Charlotte Mason High School Students: What to Expect

How are the high school years different for a Charlotte Mason high school student? Let’s talk about that. You know, in a lot of ways, the high school years can be just a continuation of what you’ve been doing all along but in other ways, they’re different. We want to talk about that today with my friend and co-worker, Laura Pitney.

Sonya: You have two high schoolers now, right?

Laura: Yes.

Sonya: Okay, and I’ve had four. They’re all out of the high school years now but we’ve walked through this before. It seems like there’s an overarching transition that needs to happen during those high school years. And we were discussing it earlier. Explain what that overarching transition is.

Laura: For me, the goal has been to help them become young adults. The school lessons are a component of that. Their hearts are a component of that. Their work ethics are a component of that. So all these things are the recipe being mixed together to help them mature into those young adults that we hope they’ll be. That they will be, no matter what. In this season, it has really been helping them to take ownership of their responsibilities, their choices, their schoolwork. I am trying to step away from them being dependent on me and help them to become truly independent, with me being alongside them as a counselor. I’m not leaving them; I’m coach.

Sonya: Coach, yes.

Laura: But there’s this ownership that I desire for them to take over their life as a whole.

Sonya: Yes, that is the transition, if you will, into adulthood. It’s almost like we’re dealing with two transitions, like elementary and middle school years. There’s a transition now into high school, which will then be also a transition into adult. So there are lots of transitions in there.

Laura: Yeah, and these high school years are really when they need to start taking those steps towards owning their decisions and all the things. That’s the hierarchy of that umbrella that all these other pieces, practically, are under.

Sonya: Yes. So let’s talk about some of those practical pieces. And let me just mention something, we are not going to be talking about grades and transcripts and all those details. Those formalities, and how it all fits with a Charlotte Mason education, you can find in Your Questions Answered: High School. It’s a great resource and it gives all those details. It also talks a little bit about what we’re going to be discussing here. So let’s talk about how this idea of giving them responsibility, making that transition, applies to independent work. I think when the children start out in the early grades, we’re doing basically all the work together. And then, over the years, over the grades, very slowly and gradually, Charlotte worked it in to her methods that you’re starting to turn over a little bit more, and a little bit more, and a little bit more as independent work. But what are some of the things we need to keep an eye on as we’re giving that independent work to them?

Laura: I think that one of the first things that will be noticeable is their character. I think the hard things don’t necessarily make the character, they reveal the character. So as they’re challenged with things that feel harder or seem harder, they may just want to say, “I don’t want to do that.” You’ll really start to notice things in their personalities and their characters. I have one child who will rise to that occasion; if you give her an assignment, no matter the difficultly, she may not like the newness of it, but she really wants to do well. Then I have another child who would just rather not do it. He’s fine with the way it’s always been done, so “Why change it?”

The hard things don’t necessarily make the character, they reveal the character.

There are pieces that will start manifesting that will give you an insight to things you need to work on, or discussions you need to have. As workload is increased, or as you assign more independent work, and maybe even give them deadlines, however you start leveling up those high school classes, it’s really wise to keep an eye on their responses and their follow-through. That way, at different times you can address those. Again, if you’re keeping the big picture in mind that you’re hopefully raising young adults, those conversations have to happen. And you don’t necessarily know what conversations need to happen until you start noticing that they either become complacent or lazy, so you need to have your eyes on not just the content and their abilities, but what you’re seeing revealed from their hearts.

Sonya: That’s a good point. So many times, when the children are younger, you see peeks into their personality, but it’s developing all of those years. In those young adult years is when it’s starting to really shine through in many areas.

Laura: Yeah, and it may be great, and you’re like, “Yes!” Or you may be like, “Where did I go wrong?”

Sonya: I think it is important though, like you said, to distinguish between personality and character. Because that child might have the exact same personality you do. Well, not exact, but very close. And that’s either going to give you an empathy, or it’s going to rub you the wrong way, but we need to distinguish between, “Is this child just a naturally laid-back personality? Or is it laziness of character?”

Laura: Yes, and it helps you determine how to coach. That’s an important part of this transition in high school. If our goal is for them to own their responsibilities and their decisions, I don’t want to say unfortunately, but the work has to come in from us and it’s a different type of parenting that has to happen. So, it’s also a transition for us.

Sonya: Yes, absolutely.

Laura: Oh, man, it’s difficult.

Sonya: Absolutely. It is, it is. But it’s so important. And it’s a wonderful example of how God always brings new situations into our lives, that I’m not going to say force us, because it’s our choice, but they greatly encourage us to lean more heavily on Him.

Laura: Yes, prune.

Sonya: Yes, pruning. Pruning away that self-sufficiency or that feeling in us of, “Oh, I’ve got this, I’ve been doing this so long.” And now we have a new sense of, “I need you, help.”

Laura: Yeah. Again, going back to that heart component of giving them a vision for their own lives. So it’s hard to ask a 17-year-old, “What do you want to do in your career, what’s your vision?” It’s hard for them to even want to answer that. I mean, I’m an adult, and sometimes I have a hard time answering. And the Lord changes things of course.

Sonya: Some children will know from the time they’re 12. Other children will struggle.

Laura: But the goal is to give them a vision for serving the Lord and to seeking counsel and to being open to, like you said, the different opportunities. Again, it’s that heart issue. That starts with the exposure of all the things they learn in high school. There’s going to be a taste of harder math. There’s going to be a taste of different types of sciences. There’s all this feast that’s in front of them. As they’re being exposed to all those different beautiful subjects, the conversations that get paired with them can help give them direction and a vision. For instance, science is not my favorite subject, so we outsourced that. And for my daughter, I didn’t want my negative view of science to influence her. I wanted her to have a good, objective teacher and I wanted it to be a healthy thing for her. And so through the different sciences she’s had in high school, she’s enjoyed them. She’s enjoyed the projects and the different studies but she just told me yesterday, she was like, “Mom, I never want to do science.” Again, as much as she has thrived in it, she’s realized it is not her thing. It is not something she wants to advance in in college or her career in any way. And I’m like, “Great, that’s helpful.”

The goal is to give them a vision for serving the Lord and to seeking counsel and to being open to the different opportunities.

Sonya: Perfect, yeah.

Laura: She has been exposed to these beautiful subjects but also has the mindset to see, “Hmm, would I really want this in my life later on?” It’s teaching her to have that ownership over the science subject. Does that make sense?

Sonya: Yes, absolutely.

Laura: So, even though in some ways, the feast of high school can be intimidating, if you keep that perspective that it’s these beautiful touches that maybe they’ll click with something. Or they could get the idea that this is something they want to further study. It’s naturally what should happen. That’s why we give them that feast, to see how it resonates with them, but then the heart issue of soaking it in to say, “Hmm, this is something I want in my life” later on.

Sonya: But the same thing applies to the personality, as we were talking about before, where you are learning about their personalities, and you’re discussing it with them. When we talk about Charlotte Mason and the areas of knowledge she talked about, we usually just limit it to the three: Knowledge of God, Knowledge of the Universe, and Knowledge of Mankind, but there was a fourth knowledge she talked about that was Knowledge of Yourself. That’s so important, especially in those young adult years. The independent work can make those personality traits and character traits bubble up. We can discuss that, because that then is also going to help them know what direction they might want to head, and what would be a good fit for the way that God has made them.

Laura: Right, it’s also a great way, when we see their personality surfacing and their character surfacing, to know which habits we need to work on.

Sonya: Yes, because that has so much to do with character.

Laura: Yes, and it’s one of those things where for so long, they’re dependent on us to teach them those habits and be like, “You know what, you should really work on this habit.” And they don’t really have a choice because we do it together. But that transition for those high school years is they need to take ownership. “You know what, I have a bad habit, how do I fix it? Because my mom’s not always going to be next to me telling me what to do.”

Sonya: Or “I want to do this in my life. My life would be so much better if I had this good habit.”

Laura: Yeah, like cleaning your room, or doing your laundry, or studying.

Sonya: Exactly. So, “How do I instill this good habit? Mom always helped me with it before. Can I do it by myself? And that’s where it’s so important. I do feel like I’m sharing books all the time, but the Laying Down The Rails For Yourself book is written so that the parent and the child, the young-adult-age child, can read it together, and learn how to implement good habits for yourself. It’s such an important part of it.

Laura: Yes, and it’s very interesting because some of the habits that I see in my older children, my young adults, I could have a list of saying, “Oh, they should work on this, this, and this,” but I’ve got to respect them enough to know to trust their conviction of heart, for what habits they feel like they need to improve on. Again, it’s a discussion of me lovingly telling them, “You know, I feel like this is a strength, you’re doing great. I feel like this is a weakness, so what do you think we can do, or what do you think you can do to improve it?” But then that conversation has the other side of the coin where she may come to me and say, “I respect you. I do see those weaknesses, but this is what I feel really convicted about what habit I need to work on right now.” Again, that’s part of that transition of respecting them as a young adult and keeping my prayer life like it should over them.

Sonya: Ramp it up.

Laura: Yeah, oh, goodness. Yes, I’ve got to be able to let that go and trust them and let them make that decision.

Sonya: Trust that is God working in their hearts. That’s our prayer, that their relationship with God will be strong enough that He will do His work in their hearts. They will recognize that work in their hearts. And that will be most important to them.

Laura: Right. My tendency is that when I see them struggle, “Let me take it back. Let me help you let’s fix it.” That kind of thing. But that’s not always the best option. We were talking about —

Sonya: Monkeys, monkeys.

Laura: Monkeys. I don’t necessarily know why, but if you visualize monkeys as your responsibilities, we want to continually send those monkeys to grab onto our children’s backs, where they should be. But then we have the tendency to let them jump back onto us and just pile them on.

Sonya: Especially if we see that child struggling. We try to train this one monkey and it’s not cooperating. It’s like, “Oh, well, let me just help you with that.” But that’s not helping the child.

Laura: Right. There’s this constant struggle with monkeys, if you will, of whose back they’re on, and the mothering instinct is, “Let me take it, let me do it for you.” But that’s not always the best.

Sonya: Instead we need to say, “Okay, let’s talk about some ways that you can get this monkey under control and how you can train it to work in your life. And I’ll help you, I will coach you, but I’m not taking it back. That’s your monkey now.” That’s the hard part. That can apply to your independent work, setting up your daily schedule and how that fits in with the family. Because you’re still part of a family. We want to respect that you have longer work, that you have more independent work but you are still part of our family. And that extends to outside responsibilities, jobs, outside classes, co-ops, all of those areas. As you said at the beginning, it’s transitioning into giving the child those responsibilities. We’re not just going to gather up all the monkeys and dump it all at once.

Laura: Even though sometimes we want to.

Sonya: But that’s what we mean by transition. You’re doing this a little at a time as the child is ready for it and covering it all in prayer, and coaching as you go along, not just “Here you go, sink, or swim.” But we’re coaching as we go. That’s the big transition. Whether we are transitioning into the high school years or transitioning into the adult years, that’s the key to keep in mind. I’m so glad you brought up the monkeys.

Laura: It’s kind of crazy.

Sonya: But it sure helps the picture. That is a wonderful picture we’re all going to hang onto.

Laura: Yeah.

Sonya: Thanks.

One comment

  1. This was amazing! I have a rising senior and a rising sophomore- this talk completely hit home and put into words what I was trying to. Thank you both!

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