Tuesday, 18 August 2015

"The Practical Side" - Part 6 of Transitioning Your Teen to High-School-Level (Home)School

This is the sixth post in a series about transitioning your teens to high-school-level homeschooling. In the other five parts, I have covered topics like routine, vision, a new approach, thinking about university, and routes to your destination; now it’s time for the practical suggestions.

Assuming you have carved out your 2 hours or so of academic time as I mentioned in the post about routines, then you will want to know what to do with these hours.

Are you surprised that I said only 2 hours? Yes, that’s right — to start with. You may end up building to three or four, but right now, since these posts are about transitioning to higher-level work, I would suggest that a two-hours stretch is plenty.*

Two hours of focused work beats
eight with distractions!

Further, I would encourage you to limit these two hours of learning time to only four days a week, and leave a fifth day for field trips, workshops, out-of-home activities, and general get-togethers. These are all still valuable learning activities and should find a place in your homeschooling plan, but keeping them to only one day will help your teens gain momentum in their studies.

(See a blog post I wrote on my Boyschooling site about Free-day Friday)

Finally, I think you will need to consider whether you want to stick with school terms or work steadily throughout the year. Some people like the focus that occurs when avoiding breaks, but I’m more of a start-stop kind of personality, and find it helpful to have periods where we get a bit bored: that’s when we tend to try new things, like creating board games, engineering a backyard zip wire, or planting a rose garden. 

Leaving time for boredom
leads to creative moments.

It may also be helpful when you’re starting out to have a finite period of focused learning, such as a six-week period. You can then take a week off to reflect on how you’ve done so far and perhaps tackle a mini-project, or go camping, take holidays, etc. With that in mind, you might not keep the same six weeks on the calendar as schools do (unless, of course, you have other children in school).

My own family, for example, begins our school year in the second week of September, taking our holidays in the first week. The price of accommodation is often 1/3- to 1/2 less than the week before, and we enjoy near-empty museums, swimming pools, galleries, and even abandoned beaches. 

Holidays during school terms are cheap and quiet ...
relatively quiet, that is!

What’s not to love about that???

So, a quick re-cap: my suggestions for academic time as you’re starting out with your homeschooled teen is two hours a day, four days a week, six weeks at a time, for a total of 48 hours of concentrated work, not including all the informal learning that’s going on the rest of the time.

In these two-hour slots, I suggest you choose the basic subjects of English, math, history, science, and if you’re religious, something connected to your faith. If you’re not religious, then maybe current events, geography, philosophy, or comparative religions.

That’s five subjects in 120 minutes, or 20-25 minutes each.

The trick, in my experience, is to have your subjects and their resources lined up at the start, then set the timer for 20 minutes per subject, and just work through them for that long. This is the same basis as a very popular home-ed method expounded by Charlotte Mason who wrote about it back in Victorian times, but there’s a lot of evidence that her philosophy worked for a wide variety of students regardless of social status, ability, opportunities, or background.

And it still works today. The short-sharp-lesson approach will keep your teens focused for those 2 hours, because no subject will drag on till they’re bored.

At the beginning of implementing this system, you will probably need to sit with your teens and coax them, direct them, and encourage them. They’ll know it’s important because you have set aside the time to do it with them, and that will give them confidence that you have the courage of your convictions.

You might want to use a checklist, so you have a visual motivator. It seems that boys like a check list, particularly. I laminate mine so we can use the same checklist each day, simply wiping off the water-based marker for next time.

If you laminate it, you can re-use this checklist every day.

Twenty minutes of English? Check. Twenty minutes of math? Check. And so on.

Finally, once we’ve done our two hours, I record what we’ve covered, so if we read Chapter 2 of Ivanhoe, do problems 1-7 in the maths book, read pp 17-24 in our history book, etc, I write that in my diary for that day. 

You’ll notice that I don’t plan how much of our books we're going to do before hand: that’s because we may not get through all of it, or end up having an interesting discussion about the treatment of Jews in Scott’s novel and read only a couple of pages, or occasionally, miss something out entirely because of a family emergency. When this happens, we would get behind anything we'd set out to achieve, and the knock-on effect causes me too much stress, which just isn't necessary.

If you record instead of plan, you are never behind!


Snippet of the way record our work.

Next time, I will give some examples of a typical day with families who are homeschooling teens, so you can see how there are different strokes for different folks. 

*Remember to check with your state's regulations for homeschooling requirements.
That said, a lot of informal learning can count toward regulations, too. Be creative!

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