One Year Left; Make the Most of It!

Having a rising senior stirs up a variety of mixed emotions from relief (assuming your senior graduates with passing grades), to sadness (it is the end of an era after all), to concern (are they ready for the next step?), to anxiety (can we afford college?). Allow me to help you plan ahead so that you can enjoy this experience with as little stress as possible.

If your students have not narrowed down their top college choices, they should do that right away, visiting each campus in person if possible. Take a tour, attend classes and chapel (if offered), eat in the cafeteria and, by all means, stop and talk with students, faculty and staff when the opportunity arises. Suggestions for questions to ask when choosing a college are listed in this article.

Seniors should also apply to their top college choices if they have not done that yet. If a college does charge an application fee, then you can ask an admissions counselor if there’s a code available that you can use to waive the fee or ask if there’s a period of time when they can apply without a fee. I am a firm believer in ‘it never hurts to ask.’ The application fee has been waived at Bryan College.

By now your students have probably taken multiple college exams (ACT, SAT or CLT) in order to earn higher academic scholarships or to meet state and/or athletic requirements. Unless your students have reached the highest level of academic award at their top college choices, have them continue taking these tests and consider using test prep programs when possible. 36University is an online prep site that many students have used to increase their scores and it is quite affordable (only $12 a month when you register using the code ‘bryan’).

If your students plan to stay in state then, by all means, find out about every opportunity offered by the state, including the amount offered and the requirements for homeschooled students. Many students miss out on these opportunities because they are either unaware of the opportunities or, by the time they become aware of them, the deadlines have passed. If you live in the State of Tennessee, send me an email and I will share the opportunities available to your students. (pat.wesolowski@bryan.edu)

Homeschooled athletes who are planning to play sports in college need to find out what association the college athletic department is under (NAIA, NCAA, NJCAA) so that you can find out the eligibility requirements. Club sports are independent, so the requirements will be set by the college, not the association. Also, find out if your college of choice stacks their academic and athletic scholarships. Many colleges do not allow athletic scholarships to stack with others. If the institution does not stack scholarships, it might be preferable to pursue academic scholarships (if the amounts are similar) since athletes get hurt and could be dropped from certain programs. More than likely, if the scholarships do stack, your students will earn more by coupling the two rather than choosing one over the other.  Bryan College is an NAIA college and our athletic and academic scholarships stack. Bryan College’s club sports are fishing, cheerleading, shooting and martial arts.

Be sure you look at the scholarship information on each college website in order to be well aware of every opportunity offered, especially if the scholarship has requirements that have not been met yet (but there’s still time to meet the requirements). Also, find out if there are additional scholarship events for seniors. At Bryan College we host a scholarship each semester for qualifying seniors. It is a free event and each participant receives additional scholarship funds based on an interview with professors. For the past six years our November Scholarship Event has included an essay contest and one winner receives full tuition for all four years. For two out of the past three years, a homeschooled student has won the essay contest. Full tuition. Four years. Wow!

The FAFSA can be filled out for seniors beginning October 1st, but wait a few days because the site gets bogged down with traffic and is slow moving (or shuts down altogether). But, do not wait too long, because the colleges will wait on the FAFSA information before they offer award letters. There is a tool on the FAFSA that allows you to import your tax information from the IRS. Feel free to use that if your taxes are not complicated. However, if you have bought or sold stocks, borrowed against a retirement account or cashed one in, fill out that information manually. Apparently, if you import the information it majorly messes up the end results. Even if you believe your student will not be awarded any Federal financial aid chances are your colleges of choice will want that information. There are several colleges who do not require the FAFSA be filled out. Most colleges will allow parents to be exempt from this step if it is their preference. The FAFSA results show whether your students will receive a Pell grant (money not required to pay back), will qualify for a subsidized or unsubsidized loan, and/or whether they will qualify for work study. At Bryan College, students who qualify for work study can earn up to $1,000 per semester working on campus. Those students who do not qualify for work study, but who do want to work on campus can usually work in the cafeteria.

Dual enrollment is a great way for your student to earn college and high school credit at the same time, oftentimes for free or at a reduced price. Bryan College offers an out-of-state scholarship of $200 per class and students in Tennessee can actually take 30 hours with Bryan for $258 (write to bcde@bryan.edu for details). Dual enrollment is not without risks and I’ve written an article about that here. If you prefer a podcast over an article, this podcast addresses the same issue. There are several articles pertaining to dual enrollment including which classes to choose, study and time management skills and more on the blog. In order for your homeschooled, Tennessee students to be able to take more than one free class at a time (juniors and seniors), they need an ACT score of 21 or comparable SAT score. (State requirement.) Sophomores, whether in state or out-of-state can take one dual enrollment class per semester at Bryan College if they have a 3.5 GPA.

Attending events hosted by your colleges of choice is a great way for your students to get a better feel of each institution. Find out if they offer summer camps, conferences, workshops, open houses, or athletic clinics and sign your students up. Since COVID, there has been a rise in anxiety among incoming freshmen. It has been noted that the seniors who have attended our Summer Institute (staying on campus a full week) have much less anxiety than the majority. At Bryan College we encourage graduating seniors to attend our Summer Institute for that reason!

Independent scholarships are another way to help make college affordable. I did not realize until last year that there are scholarships available to students who are already enrolled in college! So start applying now and keep an eye out for more opportunities even when you are in college! When applying for independent scholarships, remember to use an email address dedicated to scholarships only (otherwise your inbox will be bombarded). Each month I post a link on the Facebook Page for Homeschool Admissions that gives information on scholarships with deadlines for that particular month. I also send out an email to my contacts that includes these scholarship opportunities. The independent scholarships range from small amounts to very high amounts. Some require essays, others do not. If you would like to be on my email list so that you will receive these monthly opportunities, send an email to me at pat.wesolowski@bryan.edu

Seniors can also earn college credit by taking CLEP tests and now those tests can be taken virtually from home (within the United States). Before you spend money on these tests, check with your colleges of choice to find out their policies regarding CLEP credits. Some colleges will not accept any credits from CLEP while others accept unlimited hours of college credit from CLEP. Bryan College accepts up to 30 CLEP credits and there are specific CLEP credits are accepted. I can direct you to that list if you would like. Speaking of CLEP tests, if you have a child proficient in a second language, taking the CLEP test for a foreign language could help them earn 3, 6, or even 9 college credits from one test!

Let’s talk about choosing courses for your students’ senior year.

  • Choose classes necessary for graduation or that are required by your colleges of choice
  • Choose classes that will help increase your students’ college exam scores if they need higher scores for scholarship or requirement purposes (math, language arts, perhaps Latin). This could include college exam prep classes.
  • Choose classes that will help your child confirm an interest related to a particular major.
  • A one semester college class (dual enrolled) is usually counted as a full year of high school credit so if your senior is lacking in credits, this is a way to increase credits. And, speaking of dual enrollment, taking College Writing (English 109 at Bryan) is a great choice because your students will be doing a ton of writing in college. I highly recommend this class be taken at a Christian college otherwise your students may be assigned to read material that many parents would find offensive.
  • If your students plan to pursue a major such as engineering or nursing, then it is quite possible they will have fewer electives and more hours to fulfill than many other majors so, the more dual enrollment classes they can take, the better. Be sure to look at the four year track of the major being considered because you want the dual enrollment classes to be relevant to the major they are pursuing. For instance, an engineering degree at Bryan College does not require a foreign language so if your students take a foreign language as a dual enrollment course, it will be counted as an elective. Make sense?
  • When your seniors are fairly well set for graduation and have time to take it easy, choose courses and opportunities that they will enjoy! If they haven’t participated in a speech and debate club, I highly recommend that experience. Encourage them to attend TeenPact and other such opportunities offered.

A WORD OF WARNING: If your students take dual enrollment classes, be sure they are prepared not only to pass the class, but to make good grades, otherwise their GPA will suffer and that may result in a loss of academic scholarships. Failed classes can be retaken if there’s time, but that will cost the student in both time and money. Better to pass the class the first time with good grades.

Encourage your students not to slack off and drop the ball, especially when their GPA is being used for academic awards or for opportunity requirements. Planning with intention will help your seniors be well prepared for college while enjoying their last year of high school. Making college affordable will help you enjoy your students’ college experience as well.

Timeline of Events for High School Students

Oftentimes homeschooled students miss out on opportunities because they are unaware of available events as well as the deadlines associated with certain opportunities. Planning ahead will help your students successfully complete high school and be well prepared for life after graduation. Below are suggestions to consider for each grade of high school. There are links included that will direct you to sites with more information or past blog posts that address particular subject matters. Some of the information is repeated in more than one grade and, although it may seem redundant, it allows parents to skip to a later grade if their students have already completed an earlier grade.

General Advice:  

Begin helping the student discover his/her gifts and talents. Discuss classes to include in the high school years.  English, history, science and math in addition to classes that interest the student, encourage character, teach computer skills, and more. Include specialized classes or co-ops that encourage the talents and interests of the student when possible. Be aware that there may be state requirements regarding particular courses necessary for a homeschooled student to earn state grants. In addition, some colleges have certain requirements regarding classes that should be included on a student’s high school transcript. Not all colleges require two years of the same foreign language in high school, but some do. Most expect to see four credits of English, three or four years of math, three credits of science (with at least one lab), and three credits social studies. Many states have added a half credit for personal finance to their suggested guidelines. There are no laws regarding the credits a homeschooled student needs to graduate, only guidelines, but knowing the requirements for state grants as well as the expectations of the colleges your student is considering will help you plan to meet your state’s requirements and the requirements of your top college choices. The state of Tennessee does not require a homeschooled student to take particular classes in order to earn state grants, but an ACT or SAT score is required. Some states may require certain GPAs, test scores and/or community service for grants. The grants often have deadlines for application so be sure you are aware of that information before the student begins his senior year. Bryan College does not have specific requirements for high school courses but, depending on the student’s desired major, certain high school classes may be recommended by faculty members. For instance, if a student plans to pursue an Engineering degree, then taking an increased number of math and science classes during high school will help better prepare the student for that major.

Opportunities: Discover local opportunities for co-ops, classes, athletic, music, drama, and additional events that may be worth pursuing. Look into Civil Air Patrol and TeenPact. Join a local speech and debate club (or, in the absence of a local club, start one). STOA and NCFCA are two Christian homeschool speech and debate clubs. One of my regrets after homeschooling my 9 for more than 32 years is not getting involved in speech and debate clubs until my oldest four had completed high school. 

9th grade

Transcripts:  Keep records to be inserted in a transcript including subjects studied along with credits and grades earned. If you would like to use the Transcript Genie offered for free by Bryan College to build a professional-looking transcript (it even calculates and weights grades), go to this link, scroll down and enter your email address. There is also a free eBook called The Journey that you can request and it will provide information on testing, scholarships, and more.

Community Service:  Look for opportunities for your student (and/or the entire family) to participate in volunteer opportunities, ministries, camps, classes, and more. Keep a record of volunteer hours and hold on to any certificates earned.

Portfolio:  Begin collecting and filing documents that provide proof of the student’s participation in community service, mission trips, camps, classes, athletic events, awards, certifications, and more. If your student is featured in an article, add a copy of the article to the portfolio. If your student has work published, include that in the portfolio.

Testing:  Participate in the PSAT testing if possible. This is an affordable test for students offered in October and, in 2021, an additional test date in January was added. Register your student for the CLT10. Students can take this test several times a year at home, for free, on a computer, with the parent proctoring. Parents can order the analytics for a small fee.

Summer:  Check out camps, mission trips, internships and apprenticeships that might interest your student.  A student of this age can often be trained to work at camps, gaining experience, responsibility, and qualifications for potential summer job opportunities. Making money, although beneficial, should not always be the deciding factor when choosing between opportunities. Students may gain more experience and character growth in volunteer positions.

Dual Enrollment: Look into dual enrollment classes for the 10th grade year. Dual enrollment is a great opportunity as it allows a student to earn both high school and college credit at the same time, but it is not without dangers. Homeschooled students often make a few mistakes pertaining to dual enrollment and this post will help you avoid those mistakes. Choosing which dual enrollment class a student should take is also important.  

10th grade

If the state in which you live offers grants and scholarships for dual enrollment and college then find out the qualifications for participation in order to make sure your student meets the requirements. Bryan College allows 10th graders to take dual enrollment classes but the requirements are more stringent than the requirements for 11th and 12th graders, so planning ahead to meet those requirements is important.

Plan classes according to academic needs, talents and interest, and opportunity.

Testing:  Participate in the PSAT testing that takes place if possible. Register your student for the CLT10. Students can take this free test several times a year at home, on a computer, with the parent proctoring. Parents can order the analytics for a small fee. 10th graders taking the CLT10 may qualify for scholarships offered by the CLT. Consider having your student take college entrance exams, particularly if test scores are required for dual enrollment classes. Most colleges accept both the ACT and the SAT. Many Christian colleges accept the CLT.

College Credits: If your student is ready to take college classes, find a college that is a good fit for your student. (Bryan College offers online classes four times a year with out-of-state scholarships.)  Be sure you discover guidelines for dual enrollment because, in some instances, college entrance exam test scores are required. Consider CLEP and AP possibilities for additional college credit. 

Opportunities: Discover local opportunities for co-ops, classes, athletes, music, drama, and additional opportunities. Look into Civil Air Patrol and TeenPact. Join a local speech and debate club (or, in the absence of a local club, start one) STOA or NCFCA

Summer:  Consider dual enrollment classes, camps, mission trips, internships and apprenticeships.  A student of this age can often be trained to work at camps, gaining experience, responsibility, and qualifications for potential summer job opportunities.  

11th grade

Plan classes according to academic needs, talents and interest, and opportunity.

If the state in which you live offers grants and scholarships for dual enrollment and college, find out the qualifications for participation.

Preparing for College: Attend college fairs and visit colleges of interest. Take college entrance exams, pinpoint weaknesses and tutor to the weakness. Purchase materials that will help improve test scores. Consider on-line tutoring for test prep such as 36 University (enter code “bryan” and save $3 a month, reducing the price to $12 a month). Schedule campus visits at colleges of interest. Begin with the virtual tours offered online, and visit in person when possible, preferably when classes are taking place so the student can attend classes. Begin applying to colleges of interest when permitted (find out if there are events or times when the application fees are waived). Research scholarship and grant opportunities offered by the state in which you live, the colleges you are considering, as well as independent scholarships. This article gives suggestions for making college affordable.

Testing:  Discover opportunities for taking the PSAT the summer before, or at the beginning of the 11th grade year. It is the score from the PSAT taken during the 11th grade year that qualifies students for National Merit Scholarships. A National Merit Semi-finalist receives full tuition at Bryan College.

November:  Answers in Genesis sponsors a free college expo for high school students that includes a free ticket to the Ark and the possibility of winning a $500 scholarship.

Summer:  Consider attending camps that are held at the college your student is considering attending. Request a FAFSA ID for student and parent in order to fill out the FAFSA the senior year.

12th grade

Plan classes according to academic needs, talents and interest, and opportunity. If you would like to print a diploma for your student, the free e-resource mentioned, The Journey, includes an editable diploma template. None of my nine children have ever needed a diploma. What they did need was a completed transcript.

Continue attending college fairs and visiting colleges of interest unless a firm decision has been made at this time. 

If the state in which you live offers grants and scholarships for dual enrollment (and college) find out the qualifications for participation early in the year because deadlines are often tied to certain opportunities. If your state offers grants for college, but you know your student will be attending an out-of-state college, then using the college grant (borrowing against it) for dual enrollment will save you money in the long run. Students planning to attend an in-state college may also want to borrow against a state grant for dual enrollment because the cost of dual enrollment classes is often much lower than the cost of traditional college classes.

Make sure all classes necessary for graduation are scheduled to be completed either by participation in class or by testing.  

Apply to colleges of interest. 

Continue earning college credits via dual enrollment classes, CLEP (can now be taken virtually from home) or AP tests (can now be taken from home). Continue taking college entrance exams. As a result of COVID many colleges are test optional meaning they will use a student’s GPA for merit scholarship, without requiring a test score. However, most test optional colleges will accept test scores and use the scores to award scholarship amounts if the exam score increases the amount a student can earn beyond what the GPA entitles the student to be awarded.

Attend scholarship events (when applicable) that take place at the college of interest.  At Bryan College these events take place once during each semester.  These are invitation only events, extended to qualifying seniors who have applied to Bryan College and each participant receives additional scholarship funds of varying amounts based on an interview with faculty or staff.

Be sure your student has developed time management skills. If the student is taking a dual enrollment class or attending a structured co-op then, more-than-likely, the student is honing these skills. This article offers five steps to help students improve their study skills.

October:  Fill out the FAFSA. You may want to wait a few days because the first few days are filled with so many families completing the FAFSA that the site gets bogged down. But, do not wait too long because in certain situations scholarships may be first come, first serve.

November:  Answers in Genesis sponsors a free college expo for high school students that includes a free ticket to the Ark and the possibility of winning a $500 scholarship.

Spring:  Be sure all subjects necessary for graduation will be completed.  There may be state requirements for homeschooled students to complete specific courses in order to earn state grants. Some colleges have certain requirements regarding classes that should be included on a student’s transcript. Make sure all requirements are met. Continue taking college entrance exams if higher scores are needed for scholarships. 

Summer:  Consider sending your student to camps that are held at the college your student plans to attend if that’s an option. At Bryan College a senior enrolled at Bryan will earn a small scholarship for attending Bryan’s Summer Institute. A high school graduate can also dual enroll with Bryan College the summer after graduation. If your student plans to live on campus, then he may very well find a suitable roommate while attending the camp.

The earlier you start preparing your high school student for success, the better it will be for everyone involved. However, if you are like I was with my oldest kiddos, and you are late to the game, do what you can to play catch up and make up for lost time. Even though my older students were ill prepared (thanks to my lack of knowledge concerning many of these issues), they did well after high school. Could they have done better or had an easier time getting to where they wanted to go had I better prepared them? Probably, but I was doing all I knew to do at that time. Give yourself some grace and utilize the information that is available to you and your students now that you are aware of the options and opportunities. Feel free to email me at pat.wesolowski@bryan.edu if you have any questions or if I can help in any way.

Five Steps to Improving Study Skills and Time Management

At a visitation day at Bryan College several years ago, we had a question and answer session set up with a panel of ten college students who were homeschooled. A parent asked, “What was the most difficult adjustment to college life and, what would you recommend to incoming students in order to be better prepared?” All ten students said that time management was the most difficult adjustment. The recommendation made by the students was for high school students to either participate in a co-op or a class where they answer to someone other than mom or, if able, to take dual enrollment classes. Unless the student is taking a class on time management, this skill is not learned through the curriculum but, rather, through the process. The flexibility that homeschooling allows, although advantageous, is often a contributing factor to poor time management. Having to complete homework, turn in assignments, take tests, and participate in group forums (or activities) with deadlines forces students to sink or swim. We don’t want them to sink, so let’s help them swim.

Although dual enrollment is a great way to introduce high school students to the rigor of college classes, your students will do better if they have learned how to manage their time beforehand. Students who are able to organize their schedules, develop good study skills, and manage their time well will have much less stress than students who fly by the seat of their pants, hoping everything will come together in the end. In several of the articles I’ve written, I point out that there are neglected subjects that may be as important, or more important, than the core classes for high school students. Time management is a skill that should be taught long before students head off to college, so let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of how to do this.

  1. Set the Environment: Because students are very diverse in how they learn, there is no black and white, one-size-fits all method, but the principles are similar. Where to begin? Let’s start with where your students study. Encourage them to prepare a study environment that works well for them. When studying, students should put their phone on silent, and put it away so they won’t be tempted to pick it up and check notifications. Create a ritual that enhances their ability to concentrate. For some, that will mean working in total silence while for others, background music may be helpful. Running a diffuser, lighting a candle, or turning on a fan are other suggestions that could be incorporated into the process. Some students can sit at a dining table with activities going on all around them and not be distracted, while others need a setting with as few distractions as possible. When I was in college I doodled while I took notes. It helped me concentrate. For others, that would be a distraction. Do not impose on your students the environment that works best for you if it does not work for them. On the other hand, if a student insists on a certain study environment, but work is not getting accomplished, then changes may need to be made. If your home does not allow for a quiet place, yet that is what your student needs, then purchase a noise blocking device such as headphones, ear muffs, or ear plugs. If you are not familiar with Cynthia Tobias and her book, The Way They Learn, I highly recommend it. This video is part 1 of a two part series that is well worth listening to when you have time. Not only does Cynthia help you understand the differences in how we learn, but she’s quite funny and entertaining too! This site contains free resources from Cynthia including multiple tips for parenting!
  2. Manage Study Periods. Making the best use of the time allotted for study is crucial to successful studying. If possible, it is helpful to schedule specific, consistent study times. One method many students have found helpful is called the Pomodoro method. This method has the student set a timer for short, intense periods of study. When the timer ends, the student takes a break and then resets the timer. According to William Wadsworth, “The benefits of working in intense, timed bursts separated by breaks includes:
  • Better motivation: bolster determination to achieve your goals by having an external motivator (the ticking clock) to get you fired up.
  • Enhance focus and concentration, encouraging you to cut out interruptions and stay on task.
  • Strengthen your determination to keep on trying even when you don’t feel like it, or the work is tough, because you can’t quit while the timer is ticking.
  • Higher levels of energy and intensity because of the mild time-pressure, with breaks serving as opportunities to pause and refresh before going again.”

The Pomodoro method may not work for everyone, but it’s worth checking out. It helped one of my sons when he began using it while in college. The article includes specifics regarding this method, so check it out.

3. Discover the Most Effective Way to Study. There are several types of learners and, for that reason, some methods of study are more effective than others, depending on the student’s learning style. Some students are visual, needing to see notes on the material being presented. Handwriting notes for review is most helpful for many. More than a few college professors do not allow students to take notes on laptops and, for that reason (among others), knowing how to take handwritten notes effectively is important. There are many articles that defend the value of handwritten notes and this article, from NPR, shares research results while giving more than a few reasons for this stance. For those who do take notes while studying, this article describes the Cornell method of notetaking. This video summarizes the Cornell method in less than a minute. Until my son told me about the Cornell method, I had never heard of it. In my opinion, the concept is simple, and brilliant!

While some students are visual learners, others are auditory learners and, for those students, dictating information that they can repeatedly listen to is beneficial.

Thanks to modern technology, studying, regardless of the type of learner, has become easier. There are free phone apps that help with a variety of study methods. When my daughter, Courtlyn, was in nursing school, needing to learn to identify parts of the body visually and by name, she used Chegg to create flashcards that included photographs as well text. She is a kinesthetic learner (absorbs information through touch, movement and motion) and she found that hand writing each slide from her professor’s powerpoint presentations helped her commit the information to memory. Quizlet is another popular app. In addition to learning tools, this app has flashcards and pre-set quizzes (which may have been added by professors or by students). Quizlet even allows professors to create in-class games. According to this article, with Quizlet you can:
– Get test-day ready with Learn
– Put your memory to the test with Write
– Race against the clock in a game of Match
– Share flashcards with classmates (if you’re a student) or your students (if you’re a teacher)
– Listen to your material pronounced correctly in 18 languages
– Enhance your studying with custom images and audio

4. Set a Schedule. If your students do not set aside specific times to study then, more than likely, time will slip by with little or no studying taking place. When setting a schedule, break up assignments into time increments that are doable and that allow for on-time (or early) completion. Be sure to highlight important deadlines and test dates. Set aside a liberal amount of time to be used exclusively for studying and for homework. The time set aside need not be one block of time. If a student has time in the morning, afternoon, and/or evening, several blocks of time can be set aside. Using a white board to write down the student’s schedule creates a visual reminder for the student while allowing the parent to be aware of whether the student is sticking to the schedule, or not. Online calendars are also great for setting up schedules because reminders and alarms can be put in place, ensuring the student’s awareness of the schedule, avoiding missed deadlines.

5. Prioritize. Students need to be intentional about scheduling time to study and time to complete assignments. If your students are not self-disciplined, then they may need to be held accountable for their time and if that is the case, withholding privileges until work is complete may be adequate motivation. Work first, then play.

With intention, good study habits can be learned, time can be managed, and as a result, stress will be lessened.

Choosing Curriculum: A Guide to Planning for Elementary, Middle and High School Students

Whether you are new to homeschooling or you have been homeschooling for a while with students moving up to another level, this article will provide guidelines to consider when making plans for your students.

Although the suggestions I make in this article are general and eclectic, it may be worth your while to take a look at the multiple styles and methods of homeschooling. You may be surprised at the many choices and philosophies available for your consideration. There is no right or wrong choice. You may try out one style only to discover it is not the best fit for your family. In the end, you may find the best plan is to pick and choose from various styles in order to design a plan that works for you and your family.  Two books that will encourage you in your homeschooling journey are Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah McKenzie and Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

For elementary students, keep it simple and keep it fun. Creating a love of learning is the key to raising students who are academically successful. Do not worry about curriculum. It is available for your use, but you have done well teaching your children from birth to age 5 without curriculum, so if you want to continue in the same manner, jerry-wang-0qmXPnZKeLU-unsplashgo for it! The freedom and flexibility of homeschooling allows you to plan your students’ experiences around their learning style and their interests. If you do purchase a curriculum and it is not working the way you envisioned, feel free to set it aside, sell it, or give it away. Do not become enslaved to curriculum. If you feel a need to make purchases then purchase Legos, critical thinking games, a globe and maps, and fun items that inspire the imagination. During the younger years, a huge emphasis should be placed on reading aloud, enjoying nature, having discussions, and playing games. Go on fieldtrips. Visit museums, science centers, and zoos. Oftentimes, the cost of an annual family membership is not much more than the cost of a one-day visit, and many zoos and museums have reciprocal memberships! Involve your children in meal planning and grocery shopping. Reach out to your community and volunteer for opportunities to serve that allow your children to participate. Encourage your students to ask questions, and then guide them towards learning how to find the answers to their questions. No one can know everything, but students who learn how to find the answers to their questions become independent learners, allowing parents the luxury of not worrying about whether their students will succeed academically, or be left behind. Look for an upcoming article with specifics on how to encourage inquisitiveness and how to teach your students to find answers from reliable resources! When you have a few minutes, listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk on How Schools Kill Creativity.

MIDDLE SCHOOL

Although planning for middle school is not quite as important as the high school years, parents should begin getting serious about their students’ academic studies. During the elementary years you have, hopefully, instilled in your children a love of learning as well as having equipped them with the ability to find answers to their questions. The middle school years are challenging because of the physiological changes that start taking place and those changes often result in undesired attitudes surfacing. Expediting an academic plan may be fraught with the need to address character issues. Be sure you address the character issues. If you need to set aside academics in order to restore relationships or repair damage done by students who are acting out, do so. Do not be afraid to have non-negotiable parental mandates, but explain to your students the reasoning behind the decisions and alex-michaelsen-4jcZiXH63fM-unsplashdirections you pursue. They do not have to understand or agree with your decisions, but your students should be required to respond respectfully to you (and to others).

In addition to teaching your students how to answer questions, middle school is a great time to encourage students to question answers, but to do so respectfully. (Are you seeing a correlation to middle school and character issues?) If you have already lived through the middle school years you may chuckle at the advice to encourage your students to question answers because that tends to be natural for middle school students. They tend to question everything, particularly rules and expectations set forth by parents. Avoid answering with, “Because I said so,” if possible. You will gain respect if you take the time to share your heart and, even if your students are not mature enough to understand or agree with your explanation, they are apt to be less frustrated than they would be otherwise. Now that character issues have been addressed, let’s talk about subjects to cover.

Math: During middle school make sure your students have a firm understanding of basic math facts so that they will be adequately prepared to be introduced to algebra and geometry in high school. Being able to multiple mentally, whether by memorizing the times table or using another method to achieve that result, is imperative. Knowing how to divide without using a calculator is also important. Understanding percentages and fractions is equally important to having a firm foundation for higher level math classes.

English: In high school your student should begin writing essays so while in middle school introduce your students to simple writing assignments such as book reports, short stories, testimonies, and more. Continue to read aloud, but assign great literature to be read by your students as well. You may find your students are willing to read more if they are allowed to read the biographies found in the juvenile section of the library. Rather than reading one biography that is over 200-300 pages long, your student can read five or six, or more, biographies that are of much shorter length. There are many resources for literature-driven curriculum.

History: I was that student who thought history was the most boring subject on the planet until I began homeschooling my students and discovered historical fiction! Reading books that brought history to life led me to have a deep love for history! Introduce your students to history through literature or through unit studies! For American history, the House of Winslow series is very historically accurate. If your students are reading biographies, then chances are they may want to further pursue information about the period of history being covered by the biography they are reading. With one of my sons (who loves history), we went through the Timetables of History (a chronological record of history from the beginning of written records) and when something sparked further interest, we looked up videos and articles pertaining to that event. For those looking for a literature-based history curriculum, TruthQuest may be just what you need.

Science: Because your student will be taking biology and chemistry in high school, the middle school years should include an introduction to basic science that includes life, earth, and physical science. If you are going for a more literature based approach, include biographies of great scientists. One of my favorite books to read aloud is Carry On Mr. Bowditch. Books about George Washington Carver were enjoyed as well. As far as text books go, many families choose to use Apologias books for science.

Electives: In addition to the basics, you may choose to add in any number of electives from physical education to music, foreign language, leadership, religions and worldviews, shop, cooking, or anything else that particularly interests your students.

group of people sitting on stairs

HIGH SCHOOL

Now is definitely the time to make specific plans for your students. Although you will have some flexibility, in order to ensure that your students are adequately prepared for life after high school, it is important to plan ahead. Be sure you prepare your students for college, whether they think they need college, or not. It is better to be prepared and not need it, than vice versa. I wrote an blog post that will help you avoid eight common mistakes that homeschooling parents make. If your students have no idea what they want to pursue after high school, help them discover their gifts, talents, and passions. Narrow down top college choices so you can find out what is expected from those colleges as far as admission requirements, transcript expectations, and scholarship potential. Feel free to download The Journey, a free e-resource that will help you plan ahead.

Transcripts: Although most states have suggested guidelines for high school graduation, there are no set-in-stone laws, so you have the freedom to plan according to what’s best for your student. The expectation is that a four-year high school transcript will include 22 to 24 credits. Most states expect a student to take at least 3 math classes, 3 or 4 English classes,  3 science classes (with at least 2 labs), 3 social studies, ½ credit for personal finance, 1 or 2 physical education credits, 2 foreign language credits, and the remainder as electives. Some states are more rigorous while others are more flexible but, again, these are guidelines and not mandates. Be aware that as flexible as you are allowed to be from a homeschooling point-of-view, you may find particular colleges have requirements that your student must fulfill in order to attend that college. For this reason, narrowing down college choices is vital to planning the courses for your students. Some homeschooling families have their students take a 5th year of high school and, believe it or not, colleges will accept a 5 year transcript from homeschooled students.

Curriculum: When I began homeschooling (in the 1980s) our curriculum choices were very limited. That is not the case today. There are online programs that are totally free (Easy Peasy and Kahn Academy are two programs often recommended) and there are many programs that can be purchased. There are textbooks available for every subject imaginable and there are products galore for the students who prefer learning without textbooks whether that is with CDs, videos, or with real books.

Course Selection: It is presumed that your student will take English, math, science, and social studies. Most state guidelines suggest two years of the same foreign language, although there are colleges that do not have that requirement. If you know what major your student will pursue, you can better plan which courses to choose. For instance, students who plan to become engineers should take as many math and science classes as possible while in high school. If your students show a particular interest in a subject, then have them take classes pertaining to that subject in order to confirm or refute that interest. If your students have no idea what they want to do after high school, then provide a well-rounded high school experience while trying to nail down a plan for after high school. My next article will include suggestions for helping your children discover their gifts, interests, and passions.

Beyond the Basics: Although we have all been conditioned to believe that including the classes mentioned above are sufficient for a proper education, I would like to suggest that there are classes worth considering that are equally (if not more) important to a well rounded education. Taking classes in current events, speech and debate, apologetics, logic, entrepreneurship and personal finance are classes that will help prepare your students for life after high school whether that includes college, or not. One of my regrets is not having my students involved in debate clubs until the 5th child (of 9) was in high school.  Once I became aware of the skills gained being involved in a debate club (there are at least three Christian homeschool debate leagues), my students were required to participate in a debate club for at least one year.

Books:  To help plan for the high school years read Celebrate Highschool: Finish with Excellence and More Than Credits: Skills Highschoolers Need for Life both written by Cheryl Bastain.

Test Prep. Because COVID has disrupted the ability for colleges to require test scores for admission and scholarships, many colleges are now test-optional. Whether these colleges will remain test-optional is yet to be known. Before COVID, the highest scholarships were awarded to students with high test scores (ACT, SAT and/or CLT). For that reason, spending time and money on your students so that they could adequately prepare for these tests and, taking the tests multiple times in order to raise their scores, was essential to families needing scholarships for their students (and, to be honest, most of us need all the financial help we can get). At this time, GPAs are being used by test-optional colleges when test scores are not available. For that reason, your students should be encouraged to achieve high grades even if that means repeating classes with poor grades.

Dual Enrollment. Taking college-level classes is a win/win for students who are ready and able to pass college-level classes. Not only will your students receive both high school and college credit, but one college class is usually counted as a full high school credit, meaning your students will earn a year’s worth of high school credit in one semester. This will either allow your student to graduate early or to continue taking college classes during high school. Dual enrollment is free in several states, discounted in some states and, oftentimes, discounted by the college. Bryan College offers dual enrollment classes on line four times a year with a $200 scholarship for out-of-state students and, for Tennessee students, the same scholarship is offered once the state DE grant is used. In fact, a Tennessee student can take 30 credit hours with Bryan College for as little as $600 if the student uses the DE grant, the school scholarship and the HOPE. As wonderful as the dual enrollment opportunity is for high school students, it is not without dangers.

As you make plans for your students’ academic future, take comfort in knowing that you have both the freedom and the flexibility to make adjustments as needed in order to improve your students’ homeschooling experience. There is no black-and-white, or right-or-wrong way to do this. Plan, pray, talk to friends, and research options and everything will eventually come together!

Matt and able at graduation

Halloween … Yes, No, Maybe So?

halloweenIf you are reading this with the hope of being convinced one way or another about whether to participate in Halloween, then I will forewarn you that you are probably going to be disappointed.  If, however, you are not convinced one way or another and you would like to be challenged to think about this question further then, hopefully, you will not be disappointed.

Here are the basic views towards whether Christian families should participate in any event related to Halloween:

  1. Avoid it totally. Have nothing to do with it.  Do not acknowledge it in any way, shape or form.
  2. Participate freely, knowing that you are not being influenced by the powers of darkness, and participating is all done lightheartedly and in fun.
  3. Participate in a limited fashion, but have discussions about the origins of the holiday.
  4. Participate by offering Christian tracts to trick-or-treaters who come to your home.
  5. Host or join in an alternative fall celebration or a reformation event.

Our family has taken part in each choice with the exception of #1, although there were a few times I made an argument, to no avail, to go with a total abstinence of all things Halloween.  My husband loved dressing up with the kiddos, taking them door-to-door garnering candy, visiting with neighbors, and making new friends. I usually stayed home with an infant, since I almost always had an infant and/or a toddler in the house!  Sometimes I would stroll along with the baby depending on the weather. We did not allow our children to dress-up in scary costumes and often-times made our own costumes.  One of our favorite costumes was a robot costume an older brother made for a younger brother.

In addition to trick-or-treating, we would attend fall celebrations.  For several years the church we attended hosted a dress-up event and we would attend that as well.  One of my friends attended a church that hosted a dress-up event with the requirement that each costume had to be a biblical character. They awarded prizes for various categories and I always loved hearing about the costumes because many were so creative and unique!

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Did I have guilt about our participation in trick-or-treating when I read blogs and articles condemning all things Halloween?  Yes, I did.  Did that guilt motivate me to boycott all things Halloween? Yes, it did but, as mentioned above, to no avail.  My husband and children loved getting dressed up and coming home with buckets filled with candy that they then sorted, counted, and traded or used for bartering purposes.  When they were really young we could easily trade Smarties and lollipops for the “good stuff” (chocolate).  As they got older they were not so easily duped into trading.

Am I sorry we participated in trick-or-treating? Not only am I not sorry, I am okay with this decision.  Outside of the guilt that would rear its head when I read opinionated articles, the memories of these annual events are precious.  Another consideration important to us was the responses we received from family members who are not believers.  They already thought we were strange for homeschooling our children.  They certainly could not understand why we would not allow our children to dress up and get free candy.  Some would argue that taking a stand against all things Halloween is a great example of principle.  Others would agree that not participating in activities deemed normal to most is extreme and strange.

One of the reasons I do not regret participation in trick-or-treating is the fact that now that our children are grown I realize these experiences did not scar them for life.  Not only that, in an admission that we were probably far too legalistic and conservative in many areas (especially with our older children), the fact that we participated in trick or treating may have helped our children not rebel from their conservative upbringing.  Who knows?  Lest you think I am justifying compromise in order to achieve a certain outcome, that is not what I am saying.  What I have observed in a few families who raised their children in a legalistic framework (choosing the #1 choice of avoiding all things Halloween), is that these children often grow up and reject everything from their childhood whether it be homeschooling, extremes in modesty and dating regulations, participating in “secular” events, not being allowed to read certain books or watch certain movies/tv shows, going to church regularly, etc.  Not all parents who choose #1 option are legalistic. There are parents who choose not to take part in Halloween because of personal convictions and/or personal experiences. So, what is a parent to do?  Because there is no clear right or wrong choice (although some will disagree with that conclusion), there are scriptural principles that should be considered when making decisions for your family.  Also, family unity is very important and if one parent feels more adamant than another parent then a compromise needs to be made.  I would suggest you discuss, pray, and make a decision that will keep unity in the family.

If you do a google search for whether or not Christians should celebrate Halloween, you will get many articles taking up a strong stance for one side of the issue, or the other. As an example, here are two very contrasting views:

7 Reasons Why Christians Should Celebrate Halloweenhalloween pumpkin

and

Why Christians Absolutely Should Not Celebrate Halloween

The bottom line is that this decision is one your family needs to make after discussing, researching, and praying about the choice that is best for you.  Regardless of what your family chooses to do, have grace towards families who have made choices different than you. (After all, they will know us by our love.)

Here is an article that shares a Christian perspective of Halloween.

May you enjoy the fall in any and all celebrations in which you choose to take part.

Encouragement for the New Year

contemplative momBy this time of the year many homeschooling families are in a slump, suffering a lack of energy to continue their homeschooling adventure with purpose and excitement.  The new year is also a time that parents, frustrated with the public school system, consider homeschooling their students. Whether homeschooling is a brand new idea or you are suffering burn out, there’s something for you here. Having finally completed my homeschool journey with my nine children (more than 30 years total), I will share some thoughts that will provide encouragement and help to those in need. Included in the remarks below are a few suggestions to consider as well as links to recommended resources and websites.

Let’s start off with three reading recommendations:

  1. This article, Building Soul Spaces, will touch your heart. Seriously, take the time to read this. You will be glad you did.buildingsoulspaces
  2. The book Mere Motherhood, by Cindy Rollins, is a must read especially for those with large families or for those who feel as if they are not accomplishing enough. Cindy’s description of morning time may be the motivation you need to make changes accordingly.
  3. Sarah McKenzie’s book, Teaching from Rest, presents a great picture of what a restful homeschooling experience looks like. If you are stressed and anxious about your homeschooling journey, this is a great read for you.

Now, for a few practical suggestions. Make homeschooling an extension to life rather than a separate beast to overcome.  Curriculum is a tool we use, and not something to which we should be enslaved. You taught your child from birth to age 5 without any curriculum, right?  Teaching came naturally during the early years! If what you’ve been using is not working, consider dropping it, saving it for later, or replace it with something better.

Encourage your children to love learning and then teach them how to ask questions and find the answers. Three-year-olds love to ask, “Why?”  It may get tiring, but encouraging constant questions keeps your child in a state of wonder, always eager to learn more. As you discover your children’s gifts and talents, family fishingmake opportunities for them to excel in those areas.

Prioritize character! Respectful and obedient children are much easier and less stressful to live with! Be sure you include ministry opportunities that involve your children. Again, do not be afraid to switch gears and try something else if what you are doing is not working. Provide opportunities for your children to give presentations so they can hone their public speaking skills. Teach from a biblical worldview. Take field trips. Visit museums. Play games. Read aloud often. Get together with friends at least once a week (join or start a co-op). Enjoy the years while your kiddos are home because, in the a blink of an eye, they will be grown!

Making school an extension to life does not mean you have to avoid curriculum. Being a huge fan of unit studies we did not separate our studies into separate subjects (for the most part) but, rather, integrated most subjects into a unit of study. When homeschooling is an extension to life, then learning takes place everyday and the pressure to keep a record of school days is relieved because every day provides opportunities for learning.  Our children did attend co-op one day a week and we often took part in additional classes thatchildren by fence interested the children. Homeschooling co-op style was a huge blessing for our family due to sharing the workload, offering socialization, and providing a safe and friendly audience for presentations (and I loved, loved, loved having all of my children together). (For free podcasts on homeschooling co-op style, go here!) During the elementary and middle school years there is much freedom for homeschooling families to determine what works best with your family. Once a student begins high school a parent must be intentional about preparing the students to succeed after high school whether that is college, career, ministry, marriage and parenting, or a combination of several options!

Many parents are often perplexed by their children’s lack of ambition (with the exception of desiring to be on a phone or playing video games). How does one encourage a strong work ethic? Children these days have it easy compared to those who lived years ago or as compared to those who live on a farm, having to get up at dawn and work until evening. If jobs are not readily available then families need to gardeningcreate work and demand excellence, according to the child’s skills and maturity. One of my friends (who has 11 children) makes her child repeat a job 10 times if he/she does not do it right the first time. She discovered that it does not take very many times before a child becomes determined to do a job right the first time.  I have another friend whose motto was, “If someone’s working, we all work.” My children will tell you they heard me say, repeatedly, “Many hands make light work.” Let your children know that work comes before play. Demand obedience, excellence, and be consistent.

Even when everything is going as planned, parents often worry that their children might be behind. Behind what?  Behind who? I suggest you strike those words from your vocabulary. Every family is unique. Your children may excel in some areas while they may be slower in other areas.  It is not a race.  There should be no comparison.  When life gets in the way and formal academics are neglected the schedule may change, but lessons are still learned.  Whether it’s a move, a death in the family, an emergency, working on character issues, or for any other reason, switching gears does not mean that your students are getting behind.

Below are fifteen lessons I learned over the course of my many years of homeschooling:

  1. Your child’s relationship with the Lord and with the family is more important than anything else.
  2. Children of all ages love to be read aloud to, especially when the book is a great book.
  3. Instilling a strong work ethic goes a long, long way (both in lessening the work load at home and in preparing a child to be a responsible adult).
  4. Children can do chores at quite a young age. Their work may not be perfect, but boy cutting carrotstheir skills will improve (eventually).  Hint for large families:  Assign “chores for life or until you state otherwise” so that you always know who is not doing their chore or who is doing their chore well! (No more chore charts.)
  5. Stress is lessened when learning is fun and exciting. Read Cheaper by the Dozen to see how one dad made learning unique and oftentimes fun (this book is nothing like the movie of the same title, by the way).
  6. We speak every single day so be intentional about planning speaking opportunities with your children and public speaking skills will be honed at a young age. (As mentioned, once a week co-ops are perfect for this.)  There are many Christian homeschool speech and debate leagues. Two of the most popular are STOA and NCFCA
  7. Planning studies around areas of interest to you and your children facilitates learning.
  8. Identifying false logic and avoiding the use thereof is a great skill and something that should be taught during the high school years, if not before.
  9. Learning how to properly debate is invaluable and very helpful with conflict resolution.  Whether your students compete, or not, joining a speech and debate club will provide much insight and experience with speech and debate skills. (See clubs mentioned in #6 above.)
  10. No one can know everything. Being curious and knowing how to find information is more useful in the long run than memorized facts. If you teach your child how to find information then you never have to worry about what you may have left out. Listen to  Sir Ken Robinson talk about how schools kill creativity!
  11. Having (or starting) a home business is a wonderful way to teach students practical consumer lessons (while earning money).
  12. Knowing what to expect during the high school years is a must.  One of my regrets is missing out on opportunities that I did not even know about until it was too late.  For this reason I have put together a free E-Resource for homeschooling parents.  (Request a free copy here.)
  13. Whether you agree that college entrance exams are adequate indicators of a student’s ability to be a good student or not, the reality is that most colleges award academic scholarships according to test scores.  For this reason it is important that you prepare your students accordingly if they are headed to college and financial scholarship is needed. Although every student will not go to college, it is better to be prepared and not go that route than to not be prepared and end up scrambling to make it work at a late date.
  14. There are no black and white formulas for success.  (If there were I would write a book and make millions.)
  15. Parenting is hard, but God is good and prayer is your best friend.

If you find yourself suffering from burn-out mid-year, do not despair. Take a deep breath, prioritize, and make changes that will lessen your stress and increase the enjoyment of your homeschooling journey. If you are brand new to homeschooling, welcome to our world! And, if you did not read the first article referenced above, here’s the link. Read it right now. You’ll be glad you did!

I am the Homeschool Specialist at Bryan College and love telling families about Bryan. Feel free to email me if you have questions or if you want to know more about Bryan College! Email:  pat.wesolowski@bryan.edu

If you are on Facebook, “like” our page to stay up-to-date with what’s going on at the college!  https://www.facebook.com/homeschoolstudents/

 

The PSAT and Why it is Important

psatAs the Homeschool Specialist at Bryan College I plan to use this forum as a means to communicate information useful to parents of teens as they prepare their children for life after high school!  Let’s talk about the importance of the PSAT!

The PSAT is a test that students should take before taking the SAT and/or the ACT.  The PSAT is given only once a year (in October) and the student’s junior year score is the score that counts towards the National Merit Scholarship.  A student can begin taking the PSAT before the eleventh grade, but the only score that counts towards the National Merit Scholarship is the test taken during the junior year.  Semi-finalists awarded the NMS qualify for full tuition at Bryan College.

The PSAT is not only a “practice” test of sorts, but it is the test that determines National Merit Scholarship awards!!

The PSAT is:

1.  Only given once a year (in October)

2.  Quite affordable ($13 – $25 depending on location)

3.  Offered to students younger than juiniors (as practice)

4.  Offered at most public and private schools

5. To earn a National Merit Scholarship a student has to qualify by scores earned in addition to meeting requirements.

6.  Becoming a NMS finalist is possible for each semi-finalist (a semi-finalist receives full tuition at Bryan College) who completes additional requirements.

The PSAT covers reading, writing, and mathematics. In 2015 the PSAT was changed in a manner similar to the SAT changes.  Homeschooled students can take the PSAT at a public or private high school.  Register your student for this test in September or early October so that a test booklet will be reserved for the student. Some schools require the student to be present at registration and the student must have an acceptable form of ID. This site includes a list of schools where this test is given.

The test is quite affordable, so having high school students take this test is advantageous for many reasons.  Again, it is only offered in October of each year.  Although the score received during the student’s junior year is the score that counts toward the National Merit Scholarship, a student can begin taking this test as early as ninth grade, and perhaps even earlier, depending on the policy of the staff at the facility offering the test.