The Whys, and the Must-Haves
The idea of homeschooling through high school can be scary. Parents tell me, "I could never homeschool my teen - I barely got through some of my own high school classes!" But homeschool advocates are discovering there's a better way for teens to learn, and homeschooling your high-schooler may be easier than you think.
It's not uncommon for homeschooled teens to complete four years of traditional high-school studies in 24 months or less. How can that be? Teens who learn at home are able to focus their energy and resources on the task at hand. With no distractions, it's amazing how efficiently kids learn. This principle is illustrated by the requirements for schooled kids who are unable to attend classes due to illness. Most schools require 1-1/2 to 5 hours of at-home instruction for each week of missed classroom learning.
Cafi Cohen -- author of And What About College? How Homeschooling Leads to Admission to the Best Colleges and Universities -- spent two full days observing public school classes. During those days, she kept track of administrative time versus on-task time. On-task time is roughly defined as students really doing something - reading, writing, listening to lectures, etc. Cohen discovered that less than one hour out of each six-hour school day was spent on-task. The bulk of the day was spent on administrative duties: taking attendance, collecting homework and reports, making announcements, passing out supplies, preparing for activities, cleaning up, and discipline - perhaps the biggest time-waster of all.
Many teens are also overwhelmed by the prospect of spending an hour or more a day on the school bus getting to and from school, only to be faced with three or more hours of homework in the evening. In the teen group I facilitate, teens stress wasted time as a major reason for homeschooling along with problems in the school environment: peer pressure, negative influences (drugs and sex), bullying, and even personal safety.
Can Anyone Homeschool?
Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. Many states have no specific requirements regarding the educational background of parents who homeschool. Studies have shown that homeschooled students repeatedly outperform their schooled peers on standardized tests, regardless of a parent's level of formal education.
With a little planning, a little cooperation from your teen, (yes, sometimes they actually do cooperate!), and creative record keeping, you'll be packing your homeschooled kids off to college -- or wherever life's path will take them -- before you know it!
How Do I Start?
Investigate your homeschooling options, and then set up a workable plan with your teen. This should be an individualized program, based on your teen's strengths and weaknesses, passions, and learning style. Successful homeschoolers are those who break away from the "one-size-fits-all" curriculum, that most of us remember. Aim for a course of study that allows your kids the freedom to pursue their interests, cover the basics, and become a lifelong learner. The following books will show you exactly how to do this.
Must-Have Books for Homeschooling Teens
Teaching and Record Keeping
What Subjects Do I Teach?
Homeschooling: The Teen Years by Cafi Cohen outlines how to set up and follow a high school curriculum. If your child plans to attend college, Cohen advises you to begin your studies with the following subjects:
If college is not in your teens' future, or at least not in the immediate future, he or she has more freedom choosing a course of study. The following books can help your teen decide the future path that is right for him:
Covering Difficult or Unfamiliar Subjects
Covering difficult or unfamiliar subjects is not as hard as it seems. Parents can:
Start your own class
Homeschoolers are often able to team up with other parents and create the classes their kids need. My girls wanted a French class, but private sessions were too costly. Group lessons (10 or more kids) were reasonable. I contacted homeschool support groups in my area and sent email messages to local homeschooling families to see if anyone was interested. In two days, I had 15 respondents, and eventually a waiting list!
You can often find resources right in your community all you have to do is ask. Several parents of teens persuaded a retired chemistry teacher to teach their kids. Another group enlisted the help of a former English teacher, now a full-time mom, who set up a homeschool writing club in her home. And little persuasion was needed to convince an enthusiastic chess coach to start an official chess club for homeschoolers.
It's wise to keep track of your teen's activities. Loretta Heuer's The Homeschooler's Guide to Portfolios and Transcripts will show you how. You may need to maintain accurate records to comply with your state's statutes, or to submit them if your child must reenter high school. Independent study programs also require record keeping. For college-bound kids, remember: The records you keep today will be used tomorrow to create a portfolio for college admissions.
Record keeping can be as simple as a daily journal, or filling in each activity on a large calendar. The level of detail shown in your records will depend on both your teen's goals and your homeschooling style.
Diplomas and College
High School Diploma
Do homeschoolers need a high school diploma? Sometimes. Do they need a diploma from an accredited school? According to Cafi Cohen, "The experience of thousands of families indicates that the answer is 'almost never.'"
Cohen elaborates: "Every homeschooler can have a document verifying graduation from high school because -- as the principals and administrators of small private schools -- all homeschool parents can create their own diplomas." Are these diplomas recognized? "College admissions officers rely primarily on transcripts, test scores, and letters of recommendation. Most never ask about diplomas because typical applicants, high-school seniors, do not yet have them."
What about job applications? Cohen advises parents: "Employers care mostly about experience. By granting your own diploma, your teenager can answer "yes" to the diploma question on most job applications. And, interestingly, employers never seem to phrase the question this way: 'Do you have a diploma from an accredited high school?'"
The only exception may be the military. If you know your son or daughter plans to enlist in the Army, Navy, Marines, or Air Force, consider using an accredited diploma-granting independent-study program like Clonlara School or American School (1-800-228-5600). Check with your local recruiter about current regulations for homeschool students.
GED High School Equivalency Diploma
The initials GED stand for General Education Development. The GED test measures how well someone has mastered the skills and general knowledge that are acquired in a four-year high school education. GED online is a special website dedicated to helping students prepare online for the GED High School Equivalency Test. For homeschool students desiring a formal diploma, the GED is another option.
If you're looking for a comprehensive guide covering just about every known approach to earning a college degree, Bear's Guide to Earning College Degrees Nontraditionally by John and Mariah Bear is for you. Read this book early - before you make your teen's college plans - it may change the way you homeschool!
Homeschoolers are accepted and welcomed at most colleges. Admissions policies vary, so plan ahead to meet the requirements of colleges that interest you. Generally speaking, testing requirements (ACT/SAT I & SAT II) are the same for homeschoolers and schooled kids. Click here for detailed information on admissions testing.
Most parents of teens who learn at home are motivated, resourceful, and determined to provide the best educational resources for their kids. When I ask parents of older homeschooled kids what they would change if they could do it over again, their replies are often the same: I would worry less, and enjoy my kids more. Sounds like good advice to me.
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This writer is a part of the FamilyEducation editorial team. Our team is comprised of parents, experts, and content professionals dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and relevant information in the parenting space.