Once again I have the written text for my answers. I have learned that I have to write my responses down before participating in a talk. That is because I am not a linear thinker. When I talk I often interject tangents or go in different directions. I write my answers down ahead of time so that I will stay on point! There is much more in these answers than in the talk. I think best and most completely in writing. But the talk has answers to these and other questions from Jai and Meg that are not included below. They are both experienced homeschoolers, who both had a lot of wonderful advice about homeschooling high school. The link to the podcast is here, Homeschooling High School.

Blair, our first question is one I hear a lot and I imagine you do as well: How do I plan for the high school years?

Before you start planning you should relax with this and recognize that your child is a unique individual and their education should reflect that. Open your mind up to the possibilities, and ask yourself and your child some questions.

  • What do you and your child want from this handcrafted education?

There will be some commonalities with others depending on what avenue you take or the educational style you use, but honestly I think the best thing that can happen for a homeschooled child, especially when they are at the high school age, is to allow them to explore their passions. It says to them you are individual, you are unique, and your unique intellect is important enough to nurture and develop. I think more than any of the younger age groups, high school age students are old enough to appreciate this message. Your child’s journey through their homeschooled education is absolutely going to be different, and that’s okay. They are different people, and the reality is, given this complicated, eclectic world we live in, it’s better to be raising a group of eclectic thinkers like we’re doing in the homeschool community. The world hasn’t figured it out yet, but our homeschooling community is providing this generation a huge service by providing it with this group of eclectic thinkers, with the unique perspectives on issues we homeschoolers promote in our kids.

  • An important question to ask before writing a plan is: What do you and your family think the purpose of school and an education is?

I am the academic type, so our plan is more academic than some other homeschoolers. That’s reflected in how I handcraft Sean’s education. I want him to have plenty of time for friends, family, and fun, but I think that there has to be real time set aside for academics. Not so much because of me, but because Sean has dreams for himself and some hard work now is the best chance for him to realize his dreams. It does take planning to juggle everything.

  • Another important question to ask when planning for the high school years: Is your child headed somewhere specific?

You actually have to be careful about the answer to this, because a lot can change in a person’s life. I see it as a mistake to put all your eggs in one basket. So even if you have a child who is talented or driven in one area, you should make sure they get at least the basics from a broad liberal arts education. But if you have a child who really wants their education, including an athletic or artistic passion, to focus on something because of a dream or goal they have, then you certainly need to plan what needs to happen for them to have a chance at realizing their dream. (I am not, by the way, saying that artistic or athletic endeavors are not academic. I include them to highlight that these are as good as any other passion to pursue.)

Don’t get me wrong and think that I don’t have a plan, I do. In fact, I am a bit of an uber planner. This is a trait that has served me well. But it’s also been a bit of a problem, plans by their very nature are linear and the best academic plan for a homeschooled kid changes all the time and over the long term cannot be boiled down to a linear checklist. The planning part of high school is what will keep you up at night!

The next question is about what constitutes a credit and how parents should keep track of credits and classes taken. Can you provide some insight on how you accomplish this?

I just dealt with this question. My advice if you have a college bound student is to invest in a good homeschool grading product and stay up on inputting your students work and grades. You absolutely do not want to be putting their transcript together at the last minute. A good homeschool grading product will help you with these types of questions.

Blair, there’s a lot of confusion as to what documents are needed during high school. Can you explain the difference between a transcript, portfolio, and diploma, and tell us which you think is the most important to have?

It depends where your child is headed. If they are going straight from high school to work or to a community college (at least in California) all they need are a diploma. A diploma indicates that you finished all high school requirements with a passing grade.

A transcript is a record of the classes taken and grades received for those classes. 4-year institutions will require a transcript from students with their applications. This is straight up bookkeeping. If your child is going to need a transcript, start recording grades, courses taken, and material used from the very first day of high school.

A portfolio is much broader in scope. There are several cases where a portfolio is required.

Some jobs and technical schools will want to see samples demonstrating a particular skill. Kids who want to go into art, computer programming, or writing (as examples) should all have a nice portfolio with pieces of their work. Sean was just invited to apply to Stanford’s pre-collegiate summer program. Stanford required a standardized test as a part of the application, but when I explained he had never taken one, they waived it and required a portfolio of his work instead.

A portfolio is what colleges should ask for from homeschoolers. If a college asks their homeschooling students for a portfolio, this to me, indicates it is a homeschool friendly college. Colleges that require this type of portfolio want samples of a students work from their classes. These would include math midterms and finals, lab reports and data tables, writing samples, you get the picture. This is a much better way for a college to see if a student is a good fit for the school. Most of these portfolios will also require the transcript as a part of it.

“What about prom?” or “What about sports?” Basically, how can one go about finding socialization & recreational opportunities for their teenager?

I live in an area where there is a homeschool group who puts on a prom, dances, graduations, the works. I suggest you use Google, yahoo, meetup, and facebook to find groups in your area. And if there are conferences in your area – the two homeschool conferences we attend in California, CHN and HSC, have legendary teen events – it is the highlight of the year for most of the teens attending. In addition, HSC has a large group of homeschoolers who regularly camp for week-long trips. The teens love those.

Next we have a question that I know a lot of parents worry about from the start. I’m not qualified to teach advanced math so how will I teach it? Blair, I know you have a lot of experience helping parents in this situation; can you help ease this parent’s mind? 

You have many options

  1. Do it yourself: All you have to be is one step ahead of your child. Be prepared to learn right along with them. That is perfectly acceptable.
  2. Form or find a co-op, don’t teach the things that are difficult for you
  3. On-line classes – there are good online math programs
  4. Concurrent enrollment in college courses. That is what I have done for Sean with computer programming – he wanted to learn how to program – I didn’t so I enrolled him at UCSD Extension. It was his grades in the 2 programming classes that led to the invitation from Stanford
  5. Coursera or other freebie online programs – I find these best when I take them with Sean. Sometimes he is more insightful than I am – it is awesome when that happens

Blair, are there types of skills, aside from basic knowledge, that you think are important for high schoolers to have? (IE: study skills, note taking, communication, etc)

The absolute #1 most important skill you should make sure your child has is the skill of learning how to learn. With that one skill mastered, your child, for their entire life can learn anything they want. This seems like a skill everyone just has but that isn’t the case. Many people have no idea how to go about, for example, learning hard subjects like chemistry. I know this because I was a chemistry professor at community college. I hear from people that they are not smart enough to learn chemistry. In truth, most people are smart enough to learn chemistry; they just lack the skill of learning more challenging subjects.

When Sean started at UCSD Extension I was surprised to learn he wasn’t good at taking notes, highlighting material, or communicating with his teacher. We have worked on that. I now lecture to him in science once a week, and give him a grade (paid in candy) for the quality of his notes. I also give him a grade in history for how well he highlights the material in his book. I want to see that he can catch the main points from his reading. I have helped him work on his skill of asking questions by email and in person (we actually talk about what he is going to ask). The last 2 are very important skill for jobs throughout your life as well as in school.

Sean is test phobic so test taking is a skill we have started working on this year too.

What  are the benefits of dual enrollment are, if any.

College and high school credit! If you have a college bound student there is also the benefit that it makes it easier for colleges to see that your student can handle classes and it neutralizes the stigma that does exist in many people’s eyes, including college admission officers, toward homeschooled students.

Blair, one of the biggest misconceptions about homeschooling is that homeschooled children won’t be able to get into college. So, tell me, are you worried that your son won’t be able to get into college?  Also, can you explain what the college application experience is like for the homeschooled student?

I think the two biggest misconceptions in the homeschool community are:

  1. That we are all super religious. Let’s set that to rest today, “No, what homeschoolers are, is really different from each other.” That sums up the homeschooling community right there. We are all really, really different and our strength is in our differences.
  1. The other one is that our kids can’t get into college. I actually think some colleges believe this. It is the craziest misconception of all. You take a group of parents that care so much about the child’s education that they are willing to dedicate a major portion of their life to doing the educating themselves. Why would this community produce a group of kids who can’t do well in college; it’s just ridiculous. This is one area though that I see homeschooling parents drink the Kool-Aid. I see homeschooling parents who have done a fantastic job homeschooling their children through eighth grade, and they start looking at the high schools in their area instead of continuing homeschooling. I did it, so I get it. I was nervous. But what was I really nervous about? I was nervous my child couldn’t do what? I was a community college professor. I don’t have a bias against community college. I went to community college for two years, transferred to UCSD, spent 3 ½ years at UCSD and graduated magna cum laude with a chemistry degree and a biology degree from UCSD. Our kids will all be able to go to community college if they want. I think when this comes up a lot of homeschooling parents forget about community colleges as an answer. I actually think a lot of traditional school parents do as well. But let’s say your child, like mine, wants to go to a 4-year institution, trust me they are not going to have a problem. Maybe at some colleges but not all. Just like some people like handcrafted food and some people don’t, some colleges like handcrafted educations and some colleges don’t. The colleges that do not value students who bring academic diversity to their campus will not want Sean, and he shouldn’t want them. Those colleges would not be a good fit for him. Not every college deserves our eclectic bunch of thinkers. But there are other colleges that value the academic diversity brought by the eclectic thinkers coming out of our community. Some are small colleges; others are larger colleges, such as Stanford and MIT. For Sean, he definitely needs to look at a couple of the colleges that no longer have a standardized test requirement. He is a super hard worker who freaks out and under performs on tests. A college that recognizes that hard work trumps your score on one test will be a better fit for him over his time in college anyway. 

Here’s a question I think we can all relate to. One of our parents would like to hear your advice for keeping your teen on track with their schooling. Blair, do you have any advice for us?

Oh this can be hard. They are teens so they are very temperamental sometimes. That is where a plan that you have both agreed to is important. If your teen will not do the work, that is tough. Make sure they know what is at stake. Some of this is just parenting, but you have to make sure it isn’t the work load. Sean is taking a programming class now that is very hard. It is so much work I gave him the option of dropping the class or going to a light schedule for his other course work. It was just too much for him to do it all. I also suggest connecting with other parents who are homeschooling high school when you start to struggle. Most of these issues are not unique to our teens. Other parents are dealing with the same issues. It can really help to hear how they are handling them. I recommend listening to the advice. Then, seriously we are homeschoolers after all, take the bits and pieces that work for your situation and make it your own!