You can’t explain what you don’t know

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I’ve shared our approach to high school many times (a podcast summary is right here), and I probably will continue to do so. Homeschooling, after all, isn’t a one-size-fits-all order, no matter what the entrenched institutions try to sell you. A good— no, a great— high school education can’t fit in a box, or even a classroom. That kind of learning comes from following rabbit trails into unkempt, sometimes even messy places where young adults grab the spade that is the foundational years you’ve given them and start digging in to the dirt that is everything.

And no, I can’t tell you which dirt you need to buy for your high schooler. I can’t even tell you which garden to start sizing up. The ability to do that comes from peeking under the hood and asking the hard questions about what your teen likes, what he loves, what he finds monstrous, what he can’t wait to know, and what he’s already had his fill of. And that, my friends, is not as simple as clicking an Amazon link or falling in love with someone’s Instagram feed and copying their every move. That is the stuff of the trenches. Anyone with a good hear can hold your hand through the choosing, but the day to day? It’s all you.

The “it’s all you” is both thrilling and terrifying, every time. Even though I’ve already graduated one from the rolls of our homeschool, each new person coming down the pike reminds me that yes, I must reinvent the wheel. I mean, I guess I don’t have to. There is, after all, a good education waiting to be had from just about any catalog that lands in my box. But let’s be honest: we homeschool because we feel the Lord urging us to move beyond good and into best, whatever that looks like for our child, for our family. And in my case, with kids who are somehow all polar opposites (seriously, there cannot be nine poles represented in one family alone!), that means looking down the tunnel of the last four years of home education and praying hard about how to channel what God has folded into that child to the place where His glory is magnified… while still satisfying those pesky “minimum requirements” that the state mandates.

The funny thing is, of course, I don’t know any homeschoolers who have struggled to meet minimums. Oh, sure: there have been a couple of us who have been down to the wire on a math course with a child whose dyscalculia has made Algebra 2 a nightmare, or who have seriously wondered if they should invite anyone to the party until after the essay-phobic child has relented and just done the thing. But more often than not, I talk with families who, like us, have had the opposite issue:

How do you creatively stretch all that knowledge your child has already built up into something you can issue a real credit for? I mean, sure. You can go ahead and enroll 13 year-old Johnny in Differential Calculus, but to what end? Wouldn’t it be better to let him dig into some of Martin Gardner’s works (like The Colossal Book of Mathematics) or learn about Great Feuds in Mathematics: Ten of the Liveliest Disputes Ever? Maybe that’s not the way your homeschool works, but for us, the answer would be a resounding yes.

To that end, we find ourselves finishing the high school science career of Mathaus. Having had the privilege of riding along with his sister through well more biology and chemistry courses than most other American students teenagers while still solidly a middle schooler, there was something of a big question mark floating over his last years. He finished off all of his required courses so early, as a matter of fact, that he added Physics (not required) last year just… cuz.

Now ultimately, it would be lovely if he tested for credit in all those areas. And I think he will do so, handily. But in the meantime, there’s the small matter of making sure all that info stays at hand rather than becoming the shadowy stuff you go looking for in the weeks prior to The Test. To make sure that didn’t happen to Mathaus, and to continue giving him an opportunity to explore God’s creation (which he truly loves), we married two skills that we wanted to see mastered.

I give to you, my budding filmmaker… explaining science concepts.


So far, this has been a great exercise in making sure he understands terms and processes, giving him a chance to visually represent what he knows, and, finally, trying to get it down to a layman’s level. I’ve been impressed as I’ve watched him plan experiments and pore over word choices in his script. After all, you can’t explain what you don’t know. I’m also delighted that he’s using one of his favorite creative outlets and getting in front of the camera for a change! (Hint, hint, son!)

Mathaus has another full year of homeschooling in front of him. I expect that 2017-2018 will hold lots of Dual Enrollment, testing for credit, etc. In other words, much of the wide-open beauty of homeschooling will begin to fall away as he approaches what appears to be his goal: college. I’m glad that, right now, he’s able to rabbit trail, use his free time to explore the options God has open for him, and have fun. This season of life will so quickly be in his past. I want homeschooling to be something that each of my children look back on and see not just a superb education, but a life experience rich in the many blessings that make up a wonderful launch pad for adulthood.