Planning for High School - 8th & 9th Grades
As our summer comes to an end, I am feeling more pressure to get organized for school. This year my kids will be 13 and 15, and we are starting our first year of high school - which feel really big. We decided to take this homeschooling journey one year at a time, but it seems like there is no turning back for us at this point!
Some context for our homeschool planning this year:
This winter, we applied to a prestigious online high school, and the whole process triggered the re-upping moment Julie Bogart describes as you transition to homeschooling through high school. The application made me detail (and consequently, question) everything we'd done for the past three years, which made me feel insecure about our ability to provide the very best educational opportunities for my kids. We were all stressed because of the short deadline, but it was amazing how quickly we descended into the world of measurement and found ourselves hustling for worthiness, trying to prove we were awesome enough to be included. We were excited and hopeful about getting into such a great program and sought the validation that accomplishment would provide. Just being accepted was thrilling!
But it also made us realize that we would prefer to carve out a different path. One where we aren't studying for 40+ hours a week and balancing social activities and sports on top of a demanding academic load. One where we have time to enjoy each other as a family, and can explore our interests and curiosities at will. There is a degree of flexibility and freedom that we've become accustomed to, and are not willing to sacrifice if we don't have to.
So, instead of making appointments with academic advisors and ivy league consultants to help design the ideal high school progression (which isn't a guarantee to admissions anyways), we are electing to trust in our intuition and pursue a different kind of education for our teens. The future is out of our control, so we might as well enjoy the process of growing up and learning to be more fully ourselves. We want to engage with the world from a place of confidence, equipped with a toolset that will help us be happy and healthy.
We choose being present in the now. We choose following our curiosity and trusting our gut. We choose to cultivate skills that are going to be needed in the future - things like health, happiness, learning how to learn, critical and scientific thinking, creativity, fiscal responsibility, emotional regulation, self-awareness, and strong relationships.
Creating our ideal plan for the first year of high school
Step 1: Who is my child now? What do they need? What lights them up?
I used the Brave Writer Intuitive Homeschool Planning process offered in the Homeschool Alliance to help me take a step back from specific curriculum picks or scheduling puzzles to take a look at the bigger picture: Where do I want to go this year? What do my kids need right now? What skills are we building on as we finish up our home education journey?
What I learned is that my 15 year old son is a private person who needs space right now. But he also needs to feel supported as he steps out into the world and takes some risks. He can be rigid in his thinking, but is also quite creative. He is passionate about digital art, videography, and technology more generally, and can get lost in flow when he works on making new videos, playing games, or building his drone or other electronics projects. He watches things from afar, avoiding things that feel awkward right now. He prefers to master things, and gains confidence as he has wins and loses interest if he doesn't think he will achieve a level of mastery that feels good. He is a deep thinker and is insightful beyond his years, even when he looks disengaged. He has a tender heart, and finds emotions confusing and less reliable than his thoughts. He is very grounded, not worried too much about what is trendy or how other people see him.
I could see that my 13 year old daughter is a big-hearted lover who can't get enough of the experience of life. She has a roller-coaster of emotions that are often surprising and overwhelming. She has more ideas than she has time to execute them; she sees something and wants to do it immediately, not thinking to ask for permission and not worrying about having the exact right supplies. She likes to be organized and prefers structure to her day, but she is a tornado of creativity and it doesn't really bother her. She likes feeling productive and getting things done, but can sometimes miss the bigger picture of where she is headed or why something is important. She is always up for fun and games and being together as a family. She picks up on stylish and trendy things through osmosis, and has an effortless sense of individual style. She doesn't know how great she is, however, and seeks approval in the eyes of others. She can be quite self-critical, but to others, she is generous and kind. She can be quiet and shy, but she is also a social butterfly who lights up with activities and groups she feels a sense of belonging to. She is passionate about food, creating youtube video content, and making things.
Step 2: Look at strengths and weaknesses
Then I looked at each child's strengths and weaknesses, thinking about how these are related and which curriculum could play to their strengths and interests. In the past, when we focused on mitigating a weakness, it sucked all the life out of our school, feeding negative self-talk and diminishing their self-esteem. I want to be able to use their strengths as support when we are struggling this year. I choose to believe that the reason we struggle is because I'm asking my kids to do something that is beyond their able-ness or not appealing to them. That flips the script from, "I'm a bad teacher," "This curriculum is terrible and I need to find something better," or "My kid is flawed and I need to fix it." None of these scripts have served us well in the past, so I'm trying to be intentional about avoiding them as we enter high school.
It is pretty awesome that I can start our high school planning process by thinking about the things they love and are good at, and designing and co-creating experiences that are uniquely suited to us!
Side note: I love using pretty paper for this process, it makes it more fun and shifts me out of left-brained listing or problem solving mode and into a more creative brainstorming mode full of possibility.
Step 3: Seeding my imagination with ideas
Next, I made a series of mind-maps to brainstorm ideas related to the strengths I want to play to this year, and specific skills I'd like to build. (Julie refers to them as continents of learning in the book Brave Learner, you can get this printable page here.) This allows me to keep an eye out for opportunities to make connections to things they love, and to build in as much fun and interesting things as possible into our year. So for my daughter, I looked at how we could make a ton of stuff to take advantage of her creative-maker instinct. And for my son, I looked at how we could bring technology into what we studied this year. Giving each kid a specific outlet for their interests so they can go as deep as they'd like to, or to provide a reprieve when things slow down or we are struggling.
I also created a series of bingo cards to use throughout the year. I can pull these out when I'm at a loss, need to buy some time to find inspiration or course-correct, or just want to deviate from our usual routine and spice things up. One card lists movies I'd like to watch with my teens this year. One is listing specific writing skills and tools I want to try. One has ideas for projects that could make our learning more visible to my husband, and potentially be portfolio pieces for their high school experience. One bingo card has random ideas for activities when I'm tired and weary and just feel like having fun. One bingo card is collecting ideas for teaching US history through the lens of native and African-American perspectives. One bingo card is keeping track of literature picks that explore a common theme, so that we can practice comparing and contrasting and to spark big juicy conversations.
These cards aren't pretty or inspiring; but they are practical. They are a love letter to my future frazzled or uninspired self.
Step 4: Identifying high school graduation requirements
In order to educate myself and alleviate some fear that our desire to completely wing it would come back to bite us later, I looked at a couple outside sources to see what classes our peers might take over the course of their high school experience.
Our local high schools has college-bound recommendations for credits by subject, Washington state created an infographic to help us visualize graduation requirements, and I looked at the SAT AP tests to see which courses would be covered on those tests in more depth. This allows me to have an eye toward completing basic units of studies that would correspond with typical courses that colleges or standardized tests find important.
However, we have a fair amount of flexibility in how we complete these requirements. And an opportunity to provide experiences and educational opportunities that you can't get with traditional schooling. So I want to play around with how to make this fun.
Bonus points: getting my teens involved
Inspired by the exercises in Chapter 14 of Rethinking School, I invited my teens into a self-awareness exercise over the next week or two. I asked them to pay attention to and record things that make them feel bored or excited, frustrated or content. I am making similar observations for myself, and we will go out for milkshakes to discuss before our school year gets started. It will be an opportunity to get real feedback from them on what works well and what isn't working for them in our homeschool and family life.
In my next couple of posts, I'll share specific curriculum picks for our first year of high school and talk a little more about how I'm reprogramming my beliefs about the college admissions process. Also, please let me know if there is something else you'd like me to create or talk about or how I could support you on your parenting journey. I'd love to hear from you.