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Dancing with Cinderella.... when our homeschoolers move on into the wider world
Denise Boiko and her husband Ron homeschooled their two children from K-12, with their daughter Julie (Stanford University '10) now in an MD/PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh and their son Steve returning to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles this fall as a sophomore engineering major. Denise is the author of a new 400-page book, Homeschooled & Headed for College: Your Road Map for a Successful Journey, which details the entire college preparation and application process for a homeschooler. The book is available on her website www.HomeschoolRoadMap.com.
One of my favorite songs these days, reflective of the life stage I am in after 16 years of homeschooling and now having both my son and daughter in college and grad school, is “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman. In case you're not familiar with it, this sweet, moving song describes a daughter, at various ages, asking, “Daddy, dance with me!” It spans the years from her preschool days as she prepares to attend an imaginary ball at the castle, to prom time with that special young man, and finally to practicing for dancing at her wedding. The father declares in the refrain,”So I will dance with Cinderella, while she is here in my arms...” He goes on to reflect that he knows what the Prince in the fairy tale never realized: that “all too soon, the clock will strike midnight, and she'll be gone.”
Well, I'm a mom, not a dad, and our daughter Julie reminds me more of Marie Curie than of Cinderella, but just the same, that refrain is all too real as it runs through my mind and heart these days. Julie recently graduated from Stanford University and headed off to the great state of Pennsylvania to attend medical school at the University of Pittsburgh. Now, Pittsburgh is a long way from San Jose, and we have definitely been spoiled by having her nearby these past four years while she's been at Stanford. Her MD/PhD program is eight years long, which is basically forever to a mom—she'll be 29 by the time she is done. Thus, that clock essentially “struck midnight” and I'm still trying to get used to the idea! now.
So how does one “dance with Cinderella”--whether your own personal metaphorical Cinderella is a daughter or a son, ready to leave home for college or for other adventurous pursuits? Here are some thoughts especially for you as homeschooling parents as you contemplate that day when your son or daughter will head out into the world—excited and full of plans and dreams (and just a few fears that they will never admit to), leaving Mom and Dad with a piece of their hearts missing!
Realize it's coming When our kids are young, we tend to think the day will NEVER come when they don't need us. We think that we will eternally be making sandwiches, picking up toys and books off the floor, and driving to soccer practice and dance lessons. Because our lives have centered so completely around our kids, we can't imagine the day the house will be quiet and empty. But that day will come, and we need to embrace it with joy, not fear or sadness. Though I had a bit of a tough time with “empty nest syndrome” after our son went away to college last year, I comforted myself with the thought that it's better than the alternative of a grown son or daughter taking up permanent residence on my sofa in front of the TV for the next twenty years. This “leaving the nest” is what we have prepared them for, and we have done our jobs well if they sprout wings (more rapidly than we can imagine) and insist upon using them. In general, their excitement about going away reflects well, not poorly, on our parenting.
Prepare them well Much of the anxiety you may feel as you let your baby birds fly out of the nest can be alleviated by making sure you have given your students a strong foundation in several areas. Academics are one obvious area, because strong courses and study skills will help them transition well to college-level academics. And certainly, courses such as the AP courses offered by PA Homeschoolers will give them a huge head start in tackling college-level material. But academics are only part of the equation. During those years of high school, build in healthy social relationships with people of all ages so that your students can interact with courtesy, friendliness, and respect no matter who they need to deal with (roommates, professors, employers, neighbors...) Take some time to teach life skills so that they are not blindsided by simple tasks like laundry or cooking, or more complex challenges like sticking to a budget, purchasing a reliable car, taking public transportation, or presenting themselves well during a job hunt. In line with your family's religious or spiritual life, give your students a good faith-based foundation to help them build self-worth, strong concepts of love and service to others, and a view of the world and their place in it.
Build in some flexibility As the senior year draws near, make sure that you are not prescribing a path that is wrong for your student. Not all students are cut out to go away to a 4-year school immediately after high school. Some are better off staying close to home; some need a “gap year”; others should start at a community college and then transfer; still others find that their true “bent” lies in employment, the military, or a trade school rather than academia. Know your student and seek to understand the best future path for him or her—completely separate from your own personal dreams and aspirations. At the same time, always encourage your student to “reach for the stars” and not settle for less than what his or her abilities indicate is possible.
Get a life Mom and Dad, when your last child leaves the nest, you are in for a big change that can be quite emotionally devastating (at least temporarily) if you are not prepared to fill the void with some “good stuff.” In my case, teaching 11 classes for homeschoolers kept me so busy I couldn't see straight, provided income to pay those humongous college bills, AND best of all, kept me supplied with hugs and smiles from lots of wonderful kids. Be thinking of how you can use your gifts and abilities (particularly to serve and benefit others) rather than spiraling into a lonely and predictable life pattern once your kids are not around.
Support and encourage without hovering “Helicopter parents” is the name for parents who tend to “hover” and come alongside their students for every little decision, change, and event in their lives. We are all guilty of some “helicopterish” behavior from time to time, and homeschooling parents, who have been accustomed to having their students with them 24/7, probably have a greater tendency to fall into this pattern. But we have to realize that it's OK and entirely appropriate to release our kids to make these new decisions and have these new adventures on their own. Whether it be choosing the lineup of classes for that first term at college, choosing an appropriate mix of studies, work, and extracurriculars, making a major purchase, or choosing a place to live, we need to guard against micro-managing. We can give advice—realizing that they may not take it—but we should not take over or control. Again, this is very, very hard, and we will probably err on the side of too much involvement at first until we get the hang of having a more independent “child.” It's all a part of growing up—both for the student and for the parent.
Pray If you are a family that appreciates the value of prayer, realize that this is the single most important thing you can do for your student as he or she faces the inevitable trials, troubles, and crises that come up in college. It is tough and sometimes even heart-rending to be on the other end of the phone as your student goes through a nasty illness, a depressing phase of loneliness or homesickness, or a particularly rough set of courses. But you can always pray and know that God will be with your student even when you can't.
Get in there and “dance” The minute hand is moving closer and closer to midnight. Ironically, as it does, our students get so busy with their activities that they have less and less time for good old Mom and Dad. Our best intentions of having “lots of time” with our students before they go away—whether to college, or as in our daughter's case, to eight years of medical school—often just remain intentions because of the perverse nature of calendars and clocks not allowing leisure time. What I am learning constantly is that I need to savor those moments I do have with my kids. I need to make some of those moments happen and enjoy the “dance” as long as possible so that I can let them go without the regrets that I was too busy to be involved with them in those last few years, months, or weeks.
So, enjoy “dancing with Cinderella” so that you'll have no regrets when the clock strikes midnight. The dance can take many different forms. An impromptu trip to your favorite burger place for a juicy burger and conversation. Attending a special event involving your student even when you have a very busy week. Those midnight conversations in your teenager's room. These are moments you'll enjoy looking back on in a couple of years when your house is much quieter and your heart tells you that something is missing. But most importantly, these are the moments that will build a strong relationship and great memories for both you and your student so that your “baby bird all grown up” will love coming back home to visit Mom and Dad!
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