High School Homeschooling and Early College Attendance

It’s the beginning of a new homeschooling year, and all of my children are in high school.  It’s crazy to think how far I’ve come with this thing!!! I never planned on homeschooling.  It was never on my radar screen, and even when I did start, I never thought I’d do it with all four children, all the way through high school.  Yet, in just a few, short years, all of my babies will be graduated and moving on to the next chapter of their lives. How scary is that???

When I stop and think about how their future has been completely dependent upon my ability to educate them and get them prepared for the “real world”, I sorta start to go bonkers.  I mean, seriously.  When my oldest son, at three and a half, came to me and asked if I’d teach him how to read, I had no clue where to begin.  Oh, sure, I’d been trained as an elementary school teacher.  I had my California Teaching Credential sitting right in a file box in our home office that said I could teach English all the way up to the tenth grade, but teach him how to read?  Like I said, I had no clue. (I was trained during the “Whole Language” movement)   Yet, here we are, almost eighteen years later, and that son is thriving in college, and has just been accepted into the BFA program for Graphic Design at the University where he is attending.  My second oldest, daughter, will be graduating from high school, this year, with her sister following right behind her, next year, and our youngest in three or four more years.  It’s pretty mind blowing, when I think about it all.

I give all of the credit to God, who has brought us all this far.  If it weren’t for Him, I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I wouldn’t be writing this post.  He has done a great work in my life, and I owe all of the success we’ve had, in homeschooling, to Him.

With all of the kids in high school, now, my role has devolved from teacher to tutor.  I love it because it’s giving me much more time to focus on the garden and growing our home business.  I still do all of the lesson planning and correcting of assignments, but the kids are pretty much on their own, now, to teach themselves and get their work done.  (I could go into a whole other post about why I move them into this mode once they hit about tenth grade, but I’ll save that for another time).

I’ve also handed off some of the teaching, now, to college professors.  Yes, that’s right, college professors.  You see, beginning around the tenth grade, if we feel our children are ready for it, we begin allowing them to take a few courses at our local junior college.  It’s called “dual enrollment”, and it allows the children receive credit for high school and college at the same time — six units of it completely tuition free!  Students can begin taking classes, there, when they are as young as 13 years old.  Now, I think that’s a little too young to start, but every child is different, and every parent knows their child.  The six tuition-free units are available until the student turns 18.  I first learned about the concept through College Plus.  I researched all I could about the topic, and then decided that we could try to navigate through the system on our own, and so we did!

With our modest income, we had no idea how we were going to be able to send our children to college.  The dual enrollment program has made that entirely possible, now.  I am so thankful that it is available, and highly recommend that others take advantage of it.  It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you are a praying person, then it’s absolutely something that you should pray about!

When my oldest son was half way through his tenth grade year, we enrolled him at our local junior college to take a physical education class, and an online History of the U.S. Constitution class.  We chose P.E. because it is a subject that is difficult to fulfill in a homeschool setting, and felt that he was big enough in stature to pass for a college student (so he wouldn’t get picked on), and the online history class because I was still able to monitor and discuss with him the information that he was being exposed to (we knew that he was going to be exposed to more mature topics at the college, and wanted to be able to run that information through our filter, at home, first).

Since he performed well in those two classes, we enrolled him in two more online classes over the summer so that he could begin earning more college credits in classes that we knew he could eventually transfer to a four-year university.  Because he was taking six units each semester, the only cost we incurred was for books, which we were able to find really cheap at Amazon.com.

The goal, for our son, was to complete 70 transferable units at the junior college, and then transfer to a four-year university.  We gradually began adding more college classes until he was taking the maximum 11 units allowable for a dual-enrolled student.  By the time he was 18, he had completed all 70 transferable units, was accepted to the four-year university, and began school, there, with a “junior” status.  Pretty amazing, huh?  (The only thing really amazing to me is that more people aren’t taking advantage of this!  I mean, it cost us less than $1000 for our son to complete those 70 units.  You just can’t beat that!)

So, now, we are doing the same thing with our younger children.  Our two girls are taking dance, music, voice, P.E., and sign language classes to begin with.  We are beginning to increase the load on our oldest daughter, and having her  take some of the “general education” classes online.  We plan to have our youngest follow suit, perhaps, beginning next year.

It really is a great way to get kids started on a path toward their future, at a totally affordable price.  I highly recommend anyone with high school aged students to look into it.

Of course, there are some cautions that I want to share.

Your children will be around people that are much older than them, and they will, most likely, be exposed to language and subjects that you may not approve of.  I was shocked when I heard foul language coming out of my oldest son’s mouth for the first time (picked up in his P.E. class).  When I confronted him about it, he didn’t even realize he had said it.  “It’s how all the kids talk there, mom”, he said.  “I guess I didn’t realize I was picking it up, too.”  Ugh.  Heartbreak of heartbreaks!  All we had been guarding him against, by homeschooling, was destroyed in one semester at college.  We hadn’t prepared for that, at all.  If you’re going to send your children to college early, be prepared for things like this.  Pray about it.  Ask for wisdom.  Talk to your children.  Ask yourself, “Are they ready for this?”  If the answer is, “No”, then don’t send them, or start with the classes that are offered online, or limit your child’s time on campus to when class is in session only, and find a class where students aren’t allowed to talk in class. 🙂

When your children enroll, even though they are dually enrolled as a high school student, the school will treat them as an adult and will expect them to take responsibility for everything that they do at the college.  That means, if they have a problem, they will be expected to handle it themselves.  Mom and dad are NOT allowed to call the teacher, or President, to voice a concern or discuss a problem.  This took me by surprise the first time I found this out.  I simply needed to find out about the possibility of using a different edition of a book that was required for a class.  I emailed the teacher to ask about it, and received back word that I was not allowed to communicate with the teacher, and that my child had to make the inquiry himself.  (Of course, we just got around that by me dictating to my student what to write).  Anyway, just be prepared to give up your authority (or figure out a way to weasel your way in there, like we have).

All in all, I have to say that we’ve had a good experience with the dual enrollment program at our local junior college. Our children take their classes very seriously and have risen to the challenge to perform at the college level.  (Our second oldest daughter loves music, but has no formal training.   She enrolled in a voice class – at 15 – and joined the choir where she learned and performed, with the rest of the choir,  Handel’s Messiah in her very first semester – talk about rising to the challenge!)   Their performance in classes also helps me to gauge how we are doing with our homeschooling — when they come back with “A’s” on their essays, I know that they’ve definitely mastered the language of writing.  Conversely, when they don’t score very well on a math placement exam, I know we need to concentrate on becoming more fluent in the languages of Algebra and Trigonometry.

It’s wonderful to see the maturity level of our children grow and develop as they integrate into the local public college system.  At first, it is a little scary for them – especially since they’ve been “sheltered” in our little homeschool, all of their lives, but they acclimate pretty quickly and fit right in with the rest of the crowd.  It’s pretty funny when others find out their real age, though — especially when they’re being tutored by them – yes!  My kids have been tutors for students that are, sometimes, ten years their senior.   (I guess I didn’t do too shabby of a job educating them, afterall :))  — again, all the credit totally goes to God.

So, as I approach the end of my homeschool teaching days, I am more and more amazed at how it has all worked out.  As I continue to guide and direct my children, this year, in their schooling, I will also be handing over more of the reins to them.  I love watching them spread their wings and begin to fly.  It’s wonderful to watch them discover their God-given talents and direct them in pursuing His plan for their lives.

Any other homeschoolers out there? Anyone else sending or considering sending their children to college early?  I’d love to hear about your experience and what your take is on early college for kids.

Inspiration From a New England Farm Village

I’m enjoying a five-day break from homeschooling this week; however, after learning about life in a New England farm village during the 1800’s — and in particular how very different the school year was from that of today — I’m seriously considering making a change to our school calendar…

We currently follow a slightly modified version of the local public school calendar, beginning our year in early August, and finishing in mid-May — following a six-week on, one-week off pattern (with two weeks off at Christmas) for a total of 180 days.  Instruction in a 19th century New England farm village, on the other hand, revolved around the spring and fall harvesting seasons and took place from December to March and mid-May to August — almost a complete reversal of our modern school calendar year– and the latter session was  completely optional, to accommodate children who helped on the farm.

I’m half-way through my week off, now,  but instead of planning my children’s lessons for the next six weeks, I’ve been busy catching up on all of the gardening and other chores around our new homestead that haven’t been tended to during the last six weeks while we’ve been learning about the Great Papal Schism, reading about the adventures of Ivanhoe, constructing a medieval castle, and practicing all of the other fundamentals of readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic.  With all of the fruits and vegetables that need harvesting, weeds that need uprooting, winter seeds that need sowing,  new garden plots that need constructing, and a myriad of other gardening chores that need tending to, I’m beginning to see the wisdom and logic behind the New England school schedule and am contemplating a re-structuring of ours.

Given that we enjoy a 240+ day growing season here, in the Central Valley of California, if we strictly designed our school year around the planting and harvesting seasons,  it’s possible that we could spend as little as four months in formal instruction.  Only during the hottest months of July and August and the coldest months of December and January, when there’s not a lot going on in the garden,  would we turn our attention to schooling.  I don’t know how wise it would be try and cram 180 days worth of learning into about half as many, but my children would probably jump at the chance to have a four-month school year — that is, until they discovered that their eight-month break would be spent outdoors, with me, completely caring for, managing, and maintaining all of the animals, gardens, and landscaping around our homestead.

A more realistic schedule, that I’m mulling over, is  a seven month calendar that would take place from June to August and November to February.  Our “fall break” would be occurring now and would last until the end of October, a perfect amount of time to plant out winter cover crops, start brassicae, lettuce and spinach seedlings, sow radish seeds, and transplant all of the seedlings before the first hard frosts of the year take over.  In the month of November, as the temperatures turned colder, we’d head indoors to take up our studies, once again, until March when we’d embark a long “spring vacation”:  four months of concentrated time,  until the end of June, when  we’d turn our attention to a new planting and harvesting season of warm-weather crops, like cucumbers, melons, squash, tomatoes,  potatoes, onions, pumkins.  A new school year would begin, again, in June, just as the sizzling heat of summer began to take over.  There would be no cause for the usual, “I’m bored!” remarks during these long, summer days, as our days would, largely, be occupied with more learning.

The only down side that I  foresee with this type of schedule is that it would conflict with the school year of all of my children’s friends —  we’d be on vacation while they’d still be in school and vice versa.  They are already a little up in arms over our current schedule, which doesn’t always line up with their friends’, so I don’t think switching to this one would go over very well, at all.

I’m going to spend some more time thinking and praying about it, though.  There are so many positives, in my opinion, to transitioning to a school year that revolves around our local growing season.  Even though it goes against the flow of what everyone else is doing around here, and it’s probably not something that my children want,  it might be just the thing our family needs to make better use of our time, develop a stronger work ethic, and labor more efficiently all year ’round.

So, instead of enjoying a mere one-week off, perhaps I need to take a two-month hiatus, like the New England farm residents of yore, and bring my kids outside for a different kind of education, where they learn the value of hard, physical labor, the joy of bringing their own food to harvest, and the sense of what it takes to care for, manage, and maintain a homestead — something modern-day children know little of, but something 19th century New Englanders have inspired me to do something about — whether we end up making a change to our school calendar or not.