Homeschool Transitions: Making the Shift from Middle to High School

Really, high school is the easy part. By now, you’ve found your homeschooling groove. You know your child’s interests and her strengths. You probably even have a pretty good idea of what she’d like her post-high school life to look like. All you have to do now is help her get there.

The key to homeschooling high school is to trust your teenager and to trust the homeschool rhythms that have worked for your family. “Someone says ‘high school,’ and you feel like, ‘oh, I have to get serious and start doing really serious things with my kid,’” says Lisa Millan, who has sent two homeschool grads off to college. “But shifting away from the homeschool patterns you’ve spent years finding is a big mistake.”

In fact, these are the years when all that work you’ve been doing will really start to pay off. By ninth grade, your child should be ready to take the reins of his education and tell you where he wants to go — whether that means college, preparing to launch a business, taking an apprenticeship, or becoming an artist. Keep these things in mind as you’re making your high school plans:

The key to homeschooling high school is to trust your teenager and to trust the homeschool rhythms that have worked for your family.

Invest in your child’s passion. By high school, your student knows what he likes — and those interests are where the bulk of your homeschool budget should go. If he’s Broadway-bound, spend on acting and voice lessons and find cheaper alternatives for math and language arts. If she’s planning to study astrophysics, invest in a high-quality telescope and community college astronomy classes. Take these passions into account when you’re blocking out schedules, too — your child’s interests should dictate how his time gets allocated.

Be a planner. Some of the things your high schooler will want to do — take the SAT, get a driver’s license, apply to an internship program—can feel like bureaucratic nightmares to freewheeling homeschoolers. Do yourself a favor and start prepping for these kinds of things well in advance of their deadlines. Often forms and requirements assume a very traditional school experience, and trying to figure out how to fit your homeschool experiences into these kinds of narrow boxes can be stressful and frustrating. It’s definitely not something you want to try to do with the pressure of a deadline breathing down your neck.

Don’t freak out over gaps. During your child’s high school experience, you’ll run into topics that your education hasn’t covered. Don’t let this convince you that your education has somehow short-changed your kids. All educations have gaps. If you feel that a missing component is genuinely worth covering, by all means, go ahead and cover it — but know that however much you manage to cover in your high school, there will be things your teen graduates from high school not knowing. There will be things your child will celebrate his 50th birthday not knowing, too — that’s how learning works. It’s more important to teach your high schooler how to learn something when he needs or wants to know it than it is to teach him every fact in the world.

Get organized. Your child’s post-high school plans may require you to have a transcript ready to go, and your life will be much simpler if you start high school with this in mind. Perhaps the easiest transcript-making method is to borrow an idea from traditional schools and keep a quarterly update of classes, grades (if relevant), and books. Have a safe place to store papers, projects, and other work in case your child needs samples or a portfolio down the road. Do this, and whether you’re making a transcript, a resume, or notes for your child’s biographer, you’ll be in good shape.


Course of Study

If elementary school is about absorbing information and middle school is about analyzing it, high school is a time for playing with information — thinking abstractly, expressing new ideas, and communicating effectively. As you’re planning what to cover, look to the most rigorous college on your child’s list, even if he’s not sure whether he wants to go to college or follow a different path. Laying out an academic plan that meets the admission guidelines of that institution will give your high schooler maximum post-graduation options (and a well-rounded high school education, too).

Language arts: Students should dig deeper into literature, tackling heavy-hitting classics as well as works from other cultures. The Norton Anthologies are great resources here, offering biographical information, historical context, and discussion starters for a wide range of literary works. Get a taste of American, British, and World literature. For kids who love literature, consider some of the free MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) available from websites like Coursera. These classes can be a great way to dig deeper into an author or period your student finds fascinating.

It’s more important to teach your high schooler how to learn something when he needs or wants to know it than it is to teach him every fact in the world.

It’s writing, though, that really matters for high school language arts — and we’re not talking about the dreaded five-paragraph essay. What high schoolers need to master here is the ability to make and support an argument, to write persuasively and effectively, and to use vocabulary and literary techniques to enhance their work. A book like the Brief Bedford Reader can be a great resource for this, with a nice selection of essays and lots of practical guidance for better writing.

Math and science: Most colleges will look for at least three laboratory science classes on your high school transcript, but that’s a good thing — every teenager should get to sample a couple of proper lab classes. Skip the curriculum for these: It tends to be pricey, and a home set-up just isn’t the same. Instead, look for college or homeschool lab classes where your teen can get a real lab experience. 

High school math usually includes algebra and geometry—mathy kids will want to add trigonometry and calculus to the list. Teaching Textbooks has a user-friendly, self-paced program if you want to do math at home, or consider making math one of your student’s outside classes during high school. 

History and social studies: Most colleges will want to see U.S. and World History on your transcript, as well as government and geography. Ways of the World by Robert Strayer for world history is a smart, critical study of the events and people that shaped the past and a good choice if you want to use a fairly traditional curriculum, or you might like The American Pageant for U.S. History, which does much the same thing. If you're willing to venture beyond tradition (and not counting on AP credits for college), consider alternatives like Stanford's Reading Like a Historian curriculum (I love this one!) or the Big History Project, which starts at the Big Bang. Also consider free online lectures from schools like Stanford or MIT, which can add nuance and interest to sometimes dry historical facts.

Other stuff: If you haven’t started a foreign language yet, high school is a good time to start. (Most colleges will want to see at least two years of foreign language on your transcript.) Latin — with a beginner-friendly curriculum like Ecce Romani — is a good choice for classicists or people who don’t want to fuss with accents; if you want to learn to speak a modern foreign language like Japanese or Spanish, Rosetta Stone’s homeschool programs are a solid if not particularly inspired choice.

This was originally published in the summer 2015 issue of HSL.