Thoughts on Teaching High School at Home

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I’ve been teaching my kids at home for nine years now. When FishBoy13 was born, I quit my job at a California high school, intent on being home with my children, however many there would be. FishPapa and I had it in our minds to teach them at home, in part because of what I had experienced as a high school teacher.

I was 23 when I got the job, only 5 or 6 years older than some of my students. And the crazy thing is that some of the parents asked me for parenting advice.

As if! And the crazier thing is that some of my peers thought they knew how to advise the parents. In fact, some of them even thought they knew better.

I’m so sick and tired of hearing what the parents want us to teach their kids. Why do we have to listen to them?

She was 25, a young, pretty blond English teacher. Most of the teenage boys thought she was hot. She was stunning alright, by her attitude. And it was her words that made us consider homeschooling. I wasn’t yet a mom, but that attitude rubbed me wrong.

I know there are many, many wonderful teachers out there who do not exude such an arrogant attitude. And I thank you, because I know that you sacrifice — a lot. Yours is a really hard job, especially when parents come to you for advice on more than academics.

But, having grown up in a teacher home and having been a teacher myself, I spent enough time behind the staff room door to know that it’s not an uncommon attitude. I did not want my hopes for my kids to fall on deaf ears. We decided that we would investigate homeschooling. If I was good enough to teach other people’s kids, surely I could teach my own.

A Beginning

When my oldest was two, I read through Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson. This gave me the resolve that home education was for us. Reading The Well-Trained Mind gave me the confidence that we could do it for the long haul.

(If you haven’t read The Well-Trained Mind, it’s a great read whether you embrace homeschooling or not. The author, Susan Wise Bauer was homeschooled back in a day when it was quite unusual. She is brilliant in many ways — and her explanations of homeschooling and afterschooling are extremely helpful.)

That was where I got my start in home education. And I’ve been figuring it out as I go along. When I started, the internet was still powered by squirrels in a cage, and there were not half the resources available that there are today. It’s changed a ton since our beginning.

If you’re thinking about taking the plunge, read this post on getting started in homeschooling.

Rich Beyond My Wildest Dreams

The last nine years have been unbelievably rich. My eldest, turning 14 next month, has learned to read, to tie his shoes, and to do algebra. The experiment is working!

Plus, he is a caring, young man, who helps his sisters cross the street, lifts heavy objects for me, and doesn’t beat up on his brothers — too much.

I can’t take much credit for this. I think God blessed us with a great kid and He has been at work in him. But, it’s been an extreme privilege to take this hands-on approach to his education and his development.

What about high school?

While home high school has always been part of The Plan, I think it’s good for us to reevaluate our plans and make sure that a decade-old decision is still the best one. This past winter and spring we’ve investigated local private and charter schools, and decided that a home high school is still the best choice for us. So we’re pressing on.

We are entering uncharted waters, but I’m looking forward to the journey. My teaching is taking a little different turn now as I approach High School. In some ways, it should be old hat. This is what my college training was for, after all.

Here are some new wrinkles in my approach:

Consulting the college requirements

We plan to follow the general course of study that a prospective college would require for admissions. Even though that is three years away from now, I want to make sure that he is learning the things that colleges expect and building an appropriate transcript.

In our case, we are consulting what the University of California and California State University systems look for in college applicants. I found this slide presentation from a UC Riverside professor to be particularly helpful in considering the admissions process. I am on the hunt for more ideas.

(If you live in Texas, check out this high school plan that my friend Joy put together.)

Getting student input

In addition to looking toward college entrance requirements, I’m also consulting more with my son about what he would like to study and how. While I’ve often asked the kids for input over the years, I’m looking more to him to make more decisions in high school. He would be doing much of the same in a more traditional setting, and in fact, gets a little more freedom as he’ll get to choose some of the books, something you don’t get to do in public high school.

He’s old enough to know what style of resource (computer, book, or video) helps him most. He’s old enough to decide which foreign language he wants to pursue. And though Spanish is a more practical language for living just an hour north of the California-Mexico border, his French-major mother let him choose. He chose Latin! Go figure…. He’s old enough to be making more decisions about his education.

Being open to supplementation

Home education has become more mainstream since the day we started this journey. And as such, there are more opportunities and choices for a rich learning environment in a home setting than there were ten years ago. There are more options for online classes as well as private classes locally. It’s not uncommon for high school students to also take community college courses.

So I’m trying to keep my eyes and ears open to things that will further enhance my high school student’s learning experience as well as give him exposure to different educational contexts.

Expecting mistakes

Despite my best intentions and my educational training, I’m reminding myself that I’m not going to do this perfectly. There will be plenty of mistakes to make, I’m sure. And so, I’m trying to adjust my expectations of myself as a teacher and as a mom.

Focusing on relationships

One of our most compelling reasons to home school all this while has been to invest deeply in relationships with our kids. This becomes all the more important as we enter the high school years. While I tend to be academically oriented, I’ve had to remember that how we communicate and interact with one another is more important than covering every chapter in the history book.

The Plan for 9th Grade

At the moment our high school curriculum looks like this:

Science: Apologia Science for High School – Biology

Composition & Grammar: Excellence in Writing – Fix It (grammar) and the Student Writing Intensive C (composition)

Foreign Language: Latin (most likely, First Form)

Math: Algebra 1 (possibly Chalk Dust)

History & Literature: Tapestry of Grace – Year 1

Electives: Not Yet Determined, possibly supplemented from the outside

What’s been YOUR experience?

Homeschool Mamas, I’d love to hear how you have approached high school at home. See ya in the comments!

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  1. Obviously I don’t know you, but I am loving reading your homeschooling information. My littles are 7, 5, 1 and in the tummy, so we’re not to the high school stage yet, but I really appreciate you discussing what you do to help educate your kids. You give great advice and make me think a lot!

    1. @Jen, everyday is a learning experience — for all of us. So, take everything I say with a grain of salt. πŸ˜‰

  2. I have been using K12 online homeschooling for the last 3 years and we love it. I haven’t had many bad experiences with teachers but I did with the other kids at school. My kids only did a few years of public school and all I would hear about were the bad kids and the bad language and habits picked up by them. My kids and my family have been SO much closer since we started homeschooling. It’s busy and hectic but I wouldn’t change a think. It is harder now that one is in middle school but I plan to continue on through high school. They have a close circle of friends that they interact with so they are not “missing” out on anything. It is going to get harder as they go to high scool but I’m ready for the challenge! Plus, they DO have teachers with K12 and they have been fantastic!

  3. Quick question for you: How do colleges view creation-science biology courses? Will they consider your son to have “taken” biology if your course doesn’t teach evolution?

    1. @The Gentle Mom, I just completed teaching Biology using “Exploring Creation through Biology” by Dr. Jay Wile and although it is christian based there was a module/chapter devoted to the theory of evolution which I thought was very well written.

    2. @The Gentle Mom, I have meetings planned with the admissions offices of local schools this summer to get the low-down, but like Kimi said, Apologia covers the theory of evolution, so I don’t think that will be an issue. I think what’s more important is the lab experience and learning scientific methods.

  4. Hi!
    Our 18yodd just finished her 1st year of college today with her last final! It was such an affirmation and wow moment. She was homeschooled all the way through. We still have four to go, three have special needs, so that is a whole other kettle of fish.

    My best advice, do not listen to anyone else except God and your hubby. Not to say that you can’t ask advice of others, but it is so easy to be dissuaded by all the chatter coming from so many different corners.

    Your son’s 9th grade looks similar to what we did, Apologia, MUS and TOG.

    Many blessings to you and your family as you enter this new season.

    1. I see this is an old thread, but I am interested. How did you change up High School for your boys that have special needs? I have been researching this for my own son. He seems “stuck” at grade 8 level. I want to push him past, but find that everything I think is going to work well for him, are very pricey. I am worried to spend that extra on curriculum that won’t “fit”-and I realize that sounds horrible. Just our reality though.

  5. Something to note about Latin as a foreign language, while most schools will accept it as a foreign language for admission, some colleges will now only allow MODERN language courses to fulfill the requirement for foreign language in college. This is not true in all colleges, but (as an instructor at several colleges) I feel it is becoming more of a trend. Of course, his ability to learn another language would be enhanced by his Latin knowledge, but he would have to probably take an introductory course in some modern language rather than a higher level literature course in the foreign language or even testing out of the requirement through AP or other testing. Not a huge consideration, but perhaps something to think about as he moves forward. My question is how would you (as a speaker of English and French) teach him Spanish if he had chosen that? Or would you use an online course or a private tutor or something?

    1. @Jennifer, good point to consider re: modern v. ancient languages. Another thing to add to my list of questions to ask admissions. πŸ™‚

      As for language instruction, there’s an unbelievable array of resources out there — online classes, video courses, and CD-Rom courses that are voice interactive. Plus, we live 30 miles from Mexico, so there are plenty of Spanish speakers in our area.

      1. @Jessica Fisher,
        Coming from a high-level private prep school background, I know that of the top students (the ones who went ivy league) at my school, nearly all of them took Latin for at least all 4 years of high school (some took it for 8 years straight). I haven’t heard of any of my friends having trouble due to not taking a modern foreign language in high school, but nearly all of the kids who took latin had scores above 750 on the english section of the SAT. I think on average, they were probably a few points higher on english scores than those of us who did not take latin.
        (taking latin is not a guarantee of high SAT scores, of course… it just appears to help, from what I’ve seen)

  6. Our home schooling experience for high school came out of our child’s special needs, and was for just a particular season… Primarily our kids have gone to public school–a Montessori magnet school for their elementary years, and then a Performing Arts magnet for middle school. Our first had a range of issues during his first year of high school, including a special ed math teacher who refused to honor his accommodations! So, we home schooled him at that point, and took a very relaxed approach due to his unique needs and personality–we focused primarily on very basic high school math skills, and a great deal on literature and composition. Then, we had him take the CA high school proficiency exam at 16. He passed the Language Arts on the first try, and took another time to pass math. What a joy when he tested at community college and qualified for English 1A! His math skills came in just one course short, so not bad for a kid out of special ed… More importantly, his years at home allowed him to rebuild his self confidence in a nurturing environment. I definitely recommend trusting your instinct and having the courage to home school at any age.

  7. Hi! I’m sure you’re well aware of all your options…but I work at a charter school that you can homeschool through. So you are provided funds to purchase curriculum with (although you can’t use your funding for the religion-based curriculum) and then your high schooler can graduate from a WASC accredited high school and with the courses needed to qualify for UC/CSU schools. Just thought I’d throw that out there in case it’s something you haven’t heard of!
    On a personal note, I’m going to be starting the homeschooling journey next year with my oldest in KN…excited, but nervous, and love reading your posts on homeschooling. Thanks!

    1. @Krissa, thanks for the suggestion. We did consider that earlier this spring. It’s a great option for many families.

  8. Homeschool high school has pretty much broken me. My oldest graduates next month and it’s a relief. We have chosen Dehesa Charter School (so it’s independent study disguised as homeschool) and it was great K-8. But high school becomes very rigid. If the student wanted UC credit for high school classes, an intricate set of hoops had to be jumped through. After two years, I threw up my hands. Bear in mind, the hoops are courtesy of the UC Regents, not Dehesa (but their disorganized, mid-semester changes didn’t help any). My approach has evolved to doing graduation requirements (like Econ, etc) while also having my high schoolers attend a community college. Yes, more hoops, but manageable hoops. Of course, the community colleges are suffering financially, and high schoolers are last to get to register, but I sincerely cannot teach Trigonometry. I’m hoping that transferring to a 4 year from a community college will work, because there was no reasonable way to meet the UC requirements at home (for us…that I could find…or understand…)

    I highly recommend [email protected] for writing instruction. I’ve found my kids take the constructive criticism far more gracefully from their “coach” than from me when it comes to essays. Writing seems to be so deeply personal, and an instructor through the computer is less, I don’t know, threatening.

  9. I don’t have a high schooler, my eldest is 3. But, my best friend was homeschooled. I remember our “high school” years. I attended the local public high school while she attended classes at our local community college. She graduated with an AA the same year I graduated from High School. She then started at a 4 year school as a transfer and I as a freshman. She graduated then a couple of years before I. She never did the high school thing, never got a GED, nothing. Because of the “remedial” courses offered by the community college, she was able to get into and start at the level she needed. And, once you have enough credits, the Universities don’t even look at your high school grades, GPA, SAT scores, anything. It worked for her!

  10. I know I’ve shared this before, but my mom was a college grad with a teaching degree, I was the last of five kids and all the others attended public school from the 1960’s until the youngest of the 4 graduated from highschool in the early 80’s. I was a surprise baby and when it came time for me to go to school, my oldest sister (who was doing her student teaching at the time), suggested that my mom look into other option. My mom discovered this crazy thing called “homeschooling” back when they told us to stay inside during school hours so we wouldn’t wind up with police at our door. Yep, we were actually told that. She started in Kindergarten and decided to take it a year at a time. I ended up being accepted to the college of my choice at the end of my Sophomore year of high school at home, and because I was homeschooled, I had the opportunity to double up my work and complete high school a year ahead of schedule. As a someone who was taught at home, I loved every bit of it. I do feel that my science and math foundations were not as strong as they could have been (although I had tutors in both all through high school), and my foreign language was joke, but there were so many aspects of being taught at home that gave me an advantage, that the areas where I wasn’t as strong we quickly overcome when applying to colleges. I took the ACT and the SAT and with all of my ducks in a row, no college had a problem with my education at home. It’s not for everyone, but it worked for me. Best of luck as you move through the high school years!

    1. @Carrie, I don’t think I knew your whole story. Thanks for sharing it. It relieved some anxiety on my part.

  11. My daughter, who will be in 8th grade next year, will take Algebra 1. She had pre-algebra in public school this year, and wants to take the same thing her friends will be taking. We are going to use Math Without Borders. It is used along side Forester’s Algebra. Check it out! It has gotten great reviews, and I’m excited to see how the new year goes.

  12. I was homeschooled during my k-12 years and this Saturday I graduated from college summa cum laude. As a homeschool and college graduate, my one piece of advice is to do what you can to help your son adjust well to the classroom. I had no problem with the academics when I began college, but I did struggle to get used to learning in a classroom. Simple things like raising my hand to ask a question, taking good notes during a lecture, and working on group projects with students my own age/level were unfamiliar to me. I didn’t have a problem per se, it was just an adjustment. I had taken one or two college courses as a high schooler, and those did help a lot as I transitioned to full-time college student, so if it works well for you, you and your son might find some community college courses to be very helpful during his high school years. And of course starting college with a few credits under your belt doesn’t hurt either!

    1. @Elizabeth, congratulations! Great work at college!

      And thanks for the advice, those are great points for us to keep in mind.

    2. @Elizabeth, My mother is a professor at a Christian university, and this is one thing that she told me as I am considering homeschool my children. She said many homeschooled students struggle with not being used to meeting deadlines and working with other students. She also told me that for whatever reason her homeschooled students in general had more trouble with their writing and grammar. Things that I am considering as I contemplate our decision, and things that might be worth thinking about as you help prepare your son! Congratulations on helping him this far! I have 4 kids 6 and under and I am a little overwhelmed trying to see if we could do it all now. You have a greater spread and have done it with more kids!!!! πŸ™‚

      1. @Jen, don’t be overwhelmed. Just take it slow. I once had four kids 6 and under. πŸ™‚

  13. One of my good friends was homeschooled through high school and became my friend in college. In Washington State, homeschooled kids can opt into a lot of what they want at the high school level. My friend played high school sports and took an occasional science class at the school.

    The plus sides of this were that it gave her a chance to express her athletic side (leading to a college scholarship – free $$$) and it also helped her socialize with local high school students. This helped her have friends in the community then and made the transition to college much easier for her than for other homeschooled kids I went to college with. Some went through a major culture shock, even at a Christian college.

  14. We will also homeschool high school next year in CA. I met with a guidance counselor on Tuesday and it did not go well. Basically he told me if I did not sign on to the charter school and take only their UC approved a-g courses then my daughter would never get into a UC/CSU college. If I wanted to do that I would just put her in public school. Very frustrating! There has to be a way for homeschoolers to attend a UC College. I have worked out a plan, very similar to yours. My daughter also chose latin, EIW, biology etc. What have you been told about fulfilling the a-g courses?

    1. When I wrote the UC admissions, they said I needed to talk to the specific campus. So, guess what I’ll be doing this summer?

    2. @Dana, another thought…. that is a govt employee trying to scare you into signing up for govt services. Have you looked into what HSLDA says?

  15. I love homeschooling! I only have a preschooler now, but my husband is one of 7 and my MIL taught all of them at home through highschool. Back when my husband did it he took the GED at the end of highschool and used that to enroll in the community college. His brother had really high test scores (SAT) and was able to get directily into a university. now 18 yrs later the youngest is a jr in highschool and just enrolled fulltime at the community college in the dual enrollment program and will be able to complete his AA by the end of his senior year. The thing is, it all works out, however you do it. Just keep doing what your doing, and keep in contact with the admissions office for the schools Fishboy13 sees as potentials. They’ll make sure you do what you need too. As a word of caution from a math teacher perspective I would tell you to make sure that he really understands Algebra I – if you feel like he isn’t getting it (and that you can’t help him get it) get help sooner rather than later. Hiring a tutor can really help the experience be less painful for everybody. If you catch it early you can stop the “I’m not good at math” attitude and help him be successful. πŸ™‚ Best of Luck, and you CAN DO IT!

  16. My 4 under 4 from a decade ago are now 11-15! We’ve homeschooled from the beginning and now are in year 2 of our high school years with a rising sophmore and a rising freshmen. In two years, I’ll have a senior, junior and two freshman. My journey sound much like yours and your curriculum choices are nearly identical to ours! We are doing ToG with a co-op that I have started! We have 12 families participating and I’m so excited. Love IEW – taught a group of 40 high schoolers last year. Taking a break from that and moving my energy to this new co-op. Exciting days ahead πŸ™‚

  17. have you looked at I’m not a homeschooling mom (my oldest is 18 months), but I have followed their program pretty closely. They provide *free* e-textbooks that meet california state high school requirements, in an attempt to meet the open textbook initiative that started a while ago. It looks like a really good program, and I love free books! πŸ™‚

  18. Hi there! I’ve been homeschooling for 8 years and my son is just starting his sophmore year of highschool. For his 9th grade year we used Apologia Biology, Truthquest History, IEW, lots of great books, Rummy roots along with a word roots workbook and some other extras for electives.

    I so regret all the angsting I did over homeschooling highschool. I know it was not healthy for my son or myself. I was so torn between jumping through the right hoops and carrying on with our Charlotte Mason way of learning. However, we settled into our groove about midway through the year and I’ve learned so much.

    One thing, our very experienced evaluator told me is that homeschoolers always worry about electives but, by the time they finish school, they have way too many to put them all on their transcript! The average homeschooler seems to get involved in a lot of projects on his/her own. For example, my son has learned to play the guitar and practices on his own-it’s not part of “school” work. He’s also helped my son build a barn, a play house, porches, an outdoor swing frame and much more! Therefore he’ll get a credit in industrial arts or carpentry or whatever the name is for that course in our state. We didn’t do a formal Driver’s Ed but, he has studied, taken tests and we’ve spent a lot of time teaching him how to drive so he’ll get a credit for that as well. Help him plant a garden and care for it-he gets a credit for agriculture, etc,

    I’ve read all the other posts and saw where some college professors have made general comments about homeschoolers. We all need to take these with a grain of salt as homeschoolers are still a major minority and a judgement cannot be made on the whole by how a few may perform. All the studies, statistics, etc. that I’ve seen show that homeschoolers consistently do better than both their public and private school counterparts, both academically and socially.

    If you go to this website and scroll down, you’ll see a link for a free seminar by Dr. Jay Wile (the author of the Apologia series) that will boost your confidence for teaching highschool at home. It’s chockfull of statistics and observations about homeschooled students and how they’re doing in comparison with other students. I was very encouraged by it. The Home Scholar website is also a great site for reading lots of articles on homeschooling your highschooler.

    For my son’s sophmore year, we’ll be using Apologia Chemistry, Saxon Algebra 2 with the Saxon Teacher CD ROMs (by the way, I cannot rave enough about these cds! They are an excellent resource for the mom who isn’t strong in math. Check them out is that sounds like you! They’ve been a life saver for our homeschool!), Truthquest History, IEW, Tell Me More Spanish by Auralog, lots of great books and discussion and some more electives of course!

    Homeschooling highschool is not near as hard as we make it out to be. Just relax and enjoy the journey because it will be over all too soon. πŸ™‚ Blessings!

  19. My daughter is a senior in college this coming year. She followed the path of many of the above graduating with an AA from a local community college that she commuted to for 2 years. Then she easily entered into a state university and has done equally as well. My son went to public school for the first time in his life as a sophomore in high school. It was what was best for him. Our next son will be home this year as a 9th grader.

    Here is what we learned/did:
    – Checking college admission requirements is brilliant.
    – Followed loosely the framework at our local high school for graduation requirements.
    – Wrote up many classes using life experience. Our daughter finished early and spent 6 months traveling to Africa, Peru, and spending 3 months in Tennessee. (credits in language, sociology, health – medical mission trips) We had too many electives.
    – Used Apologia for science and Saxon for math.
    – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: She took one class outside of the house. We found an English teacher who tutored out AP and advanced classes. This helped keep us on track with everything else.
    – You learn what you need when you need to, easy to catch up on gaps.
    – Asked to see other homeschoolers’ transcripts who were successfully admitted to college.

    – Test anxiety and test taking skills for both my upper school kids continues to be a weak skill.
    – We concentrated a little too hard on tailoring her studies to what we “thought” her interests might be. For us this ended up being too much pressure and we went back to regular college prep scope and sequence junior year.
    – Accountability was difficult for me with lots of little ones.

    My son in high school now admits that he does so well because of his home schooling experience. My daughter would not have done it any other way.

    Blessings and most importantly: enjoy the journey!

  20. I’m just now stumbling across this post, and am becoming a first time homeschooling mom when the new school year rolls around in June. I have lots of time to research and plan, which is good since this is new to me and I have older, previous public school kids! My oldest will be in high school, which I admit scares me the most for the exact reasons you covered above: college readiness!

    Your article gave me a lot of insight and things to look into, but one question remains that I cannot seem to get a grasp on no matter what research I do. Traditional public schools and “most” private schools are accredited. Graduating from our homeschool, though legally a private school in CA, will not be an “accredited” diploma. How does a college view, accept or deny a diploma from a non-accredited high school. Do you have any input on this?

    Thanks for any help you can offer!

    1. I’m still in the research process of that. But, so far have the impression (based on email responses from CSU and UC) that it depends on the campus. So, if you’re thinking about state schools, it’s best to approach the ones that you’re interested in and see what they look for in the applications process.

  21. We are mid year in my son’s freshman year…and have been chatting with a friend who’s two daughters have graduated from CSUN in the last two years. They first attended the community college to get the basics in and then transferred for their major (saved them some cash). She’s been quite helpful in figuring out what my son needs to be taking.

  22. I just figured out this morning that today is the first day of my fifteenth year of homeschooling. What a ride it has been–we started as the first child began kindergarten and graduated her in 2012, so it is all we’ve ever known. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. This year I have a senior, junior, freshman, and fifth grader. Homeschooling high school is in many ways harder, at least in my experience, because it seems so much more important to get it right. And I still haven’t always, and have had to go back and redo or replan. One thing I highly recommend is working towards the student becoming an independent learner, so that they can transition well to college. My oldest was so sure she wasn’t going to be able to survive college classes, but found out that she could do just fine! Homeschooling high school is a wonderful adventure, and it was so good to read your post this morning, because there are times when I feel like such a loner! It is nice to be reminded there are others out there! πŸ™‚

  23. Our homeschool journey has been such a blessing that I cannot imagine putting my kids in school for High School. I love learning and being with them. I also think that this is the time in their lives where us being together allows us to work through the kinks of teenage life and growing into adulthood. It just works for our family. Sometimes, I worry about their future with respect to college, etc., but then I remember that God asked me to do this and He will bless it. Here’s to another great school year!