Homeschooling through High School
"When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I."
When you decide to homeschool, there is no question that it can feel incredibly overwhelming at times. You may often hear, "keep the end in mind", which can be a go-to phrase from those who have gone before us in this adventurous journey of homeschooling our children, in an attempt to ease our worries with this short focal point of wisdom.
But what does it mean?!
What are the end goals for your children? Do you want them to be empowered in knowledge, well socialized, have a deep love of God, others and learning? All the above plus some?
How are you going to get there?
What does it take to maintain the "end in mind" mentality?
Love, passion and prayer may be the greatest gifts that will ultimately drive our journey but it will definitely take more. We could add discipline, sacrifice, hard work, perseverance and so much more.
I can not tell you how many times I have been asked, in the past 4 years of homeschooling, if I plan to homeschool my children through High School, or just through the Elementary years. Stay tuned and I can cover those questions in a later post, but today I am SO beyond thrilled to introduce you to my friend Ruth Bethea. She is a friend who I have only known for a few short years but she inspires me with her wisdom, work ethic and the training of her children.
Almost 3 years ago, I was getting my hair done and my hair dresser was asking about homeschooling and he happened to throw out a couple names of a couple homeschool moms he knew through doing their hair. One of them was Ruth. I knew of her at the time, but did not really know her since her kids are a bit older than mine. My hair dresser went on and on about how impressed he was with their life and the way she poured out love to him and how well her kids loved each other. I will never forget when he told me, "Bre, if you continue to homeschool, you have to get to know Ruth. She is someone to learn from." And so I did.
That in itself is such a great testament to the life she leads through Christ and why I am so excited to share this interview with you. If I were to ever have any worries or fears of continuing to homeschool my children, I know I could turn to Ruth for the best guidance and instruction as she has just graduated her first set of twins. She is real, honest, inspiring and so wise! As we have talked about different teaching methods, Ruth would agree that her method (as well as a a large majority of homeschool families) falls under the eclectic style of homeschooling.
Lean in as she shares about their homeschool journey and the advice she shares on homeschooling through High School.
Tell us a little about your family. How many children do you have and what are their ages?
Ralph and I have been married 24 years. My husband is a physician and I am a science teacher. Once we had children, we chose for me to stay at home. I had no intentions to homeschool my children. After moving around quite a bit due to Ralph’s training, we settled here in Missouri in 2004, and now live on a hobby ranch of sorts in Republic. We have 5 children: Tristan and Tessa who will be 19 this month, Cade who just turned 15, and Cayla and Cassie who are 13.
How long have you been homeschooling and what made you decide you wanted to homeschool?
We have homeschooled since 2007. Tristan and Tessa were thriving in public school at Matthews Elementary in Nixa; however, the school district did not look kindly on us taking multiple vacations during the school year. My husband and I are strong believers in a solid education, and we feel that travel is an essential element to a well-rounded human. Traveling with our children was not something we were willing to sacrifice. We made the decision to home school based on the fact that my husband could not control his vacation weeks.
Do you homeschool all your children?
I have homeschooled all of them. When Tristan reached 7th grade, he chose to return to a more structured type of schooling. We enrolled him in Greenwood Lab School for 7-8th grades, and then he transferred to our local public school for high school. We take homeschooling one year at a time, and give our kids some ownership in what they are doing for their education. I just graduated my oldest set of twins (one from public school, and the other from Classical Conversations and LHE), Cade will be a freshman, and Cayla and Cassie will be going into 8th grade, or Challenge B.
I love how you mentioned that you let your kids take ownership of their education, what does that look like for your family?
I take homeschooling one year and one child at a time. I have always pushed back against the idea of coops asking for commitment for the next calendar year in February. First of all everyone wants to quit in February and secondly, a lot can happen in 6 months! Each of my kids are so different and I am a strong believer in working with your kids, not against them. When kids feel ownership over their education, they can’t help but become involved. Tristan missed almost an entire year of math in 6th grade because he was checked out. I had sensed it happening and we tried to do something different that year. We joined football and another coop (LHE) hoping to fill some voids. It was obvious to both of us it wasn’t working, so we made the leap to private education for him in 7th grade. I can’t say the road has been perfectly smooth, however I see God’s hand through every choice that was made.
I find it sad that the consensus in some circles is that choosing something different for our kids is equal to failing. God gives us unique children and our only focus should be stewardship of each soul and accountability to God for the kids He has chosen to give us. I talk to my children all the time about how God is in charge and though He gives parents authority over them, we are both accountable to God for how they are being raised. It brings the focus off what the kids might want in a moment and helps us both look long term (like eternity long term) at a situation.
How would you describe your homeschool style?
I always joke that if I didn’t have a coop to be accountable to, I would be considered an unschooler. I am an avid learner, and believe that learning happens through all types of experiences and I try to expose my kids to as many experiences as possible. I am a very laid back mother that believes in an active life. We keep our days full, and I can’t always say that traditional school comes first. I am a lover of the outdoors, and you can usually find my children doing something outside if they aren’t working on school.
Do you use one main curriculum or a mix of several?
We have been active with Classical Conversations since 2008. I am also active with Linking Home Educators. We worked through My Father’s World one year and loved it as well.
How did you land on your style of education and curriculum for your family?
It is so easy and dangerous to compare yourself to other moms/families. It is the curse of womanhood. I finally embraced the fact that I was not super scheduled or organized, and that, in spite of those “flaws,” I was still a good mom for my kids.
I was looking for some structure after my first year of homeschooling. I thought I had covered all the bases on my own, when I realized at the end of the year I had forgotten about geography! I needed a basic curriculum I could lean on that would ensure that even if we were running around the country, my kids would be well educated. CC has the flexibility that I needed, yet gave the kids the necessary “pegs” as you will to learn more advanced material quickly as we grew. I also joined LHE when my oldest hit middle school; giving them another coop that I feel compliments CC. LHE gives my kids a different learning style and more social interactions. I also was able to use my talent as a science teacher to enrich their high school science program. This keeps me stretched and growing as well.
What does a typical homeschool day look like in your home? Do you have a certain start and stop times, or are you flexible throughout your day?
Our typical day has changed so much through the years. In grade school, I would spend no more than 3 hours a day on school inside. Usually starting after 8:30 and ending by lunch. Once Tessa started middle-high school years, she isolated herself more with independent studies given to her by the weekly coops, while the younger ones still had lots of free time. Now that we are all in the upper grades, school takes longer. As I have said I am unscheduled. We usually start our school days before 9:00 and are usually done by 2-3:00. There are mornings that my kids volunteer at a local therapy center and those days find us schooling into the evenings. My children have adapted to it fairly well. I have a mix of procrastinators and diligent, studious types, so we are learning to be flexible and respect each other’s learning style. As classes have increased in demand, we have increased our commitments locally, and sadly our travels have certainly diminished.
Do you homeschool year round, or just 9ish months out of the year?
Summer and Christmas breaks are my favorite time of the year. I always say that at least in summer I don’t have to feel guilty about not doing school!
What advice can you give other Mom's who worry that it may be too difficult to homeschool through high school?
Homeschooling through high school is very attainable in our culture. I am confident that homeschool students actually have the advantage in high school. They have more time to explore various fields and shadow or volunteer. They can also tailor their education to their long term goals. Both my husband and I went the traditional route with college and degrees, so we leaned toward a college prep mentality in high school more so than others. Classical Conversations provided the rigor and subjects that Tessa needed to prepare for college. Having twins walk through two different educational systems, I was able to see the similarities and contrasts. It gave Tessa and I confidence that she was being well prepared. A great advantage she will have is her strong time management skills that have developed as she prepared each week for her discussions and presentations. I thought the small class size would be a downside, but I now look back and see how perfect her classes were for her personality.
I thought that with Tessa’s love for animals that she would want to be a vet. I had gone through the same desire as a teen. Arranging for her to shadow our vet was very insightful and I am grateful for the honest conversations she was able to have with someone who is walking in the field. We also enrolled her in Medical Explorers at our local hospital and had her volunteer weekly with occupational and physical therapists using horses. Her desire turned toward the nursing field and we focused her last two years of high school classes preparing her for that college track.
My advice is to use the resources around you. Have conversations. Allow your child to have conversations. Find people in a potential field and ask for their input. I thought I was good at math until we hit advanced mathematics. I suddenly felt completely inept to help. I found a friend who was a math major. She and I swapped tutoring and it was a game changer for Tessa and I. There are coops that have talented teachers. Allow your children to grow with them. I think God gives us community to lift us up and encourage us. It is difficult to raise kids period. But it is not TOO difficult to homeschool your child in high school. Nothing is impossible with God as your guide.
What have been some of your biggest challenges in homeschooling your children?
Staying on top of everyone completing daily work. Staying joyful while running a household and making sure everyone is fed and on track. I think any homeschool mom can relate to trying to keep our sanity without sacrificing the quality time with our kiddos and staying on top of our homes. I also felt inadequate once the kids got older. Everyone needed me it seemed like all the time. And not just for a little bit each day. I’m talking 45 minutes of Algebra II homework, working through an outline for an essay on a book I had not read, helping research current events on right to life and wanting to sit a while and talk about heavy things. Then realizing no one has eaten and nothing is thawed out for dinner. Then needing to help my public schooled son with honors chemistry when the questions are so vague. I learned to use my resources: my friends. One older mom with some extra time offered to help my younger kids with their reading, I’ve hired two as a math tutors through the years, and I have also pooled some moms and kids together to tackle some subjects as a group.
What would you say is the biggest reward in homeschooling your family?
Our wonderful family bond. Our girls get stopped, questioned and receive compliments all the time, I guess because sisters that are kind and helpful to each other is a rare sight. My kids love to be with me, I love spending time with them and they plan adventures together on a consistent basis.
What is your current favorite homeschool resource?
At this point in my life, my most cherished resources are no longer books or catalogs. I most cherish the daily strength given by God and encouragement from other moms. God is ever present, the lifter of my head and where my help comes from. I firmly believe God brings us to the end of ourselves so that we cannot boast in anything but Him. I also value other mothers who are ahead of me by a few years on this wild adventure. Mothers who have gone before me have a wisdom and understanding that is God-graced. They have serenity about them. They breathe encouragement instead of judgment. They root you on instead of correcting your mistakes and pointing out flaws. They understand how much God is in charge and how much we are not. They understand that moments aren’t always beautiful and lovely, but that they end product is still worth striving for. They have grit. They cheer me on, inspiring me to increased stamina.
Do you read-a-loud as a family, if so, what are your favorite (or top 3) read-aloud books?
I have read aloud to my kids. Reading has always been big in our house. My kids laugh at me because I cry when I read. I am a very empathetic reader. Read aloud time has become less frequent in this home as they are all reading different books and different levels. I want to start it up again! My current desire for this coming school year is to read through Proverbs and Psalms in the mornings before tackling school. Top 3: Little Britches, Farmer Boy and Kingdom series
How do you balance homeschool, family life and extracurricular activities?
We just try to be diligent with our time. We have a lot of outside commitments that people would say aren’t school. But my kids will spend hours researching an effective treatment for goat parasites and then order products and implement a worming progam, or plan a lesson for pony club or research an area to take the family on a camp trip. Skills that I value and make them resourceful humans. We are a busy family. It sometimes bites us on Sunday nights when they don’t have a paper or Latin exercises done. We deal with it, talk about time management, acknowledge the shortcoming, and wake up the next morning and keep our focus on what the next day holds.
Being a Homeschool Mom takes a servant heart and a lot of sacrifices; how do you find time to take care of yourself, or make sure you are doing something you love and enjoy?
I try to get up before my kids. I make a nutritious breakfast with COFFEE and chat with God about my day as I watch the sun rise. I also try to get out once a week with a fellow girlfriend: for a walk, for a coffee, or for sushi. It is so nice to be able to vent and open up about challenges in a safe place. I always leave refreshed and ready to return to the chaos. I learned early on in my homeschooling journey that I could not, nor should I; vent the minor frustrations about homeschooling to my husband. I also get my nails done monthly for a visual pick me up. My secret weapon is trying to get a good massage at least every other month. Even when I don’t think I have time, or think I can’t leave the kids, it is so nice to breathe deeply, close my eyes and actually relax away from the phone and the noise for an hour. I am finally convinced it isn’t being selfish, it is self care and time very well spent.
What do you reflect on most through your homeschool journey now that you have a couple kiddos who have graduated? (Was there anything you would have done differently to prepare them for launching them into the world and college?)
I would trust God even more with the process. Many days and nights were spent stressing that my kids’ successes or failures were all on my shoulders. I am so thankful for a patient God. It couldn’t be more true that Jesus asks us to cast all our cares on HIM. "For His yoke is easy and His burden is light”. When we let go of the facade of control that we hold on to and recognize that HE alone is in control, we feel a freedom to walk the path that is put before us each day with a joy and a peace that is truly not from this world. My faith has increased and I am more confident about walking through high school with my other three.
On a practical note I would possibly do more standardized tests earlier in high school. The ACT is such a big factor right now with colleges, I would have given more “bubble exams” so that the testing in the junior and senior years would have come more naturally. That factor might change in the near future, and it really only pertains to the traditional college entrance process. I am thankful for the process. It grows us a parents probably more than it grows our kids!
If you could give one piece of advice to a Mom who is contemplating homeschooling her children, what would you say? Or, what has been the best piece of advice you have been given?
Welcome to the Chaos. It is a rollercoaster ride. Depend on God for your wisdom and strength and actually focus and enjoy pouring your life into your kids. There was a military movie a few years ago – “Embrace the Suck” was a phrase that has stuck with me from it… welcome it, expect it and push through it. No seriously, I would pray over it deeply. Homeschooling will cost you much of your time and energy. You also need to have support that you can count on, especially when you want to quit. Reach out – everyone struggles with the feeling of “aloneness”. It is wise to find community, and then actually be real with your community. All of us are winging it, so find someone who is winging it well and ask for some tips. I can say with confidence as my two oldest head to college in the next few weeks, I wouldn’t trade anything for my relationships and bonds I share with them.
Some of the best advice to end on right there.
I hope you all have enjoyed this little series of fellow homeschool Moms who have shared their experiences, resources and encouragement. There are tons of other methods, lifestyles and family dynamics in the homeschool community and I could probably do one a week for an entire year! I focused on some that are close to my heart, but if there are any that you want more information on or if you have any questions, please email me— firstname.lastname@example.org or PM me over on Instagram— @happylittlemessblog.
If you are curious about our homeschool journey and have any specific questions, I may put out a little interview of my own, so I would love to hear from you with any questions you may have!
I hope you have felt inspired and encouraged as you move into your school year. Stay focused on Christ as He will always be your immovable rock, your solid foundation, your strength and encouragement through the highs and lows. Be encouraged that the highs are always, always worth the bit of lows you will go through in this journey. There is nothing like molding the hearts of your children and instilling the grace, love and beauty that God created for us to embrace and instill in our children.
Have a great week friends!