Monday, 6 August 2012

Homeschooling Hints Part Five - Skills For Life

I have a confession to make today!  One that I use to be very ashamed of, but, now that our children are both doing well at college, I am not so afraid to own up to.  It is this ...

While the teenage years have been great fun for us as a family, I have to admit that I was absolutely terrified of homeschooling two teenagers!  The very prospect of having such a huge responsibility - for the future of our children, both spiritually and academically, but also and perhaps most importantly, character-wise, was one that seemed enormously daunting to me.  How was I going to tackle such issues of preparing our children for a possible college course when I had not had the formal education to prepare myself, when I was a teenager?  And how would we as a family cope if our children became rebellious, and did not want to obey our instruction as they had when they were younger?

As it turned out, I really had nothing to fear at all.  Looking back, I can see why, too - the grounding that we gave them as babies and children, was sufficient to enable them to make wise decisions about their futures as they grew older, and it was also thorough enough (and consistent enough) to ensure that they were willing to stay on track as I educated them through the "high school" years of homeschooling.  Now if that sounds very self-congratulating and even prideful, I feel I should add that in truth, it was by virtues of our children, not us, their parents, that they have done so well.  As independent, autonomous beings, they were perfectly capable of making the wrong decisions too - but they didn't.  Using the education and spiritual grounding that we'd provided them with, they were able to make rational and sensible choices.  And they did - and this we are proud of!  It's easy to be fearful for our children in a culture where the negative influences of generations raised without any faith or Scriptural values prevail.  But if you have done your jobs as parents adequately, you need not be afraid.  The solid foundations of your children's early years experiences will fortify them and become their armour, as the sixth chapter of the book of Ephesians teaches us (I have quoted it in full here, because I feel it is so valuable to the whole purpose of our role as homeschooling parents):-

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;
That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;
Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;
With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:
Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.
 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,
For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things:
Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts.
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen." (Ephesians 6: 1 - 24).

Of course, unless you have used this passage of Scripture for guidance since the very beginning of your homeschooling journey, it is going to be difficult to trust your children, as they grow older and become independent adults, to make wise choices and remain faithful to both family and God.  But that's not to say that it is impossible.  For some people, they only become convicted of their faith after having children.  And they will need to work hard to get their children on board with the truths that they are learning.  But it can be done.  Setting an example, as I have said so many times before, is very important.  If you do not demonstrate through your own behaviour how to conduct yourself appropriately and in a manner that is pleasing to God, then you cannot expect your children - at any age - to do the same.  And it is never more important than in these crucial teenage years when your children are beginning to grow independent.  In their quest to become separate, autonomous adults, teenagers can be highly critical of their parents, and it is at this age that it becomes most important for you to remain consistent and to set a fine example at all times.  Now is when they will be able to perceive any weaknesses that you have, and any character flaws that need working on.  Now therefore, is the time when you must focus on growing in character and faith as a family.  Just because your children are older and do not need your care in such an intense way as they do when they are younger, does not mean that they do not require the same level of input and attention from you.  They do - but it is in a different way.

For a homeschooling family, the teenage years can be "make or break".  You need to be able to engage their interest, and fuel their passion to keep learning, even when they think that they know it all (and all teenagers do seem to go through a phase where they believe this).  Even if you have managed to shield them from many of the negative influences of modern culture (through limiting access to secular media or to friends outside the family, for example), by their very nature, teenagers will seek to push the boundaries, and rebel.  By sticking together as a family and sharing new experiences in this group setting rather than pushing the young person out on their own, you can minimise the chances of rebellious behaviour.  Of course also you do need to make your children aware of the consequences of poor choices - for example, if they are unwilling to continue with formal education, you can point out to them that to do so will limit their choices in later life, and will make them less able to find employment.  If like us you are keen to maintain traditional gender roles for your children, there is also a fine balance to be found in encouraging your children to enjoy new experiences, and also helping them to plan for a future as a provider if they are a boy, and as a helpmeet if they are a girl.

How have we been able to succeed in these goals?  Well, partly through "peer pressure" - for our children, growing up in a large extended family that shares the same values that we do, it has been possible for them to see how a future that looks simliar to the one that their parents enjoy, can be rewarding and fulfilling, and can draw them into a closer and more joyful relationship with our Father God.  The spiritual aspect of our lives has also been a powerful motivator for them - through regular study of the Scriptures, attending Church and also seeing how living out God's will in our own lives has worked to benefit the family as a whole.  In this sense, we have not had to self-consciously teach our children or train them.  It has happened almost by "osmosis" - by them absorbing the truths that are all around them in their daily lives.  However, during these important years we have of course also continued to homeschool them more formally.  And our children have a hunger for learning which has been instilled in them from a very early eage - and rewarded by the knowledge that they have gained during their schooling.  This hunger hasn't diminished as they've got older, and we've been able to direct it, as a family, to benefit them in so many ways.  If the grounding has been done in the early years, and your children have been prepared to seek the right sort of knowledge and to be rewarded when they do, then truly the teenage years don't seem so troublesome after all!

One thing that was a glitch for us during the teenage years of homeschooling has been some of the illness that both Papa Bear and I have had which has made teaching at times quite a challenge!  But we have been able to rise to that challenge, and through adapting our school day to work with the times when one or both of us was less well, and in utilising extra resources which allowed the cubs to learn in a self-directed way, we were able to ride the storm of our ill health and come out of it unscathed.  In fact I think we all grew from this experience - us parents in terms of our ability to overcome obstacles, to place our trust in God to guide us through the rocky times, and in our endurance when we thought we really couldn't go on.  And for our children it has been a positive benefit in helping them to be tolerant and compassionate, to be independent and self-reliant, and yet to be able to share in the experience and offer support to us so that as a family, we were able to grow together through these challenges.  And now, as we enjoy more stability and better health we can look back and remember those difficult days, and be thankful to God for carrying us through them to the good times that we are enjoying now.

Illness aside, for me, one of the really basic challenges of homeschooling our teenaged children has been getting up to speed myself with the level of teaching that I needed to provide for our children once they got past the 11 - 12 year age group.  My own education was quite basic, and in order to be able to teach our children adequately, it meant an element of me going back to school too!  I studied in the evenings, using second-hand text books and also attending evening classes at our local college (in maths and science) so that I could be sure that I was always one step ahead!  Although it is popular now to use online teaching resources for homeschooling, we did not solely rely on these in the later years of our children's education.  We did use them, but not exclusively, and not as the primary source of education.  One thing that we felt was very important was to address the plans we, as a family, had for our children.  And for us, this meant thinking about further education - past compulsory education stages. 

When you homeschool in England, there is no requirement for your children to be taught the "core curriculum" subjects (which vary according to age).  They don't even need to be taught formally - all that is needed is for you to be able to demonstrate that the education they are recieving is adequate for the age and stage of each child.  You may be required to provide material evidence of this, but there are no set rules or standards to be met or adhered to.  However, we did feel that as our children got older, it would be beneficial for them to pass some of the nationally recognised exams, such as key subjects like maths and English.  We felt that for both boys and girls, this was necessary - for the boys so that they would be equipped to secure adequate employment to allow them to provide for a family, and for the girls so that they would be able to homeschool their own children successfully.  We also felt that understanding the "work ethic" of applying themselves to formal education that results in an exam would be good for them character-wise, and a good motivator to encourage them to apply themselves well to their studies.

So for post 14, we did focus our teaching on preparing our children to take GCSE exams.  It is perfectly possible for homeschooled children to take GCSE and A'Level exams - all that differs is that the exam centre they attend (the exams must be taken outside home) will not be in a familiar setting.  So this can be a little unnerving for them.  Fortunately our cubs did well in their GCSE and A'Level exams - successes which for us underlined not only how well they had applied themselves to their learning, but also how well they had been taught!  It was a wonderful moment for all of us.  Although the standard, expected age for children to take GCSE exams is 15 - 16 and for A'Levels 17 - 18, it is possible for them to be taken at any age as long as the child meets the academic level to be able to take them.  Some of the exam is coursework based, and some a set, written exam (or in the case of science, observed).  We chose for our cubs to take their exams together although had they attended state school this would not have been possible, as they would have been in separate year groups, despite the very close gap in age between them.  We registered for them to take the exams and practical tests at our local college of further education.  There is a fee for them to do this, but it was much less than the cost of the whole year's teaching materials.   They did the GCSE's first and then 2 years later, the A'Levels.  They did really well in all the subjects they took, and as a result were both able to take up places at college to study further.  This will be discussed more in a future post.

At the same time we also focussed on other areas of learning - life skills.  Of course, these are being learned, as I say, by "osmosis" - absorbed without the child even realising it, though the daily experiences they have as a member of the family.  But there are also some skills that need to be taught - ones that don't perhaps fall under the category of more formal schooling.  For us, these included practical skills that for Cubby Bear has enabled him to be equipped to work in the family business, operate and maintain a car, do many DIY jobs around the home, book-keeping and numerous other skills that a father needs.  For Little Bear these skills have been mostly home based.  She can knit, cook, take care of babies, teach lessons, book-keep and do basic hairdressing.  She can make her own clothes, can launder, clean and fix things around the home.  One day we hope that both our children will make excellent spouses - and this hope has been a prevalent force in the choices that we've made about how we teach our children in the teenage years.

One question that has come up often has been whether we should allow our children to work outside the home before marriage.  For us the answer is definitely yes.  Both the cubs have Saturday jobs for which they are paid a wage.  We feel this is a very valuable experience for them.  For Cubby it has given him a taste of how full-time employment will be when he finishes college.  For Little Bear, it has helped her to understand the challenges and pressures that her future husband will be facing on a daily basis, and has also taught her many social skills.  Both our children have benefited very positively from their outside employment.  And no, we have not been concerned that they would be negatively influenced by the experience.  They see the world through the eyes of young people who have the same outlook on life as their parents - and again, this is something that we have consciously inculcated in them from a very early age.  To outsiders they may seem a little "old fashioned" - for example they are both very conscientious and obedient, character qualities that don't seem to be admired so much in the secular world where the focus is on serving the self, rather than serving others.  But their strength of faith and the security that this brings has empowered them, and as parents, we are never concerned that they will stray away from us.  We love to hear the tales of what has happened at work, and greatly admire the way in which they are able to respond to these situations sensibly and with a level of maturity that many young people seem to lack.  But yes, they still know how to have fun, too!  Our only reservation with them working outside home was that the work they did would not interfere with their schoolwork - and that meant limiting the hours they were available for employment.  This hasn't been a problem for either of them, and to this day they both hold down Saturday jobs outside home.

In the sixth and final part of our homeschooling series, we will be looking at decisions for your children about future schooling outside the home classroom - should they go to college or not?  And there will be a question-and-answer session with the real experts - Little Bear and Cubby Bear - too!