I was asked by a kind reader to let you know our planning strategy for high school as well as some resources that we use. I’m happy to share what we know, so far, and what our philosophy is going forward.
Just to give you the details we are now homeschooling a first grader, two fourth graders (one has learning issues), a seventh grader, an eighth grader and a junior as well as having a college sophomore (currently studying in Rome) so we have successfully done high school once and we are now in the throes of it again. This time is a little more challenging, which I will get into.
Dave and I decided, long ago, when we were preparing to school Ryan for high school that high school should really be a time in which kids begin to discern what it is they want to be doing with their lives as well as what is God’s will for them. It’s a time to explore their gifts and interests with an eye toward the appropriate schooling which will enable them to get a job. While we are convinced that God gives everyone gifts and talents we are definitely not “follow your passion” types of parents. The thing with following your passion is that it might be something that gives you great joy but it isn’t necessarily something that can make you employable. Ben Horowitz, co founder of one of the most successful venture capital firms in Silicone Valley gave a commencement speech in May 2015 which essentially says the same thing. Think of all the people in the world who think they can sing and dance, (American Idol auditions!) or how many people spend all of their school years thinking they will have a career as a major league baseball player just because they are passionate about it as well as being pretty good. It happens, if you are an amazing player but even then it’s really a one in a million kind of thing.
Find what you are good at. That’s the goal of high school. Find what you are good at and how can it translate to a job or a career with which you can support yourself, because there comes a point at which you must move out :).
For some this will mean four year degrees and maybe even higher degrees. For the student good in math or science, who enjoys that and can see themselves engaging in a career that involves those disciplines for the next forty or so years this will have to be reflected in the high school planning. Lots of math and science courses and labs, maybe online classes and dual enrollment in a local community college. A part time job in a doctors office or engineering firm, that kind of thing.
What about the child who is not so inclined academically? Some extremely intelligent people would rather not pursue a four year degree and this is perfectly fine. The world, and this country in particular, needs tradespeople. Electricians, plumbers, tailors, welders and carpenters are all noble professions with which you can earn a decent living. Same thing with law enforcement (which does require a degree in some parts of the country), fire fighters, the military or a bunch of other things.
So high school is a time to explore what you are good at and how you can make it work as a career and what you need to do to get there.
My oldest is pursuing a liberal arts degree. Don’t freak out, this will make her very employable and fits into her plans for a career very well. She did a lot of research on different fields of study and which colleges she felt would suit her style, her devotion to her faith and provide the best background for her higher degree. She was extremely self-motivated and ending up finishing high school a year ahead of time. She planned her high school mostly herself with some guidance from me (yes you must take some math classes) with an eye toward her life going forward.
The next one up is a musician. This is slightly more complicated than a traditional college path. She wants to study performance at a music program and she is mostly interested in staying local. This makes things different because she not only has to do all the same things that other college applicants have to do but there are also professional recordings to be made and auditions for which to prepare. She is a very talented flutist so all the lessons, rehearsals, performances and teaching (she teaches) is valuable toward that goal and it all also must be recorded so that it goes on her transcript. It’s a lot to keep track of.
You might think we are falling into that passion trap that I described above by encouraging her to be a musician, it seems to fall into that follow your passion category, but she has backed it up with ten years of hard work. Hours of daily practice and eight hours every Saturday in orchestra, musicianship and ensemble. Isn’t there a saying that success is ten percent talent and ninety percent hard work? I think she rates higher on the talent scale and she’s definitely put in the work.
Another reason we are encouraging the music pursuit is this, I want my daughters to choose careers that give them a great deal of flexibility. If, at some point, they get married and have children and want to be home but need to contribute financially then a music teacher has a lot of flexibility. Lessons at home, church music director, substitute school teacher…
Yes, I’m not a feminist. I think women and children do better when they are together and I want my girls to be able to have those choices. I’m not saying women shouldn’t be lawyers or investment bankers ( I worked on Wall Street, and I loved it) but it makes sense to consider exactly what you want from life when making these decisions. Having a back-up helps ( I was a writer the whole time I worked for the bank).
So high school for this one is the basics; math, science, literature, grammar, history as well as music theory, orchestra, ensemble, composing and lots and lots of performances which means lots and lots of rehearsals. This means lots and lots of driving and many sacrifices on her part as well as ours.
She’s taking the SATs in the spring, and then we will be doing recordings and then in the fall, hopefully, there will be auditions.
The eighth grader is going to do a traditional high school program as of now (thank heavens). She is a dabbler and is not yet ready to figure out what she wants in life (can you imagine this, at thirteen?) so we will spend the freshman and sophomore years praying and dabbling and exploring what God may have planned for her.
So that’s the wordy version of the philosophy.
Some resources we have found helpful.
Seton homeschool for high school: Whether you fully enroll or just enroll in a few classes Seton has an excellent college prep program. Graduates have gone on to hundreds of colleges including Ivy Leagues, Military Academies, and all of the well known Catholic colleges and universities.
Homeschooling High School: It’s not as hard as you think: Meredith Henning’s book is a wonderful resource for inspiration and encouragement as well as the nuts and bolts of planning high school for your students.
Homeschool Connections: This is an amazing resource for Catholic courses at the Middle and High School level. I have used HSC since they began and have never been disappointed. It’s a great way for your student to study a subject you don’t feel competent to teach (chemistry) or to take a burden off me since I am still teaching people to to read.
High School of Your Dreams: Catholic Heritage Curricula published this book which helps a mom tailor a curriculum to the learning style and particular goal of the student. It’s a good resource because it strives to include a lot of life experience into your high school student’s course of study. I pull it out when I’m planning.
Jennifer Mackintosh generously shares her plans for high school and I think you will find them as inspiring as I do.
HSLDA: has a homeschooling through high school series that is very informative. The FAQ section can really help you with your record keeping and planning.
Donna Young: This used to be an entirely free site from which you could print just about anything you needed to homeschool your children. The high school section still has a lot of helpful information, including how to write a transcript and there are still some free printables that you can use as a jumping off point. You could also subscribe for $39.99 and get access to all of it.
So there you go, that’s kind of the overview of how and why we do what we do. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.
This is a video of that commencement speech, it’s worth 16 minutes.
I really like your approach to learning what skill can best support your talents. I fear that we so often teach girls to shoot to the moon that there is no safety net if we decide to stay home with kids. While I wouldn’t trade my academic knowledge/experience, I sometimes wish I had a 2 year nursing degree that would enable me to work one shift a week or give me flexibility to support the family if something happens to my husband. We are looking at combined high school/college credit programs for our daughter in hopes she will be able to roll that into some type of medical career. If marriage and family isn’t on the horizon, she can stay in school beyond that skill. After all, our pediatrician first started as a nurse!
Mary Ellen says
I completely agree Meredith. I like the idea of combining high school and some college courses as well. It’s a less expensive way to test the waters and can serve to determine if college is really what they want. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Meredith Henning says
Thank you so much for mentioning me in this lovely post describing your high school philosophy and how it’s worked for your family thus far. I am so appreciative to you, and isn’t it so cool to see this all playing out?? Your children are so blessed. <3
<3! Your book is a great inspiration!
Jennifer Mackintosh says
Our high school philosophy matches yours almost word-for-word, Mary Ellen. Our first graduate is very content building a photography business and two years post-graduation, makes enough to support herself and now has options for her vocation to the married life, should she need to support income at some time. Our second graduate is engineering bound – so it’s a totally different ball game, but it’s freeing to encourage that young person to look toward his/her future with an eye toward his vocation, God’s plan for his life, and the gifts and abilities that God has granted. Gone are the stresses from the “what if” realm, or the “this is what is expected” norms – those pressures that would conform some of our square pegs into round holes. And in its place, the peace of working with the child in view of God’s plans.
I mean – BIG PICTURE! What ARE we doing this for anyway? Definitely well adjusted young adults that will be in the world, not of it. I’m hoping and praying our kids will do their fair share of culture rebuilding, too. That’s the big picture, and working backwards from there I hear the insistent admonition calling them to, “be who you are.” That’s our high school philosophy. Always a step out in faith…like everything else.
What a great and helpful post, Mary Ellen! I enjoyed it so much!
Thank you so much for your kind words Jennifer! I love hearing that we share philosophies in terms of high school planning. It is so freeing to be able to look at the big picture and discern carefully.
Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. For this homeschool mom, who is soon to embark on homeschooling a high schooler, your post gives me a lot to ponder. I appreciate your outlook that high school should be discerning years. As Jen commented, we that homeschool are doing it for a very good reason – to raise young adults who will choose careers/vocations in which they can love God and serve Him. After all, our goal is heaven!
Samantha Lehmann says
I am in the thick of this now with my hubby and eldest for next year … yeah.. I waited … It is all about discernment, surrender to divine providence, and a great deal of dialogue with Our Lord and the Blessed Mother – in whatever form that takes for you. Adoration, daily Mass, quiet Rosary Mommy time… or just asking God to take over and lead you. “What do you wish our next step to be?” Also, I really think it’s important for the child to be involved in the selections. To an extent 😉 and be ever vigilant for the Holy Spirit’s guide for their vocation. Lastly, I think that just resigning yourself to putting the $ question in Our Lord’s hands is so, so important. I have friends with 11 kids in Catholic school. When asked how they pay for it, they simply say…”I don’t know. I just give it to God, and it always works out.” I suspect some anti-anxiety meds 😉 . My grandmother says it’s about tuning that inner ear that hears the Word of God… the whisper of the Holy Spirit… the gentle words of The Blessed Mother.