Tag Archives: Homeschooling

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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My Kids Make Me Do Things I Don’t Want To

I have said for years that when our aging cat Tommy dies, we will be cat-free. No more pets that don’t live in a tank.

At our house, the rule has always been: no dogs, no snakes, no large bugs. This includes spiders and hermit crabs. Fool me once (the smelly hermit crab). Over the years, we’ve had parakeets, reptiles, fish, rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, and cats. All these animals have at least one thing in common. They don’t use a toilet. It sounds terribly selfish, but I was looking forward to a pet-free home.

But now.

My youngest is left with me much of the day, while her five older siblings go out to work or to college, or worse yet (for me), to some fun activity that she’s too young for. There aren’t really many of those, but you’d think so.

So she wants a kitten. And I’m bending.

I do not want a kitten: twenty more years of fur everywhere, randomly deposited vomit, poop in a box, the possibility of poop not in a box…

If it (we) fails at being an “inside” cat…fleas every summer. So it must be an inside cat. We really failed at that before. Oh, and the vet costs, which are financially comparable to human medical costs. Shots, fixing, declawing, shots, shots. We can’t afford human medical bills.

If it (we) fails at being an inside cat, the bill for getting hit by a car and breaking its pelvis.

Or for being swung by its tail, a serious injury leaving the cat needing manual help to empty its bladder.

Or getting mauled by an unknown animal, having to spend six months quarantined in a cage. The medical bill for my husband when its teeth accidentally connect with my husband’s hand while in a biting frenzy to get out of the box while being hauled to the vet.

True stories, every one. Tommy and his mother Isabel. My husband needed a series of rabies shots.

So my vote is: no thanks.

But now.

My daughter is a mostly easygoing, compliant teenager. And that is one welcome quality in this family.

We have been homeschoolers all along. My other children had each other for company. They bounced off each other while I frequently redirected their attention back to the work. It was a tremendous amount of fun. It was an amazingly rich learning experience for us all. It bonded us all together in a way I did not know possible. We developed a unique culture of our own. The kids are very close, though not always harmonious, and will be close all their lives. They are real friends. This, by the way, is the real reason to home educate.

My youngest is five years younger than her next older sister. Though she is an equal emotionally, intellectually, maturity-wise, she is nevertheless just starting high school. So here she will be, with just me, a lot of the time. Just us two homeschooling.

She really is going to miss something great that they had, and I’m bending.

She misses her siblings during the day. To have a kitten would brighten her life.  And she will have the responsibility to take care of it. It would be a source of comfort and amusement every day.  I won’t be immune to the onslaught of cuteness either, once the blasted animal moves in.

My kids have done nothing but make me do things I don’t want to do. The things I do for them.

Update 12/14: The kitten has arrived.  She looks exactly like the ridiculously cute picture at the top of this post, except she seems incredibly tinier, and her mew is so small and high as to be almost inaudible. AWWWW!