Updated: Jan 29
(Make a cuppa - this one might take a while! Tips and freebie printable below!)
This morning my 17 year old son set his alarm for 5:30am so he could drive his dad to work. Willingly.
I offered to do it but he wanted to. Honestly, I was grateful for the extra half hour to lie in bed, my body aching from an SLE Lupus flare that I'm currently in.
When he got back, Liji began his morning getting himself ready for work (having taken a detour via Maccas), doing his daily chores and made me a coffee. We sat together in the early morning light on our back deck reading the second last chapter aloud of a beautiful book we've been working through (NATHAN CLARKSON'S 'GOOD MAN'). He patted the dogs that had nestled in at his feet and I read aloud as cockatoos and wattle birds sang loudly as they flew over our heads.
Our 16 year old son was up and getting himself breakfast too, also readying himself for work. He'd made sure he had a clean uniform and remembered to grab and fill out some paper work he'd been asked to return to the office.
Both boys came to kiss me goodbye and give me a cuddle. I blessed them both before they left, praying aloud that God would be with them in their day, giving them strength and energy to get through. I thanked Him for them both and for the young men they are. Each one snuggled in for a hug into the crook of my neck - one on the left and one on the right hand side.
I walked with them out the front as they got into Liji's car and sang out their goodbyes to me. I watched them leave and felt the emotions washing over me. I felt proud of them and happy. I felt wistful that the younger years have somehow slipped away into this next season of growth and independence but equally, so grateful that I've been able to watch them grow and change and learn and become.
But this morning, I waved them off and wondered: how did we get here?
Obviously, by God's grace first and foremost. I still don't feel like I know enough about parenting or homeschooling or just life in general for that matter and yet here we are. His grace and wisdom with a mix of trial and error and a lot of forgiving ourselves and each other has been our starting point. And our returning-to point.
And don't get me wrong, I am a big believer in that you can do all the 'right' things and still have a teen who doesn't want a bar of you. That is their journey and one that I know is not an easy one to walk. So please know that I'm not wanting to sound arrogant or as if our lives are all perfect. But I do want to share some of our experiences with you.
When we first started homeschooling, even before we'd officially begun, people told me that we'd be doing our kids a disservice to homeschool them because we would be denying them the opportunity to experience 'real life'.
I was told they'd be socially stunted, they'd not be able to relate to people.
Even WE worried about them not being able to get into uni or tertiary education if they wished and wondered if they'd be able to get jobs or if we would have ruined their chances.
As the journey started, friends and family could see that the kids were learning lots of interesting things, were certainly not anti-social, were actually enjoying what they were learning and were becoming great communicators (mostly lol).
But time and time again, people asked us if we were going to keep homeschooling through the high school years.
Actually many people phrased it more like this, "homeschooling through primary school is lovely but they'd need a proper education for high school wouldn't they?'
'Proper education' as opposed to what we'd been providing them already?!
I once too held that view.
But I can tell you now, having homeschooled three teens through high school that they DEFINITELY received a 'proper' education through these years and have gone on to successfully graduate year 10, hold down jobs, have all enrolled in further education and more importantly, have become healthy, happy, contributing members of our family and community.
Back to the question: how did we get here?
Other than grace and wisdom not our own, trial and error and lots of apologies, tears and hugs, we got here by continuing on the path that we had already been on.
We got here by sticking to our vision. Even when we had crappy days. Even when we had hard seasons. Even through all our frustrations. Even with all our anxieties and illnesses and fatigue and fights and ups and downs. Even when we had to be reminded by our family and friends who held us accountable to our plan.
We stuck to the bigger picture. Vision or the bigger picture doesn't have to be some pie in the sky idea. It's a goal. It's what you'd ideally like to see happen and it has acted for us as an anchor.
HAVE YOU GOT A VISION FOR YOUR FAMILY?
FOR YOUR HOMESCHOOL?
Let me be clear. Whilst these ideas were sparked by our homeschooling journey, they are not limited to homeschooling families. Any family can have a vision for what they want their journey to look it.
Ours looked/looks like this:
We always wanted our kids to become who they were made to be.
We wanted to give them time and space to work out what made them tick and what they struggled with.
We wanted to facilitate their learning and let them explore lots of different concepts, exposing them to great ideas, artists, creators, authors and have time in nature too.
We always wanted to give them a love of learning and for them to 'learn HOW to learn'. We knew that if they could do this, they'd basically be able to learn anything (well nearly anything!)
We wanted them to know God and to have a firm foundation of faith, self, community and family.
We wanted them to know that their voice mattered, their life mattered!
We wanted them to know we were here for them always.
Each day we had the chance to live this out (yep even through the not-so-good days). Check out the free printable below on which you can write your own vision!
We tried to observe them and see what their natural passions were. We then used that as a springboard for learning. We paired their passions with the Key Learning Area (KLA) outcomes.
One of our kiddos loved reading the classics. Another was completely passionate about Lego (and STILL is!). Another was a sports lover with a growing interest in IT. A fourth showed great entrepreneurial skills and another loves drawing cartoons and reading graphic novels. Instead of just insisting on them doing activities that frustrated them, were unrelatable and seemed boring to them, I tried to make readings and activities as relevant to them as much as I could.
For example, one child had read in the news about the White Island Volcano disaster and after some research, decided to build the process of eruption out of Lego in a four-sided model. It demonstrated his learning, cementing the ideas he'd read about independently but it also meant that he was spending time using his hands doing something that he enjoyed. He wrote about it too and when I asked him at dinner to share a few points with us, he was able to orally narrate back some of the key points that he had written down earlier in the day.
We gave choice and facilitated the learning as best we could, outsourcing where necessary in order to best help meet their needs.
The 11 year old child who showed entrepreneurial spirit was given the opportunity to sew some headbands and scrunchies as a project. Her nan helped her refine her skills. Eventually our daughter was able to put these items for sale in a local shop. Last year she branched out into mask making and made a lovely little profit for herself. Along the way she was able to troubleshoot issues she had, interacted with people in the local fabric store, worked through issues with sizing, hand wrote notes for orders, went to the post office and paid for postage and recorded her sales on an Excel spreadsheet she made, among other things. All of these fit into the KLA outcomes or stage statements, are amazing learning experiences but most importantly, use her natural bent toward entrepreneurialism to ENGAGE her and keep her learning! This is just one little example of being able to identify a child's interest and build on it.
We tried to make learning FUN (and where possible) EDIBLE!
Yep. For my kids, this was a hugely important MUST! They STILL talk about the fun we had explaining tectonic plate activity out of Oreo cookies or the edible double helix DNA strand we made out of snakes and marshmallows. They loved the edible plant cells we made using different candies for the organelles and baking the continents of the earth out of sugar cookies. We made gravity towers from marshmallows and dry spaghetti, phases of the moon by decorating cupcakes and pizzas as we learned about Italy. We had movie-watching parties after reading through a book together and finding the movie (discussing differences and similarities to the book as we went). We made recipes from books we'd read too like the spiced apple pie Ma made in Farmer Boy and the kids wrote them out in their own recipe books. We even did lots of gross things like dissecting a sheep's brain or a pig's eye that I got from the local butcher/abattoir. The kids were engaged in their learning (even when grossed out!) which made it memorable and an experience that we could then build on.
Maybe food isn't your kids (or your) thing!
But I guarantee you there is SOMETHING that is.
It might be gaming. It might be nature study or travel-school. It might be building or music or musical theatre or woodworking or mechanical work. It's really just about paying close enough attention to what the kids are spending their 'spare' time doing and then giving them access to that. They WILL learn.
Unsure of what they might be interested in? Give them lots of exposure to different experiences, stories and hands on activities to see what takes their fancy. Unlocking this is like unlocking a level on a computer game or beginning to speak in a language that they understand. Ask them what they would do if they could do ANYTHING at all in the world...that should be a good starting point for brainstorming their own ideas.
We tried to foster connection and became collaborative allies.
Sometimes this meant doing things that perhaps didn't look very 'school-y' like our walk-and-talks in the morning (where I'd often have a teen come and join me for a walk to town and a hot chocolate, chatting about life as we went). When chronic illness prohibited me from doing that, I'd try and take the teens for a rare but special one-on-one lunch/breakfast/hot chocolate date. Sometimes fostering connection meant driving a 3 hour round trip to allow them to play basketball with their mates because there was no competition happening in our town at that time. Sometimes it meant driving them to a second hand book store because they just wanted to sit in the aisles and soak in the vintage-y goodness (and of course go home with a hard-to-find literary treasure). It meant attending Lego conventions and basketball camps, spending time in art galleries and museums.
It meant being willing and being available: willing to make connections with and available to ask questions of. When they were stuck on ideas or projects, etc we'd suggest something that might be of interest to them. We were collaborative allies (and their greatest cheerleaders) on the learning journey.
We gave time and space to our teens to be able to find what interested them and fill those spaces exploring those interests.
If they needed help with something, we'd offer assistance. Some of our introverts needed time and space away from home. One in particular enjoyed (and often asked) to be driven to the library to work independently in a quiet space. This rejuvenated her so much and really filled her cup. Some needed special catch-ups with friends to meet their needs. Time and space was important.
We often looked up short online courses in areas in which they were interested. I found an online photography course they could all do and they enjoyed this. Even around building on their researching skills we would try and give them time and space to form opinions, draw conclusions and narrate back to us anything they found of interest to them. We'd ask them questions about general things that were in the news, about their interests in music, pop culture and sport which often would lead to heated debates or just rousing discussions. It was a way we could show them we valued what they had to say and the person they were becoming. It helped them to listen to the opinion of others too.
We created family traditions and by repeating them, cemented those things as part of our family identity or culture.
Those things became part of our dominant story (the story we repeated that we wanted to remember) and we identify with it as our heritage I guess. Our warm fuzzy memories hang on these.
Our simple traditions included family movie nights (always with snacks), going out for pizza to debrief after being to the theatre together, family party day adventure/meal somewhere special each year, Super Bowl Monday with LOTS of American style snacks, decorating the loungeroom for State of Origin (more snacks), celebrating the Biblical Festivals (like Passover - did I mention snacks?!) together, going to art exhibitions at our local gallery and going to the lookout when a child turns 13 with their choice of milkshake/sundae to discuss their hopes and dreams and have a little pray together about what the future might hold. Each birthday, the birthday child got to choose their cake and birthday dinner. Even the fortnightly family shopping became a tradition that we did together and something that has helped our kids learn amazing skills through.
We encouraged them to be industrious and contributing members of the family. And we celebrated them.
From the earliest of times, we'd get the kids involved in the industrious side of family life. Cooking, cleaning, looking after pets, contributing in ways that they could see MEANT something to the family. We are a team and we treated the kids as team members from the get-go. Even now, everyone (including our 9 year old) cooks one night a week. We all have regular tasks (chores) that we do each day. This not only alleviates the stress of home-life resting on one person's shoulders, but our kids got prepared for paid-work. They all love their jobs now and all of their bosses have commented to us that they have been impressed by their strong work ethic and ability to carry responsibilities in their work places.
Celebrating our kiddos has also been an important part of our lives. It showed them that we valued them as humans, built up their self esteem and confidence and gave them a real sense of accomplishment. Finished a maths book for the year? We might go out for a restaurant dinner or call in pizza! Built something amazing? We might take a photo and send it to an aunt/grandparent and have them gush about how awesome it was! Finished the family read aloud book? We'd plan an afternoon high tea together and have the movie-watching party that I mentioned earlier.
We also affirmed our kids verbally as often as we could. We'd celebrate the start of the school year (even though we actually learn all year round!) with new stationery packs and a little 'happy homeschooling' card to each child. We've been doing this since 2009 and it has always been a very special tradition for our kids. Letting them know we appreciated them and wanted to spend time with them was (is) important to us. It doesn't mean we always did this (or do this) well but we try and that definitely counts, right?!
We encouraged them to invest their time in projects that sparked their interest.
Our IT-loving kiddo built a gaming PC from scratch in year 10, keeping a journal of his project along the way. Also in year 10, our daughter made the most amazing bookish blanket incorporating her love of crochet and books. Inspired by the colours of the book covers, she created crocheted squares in those colours and then organised for the squares to be sewn together as a bookish blanket. Our Lego and art loving son built an incredible car-transporter in year 10, motorising it as a custom-build and enabled it to be operated remotely by a control with infrared receiver. Earlier that year, he'd set up his third solo art exhibition in a local gallery space. He appeared on community television to talk about it, designed the posters and spoke at his opening night, addressing his supporters and those gathered there.
These are just little examples of how projects filled our kiddos time as they got older.
Being responsible, being entrusted with budgets and real money, developing ideas, creating goals and deadlines for themselves, trouble-shooting problems and finding solutions all helped them develop a strong sense of self as well as encourage creativity, awareness of design issues and an ability to think outside-the-box.
If they had finished a project, we often encouraged them to participate in an online class of some kind. In years 9 and 10 our kids completed short online courses (university level) in photography, web design, robotics, VR and 360, sports and health, prep subjects for uni and two completed university subjects (one went on to her degree and the other decided to go into TAFE doing a Certificate III instead). These challenged them, gave them a taste of what online classrooms and further education could look like and helped them to work out if that subject really was an area of interest for them or not. It also gave them a sense of accomplishment when they completed the course and again was something we all celebrated.
I know we are still in the teen years (our big girl turns 19 next month) but I feel like the journey has shifted now with all 3 older ones finished with their homeschool season. It feels like it only began yesterday and yet now, two have their own cars and licenses, one has his L's and has started driving lessons, one of the three is a librarian (and is nearly finished her librarianship degree), one is in a traineeship in carpentry/joinery and the other is working towards completing his Certificate III that I mentioned above whilst holding down a casual job here in town. We still have the two little ones learning at home each day and we will continue to do these things with them as they stretch their wings and grow.
And all that stuff I worried about? The stuff that kept me awake at night before we started homeschooling sparked by my own thoughts or things that others had said to me....I needn't have worried. Our kids got to spend plenty of time with friends, got to experience real life in a million different ways, developed strong relationships within our family (even though they of course fought lots too!) and had the chance to go on to employment and tertiary education.
We definitely haven't done them a disservice. I know that now.
It is such a blessing to see them stretch towards adulthood. I hope they know we will always be here for them too.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about your teens and how you are getting through these years.
Love and hugs to you (especially if you are in a tough season right now).
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