By Pamela Ueckerman

One of the most frequent questions I get about our journey through home education now that my boys are a tween and a teen—aside, of course, from the inevitable and soul-wearying question about socialisation—is, “Will you home school through high school?” It’s a valid question and my answer is always, “If that’s what they want,” which is usually met with more curiosity, because high school is a huge deal, right?

What if they want to learn something I know nothing about? Do they need an ATAR? How will they get into university, if that’s what they want?

This hesitation about secondary home education is shared by home educators and non-home educators, even those supportive of home education in the early years—it’s as though we are seen (or we see ourselves) as capable in the primary years when our children are learning to read and do basic maths, but when our children hit the secondary years, suddenly things become serious and perhaps we should defer to a higher authority.

Well, maybe and maybe not.

I don’t possess the knowledge to teach my children advanced chemistry or trigonometry, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find resources for my children to learn such things. As a facilitator to my teens’ education, I can organise and provide access to deeper learning and life skills, and as they grow older, they will be more able to take responsibility for their own learning and seek out those opportunities themselves. We can appeal to a higher authority, but it doesn’t need to be school.

One of the best ways of providing deep learning in a specific area is through family and friends. My teen has been learning about electronics and how to solder from his grandfather, a retired aircraft engineer. The same grandfather has been coaching my tween in pool and snooker—not a useful skill perhaps, but these games provide many learning opportunities. Other family members may be called upon to cook with them or teach them about gardening, developing their life skills or giving tasters in non- academic subjects. Such mentoring offers the opportunity to deepen relationships, to ask questions, and to provide role models. It is invaluable.

Secondary home education also means that you don’t need to stick to the same subjects that secondary schools offer or at the same age levels. At any time, they can sample other subjects not offered by schools and get a taste for them: mechanics or nuclear physics, botany or weaving, podcasting or environmental science. The world is their oyster! Teens have more time to explore interests—to try things out without consequences if they decide it’s not for them, or to go deeper on topics they are interested in; to find out who they are and what they want out of life; and to do it without the constant pressure from peers and testing.

In terms of academic subjects, while we continue to use our base curricula for “core” subjects, there are several other resources that we’ve called upon to provide deeper knowledge and these include:

  • Udemy (there are other such sites, including Coursera and Skillshare
  • Khan Academy
  • Crash Course (a US-based YouTube channel)
  • They also have Advanced Placement (AP) videos on CuriosityStream
  • KiwiCo —the Tinker Crates are designed for 14+
  • Outschool classes for teens
  • Teen/adult non-fiction books
  • Documentaries
  • Workshops for teens provided by home ed groups, private organisations, zoos and museums
  • Extra-curricular classes (e.g. sports, music lessons)

You could also consider tutors, and other free, self-led university courses, and of course, YouTube abounds with “How to” videos, lectures, and documentaries (we’ve explored all sorts of topics from Geography Now! and the British archaeology show Time Team, to Yale lectures).

When a teen feels ready to tackle tertiary education—and this doesn’t need to be when their peers are finishing school, or even with a career in mind—they can apply for TAFE courses, single university subjects or even early entry to university (Open University is a great place to start for studying at home). If your teen has a career in mind, it’s helpful to seek out other home educators who’ve gone down a similar track to find out what that pathway looked like.

And what about secondary school rites of passage like school camp, formals, etc? Well that depends on how much your teen is interested in those things and your location. I’ve certainly seen home-ed teen camps and formals, and if you can’t find one, you could organise one yourself (better yet, your teen could). Rather than a grade six graduation with our teen, we organised a special night out for him with speeches and the gift of a special book for him to treasure—a sort of coming-of-age ceremony. It’s lovely to create alternative rites of passage suited to your family.

Secondary home education can look very different from secondary school but can offer exciting opportunities for exploration, deep learning and a variety of formats while allowing time for hobbies, part-time jobs, and socialisation.

Don’t be afraid of it!

Otherways 179 March 2024

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