High School Progress Report: A Change of Paths

Nearly a year ago, I shared details about the alternative high school plan I'd tentatively mapped out for the girls. And for several months afterward, I diligently wrestled with various ideas for implementing that rather overwhelming scheme, including hours spent parsing through the hundreds of possible activities listed in the program's first few units, hoping to pare things down to "just" several dozen options that would be more manageable for us all.

But I'd also picked up an old copy of an old book - Senior High: A Home-Designed Form+U+La by Barbara Shelton - at a used book sale in early June. I started pouring through it immediately and, frankly, I couldn't put it down. In some ways, Shelton's ideas mirrored what I'd had in mind with the unit study program, but reading her thoughts about delight-directed, self-directed high school planted seeds of doubt in my mind about my original plans. The girls and I still tried my "pared down" arrangement of the unit study during our "high school preview" in October and November, but I quickly realized that trying to implement it as written would be just as constricting as any sort of traditional (i.e., school-style) plan - and much more cumbersome and stressful. In a nutshell, none of us felt motivated to continuously juggle all the academic balls we would had to have kept in play with that program. Overall, Shelton's thoughts made much more sense.
This revelation struck me very clearly when - as I presented the girls with lists of ideas from Far Above Rubies (FAR) along with some other options I'd collected over the years - they both gravitated to the non-FAR material. In other words, given a choice, they were both drawn toward using engaging whole-book sources rather than to the notion of continuously picking from among the somewhat random FAR activities. And, of course, I was happy to oblige because I want them to be interested and self-directed.

So, using what we learned during our dry-run in the fall, we officially began "high school" on January 4, utilizing what might be called a "guided, delight-directed" approach. Practically speaking, that means we talked about what it would mean to earn a "credit" (i.e., finishing most or all of a textbook, completing roughly 140 hours of study in a certain content area, or demonstrating clear mastery in a particular area), and - even though my husband and I are not hamstringing the girls with a "college-prep" program for a variety of reasons - I provided some general guidance about what sorts of credits are typically expected on a transcript (i.e., four "English" credits). Armed with that information and an array of possible resources, each of the girls chose the material she wanted to use to begin working toward some of the credits.
But, in keeping with Shelton's ideas and my own conviction that "grade level" is a ridiculous, meaningless construct of institutional schooling, we're not concerned about finishing particular "classes" during "freshman year" or in a nine- or twelve-month period of time. Why box ourselves in like that? Yes, adult life sometimes comes with deadlines, and young people need them, too. However, "real life" deadlines exist for legitimate reasons, not just because "someone" said a course of study "should" take nine months to complete. In "real life," people learn continuously as their interests and needs dictate, and they learn to meet deadlines when there is a real reason to do so. So it will be for us as well.

Thus, I've helped the girls to map out plans for working on each content area a little each month over the next four years, so that by the time they graduate, they'll each have just what they "need" on their transcripts. But, of course, they may choose to move more quickly in certain areas, and we're also very open to adding various electives as yet-unknown opportunities present themselves over time. So we have a basic plan of action with which to proceed while also knowing that in some ways for right now it's just the skeleton.

One thing that became clear as we were trying to figure things out was confirmation that we are a "humanities family." In other words, just as some families or kids gravitate toward science and math - and even though one of the girls has some interest in biology - they (as well as Jeff and I) resonate with history, literature, and the arts. So, though the girls obviously need strong foundational knowledge in math and the sciences, it's perfectly okay that we're not going to emphasize "STEM." In fact, it's our parental duty to focus on how God has actually wired our kids. Thus, high school here means an unapologetic emphasis on history, literature, and music, along with necessary math and science and a variety of interest-led electives. That doesn't make our plans less "rigorous;" it simply makes them less cookie-cutter.
Some of the Girls' 2016 Readers' Workshop/Literature Options
We are keeping to a slightly adjusted version of the January-December year-round schedule we've followed for some time, though it seemed to make more sense to go with a 7/1 rather than a 6/1 schedule now. So I'm still using FAR as one source - along with All Through the Ages  and Honey for a Teen's Heart - for choosing Readers' Workshop literature options to coincide with the eras the girls are studying in world and American history during each seven-week "unit." And I've also used it to brainstorm ideas for activities related to some of the Home Management skills the girls want to learn and practice. But it's not at all our main spine as I initially thought it would be, and I deleted the FAR support group I thought I'd moderate since I can't be a source of information for how the actual program might be organized.

I know last year's post, as well as the time I spent during 2015 planning our implementation and rallying other FAR users certainly made it seem that I was completely "sold" on FAR. And I was...in theory. But when the idea met with my kids' actual needs and desires, we hit a bump in the road less traveled.

And that's okay. It didn't freak me out in the least because I've been down this road before. What I learned then was that change - when the Spirit uses a mother's intuition to redirect her children's path - is a good thing. In fact, knowing a change is needed and then choosing to step out in faith - instead of staying put or berating one's self for the initial error - is worth celebrating.

Early last year, I knew I didn't want to constrain my girls by using a school-ish approach to high school. By year's end, I learned that dragging them along on a free-wheeling unit study that didn't resonate with them wouldn't be any better. Instead, I've now provided them with a compass pointing to the end of the journey and I've asked of each of them, "What path do you want to pursue?" So now I'm helping them gather equipment and supplies as they go along and looking forward to enjoying it with them every step of the way.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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