By Lee Binz
As a homeschool parent, you know how to educate your children best. You use what you know about your students and their learning styles, and make sure to cover a wide range of academic areas. But when it comes to homeschooling high school, sometimes parents become paralyzed when choosing courses—what are the subjects that colleges want to see on a high school transcript? How many credits are necessary? How do you teach upper level math when you’re not a math major?!
Develop a flexible big-picture plan for all of high school so you always know what to cover and your child will always be prepared for what the future holds. Plan a rigorous curriculum with your child’s abilities in mind. Each class should always be challenging so your teenager will learn something. At the same time, these classes should not be overwhelming. You want your child to learn and succeed, not be in so deep it’s impossible for them to succeed and move forward. Finally, be sure to review your plan every year so you can avoid a senior year meltdown.
Here are some guidelines to help you plan your high school courses and prepare your student for successful college admittance, without changing the way you homeschool!
Cover Core Classes Every Year
Most colleges like to see four years of English, including reading and writing at the student’s ability level. You can accomplish this in a variety of ways. Your student could study literature and composition through a prepared curriculum, or you could simply have them read and write a lot every year. You could consider a speech class as an alternative. Keep in mind what really matters–a student who enjoys reading, communicates in writing, and knows how to learn.
Provide four years of math at your child’s ability level. This does not mean calculus for everyone, but do remember to keep math challenging. You want your child to learn a strong work ethic. And you know that math is difficult at the high school level. These things are tied together! Teaching four years of math is instilling a strong work ethic. Math is such a cornerstone for other subjects, careers, and college majors that I believe four years of math is important. Most colleges like to see kids moving forward in their math studies, so simply teach your student consistently at their level and keep moving. As long as you “do the next thing,” working on math at your student’s level, you can’t lose.
Colleges like to see at least three years of science and at least one should be a lab science. While commonly this includes some biology and possibly chemistry, physics is not a requirement for everyone. You see, physics requires a thorough understanding of pre-calculus, so it’s uncommon for a child to take high school physics.
While three years of science is expected for college preparation, there is no real definition of what a lab science is. If you purchase lab equipment and use it, I’d say call it a lab science. Each area of science is so different that a child may really hate one but really love the other, so it’s helpful to try to expose them to different branches of science. You can also try unique subjects: geology, astronomy, or computer programming. Colleges love to see unique courses, so don’t be afraid to delve into another area of science if your son or daughter is interested.
Colleges like to see three to four years of social studies. Often, colleges further specify classes they particularly want to see. Usual requirements include world history, American history, government, and economics. There are no rules about what time periods you need to include or how deep into each subject you need to go. You can branch out into classes that go beyond the expected classes, too. In our family, one son took a course in Russian history and the other chose psychology.
Go Beyond the Core Classes
Many colleges require a foreign language for admission. Most demand two, three, or four years of a single language. It doesn’t help to have one credit each in four languages, such as a bit of French, German, Arabic, and Mandarin. Instead, the purpose is for the student to become reasonably fluent. The key to success is to do a little every day, whatever curriculum you choose. A daily 15-minute study period is more effective than studying once a week for an hour. The key to earning high school credit is to complete one level of a curriculum or 120-180 hours of study. Use a foreign language curriculum designed for homeschoolers so you aren’t expected to already know the language. With a good curriculum and supervision, you can let the student learn independently, checking on their progress now and then.
Physical education can include any kind of exercise---really anything that breaks a sweat. It could also include education about remaining fit. Educational units on health, nutrition, first aid, or relationships can cover P.E. requirements. Some children find it easy to get the required two credits of P.E., while others balk at physical exercise. Unique ways to obtain physical education credits include doing yoga or weight lifting at the YMCA. Your child could also take CPR classes or study health. Some kids who “hate” P.E. will love swing-dancing or computer games requiring movement. Remember that any physical activity that breaks a sweat or any sport included in the Olympics can count for P.E.!
Colleges like to see at least one fine arts credit. The fine arts include music, art, theater, and dance. You can focus on only one by having your child take piano or art lessons. Or you can create a survey class, by covering a little of each fine art. If your child is artistically minded, it’s common to earn multiple credits of fine art. Some of my friends in high school took band, orchestra, choir, and an art class every single year! Homeschoolers can do this too, if they love the subject.
My two boys took piano lessons for a fine art credit. We also studied the fine arts through history, using library books, and learned about composers by checking out CDs and biographical books on different composers and styles of music.
Electives are the credits that don’t fit under the core categories. There are three kinds of electives.
1. Electives required by your state law. Perhaps you are required to teach state history, occupational education, or technology.
2. Electives required by parents. Perhaps you insist your child take Bible classes, driver’s education, logic, or home economics.
3. Electives provided by delight directed learning. These are things your child does for fun that are educational.
Plan for Delight Directed Learning
Include delight directed learning in your planning. Specialization is one of the benefits of homeschooling, so seize this opportunity! Delight directed learning will make your life better, and it makes your child’s life better, too. It can help your child in college and career planning, and even help build a resume.
Here are three ways adding delight directed learning to your classes can make a huge difference.
1. Parents benefit because homeschooling becomes LESS WORK. Delight directed learning improves co-operation and compliance. You’ll experience less whining and complaining. (Let me repeat. Less whining. More cooperation.)
2. Children benefit because homeschooling becomes MORE FUN with an increased love of learning that can last a lifetime. And they will have more motivation to work because it feels like they are having more fun, even though it’s still school and still goes on the transcript.
3. Colleges love it because delight directed learning makes kids MORE UNIQUE. Colleges call it “passion” and it’s a huge deal for admission and earning scholarships. Delight directed learning can demonstrate career goals on a transcript and allow them to exceed expectations for admission, but without overworking your child.
I have one child who loved chess and studied it for hours each week. That passion became electives called Critical Thinking, Public Speaking, and Occupational Education. Other students I know specialized in ornithology, mycology, economics, and musicology.
Plan for Margin
As well as planning classes, plan for margin in your day. Margin brings sanity. Have you ever wondered why some books are easier to read than others? It’s not only because of the vocabulary words they use; it’s also due to how much white space is on the page. A book is easier to read when it has more unwritten white space. A life is easier to live if it has unplanned write space.
Margin means having some unplanned free time, down time, unscheduled chunks of your day. Your children need free time to learn so they can develop the God-given gifts they were given. Parents need free time for sanity, because nobody can go full speed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You’ll get sick! Everyone needs time in their day when nothing is planned. So, you must say “no” to many good things in life. If you don’t have time to sit down for a cup of coffee, that means you don’t have enough margin in your life. Take a moment. Sip. Breathe. It’s therapy.
How Can You Do It?
Cover the core classes first. Add some delight directed learning where you can. Then fill in the gaps. Don’t try to cram twelve years of school into one year of high school. As long as you aren’t trying to cover too much at once, you can make it all fit. Build some margin into your homeschool, so there is space and time to accomplish both the important things and those that might not be planned but are equally important.
Parents may wonder how to teach children upper level math or foreign language when they don’t know the subject. Find a homeschool curriculum with the answers and resources to make it self-teaching. Perhaps you can find curriculum with video tutorials for your most challenging subjects. At a homeschool convention or curriculum fair, you can compare choices side-by-side. Remember, one of your goals is to teach your student to learn the way adults do - by teaching themselves. Teach your child this valuable skill, and they will be well-prepared for college, and for life.
Planning High School Courses
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Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee's FREE Resource Guide "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School" and more freebies at www.HomeHighSchoolHelp.com/freebies.
Planning High School Courses: Charting the Course Toward High School Graduation
(Coffee Break Book) [Paperback or Kindle Edition]
Experienced hikers know to never begin a demanding journey without a good map and a strong plan. For homeschooling parents, it’s even more important to establish a solid plan toward high school graduation.
Learn what subjects are required for college preparation, so your child will be fully prepared for competitive admission and scholarships. You’ll learn strategies for choosing curriculum as well as tips for grouch-free grading. The free Planning Guide will be essential for keeping track of your student’s coursework.
There’s nothing more stressful to parents than college admission and scholarships. Many parents question whether it’s even possible to find a college that is satisfying to both parent and child, a college that will love their student and offer them scholarships to attend. “The HomeScholar Guide to College Admission and Scholarships” puts these concerns soundly to rest. Author Lee Binz shares the principles she followed to help her own students achieve admission and full tuition scholarships to their first-choice universities.
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Guidance for Every Age and Stage
If you are a beginner to homeschooling high school, consider the High School Solution, which provides detailed training on homeschooling all the age groups, from middle school through senior year. The resources included give specific help for all stages, from getting started, planning high school courses and understanding high school testing, to college admission and scholarships.
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