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Creative Homeschool High School Course Ideas

In high school, my kids have written novels, written and produced films about Korean history, studied the Japanese and Korean languages, examined the ethics of sampling in hip-hop music, written and designed web comics, and produced graphic novels. You will probably find similarly unusual courses in most homeschool high schools.

Encouraging your student to dive into the things which most interest him, to explore his strengths, is one of the beauty parts of homeschooling. One of the very best things about home educating the high school years is that  you and your teen have the freedom to pursue those interests which make his or her life meaningful.

As a home educating parent, one of the most important things to learn about homeschooling at the high school level is to teach your strengths and to delegate your weaknesses. It’s essential to be realistic about your weaknesses. Don’t beat your head against a wall or end up torturing both yourself and child with a frustrated attempt to handle something you aren’t really suited for. If you aren’t particularly strong, or even if you’re not especially interested in math, it’s a good idea to find someone else to tutor, or to find a text or DVD series.

It’s even more important to consider each student’s strengths and learning styles as well as her deficits. Be quick to recognize when something just doesn’t work for your kid. Each person is unique;  this student may not be able to work with this resource even though it may have been perfect for your other kids or her friends.

My strengths happen to fall on the arts/humanities/cultural studies side, and so do my husband’s.  We are both art school alums and he is a writer and musician. Art, music, writing, and cultural focus is in the kids’ genes. From their cradles we tried to warn them away from the arts but they were moths to the low-wage flame.

When you homeschool, your lifestyle is in large part informed by your homeschooling. We created a home and lifestyle, consciously and unconsciously, which taught the importance of understanding our culture, its influences, where it came from, and where it could go.

This has a downside. What were our seriously heated “discussions” over?  The Mycenaeans or the Trojans? Javert or Valjean? Is 2001:A Space Odyssey really meaningful or just a bore-fest? What did Bruce Willis’ Dunn in Unbreakable do after the end…remain a superhero or give it up? My kids wanted to die on these hills.

Admittedly, the ideas I offer here are rather humanities-oriented. If you have some ideas for creative ways to learn and present the maths, technologies and sciences, I am all ears.

So here are some ideas, along with our experiences with some of them.

Art History: My freshman daughter earned a credit on her transcript this year in this survey course. We happen to have about half a million art books so it wasn’t a stretch to find material.  But you can find lots of “coffee table books” at the library. Don’t only look at the pictures. Read the books too; you want your student to understand the history of the work, and its cultural and social context, as well as how it and its creator influenced the course of art. The painting is in the book because it did just that.

I recommend any art history book by anyone named Janson, especially History of Art for Young People by H.W Janson and Anthony F. Janson.  It’s pricey new but definitely worth it. It makes art history easily comprehensible.

There’s also a little thing called the internet. One caution. Looking at works of art on a little screen or in a book is an entirely different experience than seeing the work of art for real.

Granted, we have to settle for a picture of the Mona Lisa if we’re not traveling to Paris this year. But be aware that your experience with the works are fundamentally different than standing in front of the real thing in a cool room in a museum with marble floors, battling crowds to see or hearing the echo of your footsteps in a huge empty gallery. The real thing never looks the same close up and in person. Take note of the size of the work and take a few seconds to imagine how that really looks. It may have been created to be installed in a particular place–try to find a picture of it in its original setting.

This course will consist of getting familiar with the most important works and getting the gist of chronological art history, and trying to gain understanding of the context of the works in the times they were created. Tests can be given but don’t let the class degrade into identification quizzes only. I did not give tests or ask for memorization but I can see doing that. I wanted her to grok art history. I believe she did.

The final project was a formal analysis of a work. She had to see it in person and write a formal description according to specific guidelines.

Honors Art History/ Art History 2: Next year art history will be more intense. I will require at least 4 visits to at least two museums, 2 formal analyses, 2 comparison papers, tests on ID-ing works and genres  and essay questions on socio-cultural significance and history of works, an artist bio paper OR technical history paper, and a good bit of reading in art criticism/history sources.

Youtube Course: Young people are immersed in interactive media; they don’t see that involvement as an option but reality. As a result, your young people may already have a Youtube channel.  However, much of this is rather passive and one-event oriented.

But maybe it can be more. Combine reviews with interviews. Write scripts well. Interact with viewers.  Review real events: reviews must be goal-oriented, meet criteria, be substantive (not “we filmed ourselves being at this event”). Interview appropriate people at events and write your essay about what was said, then post in on your channel. These are ideas from an old person; your student will have better ones.

Graphic Novel: If your students are art AND writing oriented, they can write a story, then design and draw the graphic novel. Your student will exercise writing, drawing, and graphic design skills.

Write a novel: Two of my sons each wrote a novel as a senior course. They were pretty self-motivated and disciplined about it (because they love writing), but you may want to require some sort of writing schedule: write every weekday for one hour/ write at least a chapter per week to be turned in and critiqued/ etc.. If you feel unqualified, find someone who can give your student real feedback. This is very important. He will need to discuss writing ideas and goals, and get knowledgeable feedback from other experienced writers.

NaNoWriMo can be helpful for getting started and for staying motivated. Even if you fail to write a novel in a month, you can get a good start. Or November may be too late in the school year to begin writing a novel.

Courses That Just Happen: Look around and notice when your child is doing “extra-curricular” things because she has an interest in them.  You may be able to gather a few things together and consider it as a course. Example: my daughter sings, and plays guitar and uke. She was taking piano lessons, playing with our church’s youth ministry worship team, and starting to play gigs at local coffee houses and open mikes. That same year she was asked to lead the music component of the worship time at an inner-city VBS which one of our fellow church family was helping to run.

It dawned on me about mid-May that my daughter had actually put many, many hours, and a lot of passion, into a Music/ Music Ministry course. It only took me to recognize as a course what she was already self-motivated to do. Credit on the transcript!

Lesson: if your kid has interests, there is probably a way to add some academic substance to the hours of self-motivated involvement, and call it a course.

I will probably revisit this topic.  If you have ideas, please share them with everyone!

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Rich Light Almond Cookies with Jam or Chocolate

Here’s the story of an ugly-duckling cookie. Anyway, it’s the story of a cookie that I improved.

I make seven or eight different cookies at Christmastime. One of the less popular at my house was a sprutter: a butter cookie flavored with almond usually put through a press. I never bothered with the cookie press, because I never had one. I would roll the dough into a small ball and thumbprint it, then maybe add an almond sliver on top.

When early December comes, I have to churn cookies out fast in double or triple batches until the tins are filled.  Many tins. I have to bake til I lose count. There has to be a cookie-making frenzy, and I’ve been known to make too many.

The cookies have to last from Christmas Eve until at least New Year’s Day, and preferably until the end of the week after that. The eight people who live here plus significant others plus company must be able to eat cookies at will.  I make cinnamon buns for gifts: I generally don’t give cookies as gifts because I hoard them against running out.  It’s an irrational fear, I know, but I’m not intending to deal with it yet.

The law here is that each person may eat one cookie per batch as I bake them. The rest are put away-in tins, in a cabinet, in the shed and no one may open!

Then comes the Food Season.  Starting on the evening of December 24, all restraint is utterly thrown away, cookie-wise.

I love baking, and I love everything about Christmas. The smell of baking cookies takes me right back to my Mom’s kitchen as she also baked the same cookies for all of us kids.

For me, baking is an absolutely necessary part of the Christmas season. Now I get to be the cookie baker, the sharer of comfort and cheer.

This cookie has evolved.

My sprutter were to be a bland palate-cleanser cookie–to be eaten in between servings of Double Chocolate Crinkles or Hershey’s Kiss-topped PB. A variation of the plain butter-sugar cookie. But this year I decided to try a pat of jam on the top.  And why not try a couple chocolate chips on top too? 

Something happened. The tastes of sweetness, almond, and slight saltiness blended in a fresh way when the jam was added.  They were equally as lovely when topped with the slightly bitter chocolate chip.

Here’s what happened. The last batch I made gave me a little trouble.  For some reason, the dough was too wet to roll into balls. Gradually adding bits of additional flour, I kept whipping and whipping that dough in the mixer. 

Finally I decided to make them drop cookies.  I dropped very small mounds on to the cookie sheet, then I put dabs of raspberry jam on the cookies on the first sheet, and chocolate chips on the next sheet.

What emerged was the best cookie I’ve ever made. It is light and crisp yet soft, owing, I suppose, to the extra mixing.  It is delicate, probably because it was not compressed into a ball. 

I use no special ingredients in this recipe. I buy generic or store-brand versions of all ingredients.

** I have altered the amount of flour…They are noticeably moister and creamier with 2 cups of flour. The batter should be just slightly toward too-messy-to-roll.

Rich Light Almond Cookies with Jam or Chocolate

1 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 almond extract

Mix for quite awhile. I don’t time things.
Drop very small mounds of dough onto a cookie sheet. Place two or three chocolate chips on top. Or spread a dab of jam on top.
Bake at 350 until just slightly browned at the edges. ( I don’t time things.) Lift carefully from the sheet to a cooling rack. Enjoy a couple while still warm. They’re even better that way.

I double or triple this recipe. (Remember that when you multiply a recipe, you don’t need to multiply items such as flavoring extract, like vanilla or almond, or items such as salt or baking powder.)

Pictures as soon as I bake another batch.

My Home is for Sharing

 

Hospitality begins at home.

Before hospitality becomes outward-focused, in showering our kindness on those from outside our home, hospitality must be intentionally inward-focused, showering our family members with love and acceptance.

Hospitality toward others must be built on a foundation of something good you have established in your home.  Guests will sense what we are. If we are stressed and fearful about making the physical environment just right, but our family relationships are disregarded and unloving, guests will see that.  If my energy is spent on engaging with my family and my goal is loving them, guests will see that.  It will make my home a place that they want to be in. People who visit our home should want to be included in what’s already going on

Hospitality is sharing your HOME, not your house.  It is sharing your home, that is, sharing the family you have established and lavished your love on along with the place you do that in. Your goal should be to make your home a haven, a place where people are loved, accepted, valued and supported.  That is, first to your family members, and very definitely secondly, to those who come into your home.

Your first primary and most important objects of hospitality are those people in your own family. You know, the ones God gave you. The people He planned from the beginning of Creation to be in your family, living their lives next to you day after day. He had reasons for putting these people in your life, and His reasons are always perfect and right.

And since God is the essence of love, and since we are to be like Him…it follows that we ought especially to deliberately love those people.

Sharing Our Home

I believe that God gave me and my husband a home to share.  It’s a talent given to us, not to be buried in the ground, but to be invested. We invest our home and family comfort in the people with whom we are seeking to build relationships. Our home and family are gifts not to be hoarded but shared.