Homeschooling High School

The prospect of Homeschool High leaves many parents trembling in fear. A cold sweat breaks out on the forehead of the new homeschooling mom who dares to envision life a few too many years down the road. Moms have little real difficulty teaching a child how to tie his shoes, but those same moms will often cringe at the very thought of teaching high school.

A good high-school-at-home plan can be easily set up by using the basic entrance requirements for college, whether your student wants to attend or not. The student’s personal interests can be accommodated with some creative class development, and college-level classes can be utilized for high school and college credit at the same time through community colleges or distance learning programs.

If you have not been homeschooling previously, you will need to check your state’s laws regarding legal homeschooling accountability. It is best to check with a reliable source such as http://www.hslda.org/ — Home School Legal Defense Association — for the actual laws in each state, since local school districts are often ignorant of their state’s laws and can unintentionally mislead potential homeschoolers. Some states require you to file an “Intent to Homeschool” form with your school district; other states have no withdrawal procedure. Some states list which subjects must be taught in their homeschooling laws; others do not, meaning that there are no state-mandated requirements (i.e., Iowa lists no required subjects, but Pennsylvania has a detailed list).

You and your student need to decide if he is college-bound and what colleges are likely candidates. Check with those colleges and your state universities for a comparison of the basic admission requirements. Knowing how many years of math, science, English, and other classes are required for college admission will give you a basic plan for high school. Then, even if your student does not opt for college immediately after high school, you can still know that you have given him an excellent foundation for any future educational endeavors. I drew up a simple block chart with spaces for each grade (9th-12th) across the top and each subject area (math, English, science, social studies, and electives) down the sides. Then I penciled in our plan for what courses would be covered in which years. As I settled on specific books to use, those were also added to the spaces. It was a very basic guideline that changed several times over the years, but it gave us a place to start.

For a very rough outline of high school, begin with the basics of physical science (9th) and life science/biology (10th), a good foundational program for advanced grammar (9th and 10th) and the styles of composition writing (11th), algebra (9th), geometry (10th; Saxon Algebra 1 & 2 texts conveniently combine geometry with algebra in a clear and logical manner), world geography (9th), world history (10th), and American history (11th). Add in extra math and science courses when needed (11th and 12th), depending on your student’s career goals and interests. Literature (12th) can be split into one semester of American authors and one semester of foreign authors. Half-year or semester classes in American government (12th) and economics (12th) help to prepare your student for life in an adult world, as will courses in personal finances, independent living skills, auto mechanics, or home economics. Music lessons do not need to be formal classes: regular participation in congregational singing at church meets my personal requirement for a vocal music class. Most homeschooled children are naturally active outdoors, so be sure to count their regular outdoor chores or recreational bicycling, roller-blading, or swimming as physical education.

Once you have a basic plan of the required classes for high school, you can tailor those requirements to your student’s interests. My daughter became an ardent admirer of Abraham Lincoln as she focused her American history course around reading Presidential biographies. My son’s personal interests exhibited themselves as he taught himself to play guitar with little or no involvement from others; I counted this as a legitimate “course,” even though it did not have a textbook, a teacher, or an enrollment fee. The same principle applied to his learning percussion and earning a spot on the church worship team.

My daughter began working with tiny glass beads, threading them together into amazing patterns. A little internet research led her to animal designs, which she then strung together to form bracelets. She was making them for herself and as gifts for her friends, using the time as a relaxing diversion from her normal lessons. By the end of that year, she had designed so many intricate patterns herself that I gave her transcript-credit for “art projects.” She also spent a great deal of “free” time researching the collection of antique clothing buttons she had inherited from her great-grandmother. As her knowledge of button history increased, so did her list of credits — “Art History through Clothing Buttons.” One of her goals in life is to be a judge for state and national competitions among button collectors, so this course was tailored specifically to her interest.

We had a hearing-impaired friend who usually “listened” by lip-reading, since few people sign. My son wanted to learn sign language as a favor to her, and when a local church offered a free night class, he enrolled. He later went on two mission trips to a boarding school for deaf children, vastly increasing his knowledge through immersion in the language. Two years of experience with American Sign Language has now been accepted by his college as his high school foreign language requirement.

Other homeschooled friends of ours have pursued their interests during high school as preparation for their chosen career fields: veterinary medicine, aviation, real estate, computer science, agriculture/farming, etc. Exposure to a variety of career options can be gained through field trips or informal interviews with acquaintances for the student who has not yet decided on a lifetime goal.

Certain shortcuts can be implemented to make progress possible in the high school subjects where a student has difficulty. Textbooks may seem boring or tedious to certain learners, so consider the possibility of letting them read biographies related to the subject or read through a text very quickly, perhaps in only a few weeks, and then moving on to the next subject. Many students would rather push through a boring subject quickly and get it over with than drag it out for an entire year. We used videos as an aid to reading high school literature, so that a story line could be absorbed without losing precious hours getting bogged down in a not-so-interesting book. My student was then required to read a portion of the book to get a feel for the author’s writing style. The portion could be a page, a chapter, or even the entire book, based on the student’s interest. (A supplemental discussion topic from this approach was “the variations from book to movie” and how or why those variations took place.) Our public library had videos for many literary “classics” that the local video rental store did not have. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jane Eyre, and Oliver Twist were easy to follow on-screen, giving us the context of the story, which was then followed by reading a portion from the book to see how the author had put those scenes on paper. Reluctant readers will usually watch a movie, and even picky movie watchers will endure a change from their favorite genre for the class credit. My daughter was eager to read the equivalents of chick-flicks such as Sense and Sensibility. My son, however, was allowed the more action-packed selections of The Man in the Iron Mask and The Hunt for Red October. Ironically, a mix-up at the video store left my son watching Jane Eyre one day when he found it accidentally slipped into the case of his chosen rental and he did not want to give up his planned afternoon of movie-watching.

Lab work is required in some science classes, but lab work simply means hands-on learning and experimentation. Biology lab work can be accomplished by studying plants and animals through gardening and pet-care, or collecting wildflowers, tree leaves, or insects and identifying them through reference books obtained at the public library. Labs do not need expensive or complicated equipment in order to impart knowledge. I have heard of homeschoolers who scooped up fresh “road kill” to use for dissection (although I must admit my reaction is EW!). Even flowers and seeds can be dissected and examined to learn how their basic parts differ among species. Do not assume that learning at home means a second-rate education: the vast resources available on the internet put incredible amounts of knowledge right at our fingertips.

Before you protest that you did not do well yourself in high school, let me say that you now have a second chance. I know a Mom who wanted to read and discuss literature with her son, so she went to the public library and checked out two copies of a book at the same time: his and hers. I tackled the higher math lessons right along with my son, reasoning that if he became confused on a concept halfway through the book, I did not want him to have to wait around while I studied the last 30 lessons to be able to help him with the one that stumped him. Yes, these methods do mean more work for Mom, but they are excellent ways for your students to see education as a lifelong endeavor, and they provide common ground, a unique bond between you and your student — goals I consider well worth the effort.

I have often advocated taking advantage of community college classes to complete the high school courses that may be more difficult to do at home: chemistry, physics, calculus, etc. My children were able to accumulate multiple college credits in this way while still in high school. One college counselor instructed me to specify the college classes on the students’ high school transcripts as “a college class, taken on a college campus, from a college instructor, with other college students.” College-level classes are often available at public high schools, but college administrators do not view them as identical to the classes taken in the actual college atmosphere.

However, there are a few things to be aware of before dropping your impressionable high school-aged students off at the college doorstep. The assignment expectations are often much greater than students usually handle in high school. The college “atmosphere” includes a vocabulary that is R-rated, not PG-13, and classmates with questionable reputations and worse recreational pursuits. I cannot recommend involvement in college theatrical departments for conservative Christian students: the subject matter chosen is usually extremely liberal. Speech class topics, literature excerpts, and English compositions will also likely include “mature subject matter.” Art appreciation and drawing/painting/sculpture classes will include exposure to human figures lacking apparel. If your student is mature enough to handle these situations gracefully, he or she will probably do well in the college setting. I do recommend taking classes on a part-time basis (1 or 2 classes at a time) to start and attending full-time only after the student is 18 years old (the age of most college freshmen).

To successfully homeschool high school, start with a solid foundation of college entrance requirements. Fulfill those requirements to the best of your ability and with a bias toward the student’s interests and consider using college classes to complete any classes that you find too difficult to accomplish at home. I personally enjoyed my students’ high school years of homeschooling more than the elementary grades because of the wonderful one-on-one discussions my students and I had about their studies and life in general. High school at home is not a fearsome thing to be dreaded; it is an exciting adventure to be anticipated.

Comments

  1. Teresa says:

    Thank you for your site and for this particular forum on homeschooling high schoolers. I am actually teaching my fourth high schooler, but everything this year is changing for us; starting with a move from California to Kentucky! Carolyn’s article addresses many of my worries…

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