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.

Engaging & Grading Your Teen’s Writing

Teaching writing takes time and one-on-one instruction.  It involves modeling, editing, providing feedback, and publishing, something that not all parents feel equipped to handle.   While there are ways to outsource writing instruction and feedback, every parent can master the basics with a little guidance!

Break down the assignment

Whenever they start a new, major writing assignment, I always tell students in the Sparks Academy classes, ‘How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time!’

Break assignments into daily goals, and hold your student accountable for meeting those goals.  If they have a persuasive, five-paragraph essay, daily goals might look like creating an outline, researching and citing works, developing a rough draft, writing the first half, writing the second half, editing and polishing, and writing the bibliography.  Need help getting started?  Download this free 12-page booklet on writing a research paper.

Make a Plan

This one goes hand in hand with breaking down the assignment into bits, but I’m big on planning and organization.  After all, failing to plan is planning to fail…and no one wants to fail.

Give It a Purpose

“Why” is not a question that goes away after the toddler years, and you might find it cropping up even more in the teen years than in the previous ones.  With writing, as with anything we’re told to do, it’s important to know the why.  Are they writing solely for a grade, or is there some intrinsic motivation as well?  Will it be published in a magazine, like at Sparks?  Turned into a book, such as these amazing options?  Published in a paper, magazine, or on a blog?  Included in the student portfolio?  Repurposed later as a college or scholarship application essay?  (For the record, I’ve found the last one to be a real motivator for my older teens…who know all too well the pain of writing and re-writing dozens of essays for said applications.)

Write for Fun & Variety…and for Yourself

I’ve found that when I give my teens a choice about what they write, they’re do so much less begrudgingly.  I have one that prefers to write either historic non-fiction or dystopian stories.  Another prefers mystery / crime solving stories and would happily never write another research paper.  Those are their preferences, so when it’s time to just practice writing, that’s what they opt for, but it’s important that they also work on other skills, too.

  • Poetry and symbolism
  • Descriptive writing with vivid details
  • Expressing an opinion (logically and thoughtfully)
  • Process writing / how to do something
  • Research papers
  • Creative writing
  • Making lists
  • Writing a business letter

It’s true that we do many of these things orally, sometimes on a daily basis, but it’s important to also know how to write effectively, without visual aids (emojis, graphics, charts, etc) or tonal inflection from our voices.

When you want to practice writing skills, but don’t have a specific assignment (summer fun-school, anyone?), writing prompts are a handy tool.  There are so many different options to choose from, including pop culture, history, science, animal-themed, anime-themed…you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something that sparks your teen’s interest.  Maybe they’re really into the Hobbit and want to try your hand at writing a fantasy novel of their own

Teach Self-Editing

After writing a rough draft for any type of writing, students should take the time to read over it themselves before passing it off to the parent / teacher.  You can print out the checklists below and let them use it, or just tell them to set it aside for a night and read over it the next day.  (You’d be surprised how many errors can be spotted just by having a fresh set of eyes!)  Reading the paper aloud is another good way to spot issues with flow and communication, too.

Use a Checklist

After self-editing, it’s your turn to read over their paper and provide feedback.  Use these free downloadable checklists to guide you through grading your student’s writing assignments.  Remember that it’s also important to point out all of the things your student did WELL on the assignment.  Editing with grace is more likely to net well-received feedback.  Honey, not vinegar.

Still unsure about grading your teen’s writing assignments?  Enlist the Writing Consultation Service offered by Sparks Academy!  While there are no grades offered for this service, the feedback provided is detailed enough in content, structure, and style for the parent to assign a grade.  Consultations are provided by an accredited language arts teacher with thirty years teaching experience.

Preparing for High School in Your Homeschool

The transitional period from middle sets the tone for the high school years and strongly influences post-graduate life.  I’ve always told my children that they can course correct, but setting the right course in the first place goes a long way toward a smoother path.

In the public schools, formal transitional planning is provided to all 8th graders entering 9th grade, including psychological, academic, social, and experiential preparations, so that they have an idea of what comes next and how to navigate it.  If you’re interested in utilizing the resources schools are providing to students, or at least using them as a jumping-off point, you can download this six-page guide.

Strengthen Areas of Weakness

Every child has his own strengths and weaknesses, and these can be harnessed to form an individualized plan, but it’s also important to note areas of weakness and choose which ones to strengthen during these high school years.  Perhaps your child is not as tech savvy as they’d like (or is that just me?) and wants to learn some additional skills.  Or maybe they are still socially awkward and want more opportunities to explore friendships, events, and other social situations.  Some kids need more experience with writing skills, and this is a good time to take additional writing courses or get one-on-one assistance and feedback to brush up those essays.

Special needs students who have not yet completed a formal IEP and set forth accommodations might undertake this paperwork with their parents, as it can help with standardized testing and other requirements for college entrance.  For more specific information on teaching special needs teens, visit Teaching the Special Needs Child and Life Skills for Special Needs Teens.

All students should also take this opportunity to catalog their strengths.  Where do they shine?  What make them unique?  Whether they plan to go to college, into the job market, or are undecided at this point, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is an advantage…it provides a starting point and allows you to set mini-goals to get to your big goal!

Tailor High School Years to Skills and Talents

Just because most ninth grade students take algebra, biology, world history, and composition doesn’t mean that your student is ready for those courses yet…or maybe they completed them in eighth grade.  One of the beautiful things about homeschooling is that we can tailor each individual subject to our students’ strengths.  Maybe they are fantastic at writing, but struggling with math.  In this case, you can provide more advanced language arts classes and a slightly remedial math class.  (Please remember that, especially with math and writing, it’s more important to master the basics before moving on than it is to academically try to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’)

If you have a student ready for a math challenge, then allow them to take that algebra class in early and count it for high school credit.  Two caveats here – first, be sure to note on the transcript that  the course was taken in eighth grade, and second, do not use it as a way to skip out of classes later in the high school years.  If your student took algebra in middle school, then colleges are going to want to see some advanced math courses in eleventh and twelfth grades.

You can tailor academics with any curriculum, but here’s a walk-through for how to tailor them specifically with the SchoolhouseTeachers.com School Boxes…

Let Your Teen Have a Say

“Do a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  Allow your child to choose the coursework he’s interested in, and he’ll enjoy his school day.  Granted, you can’t let him choose every single thing, but electives are an easy way to give him that freedom.  Once he finds something he loves to learn about, you might find that he works harder at the basics so that he can get to electives!  

Another way to foster that independence and feeling of self-direction is to allow them to have more control over their day (scheduling).  One of the reasons teens give us attitude is because they are floundering between being an adult and being a child.  They want to be the adult, but they still need you to be the parent.  It can turn into a real power struggle.  Similar to allowing him to choose his electives, allow him to structure his day.  

We used responsibility charts – the kids knew what work must be accomplished each day.  While there were a few things that had to be done at certain times, they had a lot of freedom about structuring their own day.  Math was almost always shoved aside until last, but occasionally one of them did it first, saying “I just want to get the bad stuff done with.”  Lessons being learned…and now they are capable of that same discipline and self-regulation in their college studies.

Transition to Independent Learning

High school is when we begin to transition our students into college life.  A big part of that transition is learning time management.  As a teen, your student is juggling classes, extracurricular activities, athletics, a part-time job, and friends and family.  It can be difficult to remember all of the details!

A good planner works for you and your needs.  What is right for one person may not be the best option for someone else, so take a moment to investigate several options and find the one that works best for your student.  After they have that planner, allow them to be in charge of their day, set expectations, and give guidance, remain actively involved – have regular meetings with them.  These might be daily or weekly, but choose a rhythm that works best for you and your teen.

That said, transitioning to independence doesn’t mean completely letting go of the reins.  Teens still need you to be the parent (as do college-students, albeit with a more freedom), and this is not the time to let them fly without a landing spot.  When it comes to academics, let them have that freedom and responsibility, but read ahead in their textbooks and syllabi so you know what’s coming up.  As the parent, you also know what’s coming up with family and can help them remember to plan for all the things…

Improve Study Skills

Most kids don’t work on note-taking until the high school years, and it’s difficult to remember specific details without good notes.  The process of note-taking cements learning further by involving all three modalities of learning.  The engage the auditory when hearing the information, the kinesthetic by writing the information (by hand, not computer!), and visual when reading the information again.  If this is a new skill for your student or you just want to know why handwriting trumps typing in this case, you can access more specific information on note-taking skills.

The Through the Door: Homeschool to College Success bundle includes several lessons to brush up on specific study skills in addition to inventories, college prep assistance, and life skills for adulting in the early years.

By beginning to work on these five skills during the middle school years, you’ll help pave the way for a successful high school experience and what comes next!

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