Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Homeschooling High School - Customized Education and Electives

This post may contain affiliate links - using affiliate links from Homeschool Coffee Break helps fuel this blog and our homeschool - thank you! 
Customized Education and Electives (part of the Homeschooling High School Blog Hop) on Homeschool Coffee Break @

When I was homeschooling my little ones, it was natural to notice that they were especially interested in birds, or trains, or LEGO (always LEGO!), and veer off my original lesson plan to spend more time with something that sparked their interest, or to use the interest as part of the lesson plan. My boys built pyramids, castles, forts, and other historic buildings out of LEGO. If birds were more interesting than insects the year we studied zoology, we spent the majority of our time studying birds. We watched Multiplication Rock because music helped us learn times tables better than worksheets did. And we did lots of hands-on learning activities - some planned right out of the books, and some completely impromptu and from a child's imagination.

Okay, that's all well and good for the early grades, but now they are in high school! How can we go off on rabbit trails, or spend that much time on the fun things when we have to make it all 'count' for high school credit? Is it even possible to continue to follow a student's passions in the high school years?

I think it is, and even with kids who don't consider algebra, grammar, or chemical equations to be their passions! (Although... if one of my kids did have a passion for one of those academics, that would sure make it easier!)

For our family, we've had to go to more structured studies and lesson plans during the high school years, but we've also learned where our interests lie, and can plan accordingly. And we try to keep things flexible enough to allow room for some rabbit trails when we come across one we just can't resist.

Electives usually include coursework in Fine Arts, Technology, and Foreign Languages. Sometimes credits in these areas are required for graduation. Our requirements include one credit each in Fine Arts and in Technology. Each of my four students has a different set of interests, so we take a slightly different approach with each of them:

  • Kennady loves music, and also enjoys art, so she will be able to focus on those areas. She will be continuing guitar lessons, and for now I am taking over her piano instruction. Her participation in the Children's Chorus is a full credit in a well-rounded music education and performance course; and it also opens the possibility of an internship in the future if she is interested. For this coming year, we are not planning a stand-alone art course, but we probably will do that at least once during her high school years. This year, she will continue to do art projects inspired by her other studies. She'll be loading up on Fine Arts credits, but we'll have to keep an eye out for an appropriate Technology course to suit her interests.
  • Landon is not as enthusiastic about Fine Arts at all, so getting that required credit is more of a challenge for him. He's not had much interest in learning to play an instrument other than drums, so when the opportunity came along for him to use the DrumsWithWillie course, he jumped at it and that is his Fine Arts credit. He is a very concrete thinker, so it made sense for him to do the Practical Drafting course, which will be used to fulfill the Technology requirement.
  • Spencer (Class of 2013) wasn't at all interested in music, but he did like to draw, so his high school coursework included full credit courses in Art, and Technology credit for Practical Drafting and Practical Graphic Design.
  • Harrison (Class of 2010) wasn't interested in music or in art, and we were just figuring out what would work for Technology since he was our first high schooler. He wound up doing a half credit course in Art and a half credit course in Speech for his Fine Arts credit. Speech was a good choice for him because he wanted to be a radio personality, and we justified using that course as Fine Arts, because most of the speaking "projects" he did were creative or dramatic in some way. For Technology, he did Practical Graphic Design, and Photography. Photography is coursework that can have an arts or a technology aspect. Although not required for graduation, Harrison did study some Spanish during high school as well.
Customized Education and Electives (part of the Homeschooling High School Blog Hop) on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Customized Education and Electives (part of the Homeschooling High School Blog Hop) on Homeschool Coffee Break @    Customized Education and Electives (part of the Homeschooling High School Blog Hop) on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Are there ways to tailor the academics to a student's interests? Certainly! For example, students who enjoy Science will probably want more challenging material than those that aren't as interested; and may do more Science courses than the minimum number of credits, especially if they are headed into a career where it will be needed. Our students are required to have at least two Science credits and one of the must be Biology. Spencer and Landon both did Classical Astronomy as a second Science credit and enjoyed that much more than the required Biology. Landon will be doing another Science course that is an elective credit this year.  

Customized Education and Electives (part of the Homeschooling High School Blog Hop) on Homeschool Coffee Break @   Customized Education and Electives (part of the Homeschooling High School Blog Hop) on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Literature study is a required component in the English credits our students need to graduate. My boys do not like to read, so it probably would have been counter-productive to insist that they do a full credit course in Classical Literature or something like that. Instead, they each did (and Landon is doing) their literature study as part of their History coursework. We use the high school level curriculum Exploring World History and Exploring America from Notgrass. Used exactly as laid out, each of those courses includes a full credit in history, a full credit in English, and a full credit in Bible. For the boys, we had them read only about half the novels and assigned only that portion of the essays that fit with their English Composition courses; and instead of a full credit in English, they received a half credit for Literature. Kennady, on the other hand, loves to read, so she will be doing much different coursework for English than her brothers. She will be doing a full credit course in literature this year, and because it's something she enjoys, I allowed her to choose the theme of the course - it will be Brit Lit, with a special focus on Jane Austen's novels. We are using different curriculum for all of her English because she wants to read and be able to work on her creative writing skills. When she does the Notgrass history courses, it's likely that she will read all the novels and get those full credits too!

Credits can be awarded for other interests and activities that students enjoy as well. Landon's involvement in Civil Air Patrol is a big time commitment with squadron meetings, studying and testing, flying, community service, and physical training. He earns elective credit for CAP each year, which is an added reward for the time and effort put into learning about aerospace and military history and technology, as well as developing the leadership and self-discipline skills that will serve him well no matter what career he pursues.

Customized Education and Electives (part of the Homeschooling High School Blog Hop) on Homeschool Coffee Break @

There are many different aspects to preparing for life after high school, and I don't think any educational system is better suited to addressing all of those needs than homeschooling. We can tailor the academics and the earned credits to the students' abilities, interests, and plans for college and career. Homeschooled students can get a head start on their college studies by taking advantage of dual enrollment in community colleges or taking CLEP exams. They can start getting involved in their chosen career field by apprenticing or learning on the job in many cases, and those who are sure of what they want to study or the career they want to pursue can zero in on the high school courses that will best focus and prepare them for what they want to do. And the flexible schedules most homeschool families are able to provide allow high school age students to get part-time jobs that get them closer to their goals and help them earn their own way. While he was in high school, Harrison was able to work two days a week at the greenhouse, and now Landon is doing the same. They are available for that job because their schoolwork doesn't necessarily need to be done during traditional school days. Bonus - it reinforces a good work ethic and gives them valuable real world experiences.

  • I will offer a word of caution about part-time jobs for high schoolers though. Be careful to weigh the pros and cons of them taking a job during school hours. It seems like a no-brainer that it's an overall advantage, but their schoolwork is important too. Students with a heavy course load, or who struggle with getting assignments done on time for any reason might have difficulty keeping up with studies and with a job. Landon agreed in principle that he would have to do some schoolwork on evenings and weekends while he was working two weekdays, but it was a lot harder than he realized to actually sit down with a textbook on a Monday evening (especially when there was a football game on TV!) or get up and finish an essay on Saturday morning when he'd rather sleep till noon. For the coming school year, we are going to be quite explicit about the expectations that schoolwork is more important than the spending money from a part-time job; and that if schoolwork suffers, he has to quit the job.

I personally require my kids to do a full credit Consumer Math course during high school. This is preparation for the real world - that they not only know Pythagorean theorem, but that they know how to balance a checkbook, how loans and credit cards work, how to understand their pay stubs, and how to plan a household budget. Because my kids are at home and can get their schoolwork done more efficiently than most of their public school counterparts, they also get to take responsibility for their own laundry and many household chores. They don't always see that as a privilege, but when they move out on their own, they will already know how to do a lot of the things that go into home management. I've seen for myself that a lot of twenty-somethings really don't know much about how to do those basics, because their high school years were spent in a school building, doing homework, and shuttling back and forth to school and activities - they either didn't have enough time at home to be able to learn those skills themselves, or their parents did it for them so they "could focus on their studies".

As you can see, there are almost as many different approaches to electives as there are homeschoolers, and a lot to be said about it! Check out some of my other posts here on the Homeschool Coffee Break that talk about preparing my students for life after high school through electives and a tailor-made education.

Customized Education and Electives (part of the Homeschooling High School Blog Hop) on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Read More on Electives in the High School Years

 Don't miss a coffee break! Subscribe to Homeschool Coffee Break by Email!

 ©2006-2015 Homeschool Coffee Break. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.


Post a Comment

I love comments! It's like visiting over a virtual cup of coffee.