Monday, June 17, 2019

How WE Homeschool High School & Our Path to University!

Hi friends! How is everyone? I hope that you're doing well!

As another school year comes to a close, I'm reflecting back on this completely unexpected journey into homeschooling that we've been on. By far, the most difficult thing that I have ever undertaken, and in the same breath, one of the most rewarding and life-changing. Just like with many aspects of our lives, there is no, one "right way" in education. I personally don't believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to learning, but I do believe in the gift of finding a student's "right fit."

A local public school could be fantastic and just the right first for your child. (I was a public school kid!) A private, independent school or an online school or a parochial school or a charter school could be exactly what inspires them to grow. On the other side of a coin, a particular student might thrive on the one-on-one learning of homeschooling, or the freedom of unschooling! What I'm trying to stress is that every child is different, every situation is different, every learning option is different, and they are all completely ok.

For us, while I was incredibly sad to say goodbye to our school community of nearly ten years, homeschooling has been what works best for our child, so much so, that we've been doing it for over FOUR YEARS now! How!? Still, I can not believe it. This fall will mark our fifth year homeschooling which to me, in hindsight and considering my original view of how I thought our lives would go, is amazing! I also saw my son as a "lifer," at his independent school, a nursery through 12th grader in the same school. Noah changed, his needs changed, we changed with him, and I'm thankful for this always interesting journey.

One question that I often receive is: "How do you homeschool?" I've gotten this more and more often, especially as we head into the high school years. One of my biggest fears is holding Noah back from any opportunity that he would like in life because of homeschooling. Rest assured, I've spent the past four and a half years reading every single book, research paper, article and personal story that I could get my hands on about homeschooling and homeschooling outcomes. Today I'm happy to say that I feel completely confident that home education will not hinder my child, and in fact, have seen the numbers and read the anecdotes of homeschooled teens launching into the world as successful, kind-hearted, curious, happy human beings!

I'm far from an expect on home education, but it has been one of my main passions and focus for nearly five years now. When I say I did a deep-dive into learning about....learning, I REALLY mean it! What a joy it has been to live and breath the world of home education, to suss out my child's learning styles, his strengths, weaknesses, needs and passions. It's just been a big ball of curiosity, searching for knowledge and having experiences, just as life should be! I hope to continue this journey and to always seek out more and more insight.

So with that, I present to you, how WE homeschool high school. Please remember that every single state has different home education laws, different requirements and regulations. Check with HSLDA or your state's Board of Education to get the details on what is requested of your family. Also, this is just a slice of our lives, the beauty of homeschooling is that you get to decide how your child will learn by choosing the resources that he or she thrives with best.  While my son prefers textbooks and discussions, others spark learning joy kinesthetically, hands-on, or through lecture or in online classes. The options are endless. My biggest advice to you is:  DO WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOUR CHILD. 

For high school, Noah has decided on learning mainly from textbooks and live classes. When we first began homeschooling, I was all about hands-on learning, talking field trips, watching movies, reading literature and simply playing! I thought that anything but the classic, dry textbook model would be great. Funnily enough, over the years, Noah has been very direct, loud and clear about the way that he prefers to learn and his desire for what?........yep, you guessed it.......textbooks! So, never write off one way or another to "do" home education. The big picture goal is to help your student find a love of learning, to cultivate passions and curiosity in the world, to make goals and find paths to achieve those goals. To accomplish this- the possibilities are endless. 

A short anecdote on learning resources- Computer Gaming - I kid you not, my child has learned a heaping amount about geography, history, government, economics, critical thinking and strategy skills from video games.  Countries, capitals, 20th century events and historical figures, governmental systems and economics all through computer games! Noah has a couple that he's very into and regularly hops online to play with friends, usually representing a country or government sometime throughout history. It really is a fantastic and an outside of the box way to learn! Additionally, he has friends from all over the globe now and has become pen pals with some. It's been great. So you see, you really can find learning opportunities everywhere.

First things first - beyond knowing and understanding your state's own homeschool laws, you will want to start thinking about and planning for high school during your child's middle school years if you can. Don't worry if you come to this late or you begin homeschooling during high school, you can always jump in and catch up, but planning and organizing ahead of time has been a great help personally.  Lee Binz of The HomeScholar has been an endless resource and jumping off point into HOW to homeschool high school. She offers FREE online seminars and resources on how to begin and has lots and lots of useful books for sale online and even through your library system. Poke around her website and you will find everything. Additionally, Lee offers more extensive paid classes and coaching on everything from how to make professional high school transcript to getting into competitive colleges. 

After taking one of the HomeScholars seminars this past year, I created our very own Homeschool High School binder. This tool has undoubtedly helped me to organize and plan. It is also a place to store all important documents in. Best part- it was free! All of the information and printable planning hand outs I found online from Lee, and other helpful sites and blogs. Just google "Free Homeschool Planning Pages," and words like that! There are many free template for planning pages available all over. 

I highly suggest that you piece together a folder for yourself. It's a place to hold all of the things that will come in handy when putting together a portfolio, high school transcripts and college applications. Currently, this is what our binder holds to get you started:
  • A year by year list of middle school classes completed (at home or in any kind of setting) and extracurricular activities. Also field trips with different homeschool groups, private lessons, tutoring and sports etc.
  • Any early high school credits taken while in middles school with subject, class description, curriculum, credit and grade. So, for example, Noah took a high school level American History class this year through Outschool. (he adored it!) Out school offers live, small classes online with seasoned teachers, professors and professions. It's really great. 
  • A survey of Noah at this moment in time. He filled out a questionnaire that we made, everything about his personal goals, academic goals, new things that he wanted to try...etc. We also talk to him about his long-term goals and career planning. Jon and I fully know that he's only 14 and Noah's aspirations will change, but right now he would like to go into politics and become a foreign ambassador one day. So, we included a print out of all the paths to this goal and the things that he would need to accomplish. 
  • Your state's High School Graduation requirements. I listed out all of the credits needed and specifics about each required class. I also searched around for recommended high school sequences and optional credits for different areas of future study. REMEMBER, in many states, a credit course does not only = textbooks. Learn free and creatively whenever you can and if it works for your student! 
  • I mapped out and then printed, a rough outline, 8th -12th grade of the subjects/classes that Noah would study each year and made sure that we reached the credits we would like to. It's a broad 5 year overview that is very helpful!
  • Then I have pages for each specific year, 8th-12th. On these pages I will list subject and course summary, credit and grade. I will also record here, the curriculum that I used, our literature list for that year, and community service and activities and other accomplishments.
  • Finally for this first high school section of my binder, I've printed out some great guides and examples of official high school transcripts, which you can find by googling " How to make professional high school homeschool transcripts." There are services that will make them for you, but it's just as easy and nice looking to make or find your own free template and make them yourself!
  • The second section that I have is tabbed as "College." This feels a little funny, but Noah has been waiting and waiting and waiting for 9th grade, so that he may take some classes at our local community college as a "Dual Enrollment Student." This is where you are both a high school student (homeschooled or in brick and mortar school) AND taking college classes. 
  • Noah was accepted into our community college and passed their placement exam into college level composition, which is fabulous because now he doesn't have prerequisites to take classes. I used my three-hole punch and included in our folder, print outs of ALL college applications, test results and correspondences. 
  • Additionally I have detailed notes from our visit with his college academic advisor, lists of classes that he recommended to Noah to start with, and import information we were given with things like registration dates and guidelines. 
  • FINALLY, beyond all of this, I will be sure to keep copies of all  of his best papers, exams and projects etc., in the back or in another portfolio. 
Phew! That was a lot, but worth it!
Now that your planning is out of the way, and you kind of know WHAT you will be learn about each year, now you can move onto HOW you are going to learn each year. Like I mentioned before, sit, talk with your student, observe how the enjoy learning and what they need. Then you can pick your method and/or curriculum.

My favorite resources for finding out about different books, online classes, co-ops, programs, curriculum sets, kits, groups and so forth, is by going to my homeschool groups on Facebook . You will find hundreds of homeschool Facebook groups. We must have twenty different groups for my metro area alone. You can also join grade-specific forums, learning style specific forums, pages where you throw out questions like- "Good, recent documentary on ocean life?" and you'll receive 15 awesome answer almost instantly. It's really cool! I also tend to read curriculum reviews  at Cathy Duffy Homeschool Reviews, and at Homeschoolbuyersco-op. A lot of thought and a lot of fun goes into choosing your curriculum. It's one of my favorite parts. 

The following are the curriculum resources that we will be using for our 9th grade year!

Noah wants textbooks, literature, live online lecture and in-person classes, so this is what we're aiming for overall. 

9th Grade English Composition - 

I'm sorry about the bad picture, but you get the point. We'll be using The Write Source  curriculum from textbook manufacturers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Actually, most of our textbooks are Houghton Mifflin in conjunction with Holt Mcdougall. You can purchase them online at their own websites and on Amazon, but I have found the best prices by far at the site :HomeSchoolBuyerCo-op. In addition to Write Source for composition and grammar, we have been really enjoying the Writing and Rhetoric series for the past four years from Classical Academic Press and will continue to supplement with them. We like to learn with different resources everyday to keep things fun, so we'll also be finishing up the four book series high school language arts series by Life of Fred. If you didn't know that learning about language arts and grammar could be hilarious, then read these books!

Finally, one of my old favorites, or possibly even, my very favorite- Moving Beyond the Page. MBtP has offers full, literature based curriculum packages and individual unit studies for preschool to high school age kids. We've used them for all four years of learning so far and have had a wonderful experience with heir hands-on projects and the great books we've been sent. Noah will be using their literature units. First up, George Orwell's "Animal Farm."

Before I forget, I have to make two more fabulous Writing/ Language Arts suggestions, both that we may use again at some point this year. Brave Writer's online writing classes are unique, engaging and allow your student to develop their voice. The online classes are run asynchronously, so you never need to attend at a certain day and time. It's a unique format and I love their books clubs too. Also in the realm of online classes, but this time, live, I can not recommend Outschool enough. We've enjoyed taking part in writing, history and economics classes so far and will definitely be enrolling in more.

Science- Biology and Lab

For science this year, we'll have an interesting mix! First, our textbook will be "Biology" by Holt Mcdougall and we are also subscribed to their online Biology supplement for the text book. This includes additional reading and activities. Also, Noah applied for the Secondary School , Field Program at the University of Michigan Dearborn's Environmental Interpretive Center! (That was a mouthful.) This program runs from September to June and allows homeschooled teens to be lead by an instructor in nature study and biology on their 300-acre environmental area. The class focuses on biodiversity, the scientific method and becoming proficient at field observation. They will also work on some labs, so this will help to cover our Bio credit and a lab!

Math- Algebra 1.

Math is "meh." Well, at least if you ask Noah ( too!) That doesn't mean it has to be bad.  This past year we've been using the online math program, CTC Math. The thing that's great about this is that CTC breaks everything down into little, 5-10 minute classes, taught online by the teacher. Clear and to the point, no busy work, which is huge for kids who aren't the biggest math fans. Quizzes, tests, practice work is all online, within the program. I get to follow along and watch Noah's progress and assign his sessions. In addition, since we love everything Critical Thinking Co., we are also going to follow along with their Algebra 1. text and workbook. The Critical Thinking Co.'s style is anything but dry. No rote, repetitive work, lots of fun visuals and real word questions. 

Foreign Language - German, Hebrew

So, this thing happened last fall where Noah was thinking that maybe he did want to have a Bar Mitzvah eventually. (We now belong to this really amazing temple that is 100% inclusive and all about social justice and human rights. They have a relaxation meditation during services and vegetarian Indian dinners. It's like, the best place ever.) Noah knew he needed to learn Hebrew, among everything else needed for a bar mitzvah, as he's never been to Sunday School or anything like that. Thus began Hebrew tutoring for the past ten months. Somewhere along the line Noah changed his mind about pursuing his Bar Mitzvah, which is ok with us, but his interest in and enjoyment of learning Hebrew has continued! So much so actually, that he's elected to continue lessons throughout summer.  Seven years of French class did not seem to spark the same joy in my son, so I am pleased that he wants to keep going with Hebrew.

Additionally, Noah wanted to pick a second, more commonly taught in school language, and German is something that he has wanted to learn for a long time. We (again) went with Holt's "Komm Mitt" series. What's interesting is that if you know Hebrew and German, you basically, almost understand Yiddish!!! So that is our third language goal, to speak the great language of Yiddish. It's so much fun and dying language, so it would be FANTASTIC to learn.

History- Geography, American History And... ???

Noah's favorite subject by far is history. He loves politics and international relations and all that is related. So, being his passion, I don't shy away from providing him with material. Did you know that it doesn't matter what the subject matter is, that a person can hone their reading , writing and analytical skills just by studying what they love? He'll read and write about history gladly, so I have always tried to work in interest lead learning as much as possible.

This past year, as I mentioned, we started our high school American History credit early. This was done by taking three of the four part, school-year-long American history class on Outschool. The fourth and final section was moved to next fall when he will complete it. Also, fabulous, fabulous curriculum - U.S. History Detective textbook/workbook from The Critical Thinking Co. . Their series are phenomenal like I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago.  Noah loves them! We worked in these textbooks to round out our credit. 

For 9th Grade, we will focus on geography, another area of interest for Noah. Again, I went with Holt Mcdougall's Geography textbook and online supplemental program. I feel like Noah already knows so much about Geography because of his personal interest. I guess we shall see what else there is to learn! 

We will also continue our study of philosophy with various books, and The Critical Thinking Company's "You Decide!" This is an interactive study of the Bill of Rights. 
Rounding everything out, Noah had begun studying for the CLEP Social Sciences and History Exam. CLEP stands for "College Level Examination Program." Similar to AP Exams, high school kids can sit for subject test in hopes of passing out of these core classes in college. Homeschooled kids often take CLEP and AP exams, just like any other high school student. I had no idea about this until I bumped into the page: "Homeschooling for College Credit," and then joined their Facebook group. You will not even believe the opportunities out there!

Lastly, the plan is to enroll in a history or political science course at our community college for this fall. We're just waiting for them to release their fall schedule of classes and then we will be able to enroll on July 10th! We can't wait!!! We'll start off slow, one class in something he loves, a college study skills course, and then see how things go. 

A Brief Word On Homeschoolers Going To College- because they do, all of the time.

The greatest thing that homeschooling has taught me is that social constraints and norms aren't mandatory and that in fact, it's best to at least question them for yourselves before you decide what to do in your life. Homeschooling taught me that the world is so grand and wide-open and the possibilities and ways of doing things are endless! Isn't that nice? Life is so much more colorful and fluid now. I don't even have the words to explain it. Stepping out of the race, it freed me up to watch and observe from the side-lines, while munching on my popcorn and taking time to live our best lives. 

The point is- you don't HAVE to go to college, and if you want to go, that's fine too! Life has many many more paths that what we originally see on the surface. For myself, looking back, I can't believe it, but I never once questioned the fact that I would go to college. It just wasn't a question where I grew up, you'd go, no discussion. Same thing for my husband Jon, and this is the same expectation that we had for Noah. In fact, saving for college began before he was born, it was just that important.

Four homeschooled, wild and free years later, I'm actually pretty comfortable with the idea that not everyone needs to or wants to go on to higher education at the university level, and that is completely ok. For example, entrepreneurship is fantastic and does not always need a full, expensive degree. There are high school to career alternatives now, like Praxis and Lambda that develop your employable skills without putting you into debt. I also think that we don't talk often enough about careers in the trades and how they can be successful and satisfying choices. Mostly though, I just want my child to grow up to be happy and with a solid footing as he steps into adult life. Whatever he chooses that to be, no matter what path, I support him and will help my kiddo get there!

Noah knows that he wants to go to college. Like myself, he's never questioned that fact. He has plans to persue a graduate degree or two as well. So, as his parents, we're doing all that we can to help him get there. My biggest fear when we began to homeschool, was that I'd hinder his ability to apply to and become accepted to colleges. This worry kept me up at night for a long time! It wasn't until I had a year or two of solid research under my belt, that I calmed down and felt satisfied that homeschooling would not hold him back. Not in the least...


First off, every single year, more and more universities are welcoming homeschoolers to apply to their institutions. In fact, quite a few college actually seek out homeschooled applicants for their tendency to be passionate, out-side-of-the-box thinkers! I've checked Noah's top college choices and sure enough, they too have admission sections for homeschooled kids, it's a sign of our changing times.

Secondly, homeschoolers usually apply to universities exactly the same way that public or private school students do. You fill out the same application, sit for the same SAT or ACT exam, (if you want to) submit the same type of essay. Homeschoolers are awarded high school diplomas just like everyone else, and they are able to easily sit for AP exams too. The only difference that I've found, is that a few universities ask homeschooled applicants for a portfolio of their best work- papers, projects, awards. I actually think getting to show off your accomplishments in this way to an admissions boards is actually an advantage!

We homeschoolers have endless opportunities for extra-curricular activities to include in our applications as well, just like other students. Sports teams, theater, arts, music, forensics and debate. You name it, there is usually multiple groups and organizations for each interest in your area.

More excitingly, there is another way that homeschooler get into college, and this is the path that we plan to take- often homeschool kids participate in dual enrollment opportunities at their local community colleges and other four year universities! By concurrently being homeschool AND slowly taking college classes, you can begin to build up college history and credit. Once kids are in their "senior year" of high school,  they usually have enough credits to transfer right into a four year university at the same time as their peers! Plus, you already have 2-4 years of college credits and practice under your belts. So for Noah, his goal is to take classes at our community college for 9th and 10th grade, and then he will apply to a four year university near us, that accepts dual enrollment students in 11th and 12th grade. Hopefully, this will set him on a path to transfer into the school that he has his eyes set on in four years. Fingers crossed!

So you see, homeschoolers, they're not at a disadvantage. It's all about your student learning about themselves, their interests, and coming up with a good plan together. Not only is this doable, but it's seriously interesting and a lot of fun!

Apart from all all of the things above, for high school, we'll be sure to get some volunteer and community service work in. This is actually a nice perk of the homeschool community, as often groups schedule volunteer field trips where you get to find what kind of work that moves you. We have travel opportunities with other students all over the world, and like I mentioned above, every kind of sports team, theater opportunities and art classes. Noah is looking at a high school metal smithing at our local art center.

Oh! One last thing to touch on, the social aspects of homeschooling high school. We all know this is one of the most asked questions- how do homeschooled kids have a social life, how do they learn to interact and work with others? Rest assured, if your teen wants to have a full, daily, vibrant social life as a homeschooler, they can have one. Home educated teens can take classes AT THEIR LOCAL PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL, at community college, in homeschool learning co-ops, which are huge and everywhere. They can get together any day of the week with their homeschool groups, with friends, in extracurricular classes, camps and on teams to name a few. My son attends a tutor's home who hosts a homework study group four days a week, part of which is all about the socialization with other teens. So worry not, there are lots and lots of opportunities for kids to get to know each other and work together, just like in school.

This post has already gone on far too long and I fear that it's made homeschooling high school sound complex, when really, it's not! Believe me, not needing to wake up a sleepy teen at 6:00am (or 8:00am, or 9:00am, or...)is  incredibly nice! No rush to get out of the house or daily commute to school.  No homework battles or homework for that matter. Just nice, relaxed days, studying things the way that brings a smile to your child's face. It's all worth it and pretty easy once you get the hang of it.  When you realize just how much choice and freedom that you have during the high school years, and how many directions you can take in learning, the fun really begins!

Until next time,


Anonymous said...

I found you years ago when I was stressing out about growing out my natural hair and you were a huge support. I am going to start home schooling my middle schooler this year also. So much to figure out. Thanks for your post. You are beautiful inside and out. Christy A from Collierville, Tn

Lauren said...

Hi Christy! It's so nice to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to comment. It's always nice to find another silver sister/homeschooling Mama. We need to support each other! I found the middle school years great because you can dive deep and explore and use this time to find passions and interests. Glad you're here. <3

Rescuedogmom said...

You are an amazing Mom and CEO for your son!!! I think you are very passionate about making sure he gets what HE needs!!! I also love your sense of style and decorating! I always look at your blogs and instagram!!! Thank you! Heather R, IL