Every few months I catch a glimpse of another homeschooled wonder child in the United States on their way off to college at 14 years old (or perhaps having just finished up their doctoral at 16) and I have a mini freak-out. Who is this child? Who is their mother? How did she do it? What curriculum did she use? Am I doing this right???
Even though I have raised my children not to needlessly compare themselves to others, when these things float across my monitor I can’t help but reassess our own homeschooling situation – probably not doing so in the most healthy and pragmatic of ways.
As unschoolers, it can be especially difficult for me to gauge my children’s successes. The ole college acceptance letter is still the pinnacle of success, but my eldest is a couple years shy of attempting that goal. Recently two homeschool mums I know met this milestone and have experienced the sweetness of their own teenagers heading into college. Instead of freaking out, I felt a great relief. I see these sisters as just a few paces ahead of me on the home-education journey with my kids, so I caught up with them for a minute tof ind out how they had shuffled their own kids along the path to higher education.
Jayla Muhammad and Bee Rodriquez both have sixteen year old kids who enrolled in college this autumn. Both mums have seen their children in and out of brick-and-mortar schools and started homeschooling with a standardised curriculum before loosening up their routines a bit and allowing their kids to pick and choose their own interests and methods. Jayla, whose children have lived on three continents and are currently in the US, has always made it clear to her children that college “is a must”. Jayla adds, “It does not have to be a traditional college, it can be a trade school, but it has to be something that will allow them to become employable or own their own business. But when they were younger, I used to say they could not think of marriage until they graduated college, now I say not until they finish their masters. They know I don’t mean this literally but its stresses the importance of education.”
Jaleel, who registered for community college this past fall, is Jayla’s second homeschooled child to go to college. Still she had some minor concerns about how his dyslexia might have affected his admittance. She was worried that Jaleel may have to take some remedial classes, but finally decided that it would be better to only have to take them once in college rather than taking them in high school and then again in college. Ultimately, Jayla saw her son’s interest to start community college earlier than most schooled kids as an opportunity to skip a lot of wasted time in those last two years of high school. Jaleel is now working towards his degree, while still taking some lower level courses equivalent to what he would be doing in high school and pursuing his interests, such as photography.
Bee’s daughter Alisah has also been in and out of schools up until the fifth grade when she left for good and her parents found out about homeschooling. Though Alisah’s family had never heard of homeschooling, it seemed “natural” to them. Initially they used an online school, then a box of ready-to-homeschool curriculum, but strong-willed Alisah says, “And then I stopped all of that, I started reading and learning whatever I wanted to. I started teaching myself. I picked up books, I got online, and just learned. I would learn as much as I could about whatever it was that I was interested in at the time.”
Bee says that she has acted as a “facilitator” to her daughter’s education, not a teacher. Together they explored Alisah’s interests and goals, identifying college as a possible necessity. Alisah recalls, “my mom talked about college and university with me a lot. I always felt like college was going to be it, the last step, if I ever made it…” Last year, when Alisah decided to take that leap, once again Bee gave guidance and then stepped out of her daughter’s way, “I just had her do all the work. I felt if she was ready she would be able to enroll herself in school and it turned out that they didn’t even need me. She was just able to follow the steps that were given for new students.”
Alisah’s wavering doubts about college sounds similar to my own son, who having never been to school couldn’t really imagine what college was or how he would ever get there without approaching it via the same route as everyone else – through school. Recently my son, like Bee and Jayla’s children, began to narrow his focus on some skills he would like to acquire for his future and saw that a college degree would be helpful to him. He has enrolled in a diploma program and now has much more confidence about going to college in the very near future, insha Allah.
Jayla and Bee offer some sage advice for those of us who are stressed about our home-educated children’s college prospects*:
• Your child does not have to be perfect to get into college. Colleges offer remedial courses as well as other assistances to help smooth over any weak spots in your child’s education.
• Don’t stress about the SATs. In the US, students do not have to take the SATs to go to junior colleges, though home-educated students have the opportunity to focus their studies full-time on the SATs if they want to.
• Help your child identify the small goals they need to fulfil their education and life dreams, then give them the tools and guidance to tackle them little by little. Again don’t worry! These dreams may shift when the child sees them more fully explored.
• Encourage hobbies, they can turn into careers and/or help develop related work skills.
*Much of this advice may only apply to the United States.
Brooke Benoit is a homeschool graduate who now radically unschools her six darling children in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
This article originally appeared in the JUMBO Jan/Feb 2014 issue of SISTERS magazine, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women!