Choosing Courses for a Successful High School Experience

sitting on booksHaving a student entering high school can be intimidating.  You are afraid of messing up.  You want to make sure your child is prepared for life after high school.  You are open to suggestions and eager to find a perfect (and, hopefully, affordable) product.  What you really want is someone to tell you exactly what to do so that you will not mess up.  Am I right?  I hear you! I have some bad news and some good news to share.  The bad news is that there is no “one size fits all” plan for each and every high school student.  The good news is that you have so many wonderful opportunities from which to choose that when you do get everything organized, you can enjoy the high school years!!

What should you do first?  Make a list of what is important for the student to accomplish in high school.  List the subjects you want to include.  If you are homeschooling under an umbrella school and they have requirements, list those as well.  Few states, if any, have laws regarding what a student must take to graduate high school.  They have suggested guidelines.  For those states that have hard-and-fast requirements, include those subjects. Generally speaking, you have a lot of freedom to prepare a fun-filled, productive, amazing high school experience! student with books

You probably have included the basics … reading, writing and arithmetic or, in the case of high school … science, history, English, math and electives.  Right?  And while those are somewhat necessary (more about that later), the school system omits a few disciplines that are vital to preparing a child for life after high school.  Curious?  The disciplines our family included during the high school years are as follows:  current events, logic, speech and debate, apologetics, entrepreneurship, Bible, character, and personal finances. Far too much emphasis is placed on mathematics especially now that we all have calculators, Siri, and Google at our disposal.  Being able to shop frugally, write checks, balance accounts, and take care of personal finances is, in my opinion, much more important and useful than learning Algebra II.  However, there are at least two reasons we must include higher math during high school.  Reason #1: Your child may pursue a degree that requires higher math so he/she best be well trained (this would apply to degrees such as accounting, Engineering, architecture, etc.).  Reason #2:  Most colleges award the highest academic scholarships according to scores from the college entrance exams (ACT, SAT and CLT).  And, unfortunately, almost one-third to one-half of the score comes from the math sections.  Therefore, keep math on your list. If your child does not love math, and he wants to “get it over with” before college, have him dual enroll in math classes in high school.  Not only will the credits be earned early, but taking the college level math classes will more-than-likely improve his math scores on the college exams (which, in turn, will raise scholarship amounts).

Before you complete this list, talk to your high school students about what their interests are and list everything they say.  Seriously.  Everything. Video games?  Put it on the list.  Sports?  Put it on the list.  Cooking? Put it on the list. Fashion and design?  Yes, put that on the list.  One of the primary objectives of parenting is to help your children discover their gifts and talents now so that they will not waste years later switching majors, careers, etc. (although this may happen regardless of how well you plan).

Now that you have a list, divide the subjects over the next four years and figure out which program to use or how to accomplish each goal.  You may be overwhelmed by such a task but, trust me, it can be fun to figure this out and once you have done it the first time, it will get easier next year or with the next student.  Keep in mind that once your students finish 10th grade (and in some cases, sooner) they can dual enroll and earn high school and college credit at the same time.

By the time our 5th child was in high school (we have 9 children), we decided that our high school students would no longer be allowed to hold steady jobs.  I wrote an article about that here. Our primary reason for this was due to the fact that so many opportunities were limited by students holding steady jobs.  We were fine with our children working and earning money, as long as it was not a steady job that tied them down.  When we made that decision it changed the lives of our next 5 high school students.  They went to, or participated in, seminars, conferences, training camps, mission trips, campaigns, and more.  They volunteered to help in many different ways.  They had opportunities that few of their friends could take advantage of because they were tied to steady jobs.  I will get back to the curriculum in a minute, but take a look at what our 5th child too part in while still in high school (in addition to his classes):

  • Attended TeenPact
  • Campaigned in 3 states
  • Spent six weeks in Papua New Guinea
  • Was a counselor in October and in the summer with Worldview Academy
  • Became a Life Guard
  • Directed activities at a summer camp
  • Attended Summit Leadership Camp
  • Protested when Florida demanded the removal of water and food from Terry Schiavo
  • Campaigned for Terry Schiavo’s life
  • Attended Women’s Pregnancy Center banquets
  • Began training to become a male counselor at a Pregnancy Center
  • Joined a Pure Life Team and put on performances at schools
  • Taught Post-Modernism to the staff at the Pregnancy Center
  • Travelled and taught worldview seminars to elementary students
  • Went to Mississippi to clean up after hurricane Katrina
  • Went to an out-of-state 8 day speech and debate training camp
  • Joined a speech and debate team
  • Attended numerous worldview seminars and conferences
  • Took dual enrolled classes

I am sure there are more activities I could add (he was in high school many years ago), but these are the events I remember.

Our family homeschooled co-op style, using unit studies.  By the time my youngest were teens, the co-ops were organized for teens only.  Up until that time we include children of all ages because I enjoyed being with all of my children together at co-op.  We did break into groups, age related, for certain activities but, for the most part, the children learned together.  (This provides much better socialization then putting 30 children of the same age in one room with 1 adult.)

At co-op subjects such as English, history, science and geography were automatically integrated into the unit we were studying.  We purposefully added logic, current events, debate, and more, depending on the study.  We insisted from the beginning that our children had to give public presentations at co-op so they grew up being very comfortable speaking in public.  We speak every day of our lives so why not begin honing that skill at a young age?  Because they had to give presentations, they had to prepare the presentations.  These weekly assignments, during co-op, taught our children how to research and how to write well. They also learned how to use Power Point and how to make videos for their presentations. By the time they became teens we provided additional opportunities to polish their public speaking skills. If you like the idea of having a unit-study style co-op, but have no clue where to start, I have recorded some podcasts that might be helpful (free) here.

You can accomplish most of the mentioned goals whether you start or join a co-op, with the exception of speech and debate.  To accomplish that you will need a co-op or a club.  There are two national homeschool Christian debate leagues, STOA USA and NCFCA.  If you prefer a secular club then check out Toastmasters or ask around to see what else is available in your area.

By now you should have an idea of what to include in the first year of high school and you can begin looking for programs or products that will help your students learn whatever it is you have on the list. You could even develop a unit-study program centered around the student’s primary area of interest.  For instance, say your child is interested in video games.  Have the student research the history of video games, chronologically.  That study alone would include history, English and geography (have him record the locations of where events have taken place).  Find books to read on the lives of those in the gaming industry and require the student to write book reports.  I am sure there are more than one or two ways to include science in this study.  Be creative.  Keep up with what’s going on today in the gaming world (current events).  Find out what it cost to develop and market a game (finances and accounting).  Study the character of those who have succeeded and failed in this industry.  What can be learned from their experiences? Perhaps he can contact some big wigs in the industry and interview them.  During the interview have ask about internship and apprenticeship opportunities. Have your student open a bank account and teach him how to handle his finances.

In addition to classes, have your students take part in community service, join clubs, and attend conferences and seminars.  There are so many extra-curricular activities available that you should be able to find more than a few affordable options to pursue.  If your child excels in sports, music, theater, dance or anything like that, then they should have time to continue playing and training through-out high school.  And, if there are courses your student wants to pursue and you do not feel qualified to teach those subjects, there are often local classes or on-line classes available to join!  We are blessed to have so many options.

student at deskHigh school need not be intimidating or stressful!  As you plan, purchase, and begin using materials keep an open mind as to whether a certain program is worth keeping and finishing or if it should be exchanged for something that better suits your student.  What sounds good in an advertisement might end up being very disappointing.  Why make anyone suffer through finishing something when there are always more options?  (On the other hand, there is something to say about finishing a program regardless of its value in order to teach persistence or if you know your student is simply being lazy.)

Have a talk with your soon-to-be high school student and explain the importance of planning well and working hard during the high school years.  Discuss dual enrollment opportunities.  Dual enrollment is a wonderful option, but it does have its dangers.  I will be posting a blog about that soon. Make a list of interests your child has along with talents you have observed.  Make a plan, but hold to the plan loosely in case it just does not work out well and changes need to be made.  Attend seminars for parents, ask for advice, read books and blogs, and listen to podcasts in order to discover opportunities and to learn from those who have blazed the trail before you!

Start looking at colleges and attend college fairs when possible. Begin looking at the college entrance exams.  There are three now:  ACT, SAT and CLT.  Take practice exams in the 9th and 10th grade and then sign up for the actual exams during the 11th and 12th grades.  The PSAT can be taken earlier than the 11th grade, but it is the score earned during the 11th grade year that determines whether your student has earned a National Merit Scholarship.  Fill out the FAFSA in October of the senior year.

In the past we have found a few resources that have worked well for our family and I will share these here:

Demolishing Strongholds (DVD) This is a video series that teaches about worldviews and teens love it.

American Literature  Apologia publishes this resource and it was written by a homeschool dad, Dr. Whit Jones, who teaches at Bryan College and who is a Classical Conversations tutor.  Using this book entitles the student to both an English and a writing credit. The worldview of each author studied is mentioned, helping the student to have a deeper understanding of the author’s intention.

Bozeman Science  Paul Anderson has made numerous videos teaching both biology and chemistry (labs included).  This is a secular science series, so you may want to be prepared to have some conversations about his take on evolution.  Discussions on evolution are encouraged, regardless of which program you use.

Yay Math  Free on-lin videos. Robert Adhoot can be quite silly, wearing costumes as he teaches, but his explanations make difficult math concepts understandable.

Teaching Textbooks  Although I have not used these, my daughters really like them. Having CDs that are self-grading makes moms happy.

Visual Latin. Several of our children took Latin during high school and these videos, along with the worksheets, are well done and fairly affordable.

36 University  This is an affordable ($15 a month) ACT prep site (on-line). If you register with the code “Bryan” you save $3.  No monthly commitment is necessary.

Princeton Review Cracking the ACT (or the SAT) We used these books during the 11th grade year to learn how to take college entrance exams. Oftentimes it is more about knowing the tricks of the test, than the material covered.

You may have read this article hoping to have a huge list of specific curriculum recommended. Because there are so many choices available, including on-line classes and more, I did not include an exhaustive list of recommendations. However, one of the best resources for recommendations regarding curriculum is the Facebook group called “It’s Not That Hard to Homeschool High School.”  Once you join it you can search for past discussions, or start a new thread in order to find out almost anything you want to know about homeschooling high school!

If you would like a free e resource that includes a suggested time line for high school, go here and scroll down the page.  Planning for the high school years and choosing curriculum does not have to be daunting!  Embrace the challenge and have fun preparing for the high school years.

Please take a look at the Finally Finished Facebook Page and check there often for updates!


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