Homeschool When College Is Not the End Goal

College isn’t for everyone, and the number of kids that are falling into the ‘other than college’ category is growing by the year.  Economic and societal changes have caused some families to rethink college, while others are just realizing that you don’t need a four-year degree to do many specialized careers.  So what do you do if you are homeschooling a kid who has no intention in going to college?

The first thing to note is that if there is any hesitation or unsurety there, homeschool as though college is the end goal.  It is much easier to take a college-prep education into a vocational school or career training program than it is to take a career-prep education and apply to a traditional college.

If your kid is sure, however, that college isn’t for them, then you have a beautiful opportunity as a homeschooling family to provide them with alternative learning opportunities, including extracurricular, volunteer, or career exploration.

Alternative Opportunities

Through these alternatives, students can still learn quite a few academic and non-academic skills, including computer proficiency, graphic arts, formal writing, marketing, public speaking, planning and logistics, and trade-specific skills.  They also develop EQ / people skills, such as patience, tolerance, empathy, accountability, and responsibility.

  • Volunteering is a fantastic way to learn a skill or trade while serving others.  There are always a plethora of volunteer positions available…you just have to look around!  Non-profit agencies, libraries, municipalities, businesses, schools, and agricultural organizations run off of volunteer hands.  By choosing to volunteer with an organization that aligns with their interests and goals, your kid can pick up skills, develop connections (for those reference letters!), and decide if this is a path they want to continue on, or if it isn’t really for them and they want to pivot.
  • Career exploration might look like a part-time job or an internship, each of which can also help with pocket money or saving up for post-graduate plans.  Be sure to check out the labor laws in your state before applying for a job, however, especially if your kid will be working a lot during regular school hours. 
  • Internships and apprenticeships can usually be located through networking or through the local vocational school.  They may be paid or unpaid, and are usually available in trade skill positions.  If you have a student who is interested in a trade, such as electrical work, plumbing, construction, HVAC, welding, graphic design, nursing, medical assistance, or CNC machining, check out your local trade school for programs that can be completed during the high school years, which may lead to apprenticeship or career opportunities.

Special Needs Teens

For families homeschooling special needs kids, there are other challenges to consider as they move onto a post-graduate path.  Be sure to check out Homeschooling Special Needs Students & Creating an IEP for insights into preparation and execution of a life skills-based homeschooling plan.

Planning and Documenting

When it comes to high school coursework, it’s important to remember that even if college isn’t the end goal, students still need to meet their state’s basic requirements for graduation.  Does that mean that those three required math courses need to include calculus and higher math?  No.  That could include algebra, geometry, and consumer math – life skills that are utilized everyday.  If chemistry is a required course, there are options, such as kitchen science, that will teach the basics incorporated with life skills to cover that requirement. 

If your kid has a post-graduate goal, use that to guide your course planning.  At Sparks Academy, our high school counselor is available to help guide you with planning your high school course map, meeting with you and your student to develop a personalized plan. 

Finally, don’t forget to create a transcript.  Even if your kid doesn’t need it for college, it is still a document that is often required by other organizations or employers, and you will want to have that prepared, accurate, and accessible to your student for future needs.

Teaching Teens to Master their Schedule

One of the challenges of transitioning to high school and post-graduate years is developing the independence.  It doesn’t happen overnight, and students need support as they move away from parent-led schooling into independent-schooling.  Here are some study tips to help champion your student!

Why work on independence in the school day?

  • Frees mom up to work with younger siblings or provide one-on-one instruction as needed
  • Boosts problem-solving skills and allows them to develop their own ‘groove’
  • Hands over the responsibility for both setting a schedule and completing the work

Maintain communication.

This is not the time to just let go of the strings and see what happens.  Check in with your kids on a regular basis, be that every few hours, once a day, or once a week (this will depend on the kid and what’s going on at any given time).  Review what has been done and what is coming up next.  This will help them stay focused and on track, plus it will give both of you a structure to work around.

By outsourcing courses, students also learn to be responsible to someone other than mom and dad, but still have parental support and oversight. At Sparks Academy, for example, students are provided a schedule and taught in teacher-led and teacher-graded courses, but parents are sent a quarterly newsletter and progress report as a reminder to check in regularly.

Set the right tone.

If your student isn’t sure about their learning style, have them take this free quiz.  By learning and playing toward learning style strengths, students are more likely to maximize their study time and improve their academic performance.  This might include working with music or wearing noise-cancelling headphones, working in a brightly lit or dim area, working with others or working alone.  Additionally, you’ll want a comfortable chair or desk, adequate supplies, and a place to spread out books and resources. 

Unless being used specifically for academic purposes, electronics should be put away during school time to limit distractions.  This is particularly true for students with ADHD or other special needs.  You might even go as far as to use a scheduler to block social media sites during school time, if needed.  By setting the right tone, your student will have a better chance of staying focused on the tasks at hand.

Read: Teaching the Distracted Student

Manage time wisely.

Probably the most important skill your teen will learn is time management, which translates across all aspects of life, not just academics.  Students need to learn to prioritize tasks (we call it triage in our house) and set the pace for completing those tasks.  Rather than constantly telling them what to be doing when, allow them to take a set of tasks, prioritize them, and complete them in their own time (with a set deadline). 

Be sure to enforce the deadlines, too, even though there will be times when they don’t meet them and need some sort of natural consequence.  When this happens, it’s a good time to work on ‘working backward,’ taking a large task, breaking it into smaller tasks, and scheduling each in order to meet a deadline.  Whether in college or on the job, there are always deadlines to be met and someone to answer to for our responsibilities…and by allowing them to start developing those skills now, you’re giving them a leg up.

Set Manageable Goals.

Checklists are wonders.  They can really keep a person on track, be that mom trying to accomplish all the things or students trying to remember assignments.  By learning to use planners and checklists in high school, students can find a system of organization that works best for them and will set them up for better success post-graduation.  There are both physical and digital planners, and there is no right or wrong option…only the one that is right for them!  As a bonus, planners (particularly physical ones) can be used as documentation of academic assignments and performance.  Just toss it aside at the end of each semester or year to have on-hand if needed.

Read: Five Best Planners for Teens

Develop a System.

Note-taking used to be much more common than it is now, and even when teens are taking notes these days, it tends to be digitally.  However, there is so much to be said for learning to take hand-written notes.  Using old-fashioned pen and paper engages several senses and an area of the brain that facilitates learning.  Follow these four rules for note-taking, and you should see marked improvement in your academics: be prepared, write neatly, stay organized, and write down questions.

There are as many different forms of note-taking as there are students.  You’ll need to find what works best for your learning.  Visit this post on Note-Taking for Teens to learn about several different styles and to learn more about teaching the art of taking notes. 

Look for more in-depth discussion of this topic and more in Through the Door: Homeschool to College Success! This book & worktext set will help you and your high school student breeze through the steps of college and scholarship applications, as well as brushing up on study habits and life skills. The worktext includes activities, worksheets, and planning pages, and accompanies the book.

Graduating a Homeschooled Teen

A lot of folks seem to be intimidated by the idea of homeschooling their teens through high school and graduation.  When we first began homeschooling, we met some pushback, but persisted and even fifteen years later were still got asked occasionally if they kids were going to high school.  While one son did do dual enrollment, the right fit for him, and another did votech classes at the local community college, again the right fit, both boys also took several classes at home as well.  They graduated from homeschool.

If you’re planning to graduate a teen from homeschool, there are a few things you’ll want to plan for first.

Know Your State Law

Be sure that you know the homeschooling laws for your state so that there are no surprises at the end of the journey!  Some states, such as New York, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania, have very specific rules governing how a homeschooler can get a diploma, while most other states simply offer guidelines.  Check HSLDA to find your state’s specific laws.

If a college or program requires accreditation, know that your homeschool and curriculum are not accredited.  Most colleges, however, will accept a homeschool diploma if your students meets the entrance requirements, and it’s worth noting that not all public schools maintain their accreditation either.

Have an Idea of Your Student’s Plan

Start with the end in sight.  Choose courses and a high school plan based on what the student plans to do post-graduation, be that a college major or setting off on a career path.  If college is the plan, check their admissions requirements and plan accordingly.  If career is the goal, you’ll still need to meet basic requirements for graduation, but choose electives based on that future path.

Generally, most students should be taking four years of language arts, three years of science, three years of history, three years of math, two years of a foreign language, and several electives to total approximately 26 credits.  Some states will have additional requirements, such as state history or health and physical education, so be sure to check those laws and your state department of education website.

If your student isn’t sure of the post-graduation plan, homeschool with college as the end goal.  It is easier to go down a career path with a college-prep education than it is to apply for college with only career-prep courses.

Maintain Records

Start keeping the high school transcript in ninth grade, and eighth grade if they are taking advanced classes.  It’s not only colleges who will ask for it, but many first-time employers and scholarship providers will as well.  Be sure to transfer grades from any online programs or outside grade sources to the transcript and keep any certificates your student earns as well.  In Through the Door, you’ll find transcript templates and instructions for putting together each section of this important document.

Standardized testing is another important part of record-keeping, especially if college is the future goal.  Most students will need to take either the ACT or SAT entrance exam.  College-bound students might take the exam more than once, both to get a superscore (where the highest scores from each subsection are combined from across all testing experiences) and for the test-retest effect.  However, even if your student isn’t college-bound, it can be a good idea to take the exam simply to back up the grades you have given in homeschool, just in case you are ever questioned about them.

Stay in the Loop

Make a connection with the local high school counselor and learn where they post information for students.  Get on that communication thread and stay in the loop.  While traditionally-schooled students are often inundated with information about when testing dates are, what career and college fairs are on the horizon, or other opportunities for teens, homeschoolers aren’t usually privy to that information…and you want to be.  This can also be a good place to learn about local scholarship programs or job shadowing events.

Plan a Graduation

After you’ve kept the coursework, met the requirements, and printed the transcripts, it’s time to issue a diploma.  Many families choose to join a local group for a formal graduation ceremony or host their own at home. 

If you want to host a ceremony at home, it can be as simple as playing the commencement song, saying some words, looking over pictures from kindergarten through graduation, and handing out a diploma.  Some families host a reception, similar to a wedding reception, afterward, with food and fun.

As part of your ceremony, you might want to include an official diploma and a cap and gown (for photos!).

Admittedly, rather than hosting or joining a ceremony, we provided our sons with graduation experiences.  England, Germany, South Africa…these travel opportunities provide a lifetime of memories and new cultural experiences.  Travel is important to mom and dad, and we roadschooled across the country with the kids when they were younger, so it was a natural progression to spend that money on an overseas trip of their choice, and they preferred it over a big party event.  Again, the beauty of homeschooling is that each family can make a choice that is right for them!

Seasoned homeschoolers with a few graduates under their belts can easily remember the anxiety of homeschooling that oldest child, making sure to meet all of the requirements and hoping that it was the right move for their future.  We all want what is best for our kids, and by being informed, you can confidently proceed toward a successful homeschool graduation.

Gap Year Benefits – To Take or Not to Take?

A gap year is a period of time, typically a year, between years of formal education.  Some choose to take a gap year between high school and college, while others might take a break during the college years.  During this time, students may travel, volunteer, or work, as they gain life experience and explore the world.

The concept of a gap year is not new; it goes back centuries to the European elites who would finish their schooling and then take a grand world tour, visiting a variety of places, learning about different cultures and languages, and making connections.  It fell out of vogue during the Napoleonic Wars, but came back into play in the 20th century.  During the 1960s, it became popular in America with the baby boomers.  Their theory was that by travelling and learning about other cultures, they could foster world peace.

The gap year often provides flexibility to explore special interests, travel, do an exchange program, or volunteer.  For students who may not have the same financial resources, it is also an opportunity to explore career options, work to earn money for college expenses, take a rest from academics, and explore special interests or take a trip.  The common thread among nearly all gap years is that they are a time of self-discovery when students can gain practical life experiences that help them make those important future decisions.

Should you take a gap year?

Students looking for more independence will have an opportunity to make their own decisions, manage their own finances and schedule, and cultivate peer connections.

Students looking for cultural experiences and a broader worldview can travel, volunteer with travelling organizations, interact with other cultures, and face new life experiences.

Students who are undecided about their next steps can take some time to explore career opportunities, gain life experiences, explore various fields and interests, and make an informed decision about their future academic or career tracks.

Students looking to cover college expenses without major loans can mitigate those expenses by continuing to live at home and working full time.  While this is the least “fun” of the gap year options, it still provides an opportunity for self-reflection, gaining life experiences, and laying a strong foundation for the future.

There are some drawbacks, however, to taking a gap year.  Some students may feel left out, as their peers head into college and they do not.  Without adequate planning for both the gap year and what happens afterward, students might stall or spend the entire year unwisely, not gaining the experiences they wanted.  If there is a lot of travelling involved, there might be a large cost for the year.  Finally, after taking a year off, it can be difficult to get back into the academic groove to finish out college, and students may not have the same resources they had (to assist with college planning) in high school.

Gap Year Pros and Cons

Pros
Work Experiences
Life Skills
Cultural Experiences
Self-Reflection & Growth
Save / Earn Money
Explore Interests
Rest and Recharge
Cons
Feeling Left Out / FOMO
Stalling
Cost
Lack of Structure
Difficult to Get Back
Potential Lost Time
Restricted Resources

One additional pro of taking a gap year is that students will have fodder for all those college and scholarship application essays!  However, it is of the utmost importance to spend time responsibly planning the gap year.  Map out experiences, break down the months into an ‘experience calendar,’ and research different gap year programs that provide travel, volunteering, and other life experiences.  (Caveat – these can be expensive.)

Before heading into a gap year, remember to get copies of transcripts, letters of recommendation, references, and any other academic resources from the school that will be needed during the transition from gap year to a return to academics.  If the plan is to return to college, remember to keep that end goal in sight, too.  Bon voyage!

You Know You’re Homeschooling a Teen When…

Because laughter is the best balm for a soul…. Here are ten signs that you’re homeschooling a teenager!

You have an intimate relationship with YouTube.

Gone are the days of stepping on Legos and math manipulatives.  These days, if you want to help your teen figure out how to solve a math problem, you have to YouTube how to do it and hope that it rings even the teensiest of bells from your own schooling so that you can help your teen…or just let them watch and explain it to you.  Check out – Should You be YouTube Schooling?

Your children have turned into Hobbits.

They require second breakfast and Elevensies.  They have their days and nights mixed up.  Granted, some kids start this as early as birth, but it becomes a real issue when they’re teens.  Maybe they’ll work second or third shift when they graduate.  Or maybe their rhythms will even out.  Time will tell.  Got kids who love the Hobbit?  Check out The Hobbit & Writing Fantasy Fiction.

The dreaded question has changed.

Remember how often you got asked about socialization when your kids were younger?  Now you’re getting asked about things like dating, prom, and graduation.  Won’t they miss out on it?  Think back to your high school days…some folks loved those events, others tolerated them, and others skipped out.  The homeschool community has evolved such that, if you want to participate in these events, you’ll be able to find them (unless you live in a superbly remote area).  No one is missing out!

Arts and crafts are less cute and more functional.

Sure, you can’t put a dissected sheep eye on the refrigerator (and who would want to?), and it’s difficult to show off your kid’s vocational skills (which saved you quite a bit on that refrigerator repair), but just because you can’t pin these images doesn’t make them less worthy.  These life skills, fostered in their teen years, can really pay off in the long run when they help you out in the future.  Check out Career-Based Electives for Teens.

Photos become much more unique.

Whether because they’re adding stickers and emojis to digital photos, or just because they can’t seem to pose without making a face, sticking out their tongue, or putting rabbit ears behind a sibling, you haven’t had a decent photo of your kid in a couple of years.  Hold out for those holiday photos – Christmas and Mother’s Day are sacred, and you deserve a smiling photo on these.  Stay strong!

The expensive Legos have been replaced by expensive musical instruments / car parts / insert hobby or sport equipment here.

Gone are the days of kvetching over spending a hundred dollars on a Lego set.  Those are the good ol’ days.  Sporting equipment, car parts, new technology, and musical instruments….these are the things that have replaced those simple building toys.  Check out Should Your Teen Have a Job?

Read: Must-Have Supplies for Homeschooling Teens

Daily life and chores counts as an elective.

Home Economics, Homesteading (if you have a farm), Auto Mechanics, Shop…all of these are elective credits that you can give you child now that s/he is actively contributing to the household management and chores.  Cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, meal planning, and shopping all count toward Home Economics.  Check out A Self-Sufficient Life.

Field trips become a little bit scary.

It’s not so much because they’ve run off at the zoo…again…as it is because they actually drove you to the field trip.  I believe that teaching teens to drive shaves a full year or more off of parents’ lives.  Especially when they nearly miss their turn and take a 90-degree turn at 45 mph, going up on two wheels.  Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

The house is suddenly very quiet.

It’s not like when they were toddlers, however, and you knew the silence meant that trouble was just around the corner.  Which is not to say that there isn’t trouble around the corner, but it’s most likely happening outside of your home where you won’t know until later.  But then the house is loud at night when everyone is together for dinner again.  Think of this as a transition period for when you become an empty nester.

You become sentimental.

Suddenly you understand what people meant when they were babies and you were told, ‘The days are long, but the years are short.’  We only get eighteen summers, and then they spread their wings and fly.  Savor these four years of high school.  Transition your relationship from parent-child to more of a mentorship, and know that there may be bumps along the path to independence, but you’re supporting them, love them, and will miss them dearly once they graduate.  (Even if they don’t realize it.)

Fun Field Trips for Teens

Field trips are just as important now that your students are teens as they were back in elementary school.  There’s no need to stop taking them, but you’ll want to change how you approach them…and you can do some pretty interesting things!

Here are some field trip ideas for middle and high school students.  There are both local and travel options, ranging from free to need-to-plan-ahead.  What are your teens favorite places to visit, and would you add to this list?

Here are some FREE, local field trip options:

  • Local historic architecture
  • Air Shows
  • Historic Re-enactments
  • Climb Rocks
  • Historic Museums (some are free)
  • Pick-Your-Own Farm Visit
  • Rivers & Lakes
  • Zoo (only free on certain days, or with a pass)
  • Local Newspaper
  • Factory Tours (some are free)
  • Visit the Beach
  • Visit the local Airport

Around Town

  • Most of the free trips listed above are in-town
  • Lots of hospitals offer presentations, and these could count toward a health credit
  • Most teens are able to sit quietly in a courtroom to see how the judicial system works
  • Every city has a history, and most have city history museums – explore yours!
  • A local small business owner may give a tour and explains the pros and cons of ownership

History-Based

  • State capitols are a good place to see the legislative system in action
  • National parks offer both nature and history with one beautiful hike
  • Civil War battlefield locations are often free and relatively easy to find in the eastern US
  • Living history museums (think Williamsburg) are fun for all ages

Science Lovers

  • Amusement parks are a good place to see how physics works in the real world
  • Indoor skydiving spots are also a great place to test physics
  • Caves, caverns, and wildlife refuges are all great outdoor adventures
  • Many aquariums have programming for older students
  • Factories and manufacturing plants are in more places than you’d expect, and very interesting
  • Space centers, including NASA, offer all sorts of programming for older students

Specialty Adventures

  • Symphony and theater performances are cultural experiences
  • Art museums are as well, and you can tie them to history or culture
  • TV / Radio Stations give tours and presentations, and they love going in depth with older students
  • Music recording studios are another great option for sound enthusiasts
  • Our boys really enjoyed a unique adventure to learn about fermentation and physics

After the field trip, take time to debrief.  This may be an art project, an essay comparing or contrasting different aspects of the topic, or even a lab report, timeline, or research paper.  These last few ideas are perfect for high schoolers doing virtual/simulated science labs, deep-diving into history, or creating a senior thesis or research project.  Talk about:

  • The results or outcomes of the field trip.
  • What did they know before they went on the field trip? What did they learn?
  • What new insights can they take from the experience and apply to daily life?
  • What connections can be made between anything at the field trip with other aspects or topics they’re learning about?
  • What was the most interesting or fun? Why?
  • What else would they like to learn about this topic?

More Inspiration

Finally, even though these aren’t free, educational subscription boxes are a great way to bring the field trip into your home.  Here are some of our favorites!

Need some field trip inspiration?  Here are a list of adventures from across the United States – find one for your next local or vacation journey!

Geography / Location-specific
Mississippi
Vermont
Seattle
Chocolate World / Milton Hershey
Frankenmuth / Christmas World
Oklahoma City
San Francisco
Vermont
Seattle

Gettysburg
Mayberry RFD
Cabo San Lucas
Tulsa
Western Oklahoma
Fort Smith / Hot Springs
Orlando / Epcot
Amish Country
Outer Banks, NC
Kansas
Arizona
Roswell, NM
Nashville / Ryman / Parthenon
Niagara Falls
Washington DC / July 4th
Colorado Springs / Olympics
New York City
Cleveland / Rock & Roll
Lake Champlain / Maritime History
Maryland
Louisiana / Cajuns & Creoles
Minnesota Wyoming Colorado / Geology Grand Rapids Eau Claire Ontario / Canada Southern California Hampton Roads North Carolina Piedmont Lowcountry SC / GA      

History
Ancient Mayans
Oil & Energy
Battle of Vicksburg
Cornwall Iron Furnace
Abe Lincoln’s Home
Boston / Revolutionary War
Philadelphia / Constitution
Virginia’s Historic Triangle
Williamsburg
New Hampshire / French & Indian War
Valley Forge
Fort Ticonderoga
Biltmore House Omaha
Oregon Trail / Chimney Rock
Outer Banks / History of Lighthouses Colorado / Gold Rush Mackinac / War of 1812 Mount Rushmore / Deadwood The Lost Colony Pirates of the Outer Banks Patriot’s Point, SC




                      
Science & Math
Real-World Math
Zoo Studies
Johnson Space Center / Christina Koch
Airplanes & Air Shows
Principles of Flight
Kennedy Space Center U.S. Mint Inside a Cave Kitty Hawk / History of Flight US Space & Rocket Center Recording Studio Business of Cookie Making Fermentation & the Physics of Axe Throwing