Homeschooling Your High-Schooler

I have a confession to make: Like many homeschooling parents, when I was homeschooling my oldest child I found the prospect of homeschooling a high-schooler to be very daunting.  Now keep in mind that when I started homeschooling in 1990, homeschooling was still very much a fledgling movement.  So by the time my daughter began high school eight years later there were not many homeschoolers who were, or had, homeschooled through high school and there were nowhere near as many resources as are available to parents of homeschoolers today.  In a very real sense, those of us that were homeschooling high-schoolers at the time were “winging it.”

In spite of feeling intimidated at the thought of homeschooling through high school and preparing my daughter for college, I was determined to do it.  I knew that the negatives inherent in the government schools were just as prevalent in high school (if not accentuated) and I was convinced I could give my child a far superior education while also giving her the opportunity to explore extra-curricular and vocational opportunities as well.

I like to say that God gives our oldest children a special dose of resilience because they are our “guinea pig” children.  We try things out and make more mistakes with our oldest, but as long as we keep learning it all works out in the end.  There were many things I learned from homeschooling my daughter through high school that I was able to apply to how I designed my oldest son’s (and his brother’s) high school curriculum, but regardless of what I would have done differently, my daughter turned out just fine (she does have a Master’s degree in Forensic Drug Chemistry after all!)

In this post I am going to give some general and some specific guidelines for homeschooling your high-schooler along with recommendations for curriculum and programs you might want to include in your own program.  Every kid and every family is different but there are components that I believe are critical to adequately preparing your child for college and I will definitely be exploring those in depth.

By the way, I might as well say here that I believe that, with few exceptions, every homeschooled  child should get a college education.  I will explain my reasoning for that in a post in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned.  Suffice it to say that the high school program I recommend is college prep, and I personally have never known a homeschooled student that was incapable of successfully completing such a program.  So let’s get to it!

MATH

Your high school student needs to be completing a math program that goes beyond just Algebra 1.  My children use Saxon Algebra 1 in 8th grade.  So in 9th grade and 10th grade they use the Saxon Algebra 2 and Saxon Advanced Mathematics texts (the Advanced Math text includes analytic geometry and trigonometry among other topics).  This prepares them to take College Algebra in 11th grade at the community college through dual enrollment.

This brings me to an important recommendation: I strongly encourage you to have your high-schooler get as many college credits during high school as possible.  There are numerous ways to do this.  In Florida (as well as many other states) homeschooled high-schoolers can dual enroll at the community college for free (parents have to pay for books).  Your child can get college credit through distance programs and CLEP tests.  I recommend you check your state homeschool organization for various ways that your son or daughter can earn college credits while in high school.

There is an important point that I would like to make here that I suspect many parents are unaware of: when your child takes college classes during high school, one semester of college is equal to one year of high school.  When my 17-year old took College Algebra at the community college last fall it counted as both college credit for that class and it counted as one year of high school math!  This is only one of the many reasons for your kids to get college credits in high school, though it is certainly one of the most compelling.  For every semester of college, or for every college level class your child takes, they not only get the college credit but it also counts as credit for a year of high school, for whatever subject is covered.  Virtually all of my son’s high school credits in 11th and 12th grades will be from classes that he is taking through dual enrollment at the community college.  I love this program!

But back to my recommendations for math: I will say it again, do not be satisfied with simply having your child get through Algebra 1 and for that matter, please do not tell me that your child does not want to take algebra, will never need algebra, or that you’re too intimidated to teach algebra!  I have never known a home-schooled student who couldn’t get through an algebra program if they were given the right tools (try DVD’s or a tutor if necessary).  And unless you or your child can tell the future, then you cannot know that your child will not “need” algebra!  So make sure they take a sound algebra program including Algebra 1 and 2 as well as more advanced math such as trigonometry and pre-calculus.

LANGUAGE ARTS

Teaching Language Arts in high school is not all that complicated.  With a core of classic literature and a good composition program (I strongly recommend “Write With the Best”) you will give your child all they need to be ready for a college English Comp class.

It is vitally important that you teach your child to write well in high school.  That should include being able to write well-informed and well-written essays, and being able to write a research paper.  I searched for years for a composition program that was clearly written, easy to use, and that worked.  When I found “Write With the Best” I knew immediately that I had found what I had been looking for!

Write With the Best” begins with teaching your child how to write a good paragraph (the building block of written communication) and goes through such topics as teaching your child to write a short story and writing friendly and business letters to teaching persuasive and expository essays and literary critiques.  It comes in two volumes and for what it covers is very affordable.

“Write With the Best” does not cover writing research papers so I developed my own easy-to-follow guidelines to teach my son how to write a solid research paper.  I detail that process in my post: “The Homeschooler’s Guide to Writing a Research Paper.”

As far as teaching the literature portion of your Language Arts curriculum, assign your child to read and read some more.  This summer I have my 17-year old doing a British Literature curriculum that includes reading Julius Caesar, two books by Dickens, and a historical anthology of British literature.  In the past I have had him read Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, Treasure Island, The Wind in the Willows…and an assortment of other books as well.  Focus on good literature that has stood the test of time and you can’t go wrong.

SOCIAL SCIENCES

I discuss teaching the Social Sciences in my “How To Teach…Anything!” series and most of that deals with high school level courses.  I recommend you read those posts for recommendations on teaching such subjects as: History, Geography, Economics, Government, etc.

One thing to keep in mind is that Social Science courses are great courses for your child to take as part of the dual-enrollment program.  My son will get two years of high school history (which will also give him all the history credits he needs for college) through dual-enrollment.  He’s also taken Macro-Economics at the community college.  Your child could take a Political Science class or a Government or Geography course at the college level while in high school.  Patrick Henry College offers a variety of courses through their distance learning program and their Social Sciences department is excellent.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE

There are a number of ways for your child to get credits for foreign language courses.  They could take a foreign language course online.  Many homeschooled parents have their children take Latin.  My sons have taken Spanish I and II at the community college which (and I hate to sound like a broken record) not only satisfied the entrance requirements for college – which required two years of high school foreign language – but it also satisfied the foreign language requirements for the university itself.

SCIENCE

If you have been a regular reader of my blog you may remember that I am not a big fan of science textbooks – especially through the elementary grades.  There is actually only one science textbook that I have used and that is the “General Science” text by Apologia.  Many homeschoolers like the Apologia texts so you may want to look into those for high school science.  To get an idea of what I like to use for science you could check out my “How To: Teach Science” post.  But to give a synopsis of what I did for my 17-year old’s high school science coursework:

  • In 9th grade I put together a General Science course that included the use of the textbook I mentioned above as well as the “Origins of Life Equipping Course.”  This General Science course included lab work.
  • For 10th grade I compiled a Biology course using various resources (including the Anatomy and Physiology DVD’s I reference in my “How To: Teach Science” post).  There wasn’t much lab work to this so I did not give a lab credit.
  • This spring my son took a Chemistry class with lab at the community college which satisfied his 11th grade Science credit.
  • Next spring my son will take Physics with lab at the community college which will satisfy his 12th grade Science requirement.

The important thing to note in regards to teaching high school science is that you need to know what your state’s requirements are but you also need to know what is required by the colleges your child will apply to.  Florida State University (which my two older children graduated from and my 17-year old will begin attending in the fall of 2012) requires three years of natural science, two with lab.  So my son will have more than satisfied the requirements needed for admittance.

ELECTIVES

Further coursework for high school can include a variety of electives.  If your child is involved in sports by all means give them a credit for P.E.  If they are involved in an organization like Boy Scouts many of their activities could be considered for credit.  If they take a job or start a business, you can certainly give them credit for that as well.  The important thing is to “think outside the box.”  Don’t make the mistake of looking at your child’s high school curriculum as something that needs to look like what you did in high school assuming that, like most of us, you went to public school.

Whether you are pulling your child out of school in the middle of high school or have homeschooled all the way along, homeschooling your high-schooler is not just possible but, I believe, it is the optimal way to not only give your child an excellent education but it also affords them the opportunity to explore their interests in a way that no other educational option can.

I have two last things to add to this post:

If you have not already, read my New York Times op-ed on “Stress and the High School Student.”  I was actually requested by the New York Times to write this op-ed and was thrilled to do so.

Secondly, I strongly recommend you use a quality program like “Transcript Pro” to compile a professional looking transcript for your child.  It will help not only with college admission but for scholarship applications as well.  I have used “Transcript Pro” for my two sons and have been very happy with its ease of use and the quality of the transcripts.

I hope that you find this post helpful.  If you have any questions about homeschooling your high-schooler you can ask them in the comments or fill out my contact page if you prefer.  And if you have homeschooled a child in high school please share your experiences in the comments section below!

  • I’m 97% sure your daughter turned out highly educated…

    I just wish you could have articulated it in a shorthand manner that didn’t lean on her *college credential*.

    I do like that you rebuke these homeschool moms who are petrified of not *teaching*, but merely figuring out how they can facilitate higher math/science learning when not proficient themselves.  Like you say, a “tutor” is easy to come by.  Heck there’s probably at least one person in the extended family they can outsource this too.  Heck they outsource ballet!

    I myself order my mother, the grandmother, to teach my son science – which bores me to no end.

    And kudos to you for being a pioneer in the pre-internet age!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the compliments CNut!

      As far as my reference to my daughter, I knew this was going to be a long post to begin with, so yes, I didn’t dwell on that aspect of the post.  I will tell you that ever since my daughter was young people have expressed their amazement to me at how mature she is, how sweet she is, how intelligent she is and so on.  As a matter of fact, I am told often by people who have contact with my kids – coaches, for instance – how incredible my kids are.  Given the amount of time, energy, etc. – frankly, given that I have devoted the lion’s share of my life to raising and homeschooling my children, remarks like these are incredibly gratifying. 

      And your point about the pre-internet age is spot-on.  It is such a different world now and I doubt homeschoolers starting out today realize how much easier it is for them to access information and resources.  It came into play big-time when teaching my 17-year old how to write a research paper, versus teaching my older two kids.  Frankly, for several years now, I’ve ordered all my curriculum online, and my youngest son actually does things on the computer (with PowerPoint particularly) that I have no idea how to do.  But that is where it is at today and the fact that he learned to do PowerPoint at the age of 5 is certainly a plus!

      And yes, there is no reason for homeschooling parents to decline to teach any subject given the access to online materials and, as you point out, the option to use a tutor.  I also tend to outsource science these days.  With my oldest two children I did a lot of science with them and enjoyed it.  I used 4-H materials, wrote my own unit studies…but now that my daughter has two science degrees I leave it to her to teach and tutor her two younger brothers.

      Only “97% sure…?”  🙂

  • workingmama

    Thanks for another inspiring & timely blog, & also for pointing us to your 12/10 nyt piece.  Along with the haters, there were a lot of eloquent & thoughtful homeschooling parents who commented.  I always find the nyt comments section as informative as the nyt pieces themselves.  Did you see the comment someone left just a week or so ago?  Very heartfelt & poignant.  Those homeschooling commenters should subscribe to your blog.  When our eldest is in 8th gr this coming fall, homeschooling will definitely be on our list of high school options, & it’s always great to hear your thoughts, both philosophical & practical.   

    • Anonymous

      Thank you so much for your kind words!  I did not know that people could still comment on the NYT op-ed so I will have to go back and check that out.

      I did notice when it first came out that the first several comments were absolutely stunning in their hatred for homeschoolers but then some homeschooling parents got on and made a very good case for homeschooling!  I did recently have someone tell me that they found my website through the NYT piece and I was very gratified for that.

      Thank you again for your encouragement!

  • Thanks for sharing your wisdom Anne. We will be moving on to high school within the next few years. I’ve been researching our options and have been really excited about the Advanced Placement courses that give college credit. Would it be more beneficial to cross enrol in the local college or take the AP courses offered in an online school?

    • Anonymous

      I see advantages with both approaches.  Obviously, taking AP classes online is more convenient.  No time spent driving back and forth to the college. 

      On the other hand, learning to adapt to college level programs was good for my kids.  Actually, they often found college classes easier than homeschooling because I expect my kids to start teaching themselves by about sixth grade or so.  When they started dual-enrollment the fact that there was actually someone teaching them made it seem so much easier at times.

      For me, I like the dual-enrollment.  The only thing I have to do, after the initial application and orientation, is get my son registered each semester (which actually my daughter does for me…not only is she an expert at this but she has even taught at the community college so knows some of the teachers there and tries to get my son in with the good ones).  I do, obviously, ask my son if he’s keeping up with his work, if he needs help, etc. but it’s mostly on him to keep up and it has been really a great tool for him to learn to organize his time.

      Mostly I just think that getting some college credits during high school is a really good goal to have.  Getting some of the basics out of the way such as: English Comp, History, College Algebra, Science, etc. is so much more efficient time-wise and money-wise.  I will be talking more about this in my next couple of posts!

      P.S. Consider CLEP tests also.  My son is going to CLEP the English Comp class because the text they are using for that class at the community college is just garbage!

  • Thanks for the reply! I can really see the benefit of getting to experience the classromm setting. I’m going to subscribe so I don’t miss out on what’s coming up. 🙂