by the number of parents who decide that because their child expressed the desire to go to school, they let them make the decision to go. That was never an option in our home. In the same way, we never said that we’d take homeschooling year by year. We made a decision to homeschool just as we have decided where we will live and what church we will attend and that was that. Of course we know that there are circumstances in life that can alter our decisions about anything, but we didn’t plan our lives with that thought in the background. We just decided that it would be unsettling to think that way.
• Accountability – there were a few years when I needed to be able to call my husband during the day so he could talk to one boy in particular. He would listen to my emotional dump and then talk to the boy concerned very calmly and matter-of-factly, reminding him of what was required. My son would get off the phone, knowing that he would be answerable to Dad if he made life difficult for me and that was usually enough. My husband did spend quite a bit of time travelling interstate and overseas at that time and it’s interesting that I rarely had issues when he was away. He used to have a talk to the boys and tell them to look after Mum and the girls while he was gone and they stepped up to that.
• Our 4 eldest were able to work one whole day a week from about the age of fifteen in a pharmacy warehouse their Aunty managed. It was a good experience; they worked with a wide variety of ages and people from diverse cultures; enjoyed earning some money of their own and it helped me to have some more focussed time with the younger ones. Two of our boys have taught music both in schools and at home & were able to experience the difficulties of trying to teach children who were unmotivated or just belligerent & I think it helped them mature in their own attitudes towards being taught.
• Physical activity in the form of exercise or hard work are non-negotiable. We didn’t do a lot of organised sport but the boys were active & had to help out around the house, chopping wood, chainsawing, & gardening.
• Hobbies & interests – how often do you hear of men who are totally lost when they retire? All their lives have been taken up with work and no time has been invested in hobbies and interests pursued just for pleasure. Playing an instrument, stamp & coin collections, sound production, chess, cooking, woodwork, soccer & home maintenance are some areas that worked for us.
• Service – I’ve mentioned this in some other posts but it is such an important aspect for children to learn. Doing something without an immediate reward, behind the scenes; a bit of hard physical work – this helps to make a man.
• Growing their gifts – years ago I read a verse in 1 Chronicles, chapter 25 and took it to heart: ‘…all of them, trained and skilled in music for the Lord.’ I felt this was a specific word for our children but we had to be intentional about making a way for it to happen. We’ve spent many, many hours taking them to music lessons, supervising practice, orchestra rehearsals, church music practices, as well as lots of money on instruments and lessons. This was something we made time for each day. It helped to discipline them, fill their minds and souls with beauty and give them an avenue to bless others. We know some other large homeschooling families who have done this and I know that the nature of homeschooling has allowed music to flourish in our homes. If this was the only benefit we had for homeschooling during the high school years it would have been worth doing for this alone.
• When our eldest boy was about fifteen, my husband and three other dads organised a father and sons’ group which went for a few years. They met monthly and each of the dads shared their expertise and taught the boys engine repairs, first aid, bird watching, debating, and a whole lot of other things. They also went on camping trips and bush walks. It was a significant commitment for all those busy dads but it took some of the pressure off our roles as homeschooling mothers and filled in some gaps that were difficult for us as mothers to address.
• Teaching respect – my boys all went through a season where they gloried in their sense of humour. This was a bit of fun but sometimes they’d joke and it bordered on being disrespectful. This was a good teaching moment as I’d point out to them that what they’d just said was discourteous. They were always surprised when I said this. They hadn’t developed any filters with their humour and were more focussed on how clever their comments were without thinking whether they were appropriate or not. I have a very acute memory of doing the same thing when I was about sixteen and being so shocked when my mother took me to task about it after our visitors had left.
• Taking directions from others – part-time work, being part of a team, external courses are some ways this can happen. When boy number one was about fifteen, he was quite difficult, liked to argue the point about everything, and could run circles around me mentally. It was a very busy time of life for me and I had a younger son who needed lots of one on one teaching. My husband suggested our fifteen year old do correspondence school for a year. I reluctantly agreed. We used the ACE curriculum which was so very different to the type of education he’d been accustomed to and I thought he’d hate it. He did, but it gave me a breather for about nine months as he had to work independently, correct his own work and send it in to be checked and recorded by the supervisor. He couldn’t argue that his maths and chemistry answers were correct and the teachers manual must be wrong etc. which was a large part of the conflict in teaching him. He whizzed through the year’s work quickly and was more than happy to go back to what we were doing at the end of it. I have some good memories of his high school years but the 14 to 17 years age span was hard going. However, definitely no regrets. When he was going to university he told me that homeschooling had been good preparation for doing a degree because I made him work & when you are at university, you need to be self-motivated.
• Boys can be late bloomers and they may not blossom academically until they are in their mid to late teens. I panicked a little with one of our boys who was in this category. He was also a late bloomer physically and didn’t really hit his stride until he was nearly seventeen. We had no idea what he would eventually do and I was so thankful that we could give him a wide curriculum and hadn’t narrowed down his work as it kept his options open. Home education with a Charlotte Mason approach is ideal in this situation.
I’ve covered some areas related to homeschooling teenagers & motherhood generally in this post:
Ten Things to Make Time For.
This is the other boy in our household. He has a bad attitude at times and tends to be moody. Now that he’s older he has matured somewhat and isn’t so aggressive. This could be because he is lazy and can’t be bothered making the effort, but I’ll be gracious and give him the benefit of the doubt. He is, however, quite unteachable, and this makes for tension between the two of us.