Choosing High School Homeschool Curriculum

Once you have a high school plan, you’ll want to plan out courses and curricula toward a post-graduation goal.  When choosing curricula, keep in mind questions of whether you want to manage the course yourself or outsource it, whether to use physical or digital curricula, and what your student’s learning style favors.  It’s worth noting that what works for one subject (eg, math) might be different for another (eg, history). 

For each of the core subjects – history, math, science, and language arts – look at your student’s goals.  Is the class something that will help them succeed in their career path, or is it simply a state requirement to check the box?  Does your student learn this subject best through reading, video, or instruction with real-time feedback?

Outsourced & Online Classes

If you’re planning to outsource to online classes, you’ll want to check out whether they run synchronously or asynchronously, accreditation status, and decide whether to choose a full program or individual classes.  It’s worth noting that when outsourcing a class, you often don’t get to choose the base curriculum being used for that class.  Also keep in mind when choosing outsourced and online classes that:

  • Technology has glitches
  • Communication is crucial
  • Time management is key
  • Online doesn’t equate to an “Easy A”

In the past few years, we’ve experienced an educational revolution of sorts, with a cultural shift toward online learning.  You can learn a lot more about choosing the best online options for your family in Four Things to Consider with Online Classes.  There are so many options, though, that it can be overwhelming!  After vetting hundreds of options, here are some of the Best of the Best Online Learning Options.

Sparks Academy is one source of online classes that are offered in both synchronous and asynchronous options. All core classes, including math, history, science, and language arts, are offered at various high school levels!

Advanced Learning Options

Dual Credit – Local community colleges are usually accessible to high school students, and courses can be taken online or in person.  This is a good way for students to get a jump on college credits at a reduced cost and can help with the transition from high school to college classes.  There may be mature discussions and readings as part of dual enrollment, as these courses are intended for college-age students, so be sure that this is an appropriate fit for your student.

If you plan to use dual enrollment credits to transfer toward a four-year degree, you will want to check with the intended transfer college to make sure they will accept the coursework.  Not all colleges will accept coursework from outside, and some have very stringent standards.  Be sure to contact the college directly and get an email with your answers; this way you have that information in writing.

CLEP  – CLEP tests allow you to earn college credits via exam.  You can take a course through websites such as Modern States, or you can simply sign up and take the exam if you feel confident in your knowledge.  As Modern States is free, it’s worth enrolling and completing the online videos, and you may be eligible for an exam waiver after completing the course.

Free & Discounted Curriculum Choices

  • Sign up to receive this semester-long FREE course for high school students on the subject of Psychology.  In this course, they use video and text to take a jaunt through the brain — how it works, when it gets miswired, and how to cope with those issues.
  • Snag an e-book on Homeschooling the Upper Grades.  This covers a wide variety of topics and issues facing the homeschooling parent of teens. In this FREE book, we are also blessing families with fun goodies!
  • If you use The Good & the Beautiful for language arts, bookmark the TGTB extensions page, where you’ll find video playlists, extra printables, quizzes and practice tests, and more that homeschooling moms have created and pulled together all in one place!
  • At Sparks Academy, your students will be part of an interactive co-op with other high school students. Current class offerings are for The Good & the Beautiful language arts and Notgrass history (four levels of each subject), Apologia science (three levels), and Consumer Math.
  • SAVE 10% on Homestead Science with code RANGE10.  This hands-on science course includes agricultural and entrepreneurial principles, making it a cross-curricular course that will appeal to students not pursuing a STEM major post-graduation.

Curricula Choices Year by Year

These are the programs we used and found comprehensive and quality for middle and high school. Remember to start with the end in sight, including the required number of credits for each subject, per your state law. In addition to curriculum choice, you may also include living books, hands-on studies, and novel studies to enhance the learning experience!

Teaching Math to Creative & Right-Brained Learners

We hear a lot about living books and how these are used to foster a love of both reading and learning in children, but what about living math?

Living math is real-world applicable and can include things like balancing a checkbook, altering a recipe, comparing prices, building a treehouse, making change for a customer, or calculating square footage.  It can also be more playful, such as using math for arts or crafts. 

As with living books, students are more apt to retain principles when they are tied together with other ideas and subjects.  If your student is working on a fun project and comes across the need for a particular math principle, they learn it and incorporate it with that creativity, and that’s where the magic sticking point comes into play.

Living Math in Action

Our son began his work at the tender age of five.  His earliest works, all made of cardboard and duct tape, were crude adaptations of Greco-Roman armor that he had seen in picture books.  Fast-forwarding, he learned how to use the internet to look up pictures of other, more specified, types of armor and added aluminum foil and basic sewn pieces into the mix. 

Through the creative process, he was also learning how to measure, how to calculate said measurements for fitting, and how to size things up or down to scale….all math principles, and all to a kid who abhors math.  (Seriously y’all, I don’t think I have a single ‘bad homeschool day’ story for this kid that didn’t begin with math.)

Today, he does welding and metalwork, creating full-scale arms and armor from scratch and to historic standards.  He does the research, creates the pieces, and then gives it a personalized flair.  He does so many calculations for every single one of these pieces, but since the math has a purpose and application, he says that it doesn’t feel like math to him.  If you have a budding artist, chef, or builder, you will probably see the same trend as well…play to it!!

Today, he’s learning entrepreneurship along with his creative math skills, where at Sparks Forge & Armory, he creates beautiful, accurate, and detailed historical reproduction crossbows, scabbards, swords, daggers, maille (chainmail), armor, and other medieval artifacts. Each piece is handmade and unique! 

You can see many of his patterns and early work at Cullowhee Creates, a website / blog he started as a portfolio.  Unbeknownst to him, he was also learning organization, cataloging, and basic HTML as well!   

For an even more basic start on patterns and creating hands-on costume projects, check out Recycled History.  All projects are created with items found around the house….many that would be headed for the trash bin….and the book includes directions and photo-directions.  Projects are history-based, and span from ancient civilizations to modern times. They are designed to get kids excited about learning, and include sculpture, costumes, flat art, woodworking, and more! 

Right-Brained Kids and Math

Boys of our boys are right-brained learners when it comes to math, which made it very difficult for this left-brained mama to adjust to teaching.  However, rather than teaching math facts using pencil and paper and sterile problems, we had to find out what each kid really likes and relate math to that. For example, our other boy loves shopping, so we decided to teach him how to use money while shopping, and then work with him as he saved up for something special.

Hands-on learning and movement are very important to right-brained learning, especially when it comes to math.  Manipulatives are your friend here!  There are so many manipulatives available for elementary school, but fewer for the upper grades.  Here are some of the best hands-on resources we’ve discovered and loved:

  • Coordinate Board – This oversized dry-erase board is perfect for students in pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry who need to master coordinates and use them for linear equations and geometric functions.
  • Beautiful Discovery – These boxes help students to learn math, art, science & code, in a beautiful way, deCODING nature’s patterns.  Each one includes natural wonders & all you need to model them with art, math, and code.  Each month’s box has a webpage full of videos and interactive models to help students discover deep patterns & beautiful math underlying nature’s diversity. 
  • Number lines – These dry-erase boards are perfect for learning to add and subtract with littles, but can help with skip counting and multi-step problems with older children.  My only complaint is that there isn’t a negative numbers board, which can be butted against the positive one, as many students struggle with the concept of adding and subtracting positives and negatives.  In this case, simply turn one upside down and use it for negative numbers!
  • Money set – If you don’t have one already on-hand from the elementary years, it’s never too late to use a money kit to teach about borrowing and carrying, as well as to master counting change – a skill that many employers complain kids don’t know how to do today!
  • Magnetic Tiles – While it’s true that they may know the basic fractions, many students struggle with adding and subtracting fractions, borrowing and carrying, and that’s what this set helps with as they visualize it, move the pieces around, and master it.
  • Place Value Flip Chart – If you have a student who has mastered place value at an early age, congrats!  Many students, however, don’t master this until middle school, and special needs learners may take even longer.  This flip chart uses different colors to make it easier to distinguish between different place values for number manipulation (adding, etc).
  • Place Value Chart – Another dry-erase board, this one goes hand in hand with the flip chart to help students with adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing using proper place value placement.

Incorporating Real-World Math

We make time for the things that are important, and this is no exception.  If your school day is strictly planned out, with no time for creative play, you’ll find it difficult to get that hands-on experience which incorporates living math.  Here are some strategies to help:

  • Slow down.  Build in free time each day for play, creativity, and even boredom.  (Boredom breeds creativity…ask any Gen-Xer.)
  • Stock up.  Have the supplies on hand for creative play, be that cardboard, aluminum foil, Legos, crayons, various types of foods, or whatever your student is into.
  • Step back.  Allow your student to get creative without direction, criticism, or even an excessive amount of praise.

When they enjoy the project, and aren’t just completing projects in a textbook, your children will be more apt to pick up on, retain, and love the skills they are learning!

More Information

  • Although it’s workbook-based, these real-world math problems are an alternative to regular textbooks and incorporate many facets of daily life.  Download the book here.
  • Real-World Math for Students who Ask “WHY?” For so many students, math is thought of as boring and unnecessary.  They just don’t see the reason why they need to learn the material.  Do you have one like my middle school student…who struggles constantly with math, and is always asking WHY?! 
  • Teaching Math to Visual Learners  Most people have a combination of learning styles, but tend more toward one than the others.  If your child prefers to draw pictures with his word problems…he might be a visual learner. 

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.