Years ago, back when we were both new to homeschooling, one of my friends was loudly lamenting the early elementary years. She was not a fan of “projects,” copy work, or repetitive reading; she was eager to engage her children in discussing “big ideas,” to teach them to write critically, and to dissect literature with them. She used to say she was the only mom she knew who could not wait for her children to become high school students! As it turned out, my friend was right and wrong; many people cannot wait for their children to become high school students, but not for the reasons my friend held.
The years spent homeschooling a young child are precious, taxing, and almost entirely “hands on.” Parents realize going into the commitment that homeschooling a little one will be a full time calling, demanding all the energy and attention they have. The expectation is that we will be providing and guiding all the instruction, and that we will be fully engaged in each process. We will be driving the car, as it were, with our students in the backseats as passengers, primarily, along for the ride—going where we know they should go and traveling the route we map out. As our students grow up, however, a new thought begins to creep in: when my child is older, I will have less to do; they will not need me, and I will step back. I will get a break!
While leading students to become more self-motivated and independent in their learning, parents should not fully disengage; the junior high and high school years might be termed the “drop-off-but-not-drop-out years.” Students will eventually move to the front seat of the aforementioned car, and they will carefully observe the turns and stops along the route, learning the way. Eventually, students will take the wheel, with the parent in the front seat to provide immediate feedback and oversight. Students who have reached proficiency in reading, writing, and mathematics still need guidance in integrating these subjects with philosophy, history, science, and theology. These students, with a great framework of knowledge and a well-developed understanding of how that knowledge fits together, still need help refining fledgling ideas and building a context of understanding that leads to wisdom. At this point, parents are needed more than ever before, perhaps!
As students develop intellectually, they are also growing physically, emotionally, and spiritually. For many teens, this is a confusing, frustrating, exhilarating time; it is a poor time to be left alone to navigate the changes of life. A parent’s most valuable roles during this stage of development are those of mentor, sounding board, and touchstone. At any given time we serve as cheerleaders, coaches, sparring partners, resource providers, proof readers, devil’s advocates, and hand-holders. Our students need to know we are still engaged in their education; we may not be driving the car, but we are still in the vehicle.
For the Classical Conversations’ parent, the goal is simple: raise lifelong learners who know God and are ready, willing, and able to make Him known. The most effective means to that end is an engaged homeschooling parent who dialogues with the student about the ideas, thoughts, paradoxes, philosophies, practices, and challenges encountered throughout the high school years: read at least some of the books your student is reading, become familiar with the basic themes of literature, work through math problems with your student, study the table of contents, pictures, and captions in the science text, and develop a habit of asking questions about what your student is learning. Stay involved!
Most of us begin homeschooling knowing that in many ways our aim is to work ourselves out of a job. We want to teach our students how to learn, and we want to model those skills for them so successfully that they will be able to employ the skills without needing a continual example (a parent!) to remind them. High school, however, is not the end of our journey; it merely marks a new bend in the road.