The first step to starting high school is to consider high school graduation. That’s right, you have to plan the graduation before you even start ninth grade. If your student is enrolled in a private school satellite program (PSP) administered by a private school, then you have probably already seen the list of courses that your student must complete in order to earn a diploma. If your student is considering graduating from high school and heading straight to a four-year college or university, then you are likely aware that he must take certain courses during high school in order to qualify for admission. It would be foolish to ignore the list of graduation requirements or the list of admission prerequisites, wouldn’t it? But there’s more to planning high school than that.

As a parent, God has called upon you to take the responsibility of training up your children for His glory. As a home schooler, you have recognized this, choosing to teach your own children rather than placing them under someone else’s authority. You decide what subjects to study and when. You decide what materials to use. You decide which days are “school days” and which days are not, as well as what time school begins and ends each day. Finally, you decide when your student is ready to graduate.

You may have unconsciously decided that your student will graduate once he completes the courses on your PSP’s list, or on the typical public school’s list, or on a specific college’s admissions prerequisite list. But this kind of educational plan makes it easy for a student to fall into the grind of simply showing up to work a few hours each day on academic studies and being “released” once he’s put in his time. As Christian home educators, we want more out of our children’s education than simply to have finished four years of English, three years of math, two years of science, and so on.

In our family, we want more than a student who is proficient in algebra, trigonometry, economics, literature, and such. We want our children to finish high school ready to manage a home, able to earn a living, able to figure out how much taxes to pay, and most importantly, ready and willing to follow Christ for a lifetime. You probably want the same kinds of things. But many parents seem to think that the non-academic goals will just fall into place based upon their family’s lifestyle or their high hopes and dreams for their children.

The question parents must ask is, will putting in four years of studying literature, math, science, and all the rest of those courses, when added to spending time in church and family devotions and helping in the home, add up to a student who is ready and willing to follow Christ for a lifetime? We like to think so, especially when we can already see signs that our students have committed their lives to Christ. But isn’t it interesting that we’ll spend a lot of time choosing which curriculum to buy for literature and then we’ll spend even more figuring out how to use that curriculum in the literature course to assure that once he’s finished, the student will have learned the material? We decide how many reading assignments he’ll have each week, whether he should answer the end-of-chapter questions, whether we’ll give tests and how many, and what extra projects and assignments we’ll include. We’ll make a check-list of assignments to be completed, or we’ll decide to use the one that came with the teacher’s manual, or we’ll pore over lesson plans to figure out what should be done and when to meet the goal of finishing the book by June.

Yet for disciple training, we tend to hope that attending church once or twice a week, completing a pre-packaged Bible study, and discussing heartfelt issues as they arise will somehow be enough. For home care and management, we trust that participating in chores and learning to treat one’s siblings nicely and doing all those other things that just seem to happen when one lives with a family will all somehow turn out a student who is ready to run his own home and be a godly parent himself.

I would like to suggest that we reverse the way we allocate our time of high school planning. Deciding what to do about English and math and history should be subordinate to deciding what to do about discipleship training and life skills. We need to take time foremost to pray about our student’s spiritual development, and seek out a specific course of study that will prepare him to grow closer to Christ each year. We need to plan to devote as much time to attitude adjustments as we’re willing to spend on algebraic equations. This means allotting a portion of each week’s studies to the kinds of assignments which will teach our students how to live a Christian life. If we simply wait for the individual needs to arise, for example, a lack of a particular character trait or inability to perform a household task, it’s too easy to look upon those things as interruptions to our “real” school days. I suggest that we need to plan these training experiences into our lesson plans, and that we need to decide ahead of time which training experiences and which lessons in daily living we really want to focus upon each year.

You may wonder how it can be possible to plan ahead for those long heart-to-heart talks over deep spiritual issues, or how to know which kinds of assignments will teach the student the character lessons which will train him in the areas in which he suddenly seems to demonstrate a lack. I suggest that the reasons these issues seem to appear so suddenly is that we haven’t taken the time to assess them in the beginning. Too often, we are surprised by a son’s outburst of selfishness, or a daughter’s late night desire to talk about appropriate behavior around boys. But if we had been taking the time to pray and plan, we could have seen that signs of selfishness were there before the sudden outburst, and that the interest in the opposite sex had been growing for a while.

Certainly life is full of sudden happenings and we need to allow for interruptions to discuss and learn from them. Who can plan ahead for a dear one’s sudden death and the need to discuss it with our children? Who can plan ahead for one particular sermon at church to so touch the heart that our child wants to share what God seems to be doing in his life? Certainly we parents have to expect that we won’t be able to foresee all our children’s needs and detail them on lesson plans months ahead. We need to allow time in our schedules for all those things which seem to suddenly arise and demand our attention, whether it be household emergencies, deep questions from our children, or developmental needs that caught us by surprise.

But what shouldn’t catch us by surprise is the knowledge that these issues will arise in our children’s teen years. Our daughters will need to know about appropriate behavior around boys. Our sons will need to know how to treat girls. Our children will need to know how to handle anger appropriately. They’ll need to know how to tell when God is speaking and how to check out what someone at church said to see if it matches the Word. They will need to know how to fill out a 1040 tax form, how to stuff or carve a turkey, how to strip the wax off a floor, and how to mend a broken pipe. Some of these things simply are taught as a matter of course during a home school family’s life. At Thanksgiving, our children can learn the art of turkey stuffing and carving. But some parents don’t plan for that. Some parents prefer to have the children kept out of the kitchen so they can concentrate on stuffing or carving themselves. If this is you, then you may need to “make a date” to teach the art of turkey preparation.

Other parents will find that they need to make similar plans for spiritual development. They will need to set aside time to pray about what weaknesses their child needs to address before they develop into bad habits or those difficult-to-tear-down walls. If, for example, a student seems to be taking the Lord’s blessings for granted, the wise parent will plan to study thankfulness during the year. Specific lessons in giving to others and in counting one’s blessings should be incorporated into the curriculum. It may be a good idea to plan an outreach or family missions trip for that year, in an effort to teach the student what sacrificial giving means. Perhaps, instead, a student seems to be developing a short fuse or a sulky attitude. Rather than worrying about it, praying, and passively hoping for the best, a parent can pray about the problem and purposefully plan to incorporate materials and assignments into the student’s regular school lessons. Specific books like The Heart of Anger, by Lou Priolo, or The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande, may be assigned and discussed. If time is not planned at the beginning of high school for the study of how to handle anger and disputes, it is unlikely that the student will graduate from high school with a proficiency in these skills.

Parents may need to take time at the beginning of each school year to determine if it is time to teach about relationships with the opposite sex, including issues like dress, phone rules, flirting, dating, courting, etc. When it came to dating, our family had already made decisions and our children agreed with them. However, studying the topic more fully helped them to be able to answer questions from their friends, and also helped us to set more clear guidelines based upon our definition of dating. This has proved invaluable as our children wind up the teens and enter the twenties. They not only have a good foundation on the issue of dating and courtship, but they have learned to apply the principles they wish to follow while interacting with women in their daily lives. It’s one thing to decide not to date; it’s quite another to determine what kinds of conversations are appropriate and how to avoid misleading someone into thinking you are interested in dating them when you are not.

When parents are ready to begin their planning for the next school year, usually during late spring or early summer, I suggest that they begin with a couple of weeks devoted to seeking the Lord’s will for their student’s training. After prayerfully coming to the Lord with a request for guidance and taking the time to listen to His leading, parents are ready to look at required course lists. Starting with the academic course list and then adding prayer is backwards. God desires our “firstfruits,” and I believe this extends to the first fruits of our educational plans. We should come to Him humbly, not with pre-conceived ideas that what our students must cover this year is algebra. Setting aside a specific time for prayer together, husband and wife, at least, if not husband, wife, and student together, will help to prepare hearts to seriously follow God. Take notes each day during this prayer time, so you’ll remember what was said. Follow up with a time of sharing needs and desires. From these notes, you can begin to build a curriculum based upon God’s special leading in your own family’s lives. Then, pray specifically for the Lord to lead you as you plan lessons which will train the student in the areas God has directed.

If you’re a list-oriented person, you might find it helpful to jot down the topics you want to cover, materials you have or would like to buy to assist in teaching those topics, and then some specific character training exercises or assignments that could address each topic. For example, if you have determined that the most important thing this year is for your student to learn how to share his faith, your topic list might include sharing of testimonies, memorizing of the key verses which lay out the plan of salvation, choosing a person to pray for throughout the school term, learning various ways to show love to the lost, and some conversational skills oriented to witnessing. You may already have a book or two which either explain evangelism or illustrate it by telling the story of an evangelist, or you may need to ask your pastor or Christian bookstore for suggestions. Finally, as you brainstorm for assignment ideas, you might write the following under “sharing of testimonies:” invite at least one person each month to dine with us and share their personal testimony with our family; write an essay which tells your personal testimony; attend an event in which the speaker shares his testimony to a group; plan a time to present your testimony either to an individual or to a group. Your list of books, assignments, or projects will become, in effect, an outline for your own discipleship course.

Planning high school and preparing teens to become godly adults is certainly a challenge. But by determining to seek God’s direction first, taking time to pray and assess each student’s individual needs and development, and then committing to teach and train him with specific goals in mind, parents can look forward to their student’s graduation confidently. Not only will their student be prepared academically for college and career, but the parents will know that they wisely used the time God has given them to disciple and train their children for His glory.

Copyright 1999-2007. Mary Schofield. Reprinted by CHEA of California with permission of the author.

Mary Schofield is the author of The High School Handbook, a guide to home educating junior and senior high school students, which is published by Christian Home Educators Press. She speaks at home education conventions throughout the United States, encouraging parents to seek God’s unique plan for their families. Mary and husband Paul began homeschooling in 1986. Their family includes three home school graduates: their two sons and a niece who lived with them during high school. Mary enjoys her “retirement” from active homeschooling by continuing to serve on the Board of Directors for the Christian Home Educators Association of California and by remaining active in legislative issues surrounding private and home education, family freedoms, and parental rights. However, her favorite activity these days is playing with her grandchildren.