It was just yesterday it seems that the words “high school” seemed to echo in some strange and distant future. Every year planning home education for my grade schoolers had been something to look forward to, even a creative outlet. For the most part I felt in control of their Charlotte Mason education. “My” little people would be “forever young” and we’d spend our days forever building legos, lingering at teatime, leisurely reading together and adventuring to new places … right?
As I look toward planning our home school for this next year, I have an entering senior who is on the cusp of eighteen, and a junior and one more grade schooler (who I hope will keep me forever young). This will be my fourteenth year home educating. Fourteen years of foregoing the second income in exchange for long, intentional days with my people. And while I’ve continued to mourn the golden years that flew by way too quickly, there has also been a mounting sense of joy and anticipation to see where God will soon take my loved ones. But even more so, homeschooling for high school there has also been a new found dependency on Him, learning daily that I am anything but in control.
To put it bluntly, the high school years have brought me to a place of surrender.
Pride, expectations and disappointment just to name a few had to be put aside. By surrendering these things I’ve found that other things remain true and consistent; principles that have stood the test of time whether it be the golden years of early childhood or the turbulent years of adolescence. I found that exchanging pre-determined plans of AP classes, electives and college applications for a continued living education brings peace to a time that is often fraught with anxiety, insecurity and spiritual doubt for my teens, but often times for myself. Consider with me a few tried and true life-giving principles that may sound all too familiar as you think about high school planning days ahead.
Children are born Persons
You’ve heard this. You know this, Charlotte Mason’s first principle. But the truth of this principle comes to life in the high school years. Before you suddenly is a “born person'' on their way to adulthood.
What have you observed in your child all these years? By this time you know their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses (academically and spiritually), what they struggle with mentally and emotionally, how they interact socially and what they do with their spare time.
Using the answers to questions like these will give you a framework for planning your high school student’s day, what courses you’ll “spread” before them and how that “feast" will be served in the four years to come.
My two high schoolers are as different as night and day. One, though not naturally academic, loves to strive and accomplish hard tasks. She wants to be challenged. For this child we have invested in tutorial classes and fun electives because she likes to do the work. She is also the child that teaches herself languages and musical instruments on the side of all her academic endeavors. Where my job lies here is in helping her implement moderation in her schedule and to weigh all the good things she wants to do and discover what will be best.
My other high schooler is highly intelligent but doesn't enjoy “school work”. He has struggled with OCD and ADD in his early adolescence which is an added layer for me to consider. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t like, it just means I really have to weigh the impact each assignment will have on him and the day, then plan ways to reach him other than traditionally. I’m very selective and intentional with my assignments for him and try to gear EVERYTHING we do toward the final destination: What will benefit this soon to be adult spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally? Which turns out in his case, included getting a part-time job so he could feel accomplished in at least one area of his life.
I am including a few resources we’ve used in the past three years that have been very beneficial in covering classes needed to fulfill basic transcript requirements or just to ensure some living ideas are reaching him:
Living Books for living ideas
“Let children feed on the Good, the Excellent, the Great!” Charlotte said.
This continues to be a core value for our homeschool, young and old. Living ideas change lives and in many cases for our teens, redirect lives. Our high school aged kids are contemplating so many issues of life as they look out on the horizon of their futures. Voices from the world in the media and in their peers are stronger than we realize on the subjects of sex, gender, purpose and morality.
Our input on values and worldview can sometimes feel to fall on deaf ears and speaking into their lives at this point may sometimes need to be limited for the sake of relationship, but we can speak volumes by choosing books with ideas we know they need.
Our real hope is in the Holy Spirit speaking to our teens daily and He can very well use the literary voices we get to curate in their home education followed by narration time which serves as a platform for questions to be voiced and ideas to be challeged.
Understandingly, trying to acquire a perfect high school booklist might be first on your agenda, but the one you need may not exist yet. Since you are the curator of their feast you might start with great book lists and titles mentioned at church, a podcast or friend but then you get to filter them down to serve what your “born person” needs and at their physical level. Choose books that inspire, challenge, validate and guide your teen’s view of himself and the world around him. Jennifer Pepito’s Mothering by the Book is an excellent example of how God speaks to us personally in the deep places of our hearts through the words of literature.
Some titles that have been life-giving for us include:
Various biographies and novels such as:
Note: For high school boys who don’t love to read, still get them reading by assigning shorter books that might usually be assigned to Jr. High i.e. Hatchet, Across Five Aprils, Fahrenheit 451 etc. or use Audible to listen to longer books.
If it’s good literature with living ideas it doesn’t matter what “age” it’s listed for.
Atmosphere, Discipline and Life
Atmosphere of Connection
I have recently interpreted this well loved motto for our high school years as Connection, Habits, and Memory Making. Atmosphere, Charlotte Mason explains, is the air they breathe at home. It’s what they see, feel, hear everyday. Our teens, just as in their younger years, need the air of connection with us. They need reassuring pats on the back, spontaneous hugs, generous meals and snacks made just for them, long visits in their bedrooms (find or make a reason to be there!) and eye contact before bed with a listening ear.
It’s sometimes too easy for parents of teens to let them have the independence they've been struggling to grasp and let them hang out in their rooms “doing school” or doing whatever for hours.
High school is not the time to lose that magical and spiritual cord that God has put into our hands as parents to connect us, especially in having the added advantage of having them at home with us.
Connection is the difference between a depressed teen and an engaged teen, a “struggling with sin” teen and a teen learning about grace, a lonely teen and a teen who is fulfilled by connection with family.
Something I’ve done in the last few years that I would have not done so much when they were younger has been picking a current TV series to watch and enjoy together. We laugh, gasp and critique all while casually discussing characters and life choices they make. The same idea works in going to the movies (which is becoming increasingly harder). But if we don’t connect with them with our time and ideas, peers will and are. Vid Angel is a great resource to watch popular series and movies that otherwise would be off limits for the sake of engaging in discussions. Note: Be ready to stay up late while the little ones are sleeping!
Discipline in Habits
“The formation of habits is education, and education is the formation of habits” Charlotte says. We may have begun habit training when our people were little, you’ll soon find that somewhere between puberty and the newly emerged young adult many of these habits have mysteriously disappeared. The high school years are not the time to give up!
"Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend."
What does change is the way we try to move from a heavy handed constant authority to a coach that has a genuine interest in seeing our teens succeed in the young adult world they are entering.
Again, you know your child, so the habits to focus on in the last four years will be different between children and season. Habits to develop may be anything from cleaning up after making a meal to learning to save a portion of their income.
The word discipline is never welcomed, yet I’ve seen my son who once was begging for video game time discipline himself to workout daily and become an extremely strong young man.
All this was self-motivated, but I’ve used this example to encourage him to continue to push through other challenges he feels he can’t accomplish. With gentle, patient reminders our high schoolers can still grow in personal skills that will serve them in their days ahead.
A few ideas of habits we are working on:
- Leaving cell phone out of the bathroom and bedrooms
- Helping to clear table after dinner
- Learning to make meals
- Accomplishing home duties before free time
- Working alongside dad when he’s working on home maintenance and improvements projects
- Spending time with a younger sibling.
The last part of Charlotte's motto, Education is a Life, reminds me that the education I wanted to give my children in the first place was one where we'd experience the joys of life together. The fun of creative planning for younger years doesn't end in the high school years! Our teens still want adventure. In addition to the museums, sports games, plays, symphonies and nature walks you may consider a mission trip together and maybe visiting a location from history or literature that will inspire them.
Continuing to invest in special experiences makes for less of a dread of the school year. They need to know there are dates on the calendar when they get to do more than just work at home. Creating memories together and not just with their peers is one of the many gifts of home education. We get these final years to experience growing moments that might have otherwise been lost in the busyness of “getting into a good college”.
Yes, maybe your high schooler is bound for college and yes, basic transcripts would need to be considered but they are not the end goal of a high school education.
In considering our teens as born persons then serving them with inspiring ideas, being there to process these ideas and guiding them to develop habits to serve themselves and others, they’ll be inspired in ways we may have not seen in all our good planning.
God has got good plans for them aside from us and our plans, but we sure get the pleasure of being along for the sweet ride.
This post contains Amazon links for books we have loved.