First of all, if you are new to home education and your children are still in elementary school or younger, you honestly can bypass the worry of college prep at this point. You may laugh at my having to state the obvious here, but truly, I have seen a staggering trend of younger moms who get into homeschooling with their 3-4 year old (who is not yet even school age) and then they stress about getting them to read or wondering how to balance in learning with playtime, or what to do when this child is not focused during reading times. If your child is under age six, I do not recommend much in the way of formal education. More and more research is coming out to support the truths that Charlotte Mason knew in the late 1800s.
The details of family living will give [the child] the repose of an ordered life; but, for the rest, he should have more free-growing time than is possible in the most charming school. The fact that lessons look like play is no recommendation: they just want the freedom of play and the sense of his own ordering that belongs to play. Most of us have little enough opportunity for the ordering of our own lives, so it is well to make much of the years that can be given to children to gain this joyous experience. (emphasis mine)In other words, don't structure those early years so much. Allow the child room to just be a child and to play and explore. And read, read, read to them. Early childhood is best spent exploring the world, asking questions, playing outdoors and hearing good literature read aloud. Your child may do some pre-reading (letter recognition) but this can be done in such non-academic ways (drawing letters in the sand or the air). They experience life with you and by means of baking and counting they are learning number skills in the best way possible. Little ones can be exposed to wonderful music and art at early ages. There is a great article here about not getting into formal math lessons until much later ages. Know that you need to wait on formal schooling in the earliest years as this will only hinder what God has designed in a child. There is a season for everything. The season of early childhood is not for formal education.
So, for those of you with younger children, if you continue to home educate, you will have plenty of time to prepare for college. Elementary school is not college prep. It is a time for sowing seeds of character formation by developing good habits in an atmosphere of gentleness and gracious love while allowing children to explore a myriad of ideas from rich resources (after age six these resources get incrementally more formal in their presentation, but they remain engaging and varied).
Now, for the rest of you, who may be starting to home educate later in your child's life, you may be asking what I brought up in my original post:
Concern #7. How will I get them ready for college? (or: My inlaws think I'll be ruining their grandkids). Now, I know not all children will aim to go to college. There are a myriad of paths for people to take in this life. I am addressing this concern of being college-ready because so many moms do fear that homeschooling will keep their child out of college and that just is not so. If you consider what the public schools are doing, you will know that pushing youth through subjects at the pace of a group leaves anyone ahead or behind the median out of the loop. The advanced students are bored and are not gaining knowledge at a pace that fits their learning ability. The student who struggles (even in one subject) must jog along with the group whether they grasp subjects or not. Much of "learning" is done merely to pass a test and get a grade (or points) and the student doesn't really get the context of the knowledge they are memorizing. As a result, much is lost after the test is over or the paper is written. By the time the student goes to college, they are "cramming" for the SAT and then using these same study habits -- cram, memorize, regurgitate, forget, repeat ad infinitum -- throughout their life. They have lost the capacity to engage in ideas and hold those ideas and relate to the ideas and their contexts. So, what you will do at home is bound to prepare them way better than what the public school can offer these days.
Remember that we educate our children one year (one day, one experience) at a time. We are educating bit by bit and we can continue to assess their strengths and needs each year and then seek out supports if needed. There are so many supports these days for home educating families. We need not feel that we have to navigate this on our own.
I want to stress here something that has become so real to me over the past few years. When we achieve a greater goal, we meet lesser goals simultaneously, unconsciously and with ease. For example: if I focus on teaching my child so he will learn everything for his SAT so he can go to college, I may succeed at that. And, I may not. But, what I most likely will not do is simultaneously develop a love of learning and expose him to many ideas which are wonderful, life-giving, edifying and helpful (because they do not pertain to the SAT process). However, if I focus on providing a rich curriculum (I use the term "curriculum" to define all materials and experiences employed to educate) and I spread out a daily smorgasbord of learning opportunities, literature, resources and experiences, and then we engage in this process of taking in great ideas, processing them and discussing them, my child will develop a love of learning. My child will grow in his habit of attention (being able to attend to details and retain facts) and my child will gain knowledge that will be useful, not only on the SAT, but in life in general. Over here we study Latin, Shakespeare, Plutarch, History, Foreign Languages, Grammar, Great Literature, Art, Music and much more. My son has a wealth of knowledge and not only that, he is able to make his own associations between different ideas because of the approach we use to learning. Will he pass his SAT? More than likely he will do very well on his SAT. But, that is not my main goal. As I set my eyes on higher goals -- loving God, having a strong moral compass, loving learning and taking in a liberal education in engaging ways -- as we aim for the higher goals, we inadvertently will meet the lesser goal of being prepared for college.
That all being said, I want to give you some practical resources about college preparation. In our town (and probably in most of your towns as well) there are a variety of "umbrella" groups which will keep transcripts for you and will give you the equivalent of guidance counseling to help you as you educate your child at home through High School. There are also blogs like Lee Binz' blog, "The Home Scholar" which specialize in helping equip families to educate their high-school aged child and especially provide guidance about keeping grades and transcripts and preparing for SATs, etc. There are also organizations like College Plus which provide support and guidance for pre-college testing and CLEP testing which can also provide college credits to your high school child prior to them even attending college. They will help you discern the different types of transcripts and options you have as a homeschooling family.
Did you know that More than 45 percent of colleges including renowned postsecondary institutions like MIT, now post admission application procedures specific to homeschoolers. Institutions that have such policies in place are more likely to admit homeschooled students. Knowing the specific requirements of the colleges that interest you can help in planning for the admissions process. It can be helpful, too, if your high school aged child keeps what is known as a portfolio to show to prospective schools -- this can be samples of his best work in each subject throughout his years of high school. For more information about homeschooling your high school aged child, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has a "homeschooling teens" webpage and a specific page devoted to preparing your teen for college.
Most of all, know (again) that if God called you to this, He will surely provide for all your needs as you teach your child at home and prepare him for his future whether that future involves a college education or not. And, as for those in-laws who think you are messing up their grandchild, well, you can include them in the process by sending them some helpful links and then even asking them to pour into your child as you prepare them for college. Getting them on board as a part of the education "team" is a great way to diffuse their critical hearts (if they truly are feeling critical). It won't always work, but it is a great approach. And if it doesn't work, you need to know that what you are choosing -- you and your husband -- is what you sense is right for your child.
Next time I'll tackle concern #8. "I don't even remember how to do algebra, how will I teach it to my child?"