An Eclectic, Academic

What does an eclectic, academic course of study look like for homeschoolers in the high school years? It can take a variety of different forms depending on the teen and their strengths and weaknesses. It can also develop differently based on their interests and the resources available to them. Regardless of these differences, a rich eclectic, academic study will be one in which the student learns at a meaningful level through a variety of resources and opportunities.

At the beginning of my son’s high school years he became very interested in astronomy, and his natural curiosity about the subject matter gave me the idea of incorporating it into his school year as a science credit. Building upon and nurturing a high school student’s interests in an educational capacity is very important at this phase, as intuitive curiosity leads a student to want to pursue an area of knowledge at a deeper level. As a concrete example, here is what I did with my son for his study of astronomy.

Astronomy first caught the attention of my son when he discovered Black Holes Explained, a short series from the Great Courses. Because of his interest, I decided to order a longer title from the Great Courses titled An Introduction to Astronomy, which included 96 half-hour lectures. The guidebook to this series included several reading recommendations, which we purchased and he eagerly worked through, and it also came with questions, which he answered as he watched the lectures. In addition to this, I picked up a standard astronomy college textbook and he worked through parts of it.

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After going through all of these, my son’s passion for the subject of astronomy had not diminished, and he applied to attend an Astronomy Camp at the University of Arizona. Upon being accepted, he and other camp mates spent seven sleepless nights on top of an isolated mountain in the desert of Arizona learning about astronomy hands-on. He also had the opportunity to partake in a radio broadcast talking to the crew of the International Space Station, where he posed the question of how fast could the crew evacuate in an emergency. Through these hands-on experiences his love of astronomy grew.

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My son returned from camp with a truly enriched understanding of the subject and a desire to delve even deeper into his studies, so I turned to other online options and found a Coursera class on Astrobiology from the University of Edinburgh, and then he and his sister joined our local astronomy club, where he attended monthly lectures by experts in the field from local universities including Cal Tech, UC Irvine, and Chapman. He also rented a telescope from the club and used it to study the stars, planets, and the moon on clear nights. Along with his sister, he attended a few “star parties”, or large-scale stargazing events attended by experts and enthusiasts with a wide array of telescopes.

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One thing that’s important at this level is that your teenager has an output of work, which, at the high school level, should include essays, labs, and essential assignments and projects which engage them fully and challenge them to broaden their horizons. When you homeschool, not everything has to be done traditionally but there should be enough work done to earn a credit. This course of study began in the spring of what would have been his eighth grade year, went on through the summer, and ended in the winter of what was his freshman year and for it he earned one full science credit and a half lab credit.

Although this study was rich and eclectic, the cost was actually quite manageable which is important to point out as I know cost is a factor for many of us. We got the Great Courses used on Ebay for a very affordable price, and all of his books were used copies that we found on Amazon. The Coursera class was free, and my son was lucky enough to receive a scholarship for the astronomy camp, which is what made it possible for him to participate. Participation in the local astronomy club was very affordable, and they lent us a telescope for six months free of charge. My point here is that, even if you are on a tight budget like I am, there are resources out there for you to create a meaningful, eclectic and academic experience for your child.

This is just one example whereby a student-led course can lead to an eclectic, gratifying pursuit in the high school years. Not every class is going to be like this; not every credit earned will be earned like this. Still, it is a wonderful thing that we have the opportunity, as homeschool parents, to craft at least a few high school courses in this way, and it is wonderful that our teens have the opportunity to learn through an engaging and memorable process.


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Jill Harper is a co-founder of SEA Homeschoolers and a homeschool consultant aiding families on their homeschool journey. She has a bachelor’s in film studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara and has completed the multi-subject credentialing program from National University. Jill has been homeschooling her three children for over 12 years and has been blogging about creative homeschooling and her own journey at TAD Town. You can follow Jill on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.