One of the most frequent questions I get about homeschooling is how to plan high school for my teens. High school is often one of the scary things people dread about educating their own children. But it doesn’t have to be! I want to encourage you to rest easy in knowing that planning high school for your homeschool in just a few steps.
Put on your high school counselor hat and… wait, no, you are not a high school counselor. You are a parent. Homeschooling hasn’t changed that. You are still raising a child. You are preparing them to go into the world and become what God has called them to be, to reach their goals, and to follow their dreams.
Unlike many posts on high school planning, this one isn’t going to focus just on the future college career. Because not every kid plans to go to college, but every kid will become an adult. So this plan will include all sorts of real world skills, and will also help you make an academic plan.
There are a few steps that I take as a mom to help my high schoolers plan a course of study for graduation.
First, talk about their plans
By the time you’re nearing the high school years, your child may have a good idea of where they want to go in adulthood. Whether it’s marriage, work, college, or a combination of these, that’s your starting point. Some paths are going to be very specific, and others will take a general “adulthood” approach.
Work and Marriage
Basically, this is the fast-track to adult responsibility. When your homeschool graduate enters into fulltime employment and/or marriage, there are a slew of very basic life skills they need to have. Here’s the thing: these don’t require a curriculum necessarily but should be a part of everyday life in your homeschool. (If you are building a transcript, there are many places these “life skills” can be added as high school credits.)
Talk to your student and think about what responsible adults do every day. They earn money and budget for groceries, gasoline, utilities, car expenses, and living arrangements. They eat, plan meals, cook food, and look for bargains. They care for a home, lawn, car, and belongings. They must learn to make repairs or to find trustworthy repair companies. They shop for insurance and make claims. They assess their health and medical needs. They continue to grow in their faith, attend a good church, and surround themselves with wise friends. They learn to manage their time well, not wasting it in endless hours of entertainment, but in finding productive pursuits. They look for opportunities to help others.
These are life skills, and a responsible parent will have begun teaching them long before their children leave home. Many of these things can (and should) be taught as soon as the teen gets their first job. Waiting until the 19 year old is ready to move out is a bit too late. Yes, they will have to learn some things the hard way, and many have done that and survived, but we are talking about the optimal plan here. Even if you had to learn things through trial and error, that doesn’t mean you must tell your son or daughter to “sink or swim.”
And these skills are not just for those choosing a path other than college. Even college students should have these basic skills as they head off for their first semester of schooling. Whether they live at home awhile longer or move onto campus, you will be giving them a great advantage in life.
So how does this relate to high school?
You’re going to have to break out of the public school mindset to see this. Because everything is not about a curriculum or a textbook or a class. So much learning, especially in the “high school” years, is really preparation for the adult world. Not just the practical life skills, but also the book learning. Combining these things in your plan takes some thinking outside the box, so stay with me.
In America, we tend to think that education is THE most important thing for kids, and a lot of necessary lessons get pushed aside for the all-important transcript. I believe this sends the wrong message to our kids about priorities, and it often leaves them clueless about how to function in basic skills.
By the time they graduate high school, a young adult should be capable of living completely on their own. That doesn’t mean they SHOULD live on their own, but that they should have the skills and knowledge necessary to do so.
We will get to the basic academics for high school in a minute, but what I want to convey is that learning is a never-ending process. You don’t have to worry about “getting it all in” or “covering all the bases” with your high school student. Oh, it’s tempting to check off long lists and feel like you did it all. But high school is more than just getting a diploma. It’s preparation for adulthood.
So start with the future plans and work backward. In this case, include some money management training. I like to have my students take the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace course, and I’ve also had them take the Math-U-See Stewardship course. But these go hand-in-hand with a job, a paycheck, and some responsibility for their own expenses. Don’t baby your teens. When they begin working, require them to take on some of their own expenses. Gasoline, car insurance, cell phone, makeup, entertainment, and a cool wardrobe can be some of the things they begin to pay for. It’s a bit painful, but it is extremely educational. Discuss with your spouse what this will look like, depending on the child’s income and expenses. Consider adding new expenses gradually, so it doesn’t burden the teen immediately.
For all the things a person in a home needs to know, it’s as simple as talking and training as you go. When you make breakfast, insist invite your kid(s) into the kitchen to help and learn. Explain the process, why you use certain ingredients, and how long to bake. Give them the job of creating a menu plan for the family for a week, make the shopping list, and purchase the groceries. Walk them through the grocery budget, talk about where you shop and why. Talk about your grocery brand choices. Make everything into a conversation. (Honestly, this can start as young as 10 years old. A little at a time over many years can thoroughly train a child.)
Lawn care, auto maintenance, cell phone plans, doctor visits…all of these are things your teen can learn right now, while they are at home and under your guidance.
No matter how great your student’s SAT scores are, no matter how high they go in math courses, no matter how many classic novels they’ve read, this education will not help them manage a home, feed themselves, or iron a shirt for a job interview. They need these skills even if they don’t finish high school.
At the very top of this list should be Bible study. There should be a focused training in theology and apologetics. Just as their need for food and shelter take precedence over their academic ability, their relationship with God trumps everything. As the Westminster catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” As Christian parents, it is our number one duty to train and disciple our children in the Word of God. (Read my post The Most Important Thing.)
Giving them direction in how to study the scriptures is one of the most important things a parent can do for their children. Read the Bible with them, encourage them in their own personal study, talk about what you’re reading, show them how to use a concordance, how to recognize false teachers, and how to memorize scripture. You are raising future spouses, future parents, and Christians. Don’t leave it to the youth group or the Sunday School. This is your calling as a parent.
Transcript application: Electives include home economics, Bible, personal finance
There are certain straightforward requirements for college. A high school transcript with a certain number of credits, certain grades, volunteer hours, SAT scores, etc. The best place to start is with the desired career path. Does your daughter want to be a nurse? Explore the nursing program at a local community college or the university you desire. Talk to a counselor about requirements for entry. What tests will they need to take to get in, what high school courses would be best to focus on now? Does your son want to major in engineering? Take the same approach. Talk to a few colleges about entrance requirements, dual credit options, and testing. Make notes of what can be accomplished NOW.
SAT and ACT tests are important to some universities for acceptance and scholarships. These can be taken early in the high school years, and practice tests are usually advisable. Test prep might need to be a regular part of your child’s studies if these are important to their college education.
For some great guidance on this topic, visit Lee Binz at her website The Home Scholar.
Many, many homeschoolers are taking advantage of dual credit in high school. If you’re new to this, it just means that they take one course and receive both high school and college credits for it. And there are two ways to do this:
- Attending college courses at a local community college or university (in person or online) that are designated for dual credit classes
- Using home study options and credit-by-exam
If these are options you wish to explore, do that now. In this way you’ll know which high school courses will be taken as dual credit and can go on the written plan now.
For a wealth of information on this topic, visit Homeschooling for College Credit. The book is excellent and there are Facebook groups for each state and its unique laws.
So far your plan should include:
- Biblical discipleship
- Life skills
- College requirements
Transcript application: dual credit courses
Second, let’s look at the academic list
Instead of worrying about credits and state requirements (no, we’re not ignoring them), start with the big picture. What should a well-educated person actually know?
They should know how to read, first and foremost. If you have a student who struggles in any way with reading, continue to work on this as much as possible. Give them the one tool that enables them to learn whatever and whenever they want to. Reading is key for our entire lives.
Next, they should have good grammar and writing skills. Not the kind that kids use for text messages or social media, but the kind with complete sentences, punctuation, and well thought-out ideas. Don’t let them be an adult who cannot write a simple paragraph. And don’t do this for the “credits.” Do it so that your student becomes an adult who can communicate thoughts well, and maybe change the world.
They should have, at the very least, a basic knowledge of math. Everyone needs this. If your student can add, subtract, multiply, and divide, they have the most basic skills needed to be an adult. Obviously, higher math is even better. Depending on their future plans, and their interests, pursue as many levels of math as they have the ability for. BUT, don’t let math acuity become an idol. Some of us are math whizzes and some of us are quite the opposite. That’s okay. Let your child’s ability be your guide.
I don’t mean that a lazy student should be allowed to just give up. But I do mean that if math is causing frustration and depression and you are getting nowhere, assess where you are and what your student needs to know to survive as an adult. If you don’t accomplish algebra or geometry, guess what? They will survive. I know, because I did. Teach them how to think about numbers, how to use the tools at their disposal, and how to find answers they need.
That covers the 3 Rs. And those are still the basics. They are still the most important. For more, read my post entitled “Well Educated.”
Transcript application: All the academic courses, as well as electives, such as music, foreign language, etc.
Third, make a transcript “rough draft”
With a list of necessary academics, now let’s talk about high school credits and transcripts. Your state may have homeschool graduation requirements. If so, start with those. If not, you can create your own requirements. Many families choose to use the state public school graduation requirements as a guideline.
So, you may need 3 or 4 math credits (or courses), 3 or 4 Language (writing, literature, etc.), a certain amount of history and science courses, and some electives like foreign language. With this outline, make a written “plan” or a transcript draft. Start penciling in the courses you know they need, any dual credit plans, electives (including Bible, music lessons, and life skills/home economics), and extra-curriculars.
Our plan starts as more of a list, kind of like a high school “to-do” list. In fact, I’ve presented it this way to my high schoolers and told them that when they accomplish these items, they have completed their high school education. It’s very motivating for them.
Let me stress again: a transcript is necessary for others, but the education you provide is vastly more important than the final list. Don’t just teach your children certain subjects to achieve a credit; teach them what a good citizen and a good Christian need to know and fit those things into the transcript. Because that list that you create is only good for a single purpose (proof of high school) and for a few years, but the actual education is for a lifetime.
Some extras to consider
Music lessons, foreign language courses, and sports are often part of a teen’s world, and should absolutely be included on their transcript. However, don’t feel pressured to include them if they are not an interest your child has. Homeschoolers often get caught up in the public-school mindset of “checking off boxes” and forcing their kids to be “well-rounded.” But in my opinion, these things should be explored because of interest, and in some cases, for a college application.
I have one daughter who took no sports or foreign language, but spent her time learning cake decorating, cooking, and sewing. Another daughter decided her senior year that she was interested in French. She took it because she was interested, not because we were pleasing some unnamed strangers. Neither of these daughters pursued a college education, so there was no need to spend their time on things that they had no interest in.
Fourth, consider your timeline
One thing to consider (again, outside the box) is how long it will take to accomplish this plan. Will this plan take four years, or three, or five? As a homeschool parent, this is up to you (and your student). It’s okay if they don’t have a 12-year education. It’s not really necessary. It’s not about grade levels; it’s about the education received. And if it takes less time or more time than the typical 12 years, it’s not right or wrong.
Think about graduation. Will your child participate in a public ceremony with your homeschool group, or will they have a little family party? That might determine your anticipated finish date. Sometimes a part-time job will dictate how much time is spent on school. Sometimes a great full-time opportunity will present itself, so a child will want to finish early.
Speaking of jobs, this is an area of time you will want to take into account. Extracurricular activities are another. If your child will work or participate in sports or music or other regular activities, figure that into your plan. How many hours per week will they be away from home?
Pre-planning the work and extra activities into your timeline will help you to avoid overscheduling and “getting behind.” It may help you to reassess some of your goals, or to restructure the “to-do” list to a more realistic plan.
Here’s your updated planning list:
- Biblical discipleship and life skills
- College requirements
- Academic credits
By now you should have a page full of notes. If you haven’t already, it’s time to turn that into a “to do” list. With your student, make a list of academic courses (math levels, language arts items, etc.) that must be accomplished for graduation. If applicable, decide which of these might become dual credit options. Add in what is necessary for college admission. Create a plan for Bible study, perhaps a of list of books that you want them to read, and the extras that they need to make time for, like life skills and part-time jobs.
And remember: this is a plan, not a slavemaster. You can certainly adjust as you go. If your teen doesn’t yet know what they will do after graduation, be flexible. If they change their mind two years from now, you can alter the plan. Some kids don’t know until AFTER graduation what they want to do. That’s okay. Create a good plan, stick to it, and send a well-educated adult into the world.
As you work your way through the high school years, keep a notebook of what’s been accomplished. Write down, by year, what courses your child completed (including the grade), extra curriculars, volunteer work, co-op classes, and even a reading list. You will have a jump start on transcript creation, and may even decide to create as you go.
Creating the Transcript
This is easier than you think, and you can do it yourself. But there are also services that will do it for you. Again, you will be better off jotting down everything that happens over the next few years, instead of trying to remember everything that happened.
I do transcripts for my kids by using a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel. The top of the sheet has my child’s name, address, phone, and “homeschool” listed at the top. For each “grade” I list the courses completed and the grade received. At the bottom I create a space for notarization. After high school is complete, I average the grades over those years and give them their GPA.
Get some help creating your own transcript HERE
Find out how to add unusual courses and activities to a transcript HERE
Hire someone else to do your transcript HERE
I hope this has answered your questions for homeschooling high school! Feel free to comment below or fill out my contact form if you have any questions. Trust me: planning ahead takes most of the fear out of high school. You can do this!
While you’re here, visit my Knowledge Keepers Bookstore! In it you’ll find the books and the stories that have shaped this great country, the books that influenced our founders and our ancestors, the books that Americans have mostly ignored or never heard of, but the good books that we should all read and protect. Join me in saving Western Civilization, one book at a time!