Homeschooling the Teen Years – Be Prepared for Changes

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Recently I was reflecting on my twins and their homeschooling journey, and as I was thinking about the last few years, I was somewhat surprised at how much they have changed. I thought about how at thirteen my son was the astronomy/math guy who spent hours studying these topics and spent his first big summer camp studying astronomy in the mountains of Arizona. I thought about my daughter who was in a school of the arts for classical voice and was spending hours a day practicing singing and was entering national voice competitions. I remember looking at these two and thinking about how great it was that they had already figured out their future and that they were on the right path for these futures.

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And then the twins started to grow up. They started dealing with puberty, hormones, and other issues which changed them. They began exploring different areas of interest (as all teens should) and began questioning who they are and what they want out of life. The twins began that long journey from young teenhood to adulthood (a journey they are still on) and everything that I thought was planned out and in stone changed. Their interests, passions, challenges, and strengths altered. Their college plans began to look different. Their future I envisioned suddenly started to become hard to imagine, and I realized that their future was not something we could predict or see.

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This hazy future, one that I cannot know, is not a bad thing. It is a joy to see the twins grow and change. It is exciting to think that their future is their own and it is an unknown. It is wonderful to know that they have been given time to explore their many interests through homeschool and that they can continue to grow and change for many years to come.

I write this post as a reminder to my future self (as I will be going through this same journey soon with my youngest son) and to other homeschooling parents. It is so easy for us to craft our child’s education to their interests and passions because we do homeschool. It is exciting to know that we are able to give our children opportunities that their peers may not have in traditional schools. The ability to be able to create their path and to be able to work on just one interest is a very attractive option but sometimes it does get in the way of a person’s growth. Remember this as you go through the teen years. Be flexible, allow your child to explore freely, and be supportive. They will get where they are going in the end even if the journey does not look the way we imagined.

High School Year 3

Amazingly these two great kids are juniors this year. I can hardly believe it.

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They have been back to school for a while now as they take classes online at Harari. Harari goes year round with their first quarter having started in June. In addition the twins are running an online book club this year over at SEA. They even made a video introducing the club for anyone who is interested.

Outside of Harari and book club the twins do not have a great deal of down time. When they do have free time they work on their own projects, mostly art, music, and making games. In addition they like to hang with friends (what teens don’t?) and are making plans, lots and lots of plans for their future. Basically they are just being teenagers which is great because honestly teens are so much fun!

Here are their school pictures for the year. They took a great deal of interest in their photos this year as opposed to all the other years we took school photos. The pictures came out great and really captured their personalities.

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I am looking forward to the future too. I can’t wait to see where it takes these two. At the same time I find myself feeling a little sad at how fast time passes, at how quickly the twins have grown up. It is a cliche but time really does pass by in the blink of the eye. These last two years will be gone before I know it. In the meantime I am going to sit back and enjoy watching these two make their final journey towards adulthood.

Teen Book Club 2015-2016

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The twins are running a book club over at SEA Homeschoolers. If you have a teen who would be interested in joining an asynchronous discussion with fellow homeschooled teens, please consider joining SEA. After joining your teen can sign up for the book club which is run through Google groups.

The book club will begin in September and run through May 2016. You can see the book choices here. The first book up will be Frankenstein, and the teens will begin discussing it in September.

Somber Sixteen

I honestly cannot believe it, but these two adorable kids…

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are nearly sixteen, and to celebrate they wanted a Somber Sixteen party. A very fitting idea for two very unique kids.

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The twins were celebrating the death of their childhood. The attire was black and their friends and them acted very somber for the event (at least in the beginning, it was a party after all). I wasn’t too sure about the theme when they first pitched it to me, but it worked out great and they all had a wonderful time.

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Happy 16th birthday you two. I love you very much, and I am so happy with the young adults you are becoming. It may seem like your childhood is nearly over, but I for one am looking forward to your future. I can’t wait to see where it takes you!

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Before they were sixteen, they were not nearly as somber. 🙂

Book Clubs and their importance in the Middle School Years

Cake is also makes for a great book club! Here is a Frankenstein cake that one of our members made for the month we all studied the book.

Cake also makes for a great book club! Here is a Frankenstein cake that one of our members made for the month we all studied the book.

There has been a good deal of debate on one of the homeschool forums I visit about how to best prep a child for their high school years. Many of the ideas that pop up are, to my mind, over-rigorous and not age appropriate. A middle-school aged child does not need to learn everything a high school aged student will. That is not preparing for high school, that is doing high school work in middle school. That may work for some students, but for many students it will only stress them out or be lost on them.

I understand the pull to do more and more at a younger age. Parents are under so much pressure to create smarter and smarter kids earlier and earlier in the game. But is it really necessary and does it benefit anyone? Many of the skills that parents want to teach their young student can be learned in the first half of ninth grade at a fairly quick pace because the student is ready to learn the skills. The amount of maturity that happens between eleven and fourteen is amazing. If your middle schooler is struggling with writing a good thesis, creating a killer outline, and coming up with amazing essays don’t worry. They will get there eventually.

So what then should your middle schooler be working on? Looking back on the twins time at this stage I believe the biggest help to their high school English studies was being involved in a book club with their peers. A book club that read a variety of books from the classics to non-fiction. A book club that created a safe place were all members could respond to the book with their opinions without being criticized. A book club that asked questions and allowed the kids to debate the answers. A book club that fostered a love for books and for thinking and discussing the books.

Most importantly, a book club that did not ask the participants to do any busy work. In fact besides actually reading the book (or listening to the audio version) there was no pre-assigned work at all. No worksheets to fill out, no questions to answer. Instead the kids were asked to think about what they read, form an opinion on what they read, and then share (and sometimes defend) that opinion with others.

How easy is that? And yet, after being in a book club for a few years, I saw the difference it made. The twins would actively be thinking about what they read. They would figure out their opinion on what they read. They would argue that opinion with examples from what they read.

Today they do much of the same thing except with more maturity and sophistication. Also they now share their opinions in essay form which, in many ways, built upon the skills they learned in their book club.

So if you are looking for something to get your middle-school aged students involved in, something that will help them in their high school years, I recommend a book club. If there is not one around you, form one. It is not hard to lead a book club, and you do not need that many students. A few kids that meet once a month discussing the classics is all it takes.

2014-2015 Education Plan for the Girl

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Today I want to highlight the girl’s plan for the coming year. Some classes she will share with her twin brother, and others will be unique to her and her talents and interests. 

English – She will be joining her brother and I in our study of British Literature. She will also be self-studying, with my help, for the English AP which I have no doubt at all that she can do. She is an amazing writer, especially academically, and I hope she enjoys the challenge of working hard in this area this year. 

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Someone asked me for a list of the twin’s books that we will be reading this year. I do not have it all put together yet, but here is a link to our Goodreads shelf if you are interested in what we have planned so far. 

Math – The one subject that does not interest her at all is math. Last year she worked independently through Teaching Textbooks, and that was a disaster. This year I decided an online class would be much better for her, so  I signed her up at MyHomeschoolMathClass. I have heard nothing but praise for these classes, and the girl is actually somewhat excited about math this year. Honestly I couldn’t ask for more than that. 

Science – She will be working through physics with her brother. If you missed the post on his plan, they will be using  Kinetic Physics and several courses from The Great Courses. This course they will be primarily doing on their own.

History – History is one of the twin’s favorite subjects, and they especially love European History. This year they will both be taking AP European History through Harari College. This class will be challenging, but I think she will enjoy the challenge. 

Foreign Languages – Also through Harari the girl is taking Italian. She has been in the class all summer, and she is already speaking and writing at a high level. She loves her teacher and the format of the class. Because there are only two students, she learns at a very fast pace. Her and I are both so grateful for Harari and her Italian class. 

She will also be continuing with French with her brother. She has an ear for languages, and she and her brother love their French class. Also she is hoping to go to University in Europe. The more languages she knows the better it will be for her, so I feel this is an important part of her studies. 

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Art – She, like her brother, works with her grandmother on art once a week. She also spends most of her free time drawing and sketching. She will continue working on art this year at a more serious level then her brother in hopes of taking the AP next year in studio art. She hasn’t decided whether she wants to pursue art at the AP level, but I want her prepared in case she does. 

Music – She will continue with piano for the year, and depending on what level she gets to, she may begin organ. The girl is hoping to begin her organ studies this year, perhaps around January. The organ requires a more attuned level of skill because it is truly a multi-task instrument hence the need to be prepared. 

In addition to all of this she will most likely be in a bookclub with her brother and I. She is also a member of the OC Astronomer’s Group which she and her brother have been part of for nearly a year now. The group holds monthly lectures, which the twins always find engaging. The group also has star parties and other activities that they can take part in. 

Her year looks challenging, but I know it will work out for her. She is the type of person who needs to keep busy and who needs to be challenged. This schedule meets both of those needs. 

Looking Forward…

This summer will go down as one of my least favorite times ever. It has been punctuated by doctor visits instead of long summer vacations and of worry-filled days instead of care-free days. Now that it is mid-August we still do not have too many answers in regards to the oldest boy, but we do have two appointments coming up (one at the end of August and one at the end of September) that will provide us with definitive answers. The boy and I are both looking forward to these appointments as living in limbo is not fun at all. 

This is especially true for me. I crashed this summer; the stress of a life-changing diagnosis for my son was just too much for me. I ended up in the emergency room twice. The first time I ended up on antibiotics for an infection, and the second time I ended up on anti-virals for shingles. I also saw my primary doctor for a complete physical, and after many tests, I received a clean bill of health with advice to get my stress under control. 

Now that it is August I am finally feeling better. I guess my body and mind have both adapted to everything that is going on around me. If the boy has a connective tissue disorder I feel that I can now handle that (He can too, as he is so strong and mature about it all). I guess I needed this summer to do nothing but worry, so that I could get to the point I am at now, which is a point of acceptance and, even more than that, a point of being pro-active about everything. 

I am also at a point of looking forward to our new school year. I have some more planning to do, but I feel very excited about everything. The twins are moving forward with their high school path, and the youngest boy is moving forward to his middle school years. I will post our complete plans in the coming week for everyone to see. 

This last week the twins and I took a short road trip up to Mammoth Lakes with my brother. It was so good for all of us, and I am so glad we took the trip. It was a nice break for everyone and seems to have re-charged all our batteries. The youngest boy also enjoyed his time at home. He was the center of attention for four days and was spoiled quite nicely by his grandparents. 

Here are a few pictures (actually quite a bit more than a few) from our short vacation. 

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Almost 15…

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These two are going to be 15 in a few days. I can’t believe it has been fifteen years since I brought home two very small babies from the hospital.

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That first year I slept less than I ever had in my life, but I also had more fun than I ever have. And it has been an adventure ever since with these two.

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I sit here and reflect on all of this, and I think about the last few months. It has been a somewhat difficult few months around here due to the fact that we are in the process of trying to figure out if the older boy has a genetic disorder. We won’t know for a while if he does in fact have one, but we have had a somewhat hard time navigating this new world of doctors and genetics. It is very time-consuming and emotionally draining but we are all thankful for the great health insurance we have and for the wonderful doctors we see.

I am also thankful for the twins. They have had a wonderful attitude through all of this. The girl has been supportive and sweet, and the boy has managed to stay positive even when facing all of this.

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Happy Birthday you two!

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Homeschool Philosophy – A Meaningful Education

Last night I was having a great deal of trouble sleeping and, as is common for me, my mind started wandering. I began thinking about our homeschool journey, and I tried to put into words what my overall homeschool philosophy is.

The first thing I have come to realize is that I do not favor the term “homeschooling”. Yes my kids stay home for school, but I feel this term does not completely cover all that happens in the education of my children. They learn at home, at museums, at classes, with peers, with family, online. They sometimes sit at the dining room table, sometimes they are outside on a blanket, sometimes they are at a coffee shop, sometimes they are in the car, and so their education is not tied to home, nor do they always spend a great deal of time home. Also I feel people often hear the word “homeschooling” and a picture comes into their head that is not entirely accurate. I don’t like that.

Instead of homeschooling, I would like others to know that my children are being educated in a purposeful and meaningful way. I don’t simply follow a public school education at home. Instead I purposefully educate my children following a very specific path that I believe offers them the greatest chance at an education that is both engaging and worthy. One that exposes a great many ideas to the kids and allows them the tools to succeed and the time to develop their talents. An education that keeps in mind the child, the teen, the young adult and allows them to grow. An education that pays little heed to standards, public school goals, or the masses and instead thinks about the individual and his or her needs and gifts.

I started out on this path with a classical model, and this was a great way to start. Now I see that I have taken that model and adjusted it to my family and my beliefs. I do see that we have homeschooled in three different stages, but they are not the classical education stages. This model was too limiting for me and not healthy for the kids. For us the stages have morphed into a different model. They are:

Stage 1 – From about age 4 to 9, this is the time of exposure and exploring. Exposure to all the wonders of the world from science and math to art and music and everything in between. Listen to audio books, read together, look at art together, listen to classical music, jazz music, world music. Watch old movies, foreign movies, independent movies. Explore nature, have fun with science experiments, study the night sky, read poetry. Turn your back on the common culture  and instead open up a world of wonder.  This is also a time of short lessons, outdoor play, and free time that allows the imagination to soar. This is a fun stage, enjoy it and don’t stress about their formal education.

Stage 2 – From about age 10 to 13/14 – This is a transition stage and will differ for each child. This is the time to cement a child’s skills, find the child’s passions, and move the child from a free learning environment to a more structured and formal one. My youngest is in this stage now. This year we are working on cementing his math skills and he is exploring his passions which include writing, animation, composing, and cooking. Right now I would guess he is going to be a writer when he is older, but I cannot be positive. He enjoys playing piano, making cartoons, and cooking almost as much as writing, so I am devoting time to all these areas to see where it takes him. He may end up losing interest in one area or discovering a real passion in another. These years give us the time to discover and explore one’s passions and develop the necessary skills  needed to take one’s passions to a higher level.

Stage 3 – From 13/14 to adult – We are just beginning our time in this stage, but it has been so much fun to see the twins spread their wings and take off. I have some great goals for this stage that I have already written about, but I want to articulate in words what the overall theme of this stage is.  This is the stage where passions get developed to a high level, where school is approached in a serious matter, and where the child transitions to an adult. Although the children are transitioning to adults, I am there every step of the way to guide them and help them, but we are now partners in this journey and no longer in teacher/student roles. By this stage the kids know what their goals are for the next few years, they know what they have to do to get there. I give them the tools they need to help them, and I give them the time they need to reach their goals. I do not micro-manage the teens; instead I support them and help them get to where they want to go.

This stage is a wonderful place to be as a home-educating parent. I am enjoying all the benefits of the years past, and more than ever, I am positive that our education journey was the best journey for us to take as a family, especially as a single parent on a limited income.  The kids are motivated, confident, and driven, and I am proud of who they are and where they are in life.

It is not always smooth-sailing though. Some days are harder than others because of the fact that I am a dealing with teenagers who are grappling with hormones, teen issues, and growing up (this is never easy for anybody). I try to always remember what it was like to be a teen, and I often deal with the kids with compassion and understanding (this too will pass is a familiar phrase around here) instead of anger or punishment. This helps all of us navigate this stage and makes it more enjoyable. Before I know it the kids will be out of the house and onto their own lives. I want to enjoy them as much as I can while they are still here.

Of course this is just a quick little blog post about our educational journey and my philosophy. I hope to develop these ideas further in subsequent blog posts, but for now I had to get down in words what was going through my head all night. It may make sense to you or it may seem crazy. Either reaction is completely reasonable. This is our journey, nothing more, nothing less.