It has been ages since I’ve written about our homeschool journey. For the first several years our style could be seen as very “school-like” by an outsider, something that many homeschoolers understandably resist. This structure was entirely based on my daughter’s prompting; it is how she preferred things to be - lots of structure and routine to our days, assignments that were graded, papers to write and exams to study for. That sort of thing. I drew the line at homework though! Being a lifelong foe of the practice, I was not entering the world of homeschool freedom to finish our day with three hours of busy work in the evenings. No way. Thankfully, she thinks the idea of homework is not a very good one as well, so we’ve never included that.
Over the last year however (her sophomore year), we noticed a shift. Emily’s interest in history, politics, and world affairs deepened to the point where we were at a crossroads with our time. There are only so many hours in a day and if we were determined to keep a typical “school schedule,” she would never have the time to read the number of books, watch the number of documentaries, or attend the number of lectures on these subjects as she would like. It’s time to let go of the typical high school course load of seven subjects per day and instead, dive into that which deeply holds her attention and interest. Many homeschoolers follow an interest led style from day one, but our first four years homeschooling Emily requested a (mostly) typical curriculum of courses based on her choosing.
Now, we’re moving on from that school-ish routine. Thankfully! (Although, to many people our style will still look pretty focused and structured, which speaks to Emily’s true nature. But for us, things are about to feel a whole lot less “9-5” around here.)
Sometime in the spring, as I sat across the dining room table from a friend, our daughters (and their friend) elsewhere in the house holding their monthly teen book club, I asked the typical homeschool mom question, “How’s school going?” (Which is more of a general lifestyle question among homeschoolers than it is a which chapter in the textbook are you on type of question... but it just so happens this particular mom does have more structured homeschool days, similar to us.) She smiled and without hesitation said, “It’s not! With the baby goat and chicks to care for and the outdoors calling, there is no time for school! So, we've let it go for now.” We then talked about how in more ways than not, our high school years felt complete in the sense that our girls were “educated.” All of them are very well-read, excellent writers, have a thorough understanding of history and science, and great math skills (some better than others... oh, math...). So, what’s left we wondered? Do we still keep playing the school game or do we explore the next season of learning and personal development... and what exactly does that look like?
I see it as something that doesn’t exist as the norm in our society, yet we are about to implement in our family. Something I’m calling “pre-college.” A space between high school and college where deep immersion and development in personal interest occurs. A time for travel, employment or apprenticeship. A time to read and write endlessly. A time for physical activity, care and nourishment of self, and for honing important life skills. A time to take classes specific to your own unique path. A time to feel out your existence and understand your place in this world.
Not to be confused with a “grace year” or “gap year” that is becoming more popular (yeah!) among high school graduates. Pre-college to me is longer, and begins a bit younger - a time of slow and careful preparation led by curiosity and freedom. It is not an “instead of college” experience, it is a “preparing for college and/or life” experience.
Officially, we are done with high school. Instead of labeling Emily as a "junior" and continuing on with 9am-3pm days that are filled with multiple subjects, we are entering a two year (give or take) phase of pre-college.
Aside from buying a house, college is the greatest financial investment most of us will make in our lives. It’s kind of surprising that we don’t give the time leading up to college the full respect it deserves. It seems our teens will benefit if they can prepare and proceed from a place of wisdom and experience rather than college simply being the thing you do immediately after high school.
Some homeschoolers and unschoolers have no interest in college which is perfectly okay, and believe me, we are among the many who are seriously questioning higher education these days. But we have always been college bound homeschoolers, not because we think it is essential or even necessary for all paths in life, but because Emily is of the college mindset and so we support that.
This sounds kind of serious and formal, but it really isn’t. I mean, we do keep good records of all that Emily studies, her achievements as well as interests, and she will be taking the SATs, but we don’t obsess over AP classes and such (yup, you can take AP exams as homeschoolers), nor do we follow our homeschool days with hours of homework at night.
It’s a tricky balance, being college bound/freedom based homeschoolers. On the one hand, I’m committed to my mom job of keeping careful records and a portfolio of Emily’s high school years (our state does not require this, I simply do it for potential college admission purposes), but on the other hand, I’m always ready to do a 180º if we’re inspired to make a change or explore something new. I’m never so committed to a chosen curriculum that we can’t drop it if it isn’t working for us, or if something new and exciting fills our time.
I’m often asked, because our homeschool life has such an emphasis on academics, how things are so different for Emily than if she were to go to school. Aside from the absence of bureaucracy, standardized tests, racing to the top (or whatever the catch phrase is these days), and the fact that all of her academic pursuits are chosen... our days are spacious.
I need to say that again. Our days are spacious. And I am not one to underestimate the power and importance of a spacious life. Oh man, that's the good stuff.
When you remove the long bus rides, standing in cafeteria lines, hours of homework, and simply waiting, waiting, waiting that cannot be avoided in an institutional setting, it’s truly amazing how much rich learning can take place in a day while still leaving plenty of time to have a nice dinner and watch movies or play games with your family on any given weeknight. My greatest observation when I look at our life compared to the lives of Emily’s friends (most of them go to public school), is that we seem to have the time for living that they simply do not have. And though I would never point that out to them, they are the ones who mention it to us. Often. (Which is the only reason I am mentioning it here.)
It can be argued that one will achieve a better education at home than at school, or vice versa, but the amount of time we all have in a day is concrete. That cannot be argued. And although I am of the belief that my daughter is indeed creating a far better education here at home (and in the world), I am mostly grateful for the spaciousness and connection as a family that this lifestyle affords. We only get one shot at this life, and we all have different things that we place great value on. As for me, I need time, space, and freedom in my days... and my daughter would also like the same for hers.
I feel like I should add this note here, because it is something that comes up often among folks who would like to homeschool but feel they cannot afford to. Homeschooling or unschooling finds its way into the life of most families after a series of long and careful choices and sacrifices. It is not something people do because it is the easier or even practical option. It's a philosophical calling that runs deeper than reason. I actually don't know of a single family that homeschools because they can "afford" to. If you ask any homeschooler how they do it, they'll probably tell you where there's a will there's a way... and also, as cliche as it sounds, things have a way of working themselves out.
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So, what’s it all going to look like, this “pre-college” thing? I’m writing a second post that will publish next week explaining that. I’ll share what our new routine (or lack of) will look like, as well as resources that we’ve used so far in our high school years and what we’ll be using moving forward. I always love to see what other homeschoolers are using, so hopefully we’ll have something of interest to add to that deep and wonderful pool.