Why in the world would you homeschool high schoolers?

by Sarita Holzmann (founder of Sonlight Curriculum)

Sonlight didn't offer high school courses at the time I raised my four children. My goal at the time was to homeschool through junior high. After seeing the success of homeschooled high schoolers like the Sonlight scholarship winners, I heartily and confidently support homeschooling through the teen years.


Teenagers often earn a bad rap. If you picture all teens as flirting, gossiping, self-centered bundles of raging hormones, it's no wonder homeschooling high school can be intimidating! I'd like to argue against that false generalization and suggest that homeschooling your high schoolers might be the best thing you could do for their teen years.

These last four years at home can be an unparalleled opportunity to reap the academic, spiritual and relational rewards you've been praying for since your children were born. Yes, teenagers can be challenging, but I'd like you to think of "challenging teenagers" as something you do, not something they are. Set the bar high and enjoy the chance to challenge your teenagers.

That's one of the best reasons to homeschool them, actually. You can help them rise above society's expectations as they mature in godliness, serve others, refine critical thinking skills and hone unique gifts and talents at new levels.

What else might motivate you to homeschool during these years?

High school could be your last opportunity to spend significant time with your children. Once children go off to college or career, you have less time to interact with them. As young adults they'll become more and more independent. Enjoy them while you can! Though you should still "be the parent," who says you can't laugh or cry with your teenager and actually develop a friendship? Authentic intimacy (instead of distant authority) can go a long way toward a strong lifelong relationship.

I kept waiting for the "terrible teens" with my own children, and that time never came. (Of course, every child is different—and just because a child does rebel doesn't necessarily mean the parents are to blame.) When you homeschool your high schoolers, they'll be able to engage in deeper conversation than ever before. Chances are, they'll stimulate you to learn and grow. This can be such a fruitful season to see God work out His plans in your children's lives as they gain independence and grow their abilities.

You serve as the primary role model for your teens. As you spend more time together, you are constantlyreinforcing positive lessons. And you spend less time deprogramming your studentsfrom values and attitudes that don't match your own. If your students spend eight hours a day in a typical classroom—even a good classroom environment—you'll surely have to process unhelpful messages and ideas with them. But with the typical high schooler's packed schedule, you'll have far less time to talk through these harmful messages.

Homeschooling enables you to squeeze the best out of life together and leaves you more time to be a spiritual and moral influence on your students.

You can provide your children a higher quality program that matches their interests and strengths. You know your children best. If you see your daughter blossom as a writer, you'll surely work harder than any teacher could to offer resources and help her improve. If your son isn't a strong reader but demonstrates amazing technical abilities and a scientific mind, you can highlight his strengths with opportunities that allow him to shine. You can also tailor his education to help him improve his weaker areas without negative labels (like "remedial") that could last a lifetime.

As a homeschooling parent, you can set the bar higher. As schools wrestle with tighter budgets, AP courses and higher-level programs may become less available. We can expect our children to do more— read more, take higher-level classes, achieve. You don't have to "teach to the middle" or spend the majority of your day dealing with discipline problems. Talented students can push forward out of their comfort zones and focus on all that's still out there to learn. Students who struggle academically often amaze their parents by what they can achieve when given a few good resources to help them learn. You and your students set the expectations. At home, you'll find no boundaries to what your children can study and learn.

You can spark a natural motivation to learn. Your children will gain the valuable skill of independent study and an affinity for great books. During the high school years, when my children's friends would come over, I'd ask them what books they were reading. They would scrunch up their faces in concentration and list one or two titles that they were (obviously) reading for school. When pressed, they would list the few books required of them. How I love the contrast of students who can't get enough good books and who relish the opportunity to discuss them.

As your students read, you encourage a love of learning that will last their whole lives—something infinitely more valuable than high school credits.

The local high school is a somewhat artificial world. In many ways, a homeschooler has more opportunities to experience "real life" than classroom peers. Homeschoolers have the opportunity to interact with people of different age levels, not just those within a year of their own birthdays. With a flexible schedule and the inspiration to think outside the box, homeschoolers can take advantage of a realm of learning opportunities outside the classroom.

Imagine the chance to job shadow a successful graphic designer in the middle of the day, take that part-time job in a photography studio, volunteer on a traveling political campaign or spend time recording stories about World War II as told from a veteran. These are opportunities the homeschooled student doesn't have to pass up. The flexibility of homeschooling allows teenagers the chance to be at the right place at the right time to get invaluable experience and relationships.

Homeschooling encourages a strategic focus, even in extracurricular activities. Pep rallies, prom and powder puff football may be fun, but are they strategic in preparing your teenager for life after school? Think how the world has changed in 60 years. Should our educational system remain locked in old patterns? Encourage your teenagers to join a debate club, take a missions trip, join a worship team or excel on a club sports team.

The key is to engage in activities that are relevant to develop vital skills and deep relationships, rather than just a standard list of forgettable activities. Employers and universities often look at students' extracurricular activities and life experiences just as much as their grades. Wow those future gatekeepers by taking advantage of the world within your reach. Encourage your high schoolers to think big!

At home, we have a chance to train up leaders, not followers. In 1810, four students of Williams College in Massachusetts decided to meet in a field to pray for missions around the world. In 1810, much of America hadn't been explored by Europeans, yet alone settled (remember: Lewis and Clark set out from 1804-1806). Since Americans had not yet sent out a single foreign missionary, these students prayed for missionaries from other parts of the world—like William Carey of England, a pioneer missionary to India.

These four students claimed the following lofty goal: "The evangelism of the world in this generation." They agreed to write letters of encouragement to missionaries, give funds to missions, pray for missions, prepare for going overseas, and to go overseas as missionaries themselves.

Due in part to these four students' determination, the United States became a missionary-sending nation. By 1948, the nation had sent over 20,500 missionaries overseas. What a legacy!

May we raise up young people who don't just try to "get through" this stage of life. May we help them make the most of high school as a preparation for the future and a chance to impact the world even now. Blessings to your family as you challenge your high schoolers to invest their youth wisely.

Keep it up—you just might have every reason in the world to homeschool your high schoolers.

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