This post was originally published as the introduction to an issue of TheHomeSchoolMom newsletter. Sign up here and get access to subscriber exclusive resources.
In reading social media and talking to homeschoolers, I hear a lot of parents mention the ideal of “keeping our options open.”
Sometimes this means they want to homeschool in a way they imagine would smooth the way for potential entrance into public school.
Sometimes this is a high school parent who wants their child to go to college, even if the child isn’t interested.
Sometimes it is because a parent imagines a specific college major that the child might want to pursue.
Some kids really respond to learning in a way and in an order that works with a parent’s desire to keep options open. They’ll take chemistry and physics “just in case” they want to major in science later. They’ll work with a traditional school textbook “just in case” they want to attend school later. These teens may even share their parents’ vision of keeping their options open, and they may be able to do well with that framework.
But keeping all academic options open while homeschooling can also mean some other kids and teens will miss many of the benefits of homeschooling.
One mom I talked to at a conference kept using public school textbooks for three years while homeschooling during the middle school years—because her child might want to return to public school some day. Meanwhile, her child fought her on reading the textbooks for each subject and on doing standardized problem sets.
The school books had a lot of time-consuming busy work, and her daughter complained about lack of time to do art and follow current events, which she loved.
I don’t know if the daughter ever returned to school, but they definitely endured three years of not very pleasant homeschooling. Their relationship suffered, and, the mom said, “she hates learning. But I have to keep her ready for school.”
Imagine if the mom had managed to embrace the flexibility of homeschooling. Her daughter might have found ways to connect current events to the history in that history textbook. They might have done projects and unit studies that included art as part of learning.
This might have helped her become more ready for school! I’ve seen so many kids go to school (and college and work) and do fine after having rich homeschooling lives without using school textbooks and a school schedule while homeschooling. And yes, perhaps it’s ideal if a kid completes the algebra1-bio-algebra2-chem-precalc-physics-calculus pattern in case they want to major in science.
But I’m here to tell you, if your kid loves dogs or horses or sewing or reading or water testing or theater or carpentry or auto mechanics during the high school years and is immersed in the learning around such a love, they can typically pick up a community college class or three to fill in a gap if they decide they want to major in science.
Not ideal? Maybe not.
But an intact love of learning and a warm relationship with parents will go a long way toward getting into and through college or starting a business or whatever their adult path involves.
Of course, it’s not really an either/or. Many kids will meet many “just in case” expectations and have lots of doors opened to them as a result. There is a lot of good in parents using our greater knowledge of the world to provide guidance here!
But we may need to rethink “keeping our options open” for kids who are crushed by working through checklists of requirements they are not interested in. We may need to rethink the goodness that we leave out as we keep aiming them toward jumping hoops “just in case.”
Instead, perhaps we could look for the auto mechanic to mentor our kid, the advanced art class that will hold their interest, the horse farm that needs a working student. Many kids will even find stamina for some of the hoop jumping requirements if they are also spending time in things that engage them.
I’m just saying, when it comes to keeping our options open, consider whether there is a price too high for a specific kid. Don’t miss out on the flexibility of homeschooling: it may do more for a child’s future than the straight line path you envision.