Homeschoolers get used to answering questions. It's natural for people to be curious about unconventional choices. One of the questions I am asked frequently is, "How long are you planning to homeschool?"
Families choose homeschooling for a variety of reasons. Many students start out in public school and are withdrawn to deal with specific situations such as illness, personality conflicts, or the need for extra tutoring. In each of these cases, the student will probably eventually return to a traditional school.
For our family, homeschooling is a lifestyle choice. Two of our six children have graduated from our homeschool high school, a fact that often generates additional questions: Can you DO that? How do they earn credits? Who issues the diploma? Will they be able to attend college?
New homeschoolers are often surprised and relieved that homeschooling through high school is an option, although they have the same questions as the simply curious.
There are numerous online high schools and correspondence courses, where the student eventually earns a diploma from an accredited school. Although this is "school at home", it is not "homeschooling" in its purest form. We have not chosen an accredited school, because our goal is to provide a customized educational experience for our children. We don't want to be limited by a particular school's schedule or course offerings.
So, how does a mere parent develop a high school plan? It's not as difficult as it might seem. Remember, graduation requirements will differ, even among public schools. Some schools require four language credits and two math credits. Some will settle for three language credits, but want the student to earn three math credits, too. There are even variations in how many hours of study constitute a "credit", typically ranging from 80 to 120.
Planning: In our homeschool high school, 100 hours of study equals one credit. I expect my high schoolers to earn a minimum of five language credits, three math credits, two social studies credits, two science credits, two fine arts credits, one foreign language credit, two PE credits, one life skills credit, one driver's ed credit, and six elective credits, for a total of 25 credits to graduate. Compared to other high schools' requirements, 25 is a lot. I also require many hours of community service.
Record Keeping: We keep a log of the children's studies. The log includes a brief description of the activity, the class or subject, and the amount of time spent. A typical Monday entry might read, "Online algebra course, math, one hour. Swim team, P.E., two hours. Cooked dinner, home economics, 45 minutes. Research and notes for essay, language arts, 1/2 hour. Watched Civil War documentary, history, one hour."
At the end of each school year, I total the hours spent on each subject and transfer the information to my student's high school transcript. Since transcript formats will vary from school to school, I was free to simply choose one I liked from samples available online. The transcript is placed in my child's portfolio, along with examples of his work. Some people use notebooks for portfolios, but I have used an accordion file in recent years because I think the punched holes detract from the professional appearance of the documents.
Choosing Curriculum: It can be fun to shop for curriculum for traditional classes, such as math and language arts. Textbooks and online courses such as Time4Writing fulfill many of the requirements. These are straightforward and easy to log.
Sports activities and music lessons fulfill other requirements. I try to get photographs of my children engaged in these activities, as well as letters from their coaches and music teachers. These go into the portfolio, along with recital programs, ribbons earned, newspaper accounts, and other "proof" of participation.
Customizing Curriculum: Elective and nontraditional classes are your chance to get creative. Work with a high schooler to develop a plan that addresses his eventual goals.
Our state requires 100 hours of driving instruction before a student can receive a driver's license, so a photocopy of our child's license is all we put into their portfolios as "evidence" that they've earned a driver's ed credit.
One daughter was instructed to cook dinner once a week during the school year and was given a list of meal types to provide: two casserole meals, six ethnic meals, two crockpot meals, one formal dinner, etc. Allowing for her research and planning, she earned half of a home economics credit during the school year.
"Life Skills" hours are logged when the student is assisted with such things as opening a bank account and filling out job resumes. A student's employment offers another opportunity to earn credits. If they count change, a percentage of hours employed can count toward "Practical Math". If they use a computer, some of the time can be logged as "Computer", "Data Entry" or "Keyboarding" classes.
Of course, there are formal "Home Ec" and "Driver's Ed" courses available, but don't feel you are cheating if you choose a more casual method. Even traditional schools offer credits for work experience and for "classes" such as "teacher's aide", where the student helps grade papers, organize the classroom, and so forth.
Diplomas: A diploma can be generated at home on your computer, or there are many places to order a more professional appearing document. A homeschooler's high school diploma is signed by the parents. Diplomas are essentially keepsakes for the student's enjoyment, with colleges being more interested in a student's transcript, portfolio, or test scores.
Career Options: The vast majority of colleges accept homeschooled students, with admission requirements ranging from testing to a portfolio evaluation. Many colleges actively recruit homeschoolers. A student can honestly answer "yes" on job applications that ask if they are a high school graduate. The occasional reluctant employer can usually be persuaded when provided with a copy of the state's homeschool laws and the student's homeschool diploma. The National Guard now accepts homeschooled students and recently issued a brochure specifically designed to recruit students educated at home.
Graduation: To assure that they're ready to graduate, our children take the ASSET tests at our local community college. Some families rely on standardized tests from previous years or have their students obtain a GED. Other families "just know" it's time. Many homeschool co-ops offer graduation recognition ceremonies. Our family's most recent graduate and her cousin were happy participants in our co-op's graduation ceremony this year.
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