High School Outside the Box!
By Carolyn Forte
Homeschooling through high school can be intimidating for parents. Many, if not most, rely on standardized textbooks and supplemental classes, whether online or in person. If these work well for your student, there is nothing wrong with choosing from the vast array of materials available for today’s homeschooled generation. Although most vary little from the conveyor belt education offered by schools, they at least allow some variation in choice and schedule. However, the standard textbook or class is not the only way to learn and in some cases it is not the best or most efficient.
Many texts are dry as dust, more drudgery than inspiration. Only 15 to 20% of students have a learning style suited to the textbook style of education. The brain readily absorbs and retains information when the student is interested and excited, and struggles when the material is boring or seemingly irrelevant.
Many of us, who homeschooled at the beginning of the modern homeschool movement, had little or no access to standard textbooks and co-op classes. We learned that preparing our children for adult life including college or career could take a wide variety of shapes that bore little resemblance to the modern high school with its rigidly prescribed course of study. For those who are concerned that your child will have difficulty getting into or succeeding in college, I have some surprising news. Your out-of –the-box learner may have a better chance at admission than the standardized, 5.0, multiple AP student at your local high school. The most important skill your child will need to succeed in college is the ability to teach himself. One size never fits all, so come with me on an adventure in out-of-the-box high school possibilities.
Hands-on experience is always more valuable than theory learned only from a text or lecture. You certainly can learn from books and teachers, but if you also have real experience, you will seldom forget the lessons learned and you will have a far greater and deeper understanding of the subject than one who learned only in a “school” setting.
For example, instead of a textbook economics course, consider encouraging your child to develop a business. Depending on the type of business, this will entail research in product development or procurement as well as marketing and finance, and in the process, teach real life economics. Many homeschool students, including our own daughters, develop successful businesses, some of which become careers. We know a homeschooled man who had his locksmith license at age 14 and made enough to buy a work truck and all the tools he needed by the time he was 16. Another way to learn about business and gain skills is to volunteer or apprentice in a business. This is easiest when the business is owned by a relative, but many sole proprietors will welcome an enthusiastic and competent helper/ apprentice. Once a student has had hands-on experience with economics, reading a book on the subject makes much more sense.
Volunteering is a terrific way to add to your resume and it can be used for high school credit. Our daughters earned credits in Drama/Theater by volunteering in church plays and pageants and by putting on plays with other local homeschoolers. This gave them experience in both on stage and back stage work. L.A. Opera puts on one opera every year with a volunteer cast. They even train the kids and adults in voice and dance. Churches always need volunteers. A young man we know gained experience that led to a lucrative career in sound production by working at our church.
One semester course is generally about 75 hours. Count the hours your student works at his chosen project or volunteer opportunity and give credit for the appropriate course. Work with a local nature center might be a course in Ecology, Animal Behavior or Botany. Volunteering to help with nature trail maintenance can be part of an Environmental Science course. Our daughters worked at a cookie store where they were responsible for mixing and baking the cookies as well as serving the customers. This could count as a Foods or Business class.
The possibilities for volunteering are endless and you never know what valuable skills and contacts your student will acquire. There are volunteer opportunities at your local museums, churches, libraries, hospitals, community theater, community or church orchestra, choir, political campaigns, many organizations and even universities. A friend’s son became a volunteer research assistant for a Marine Biology Professor at USC. Tomorrow’s Aviation Museum in Torrance has a program where volunteers earn credits for free flight training. That goes on the transcript as Aviation History & Technology. Two brothers volunteered at a local Scuba Diving School and as a result got free lessons and a trip for one of them to the Great Barrier Reef.
Some students see a need and create charities. From gathering friends to knit caps for newborns to organizing musical entertainment at hospitals and nursing homes, homeschooled teens have stepped into the world to help. Depending on the skill involved, the hours can be counted as Fine Arts, Music, Community Engagement and even Speech. Although in a regular high school, these activities would have been relegated to the “extra-curricular” column, as a private homeschooler, you can count the hours, add a book or two if you feel it is important, and give credit for skills and knowledge gained in the real world. This kind of community involvement is greatly admired by colleges and will enhance your child’s chances at more selective schools if that is your goal.
Entering contests can be a good way to hone skills and earn scholarship money for college. There are numerous contests in a wide variety of subject areas, many of which involve scholarship money in addition to a good mark on a resume. Essay, poetry and story contests provide incentives to write well. The Mathematical Association of America has a series of math competitions. National History Day Contests encourage students to research history. There are also many contests in every area of the arts where students may show their talents. Science and Technology contests are numerous for those willing to put in the time to research and study. Count your hours of practice or study in preparation for each contest and give appropriate credit. Put the contest results in your student’s portfolio to enhance a college application.
Do these ideas seem radical? They are only so in contrast to the conveyer belt education most of us are used to. Sunday School was the only classroom my older daughter had ever experienced before she went to college. We used textbooks for only two classes outside of Math (German and Government), but she read widely, ran a business with her sister, worked in the cookie store, and taught herself many skills. In both high school and college, she was chosen for many leadership positions and she stepped into college confident that she could conquer whatever challenges a major in Missionary Aviation might throw at her. She and her sister are only two of many, many non-traditional students we have watched over the years who followed their passions and created unique resumes that included competencies unavailable to the in-the-box student.
One of the great advantages that homeschooling offers, is the gift of time. Unless they are too bogged down with busy work, homeschoolers have time to explore and engage the world. The skills, talents and experiences your students can develop make them more attractive to both colleges and employers, but most important, they give students the confidence to succeed in whatever challenge comes next.