Note: I want to welcome Lynna Sutherland from Your Large Family Homeschool as a guest author who gives us insight into what it’s like homeschooling high school with a large family. She has EIGHT KIDS, both teens and youngers, so she oughta know! I love getting a glimpse into someone else’s experience, don’t you? Enjoy!
For one reason or another, homeschooling and larger-than-average family size seem often to go together. It appears quite the idyllic picture, just like what you see in a curriculum catalog — kids of all ages sprawled on the floor, cushions, and across the top of the sofa, each blissfully reading independently.
They seem to be absorbing those true, good, and beautiful things without any adult input, as mom’s only job appears to be taking photos of her angelic offspring. Even the dog looks contented and well-educated.
I have to admit that as a younger mom, I bought into that image in a big way when considering our family size and homeschool plans. I listened to folks who advocated that you should just keep having children and everything would work out. Our oldest was only twelve when our eighth child was born.
Don’t get me wrong – I love each and every one of my children and don’t regret their unique additions to our family. What I do regret is buying in to myths that left me unprepared, and at times wondering what I was doing wrong when my kids reached high school!
Here are three ideas I bought into that I’ve found to be not entirely true …
Myth #1: By the Time They Get to High School, They Will Teach Themselves Everything!
It’s certainly true that as our children grow, they are able to manage some things more independently than when they were younger. But please don’t imagine that your only responsibilities in homeschooling high school with a large family will be curriculum purchases and maybe making sure the teen is awake before noon each day.
While our kids’ ability to self-manage does increase as they grow older, so do their responsibilities and the intensity of their studies. At different times in their high school years, you may find their responsibilities outpace either their intellectual or social/emotional development (or both).
It’s also important to consider the impact of hormones on high school learning. During these years, teens may struggle with self-doubt and discouragement. Or, they may find they are more restless or distractible. Changing sleep needs and rhythms can mean that routines that worked before are no longer working.
Also, no matter their age, some subjects are best learned with a teacher. In theory, I love the idea of self-paced online courses. All the benefits of online learning without being bound to a schedule! And they’re usually a lot cheaper than in-person or even live online classes.
But no matter how amazing the material and how thorough the instruction, sometimes you just need to ask a human being to explain it to you another way.
We’ve loved using Teaching Textbooks for everyone from third grade and up as my kids can mostly understand and complete assignments on their own. And if they run into a snag, I can glance at the problem and explain. However, as they reach the upper grades, it takes significantly more time for me to get up to speed on the material in order to be able to answer questions.
There’s just nothing quite like having a real live teacher they can go to for questions and help! Needing a real teacher for high school isn’t a sign of immaturity — it’s a natural aspect of the learning process.
Note from Ann: I do actually recommend that if your teen is college-bound, they will be best prepared if they have practiced being 100% in charge of their learning during senior year of high school (at the latest). But as Lynna implies, this is a process! And there will be some kids who still have trouble learning independently in high school. More on how to deal with that situation here: Episode 74: When Your Homeschooled Teen Cannot Learn Independently.
Myth #2: Anything They Need to Learn in High School You Can Teach Them Yourself — Probably for Free!
Technically, this is true. You can read their curriculum in advance and master the material so that you can turn around and teach it to them. If you’re going to require them to understand and practice it as teens, surely you as an adult should be able to do the same, right?
In fact, you could probably learn all that you need to know to teach them pre-calculus and physics from YouTube, TEDed, and Khan Academy. Your ability to home educate should be virtually limitless, right?
Except not. In almost all homeschools — especially large family homeschools — the limiting factor is time. Mom’s energy and capacity are almost always the bottleneck. Just because your teen has more room in their schedule doesn’t mean you have the capacity to teach yourself to teach them another subject.
Time is money and money is time. When it comes to homeschooling high school with a large family, there are three inter-connected factors: time, money, and quality of education. You can save on time by expending money to outsource learning, or you can save on money by doing the work yourself. But if you try to save on both, the quality of education will suffer.
There are the rare situations where a child is so enthralled with American History or Chemistry that he can virtually teach himself from library books and YouTube. However, it’s best not to depend on this being the solution for every subject for four years of high school!
Related: Guess What? Teens Cost More
Myth #3: Don’t Worry; The Older Kids Can Basically Raise (and Homeschool!) the Younger Kids!
Maybe your theory is that you will have all the time you need to focus on teaching high school subjects all day because the older children can take care of the younger kids, or even manage their homeschooling.
Sure, big kids can be such a great help! It’s awesome when the 16yo is willing to sit down with the 10yo to help him over a speed-bump in his math, or the 15yo can help the 9yo spell words in her writing.
But our big kids are their own unique people. They are not just family resources to be used and managed. About the time they hit the teen years, their own individual gifts and skills will begin to manifest and blossom. They’ll be eager for opportunities to pursue development of their own interests in preparation for adulthood callings and service.
I was surprised when I heard that a mom of eleven that I know and respect had hired a maid to clean her house every week. With so many older children, I would have thought she’d have enough manpower to handle household chores. But she found that when her children reached the age when they were really efficient with chores, they also really needed the time to devote to their own studies.
Every family is different and will manage schedules and resources differently. Just remember that in addition to being able to provide help, teens will have growing and expanding needs and requirements on their time that are quite different from when they were small.
Our little kids have had many wonderful opportunities to do activities (both educational and otherwise) with their older siblings, and I truly believe it has created a tender bond between them. But at the end of the day, there is no replacement for mom.
Of course we want our big kids to learn valuable life skills, but not at the expense of their own personal growth and development. Our kids (young and old) really need parents to be their parents, and siblings to be their siblings.
As with any endeavor, homeschooling high school with a large family while holding onto idealistic notions can lead to frustration. Hopefully busting these three myths will help you plan realistically and empower you to enjoy the high school years more fully.
Are you getting ready to plan a homeschool year for your high schoolers and youngers? Need some honest-to-goodness straight-talk about planning for a large family? We’d love for you to join our Large Family Homeschool Planning group this summer!
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