Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Motivating Teens

I remember reading parenting books about raising quiet, well-mannered, obedient and attentive children, while my own curly-haired tornadoes were dismantling the room around me, and being inspired to be a better parent, before realizing that the authors of said advice had one, or possibly two, mild mannered, malleable offspring.  I had one or two of those myself, and I can tell you from experience that what worked wonders with them, had no effect whatsoever on their savage siblings.

I remember that (or try to) when I'm sitting around a table at the coffee shop on the weekends with my fellow homeschool mothers of teens, and they start asking each other how they motivate their students (apparently none of them ever read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories to their children when they were little, or they would know better than to ask the other mothers for parenting advice).   And, I hope you remember that as well as you read the three pieces of advice that I have for you below.

So, how do I motivate my high schoolers?  I get them (big cheesy grin emoji, here).

Get them up.

Drawing by E (age 14)
It's no secret that teenagers like (and need) to sleep, but no one needs to sleep or lay around in bed all day everyday, and night owls or not, most of what happens in the world happens during the day. So, "rise and shine sleepy heads" let's "make hay while the sun shines" and all that.

We don't have a fixed lights-out time for our teens, but we do have a rise-by time.  As the kids have gotten older they often have to be up earlier than that for their jobs, anyway.  A few days of getting up early and slogging through the day after staying up too late the night before is usually incentive for them (and me) to head to bed at a reasonable time.

Get them out.

I, myself, put a capital "H" in homebody, but even I get down if I spend too much time cooped up inside.  Sometimes it's good to get some fresh air to clear your head (exercise helps level out adolescent hormone levels, too), and even an introvert needs to see people sometimes. And, if you get them out to their part time jobs, you get the double bonus of being able to use a future filled with flipping hamburgers as incentive to study harder (see below).

Get them on board.

Help them to understand that what they're learning is for a purpose, and will benefit them.

I've had to be honest with my kids, that no, I have never, to my knowledge, used algebra in my daily life - but maybe if I had internalized the concepts better I would have - and at the very least learning math (or almost anything for that matter) opens doors that might be closed otherwise.  Thankfully, we have a cousin with a masters in math who has done some very interesting work for Space-X, and (perhaps a little less thankfully) we have our share of shirkers-turned-excellent-cautionary-tales to speak of, as well.

And, then there's Colossians 3:17,

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father (NIV)

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Graduation Ceremonies

As you might imagine, there are as many different options for a homeschooling graduation ceremony as there are options for homeschooling. In fact, there's nothing to say you have to have any particular type of ceremony, or even a ceremony at all.  The unschooling side of me wants to say that learning is a lifelong activity, something you don't graduate from - so maybe hold a "moving on" ceremony instead. 

My children, however, are traditionalists, and have wanted something to show for their efforts.

They're also as independent and individualistic as the next homeschooler, and so we've participated (and held) three or four different types graduation ceremonies ourselves.

The Private Home Ceremony (known in our house as a Bee Movie graduation)

Pick a day.
Dress up the graduate.
Have a party.

It can be as simple or elaborate as you like.  We ordered a black cap and gown from Amazon which we have passed down through the family (A will be the third to wear it).  Each grad has also been given a white tassel with their graduation year (black and white were our wedding colors).

We play pomp and circumstance as the graduate enters the room, demand and give speeches (of the very, very short, tongue-in-cheek variety), snap a few pictures, have a cake or special dinner or ice cream, and then go out for a movie or whatever, as a family.

We have never presented a diploma during our home ceremony, but this year we probably will, and might add in a trip to the notary public as part of the fun, as A (age 17) will need that to present to her college before she can graduate with her dual-enrollment credits (I'd really like to print-off one of the preschool diplomas you can find online and modify it to read "high school" just to see what the college officials would make of it).

The Homeschool Group Graduation

In our area we have a local homeschooling association that hosts a graduation each year.  Seniors are notified through a social media account.  Parents and seniors meet in the fall to begin planning.  A coordinator volunteers, a venue (usually a local church) and date are selected, caps and gowns are ordered (in colors matching our homeschool association's sports teams' colors), parents volunteer to buy food, set-up chairs, usher, secure a speaker, and so on, while the grads put together a slide show of pictures with a favorite song (to be played at the beginning of the ceremony), and prepare tables decorated with things representing their interests for people to look at during the reception afterwards.

On the day, the graduates march in, we watch the slide show, there might be some special music (from students), and a speaker, then parents present diplomas to their graduate with a few words (we try to keep it under two minutes).

Afterwards there is a reception with cake and a light lunch, and time to mingle, congratulate the students, and snap a few photos.

In our area the ceremony is fairly formal, and modeled a bit heavily (to my mind) on the public school graduation format.  But at the end of the day, the kids know they've graduated, and it's the type of thing you can invite the grandparents to, so that's nice.

The Private Homeschool Graduation

This is pretty much like the above, but for just one student (yours) instead of a entire group.  It is often held in your own church, with the pastor presiding and acting as speaker.  Friends and family are invited (so gifts!) and usually parents present the diploma, again with a few words (though rarely under two minutes).  Then afterwards there can be a small reception with food.

The HiSet or GED Graduation

Our local testing station holds a standard, public school style graduation for students who pass the HiSet.  Our two oldest took the HiSet, but opted to receive their diplomas through the mail.

Again, these are just a few of the options available.   While our homeschool has not been traditional, or modeled on the public school system I've found, as I mentioned before, that my teenagers have wanted something formal and at least slightly official to mark the end of their high school years.  I'm still hoping that one of the younger children will decide to bag it all, and want to take a trip to somewhere fun to celebrate instead (or maybe the Man of the House and I will do that after the last one is out).

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Friday Fun: Cells at Work.

I really thought our days of watching a cartoon and calling it science passed by with the elementary school years, but that's before we discovered Akane Shimizu's "Cells at Work!" on Crunchy Roll (a subscription anime streaming site).

I wouldn't normally recommend an anime site (not all anime is child or even teen friendly, they may look like cartoons, but they can cross the line into mature viewing without warning).  Our oldest has a subscription though, and had decided to binge watch anime over his semester break - "Only the clean ones, Mom." - in the hopes of spontaneously learning Japanese (a plan I would have mercilessly mocked if not for the memory of myself, at about that age, sleeping with headphones on and language learning tapes playing, with similar hopes of my own).  Needless to say, neither of our language learning experiments were successful, but I did notice my science shy son suddenly spouting a substantial number of science related facts.

Did you know for instance that, "the most common type of white blood cell is called a neutrophil?"  Or that, "an eosinophil is a type of white blood cell designed to fight parasites?"

It turns out he had stumbled onto "Cells at Work!", a kind of  "Magic School Bus" for teenagers, following the adventures of an anthropomorphized red blood cell as she and her compatriots perform their duties inside the body (I'm not making this up).  The anime on Crunchy Roll is in Japanese, with English subtitles, and it is an anime, so annoying anime voices, a spattering of swear words (mainly d--n and h--l), and a good amount of anime style violence and gore, but otherwise generally upbeat, and surprisingly packed with facts.

Since my youngest two (ages 12 and 14) happened to hit a section on cells in their science studies this week, we streamed a few of the episodes, following them up with "Real Doctor Reacts" off of YouTube.

The episodes move quickly, and throw a lot of information out at once.  I decided to slow things down by picking up a manga (comic book/graphic novel) from the series at our local bookstore, for the girls to pore over and ponder, as they sketch the characters out onto the fronts flashcards, copying the definitions from the book onto the backs.  They've picked up quite a bit already, including - I almost hate to admit, several new words in Japanese.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - College Dual Enrollment

If you are homeschooling high schoolers, be sure to check out what kind of dual enrollment programs are available through the colleges or universities in your state.  The programs vary from state to state, but it's worth checking out.
The Montana University System encourages students to give college a try while they are still in high school.  Tuition is half the price for the same classes and credits they'd be getting as college freshmen or sophomores, they even get their first two classes for free, and homeschoolers are welcome.


Drawing by E (age 14)
We were a little slow to figure out the whole dual enrollment thing.  When I was in high school you had to have all of your high school credits completed, and be an exceptional student to take college classes before you graduated.  T (our oldest) while being college bound, and now performing well in his second year at a private university working on a bachelors in business, was not what I would call an exceptional student in high school - adequate, but not overly academically inclined.

When we ran into a college recruiter at a farmer's market touting the dual enrollment program, T gave the table a wide berth, and I didn't think much of it, except to step over and accept a free pen.

G (our second oldest) had marriage on the brain by her junior year, though we managed to stall the actual event until after she had graduated high school, and given college at least a perfunctory try. Not that you can't attend college while married (I certainly did), and not that dual enrollment wouldn't be right for the marriage minded (actually it be even better, because it can cut up to two years off of the time spent after high school in college), it just simply wasn't her thing.

Drawing by E (age 14)

A (age 17), however, has jumped in with both feet.  She's in her 5th semester now (counting one part-time summer semester between her junior and senior years), and has just started the last block of classes she will need to earn an associates degree, which she ought to receive about one week after she graduates from high school.

She's aimed at a transfer degree, that will transfer into a bachelors program at the state university in one complete block.  If she follows through with that, she will knock two years off of her time there.

And, should she decide to switch majors, or pick a university with slightly different requirements, she has still completed all of her core classes (college writing, math, speech, science, history and the like), and will have paid considerably less for her time of exploration and discovery than she would if she switched a major after two years of full on university tuition.

Drawing by E (age 14)
I was worried at first, that she might struggle to keep up with actual college students.  She was only sixteen and a high school junior when she started.  But, it's turned out to be an extremely positive experience for her.  Her success has encouraged her younger siblings, who are all already making plans to follow suit.

At the end of the day, as a parent and homeschool educator, I have a few reservations about rushing kids out of high school and into college, which is essentially what is happening - but it is happening across the country, regardless of my thoughts, through dual enrollment programs, AP classes and their ilk, and I'm not sure I want my children to be left behind their public school peers.  I also have a hard time arguing with half price (or better, depending on your state) college tuition.  So, for now I'm taking their word for it that...

 "Statistically, students who take dual enrollment courses are more likely to successfully transition to higher education, and succeed academically at rates higher than students who do not take dual enrollment courses." (Reach Higher Montana).

It's great to be a (dual-enrolled) homeschooler.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Don't Forget Their Shots!

As a homeschool mother, one of the things I've had the worst time remembering and keeping track of has been the recommended or required immunization schedule for school aged children.

Drawing by E (age 14)
We are not anti-vaxxers (and if you are, no offense or challenge is meant to you by this post), but something about the fact that we have six children, and are homeschooling, and maybe even the fact that I wear my hear in a bun (who knows really), seemed to cause our family doctor to think that we were, and so she never brought up shots unless I brought them up first.  That added to the fact that we weren't sick much as a family, and so didn't go to the doctor's office often, left us constantly scrambling to keep up with everyone's shots.  And, with no school officials to check in on us, I'm afraid we had a few gaps in our records.

That however ended when the first of our brood hit the university scene.  Colleges, just like elementary schools, require proof of immunizations (most often two doses of the MMR - mumps, measles, and rubella, and possibly a TB test, though they also highly recommend, and sometimes require a meningococcal immunization as well).

So...just so you don't find yourself scrambling at the last second (or leaving your teens accidentally unprotected) pull out your vaccination cards and make sure they are up to date.

Below is the immunization schedule currently recommended by the CDC, just for reference.


It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Official High School Transcripts

Why do homeschool students need a high school transcript?

College and universities admission boards like to see them.

Scholarship boards use them.

They can be used when entering the military (at least that's what I've heard from several different families with children in the armed forces).

Occasionally, a potential employer will ask for one.

Since we, as parents, won't live forever, it's nice for students to have some sort of academic record that will outlast us.

If your children are not going to take high school completion exams (HiSets or GEDs) then they will need something to show an official record.  A completed transcript and a notarized diploma can serve that purpose.

Which is more important - a high school transcript or a high school completion test score?

They are both important depending on your student's goals, but we've found transcripts open just about as many doors as HiSets or GEDs.

A (age 17) recently had an advisor at the college where she is dual-enrolled tell her that in order to receive an associates degree she would need to take the HiSet (high school equivalency exam) first.  I made a quick run into the administration office to double check the information, on my way to see about signing her up for the HiSet.  The first secretary I spoke to confirmed the information.  The administrator she pulled out of the back office told me that if our homeschool was accredited then all we would need was a transcript.

Drawing by E (age 14)
I asked him if he understood how homeschooling worked, and how unlikely it would be that an individual homeschool would be accredited?  It turned out that he was thinking of our being enrolled in some kind of accredited online program (not really homeschooling to my mind - but that's another post).  Then he asked me if we used an accredited curriculum.

I must have given him a blank stare, which he returned when I answered that we didn't use a curriculum.

He asked if we've at least met the state standards for high school credits.  I might have snorted (though I sincerely hope that was only in my head), and started to assure him we've more than exceeded the state educational standards - but then thought better of being snotty with a man whose help I needed (a college admission office is not the place to start a debate on the merits of homeschooling - especially when you're already in danger of looking like a crazy helicopter mom).

Anyway, I ended up assuring him we had no problem having A take the HiSet, but that it seemed a little redundant to me, for her to take a high school equivalency test by the time she would have earned enough college credits for an associates degree.

He agreed, and decided to check with his boss, just to be certain.

We received a call later that day from the head of the dual-enrollment program (the one who apparently had all the facts) letting us know that all we needed to do before A graduated was to bring in a copy of her high school transcript, and to print-up a diploma, and have it notarized - strange, but true, and who am I to argue?

The point of the story being - you are likely to be able to get by without a HiSet in most situations (even when dealing with the state university systems, and even if they start out trying to tell you otherwise), but a HiSet can make things simpler at the end of the day.

With that said, there are times that you absolutely will need to have a high school transcript on hand for your students as well.  We've had a couple of universities that did not want to see HiSet scores (in fact, acted like they didn't know what that test was), but instead wanted a transcript and an SAT score.

So, how do you create a transcript?

Like with most things homeschooling, it's easier than you might expect.  It's so easy, in fact, that I almost wouldn't have posted about it, except that it seems like every time I'm anywhere where homeschool mothers are gathered, it is one of the topics that comes up.

Does Pokémon GO count as gym class or geography?
Some colleges have a transcript form already for you to download and fill-in, or you can make your own form, or even better - just download one some other friendly homeschool mom has already put together.

I've used a free modifiable template from Pros and Cons of Homeschooling.  There are many, many others out there, but this is one I know works, and it includes a very simple explanation weighted and unweighted GPAs and how to figure them for your student.

We've been advised by college admissions offices that they like to see a GPA by year and an overall GPA.  In the beginning I tried to explain to them that we are essentially unschoolers, and don't give grades, so anything I put down on their transcripts would be a work of fiction (plausible, trying to be as factual as possible, but still fiction) - they didn't seem to mind.  Eventually I gave up trying to explain our situation, made up the grades, and moved on.

Once you have a form in hand, just plug-in the subjects your students have covered each year.  If you are using the transcript for college applications, you might want to double check what credits the schools your student is applying to require, just so you don't leave off a subject you've covered but didn't really consider important (remember a LOT of what we do everyday might not look academic, but might still easily tie into some school subject or other).

What about grades?

As I mentioned above, we don't keep a grade book, and our grading can be a little bit arbitrary.  It's not something we hide, or try to cover up, or to be flip about, it's just something we have to make work when it comes to college applications.

My main goal is to be fair to my children.  If I give them an A they didn't earn, they'll fall on their face in that subject later on, but on the other hand, I don't want to let my perfectionist tendencies hurt their scholarship chances either (and as mentioned above, high school GPAs taken from their transcripts are used for scholarship consideration).  As long as they've mastered a topic I give an A - and as I've said before, I figure SATs and college entrance exams will fill out the picture, and ultimately back up our grading choices.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Record Keeping

Recording keeping for high school, just like for the elementary school years, will vary widely depending on the strictness of the state regulations where you live.

Drawing by C (age 12)
We live in an extremely free state, with very few regulations, so it is easy for record keeping to become an afterthought.  However, some kind of record of what's been studied and when can come in handy when it comes to preparing a high school transcript for college or military admission - or for future job applications.  Not to mention, that it's just nice to have something to look back at, sort of like a scrapbook of the homeschooling years.

In our house we keep it very simple.  I'm organizationally challenged, so the easier to keep up with, the more likely to be followed through with.

In the fall of the year I grab a couple of sheets of notebook paper and jot down a few "subject" headings - English, Math, Science, History, Bible and so on.  Under those headings I place whatever book, app, or video series we're planning on working through that year - I love books, so I usually have a couple of suggestions for each subject.  Each child has their own sheet, or at least their own subsections on the sheet unless they are going to be doing something together.  I leave room at the bottom of the page to add things we read or do together as a family, such as a speech class or skating days.  Along the top of the page I print "Fall 2018" or whatever year it is, and it goes up on the side of our refrigerator for easy reference.

If we end up not using a workbook or series, or add in something else that the children like better, the old suggestion gets crossed off, and the new added in underneath.  That's it.

At the end of the season/semester I take down the old sheets and shove them into a drawer (always the same drawer, so I won't forget where they've gone) with the stack of other years' sheets, and put a fresh new sheet labeled "Winter 2019" or whatever year it is, up onto the fridge. We repeat this for spring and summer (if it's one of those years where we work right through the summer).

These have always worked as an adequate guide for us.  When one of the children asks if they've done enough homework for the day, we'll run down the list, just to make sure we're not forgetting anything entirely (which I can have a habit of doing, especially on subjects they're working through independently).   If we take a couple of weeks off, because something else has caught our fancy, it's nice to have a reminder of where we started from when we want to get back to it.

These have provided more than enough information for me to use for creating high school transcripts, too.  It's basic, but enough.  We don't move on from subjects unless we've mastered them, so it's pass/fail - "A" or nothing in our house, unless I feel (and it really is just by feel for us) that one of the children has brushed over a subject, done the work, but not learned anything, and then I'll give them a C.   I don't feel guilty about this, because the proof is in the college entrance exams, if they've done their work, it will show, if they haven't learned anything, we're not going to fool anyone anyway.

All that to say, don't stress too much over record keeping (unless you really love keeping detailed notes in fancy record books, or unless you're required to have something specific down following state guidelines).  Even the most unshakeable of unschoolers can jot down what they've been reading, watching, building, or doing for the month - add a date to it, store it in a drawer - and voilà - you're keeping records.

It's great to be a homeschooler.