One of the most common questions I receive about unschooling is, “But don’t you want to prepare your child for real life?”
Yes, I do. That’s actually why we chose unschooling!
It obviously isn’t the only way to prepare your child for what lies ahead of them. For my son though, it really was.
We used a pretty eclectic blend during his elementary and middle school years. I was the laid-back mom that did all the fun unit studies, had afternoons full of cooking projects and read-alouds, and went on lots of field trips.
Then 8th grade hit, and I kind of . . . well, flipped out. It wasn’t pretty.
I somehow got the idea in my head that high school had to be “formal” and “done right.” We had to use a lot of rigorous text books, do all the worksheets, and take all the tests.
That one didn’t go well, to say the least.
Sometime in November, my son looked at me and asked, “Can’t we go back to what we used to do? Because, um, I learn that way.”
How to Unschool High School
Now, that doesn’t mean that we didn’t do rigorous work, or that we didn’t have a schedule or deadlines. We did. (My son actually chose most of them for himself!)
We participated in co op classes and he did dual enrollment during his last two or three semesters.
However, he also took on outside projects that required him to put a number of skills to use. These were some of his favorites, just to give you ideas:
• For an environmental science credit (that coincided with his Eagle Project), he put a team together to clear an invasive plant species from a patch of forest in our local nature reserve. He also did a lot of research, including interviewing master gardeners, and put together a pamphlet educating people on the benefits of native plants.
• His government credit consisted of work, classes, and camps that he did with Generation Joshua. He had the opportunity to help run mock U.S. governments, work on state and national campaigns, and hear from members of Congress and governors. He also received (and is now able to help give) mentoring from some amazing leaders. These experiences also helped determine one of his majors!
• Most of his Fine Arts electives were completed through local youth theater programs. These also helped spark his love for Shakespeare and classic literature!
• He used his Boy Scout leadership positions and merit badge work for several electives. Through this, he learned everything from practical application of trigonometry (in land surveying and engineering) to public speaking and delegation of tasks.
• Participation in a local martial arts ministry has allowed him not only to achieve his black belt, but to teach a wide range of kids and adults in local classes. He’s also gotten to travel to Mexico and the Philippines multiple times for missions work!
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Unschooling as Preparation for College (or Other Paths)
If I had kept him to a rigid course load and schedule (even though it wasn’t right for him), he never would have had any of these opportunities.
And without those opportunities, he wouldn’t be doing a lot of the things he is today.
Around the time we switched back to unschooling, I started involving my son a lot more with the process of deciding his course load.
We sat down and looked at what would be expected for his future plans and worked backward from there. It went beyond the normal requirements, though.
Rather than just planning out 4 years of English, 3 years of math, and all the rest, we looked at what he would actually have to take on.
For instance, he knew that he would be going into a field that would require him to wade through a lot of different viewpoints and worldviews, so we focused heavily on worldview, literature, and history. He wanted to understand not only his own point of view, but that of others.
It also became clear that he would need to be able to understand many different cultures. To that end, he studied several different languages and read works from many different authors.
And finally, he knew he would have to be able to write well and often. Even though he’s severely dyslexic and dysgraphic, he chose to take a lot of writing instruction and writing-heavy courses in high school.
They paid off. They weren’t easy for him by any means, but they’re allowing him to get strong grades and make a lot of connections now.
Putting Unschooling into Practice
Unschooling looks different for every family, especially in high school. This is when our kids really begin to show some deep interests, but it’s also when a lot of changes take place. Between 14 and 17, your child’s abilities and interests will probably change a lot!
However, it can give them the chance to use this time well. They’ll have the freedom to both succeed and fail in the safety of home, and the ability to figure out what they really want to focus on.
This can be huge.
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Unschooling isn’t for everyone, but it can be a great choice for a lot of kids. It takes open communication with your child, but this is actually a good thing!
Have you looked at unschooling for your high schooler? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. What questions do you have, and what areas do you think your kids would like to focus in? Comment and let me know!
Jennifer is the founder of A Helping Hand Homeschool, providing resources, unit studies, support, and consulting for homeschool families. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram!
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