Taking a “gap year” before high school

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What do you do when your homeschooled child isn’t ready for high school?

This post is sponsored by Oak Meadow. We have used Oak Meadow as our core curriculum since Bug was in the third grade. He is now finishing the eighth grade.

It’s almost the end of the traditional school year, and while that doesn’t mean much to us as homeschoolers (I’m not great at sticking to a schedule, especially one someone else designed), it’s time for me to evaluate where each of the kids are and start making plans for the next year.

We’ve made the decision to allow my oldest child, Bug, to take a “gap year” before high school.

We aren’t holding him back. Academically, he’s doing great and could probably keep chugging forward if we wanted him to. This isn’t about bad grades or anything like that. He’s smart and capable.

Holding him back isn’t the right way to describe it. It would be more appropriate to say we are giving him a little extra space to grow into himself and the person he wants to be, at a time when extra space is hard to come by.

It isn’t a big deal to take a “gap year” before high school:

To give a little clarity, right now, if Bug started high school next year, he would graduate at 17. In my mind, that means he could wait one year and graduate at 18 and still be “right on track” with most other kids. Considering many children these days are red-shirted and don’t start Kindergarten until 6, he could even wait two years and graduate at 19 and still be “normal.” This gives a lot of flexibility to us as parents to decide when and how to move forward.

Where we started, and what I wish I had done differently

Before I get too far into what we plan on doing this year, it’s important for me to talk about where we started. When we first started homeschooling Bug, everything I did was willy nilly. I had an idea of how I wanted things to be, but he was my first, and I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to be doing.

I found Oak Meadow when Bug was 8 or so. I looked at the curriculum samples, poured over the bookstore and read the frequently asked questions. When I spoke to the curriculum specialists, they recommended I go with the second-grade curriculum. I remember thinking that Bug was reading really well and was working “ahead” in math and that second grade would be too easy . . .

So I ignored the recommendations and started him at the third grade level. He did great with the third grade level, but slowly, I started to see little challenge points with him.

Some of our favorite Oak Meadow Grade 3 activities

The thing about Oak Meadow is that it’s a smart program. It’s designed to not only work with kids where they are at academically but to also meet a child’s needs developmentally.

When I look at the program now, looking back over the levels we have used, I see a clear developmental pattern. In grades K-3, curiosity, movement, exploration, and creativity are nurtured. The learning is gentle, subtle, and is slower paced than you may see in a program that prioritized rote memorization. I’ve used each grade except for K, and these years were beautiful. They provided a solid foundation and taught my kids to love learning – all important things.

Grades 4-6 really picked up. The biggest change, aside from increased output, is the increased responsibility. Slowly, students are taught to take responsibility for their own learning, to create a plan, to follow the lessons and to meet the expectations in front of them.

Grades 7-8 are transitional. Students are no longer learning to take responsibility, they are expected to be responsible. The lessons are more thoughtful, more complex, deeper and more challenging. They still are still beautiful and offer freedom and creative expression, but they have changed from the years prior.

If I could go back in time, I would have listened to the placement experts and not rushed the early years. With my younger kids, I am much more laid back and gentle with their learning in the early years, and I feel comfortable with that.

Why taking a “gap year” is a good idea

Bug has done a wonderful job keeping up with the curriculum academically, but he’s struggled to keep up with the curriculum developmentally. This makes sense because it was written for children older than him. What was subtle in the early years is much more apparent to me now, and I would rather take a break for a year to let him grow and mature before expecting him to take on high school level responsibilities.

A gap year will allow us to focus on these maturity issues. At 13, kids are dealing with hormonal changes, big emotions and huge periods of growth. They need extra sleep, extra food, extra hugs, extra everything.

I want to do Bug a kindness here and allow him all of the extra he needs while also helping him catch up in some of the areas where he is struggling.

We need to focus on time management, on organization, on building grit and “stick-to-it” attitudes. We need to work on study skills and how to manage big feelings.

Even more importantly, Bug deserves one more year to really enjoy being a child before high school and the pressure that comes with being on the conveyor belt to adulthood. Why shouldn’t he have another year to climb trees and play pretend instead of worrying about SAT prep, transcripts and college applications?

Bug as a little guy!

What will a “gap year” before high school look like?

So what will a “gap year” look like?

We are going to take the time this year to explore Bug’s interests. I have this theory in my mind that if Bug had some big goals and ideas about who he wanted to be and what he wanted to do with his life that he may just work a little harder throughout his high school years.

My intention is for him to learn more about different occupations and what it takes to become those things. Maybe he can shadow people, check out internship programs, and learn more at home. We can watch movies and documentaries, learn more about the history of various occupations and famous people to have held those jobs.

I want him to spend time doing things that he wants to do. I want him to enjoy a ton of hands-on learning. I want him to explore. I want him to create. I want him to breathe and learn and grow.

I know that we are going to continue moving forward with Math (he’ll complete Algebra 1 before high school). We need to do some intensive grammar work to improve his writing, so I have picked up a curriculum for that which includes diagramming. Other than those things, I am hoping we have a lot of fun.

I am still creating a plan and gathering resources, but I will keep you updated as we come up with one.

What’s next for us and Oak Meadow?

Our family has been using Oak Meadow for years, and so it may feel strange to not see Bug using the curriculum monthly on this blog. I am excited to say that Peanut is the appropriate age to be starting Kindergarten this fall, so we will be using, reviewing (and doing a giveaway as always), and sharing our experience with Oak Meadow Kindergarten on the website.

The intention is to continue using Oak Meadow for high school with Bug as well when the time is right, so keep watching for more information on what that program looks like in use. I know I have a ton of questions still about how to choose classes, how to keep track of them and grade them for transcript purposes and how it all works for college prep, so we will continue writing about that as well as I learn more about it.

Thanks for following along!

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  1. Hi! I see you posted this about a year ago. How did it go? What did you do? Would you do it again? I have a 13 yr old so am really intrigued by this. Also, what did you use to catch him up on his grammar? I’ll root around through your page trying to find an update but thought I’d post here and see if you could direct me. Thanks. : -)

    1. Hi Kim! This was written by the woman who used to own this website, so she’s not available to answer your question. If you’re a member of the Hip Homeschool Moms Facebook Community (HHM is our sister site), you can ask other moms who’ve children have taken gap years, though. Just go to the following link to apply to join the group, and then you can ask this question as well as any others! 🙂 https://www.facebook.com/groups/HipHomeschoolMomsCommunity/

  2. I love your perspective. I’d say that a “gap” year could be taken at any time, or just a more relaxed approach taken in the elementary years. I school very relaxed on academics until high school. My 3rd child is going into 8th next year and we are doing a curriculum that’s based on the Narnia books. We are doing no specific grammar, just creative writing. We focus on art, nature, reading, interest led unit studies, and math. I have graduated 2 using this method and they are both excelling at school and life.

  3. Your plan for Bug and your deep honor for him as an individual is one of the most heartwarming and inspiring posts I’ve ever read. What a wonderful mama and educator you are!!!

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