Testing isn't the most important thing — but when testing creates a lot of stress for your student, a few practical strategies might help him get more comfortable with the process.
We thought it be interesting to include a weekly roundup of homeschool-related news stories here on the blog. (If you like this and would like it to be a regular blog feature, let us know! We’ll use your feedback to decide whether this is something we should keep doing. :))
1. Homeschoolers continue to outperform their traditionally schooled peers on the SAT, researchers found after analyzing 2014 test scores. “These are notably large differences,” wrote the researchers. Homeschoolers whose tests were considered in the analysis also had significant demographic differences from schooled participants, notably race (most homeschoolers—more than 70 percent—were white) and parental education level, which tended to be higher in homeschool families.
2. Preschool is the new kindergarten, but do kids really benefit from such early academic readiness? Probably not, discovered a senior fellow in economics studies at the Brookings Institution, who found that preschool attendance had almost no impact on future test scores. (This article also suggests that Sesame Street can work much like a preschool equivalent of Khan Academy.)
3. Though the Department of Defense doesn’t keep track of homeschool statistics, homeschooling seems to be on the rise in military families, where frequent moves and deployments make homeschool’s flexibility a bonus. “We we just kept homeschooling through all of this because it gave us the flexibility we needed,” said Rebecca Owens.
4. It’s too early yet to tell how California’s new, stricter vaccination laws will affect the state’s homeschool numbers, but at least some families are opting to homeschool rather than opt in to the now-required vaccinations for public school.
5. And finally, if you’re planning a trip to Colonial Williamsburg this year, you can enjoy significant savings during the site’s homeschool days from Sept. 10 to Sept. 25. In addition to reduced ticket prices ($8 per student instead of the usual $20), homeschoolers can participate in hands-on activities and interactive experiences.
Once upon a time, homeschoolers were more likely to turn to traditional schools when high school rolled around—fewer than 17 percent of the 210,000 homeschooled kids reported by the U.S. Department of Education in 2001 were high school students. There are lots of reasons parents may choose not to homeschool their teens through high school, but don't let false fear be one of them.
Myth: High school is too difficult for the average parent to teach.
Fact: You don’t have to teach everything.
In many ways, homeschooling high school can be much simpler than the early years because your teen is capable of independent study. Just be honest with yourself: What are you capable and willing to teach, and what do you need to outsource? Maybe you love the thought of digging deeper into history, but the prospect of teaching trig makes you want to break out in a cold sweat. Outsource subjects you don’t want to tackle—co-op classes, tutors, community college, online classes are all great options. As your student advances, your job will shift from teacher to educational coordinator—listening to him and guiding his class choices and extracurricular activities to prepare him for the college or whatever post-high school path he's interested in. It also means keeping track of classes for his transcript, staying on top of testing deadlines for standardized and achievement tests, and helping him start to hone in on the best people to ask for letters of recommendation.
Myth: Homeschoolers can’t take Advanced Placement (AP) tests.
Fact: Homeschoolers can take AP tests—whether they take official AP classes or not.
AP is a brand-name—like Kleenex or Band-Aid—which means the College Board gets to decide whether or not you can call your child’s course an AP class. (The College Board has a fairly straightforward process for getting your class syllabus approved on their website, and few homeschoolers run into problems getting their class approved.) You can build your own AP class using the materials and test examples on the College Board website and call the class “Honors” or “Advanced” on your transcript—and your child can take the AP test in that subject as long as you sign him up on time and pay the test fee. (Homeschoolers have to find a school administering the test willing to allow outside students, which may take some time. You’ll want to start calling well before the deadline.) If you’re nervous about teaching without an official syllabus, you can sign up for an online AP class or order an AP-approved curriculum. And remember: just because you take an AP class doesn’t mean you have to take the test.
Myth: It’s hard for homeschoolers to get into college.
Fact: Homeschooled kids may actually be more likely to go to college than their traditionally schooled peers.
This myth may have been true 20 years ago, but not anymore. Researchers at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) found that 74 percent of homeschooled kids between age 18 and 24 had taken college classes, compared to just 46 percent of non-homeschoolers. In fact, many universities now include a section on their admission pages specifically addressing the admissions requirements for homeschooled students. In 1999, Stanford University accepted 27 percent of its homeschooled applicants—twice the rate for public and private school students admitted at the same time. Brown University representative Joyce Reed says homeschoolers are often a perfect fit at Brown because they know how to be self-directed learners, they are willing to take take risks, they are ready to tackle challenges, and they know how to persist when things get hard.
Myth: You need an accredited diploma to apply to college.
Fact: You need outside verification of ability to get into college.
Just a decade or so ago, many colleges didn’t know what to do with homeschoolers, and an accredited diploma helped normalize them. That’s not true anymore. (In fact, you may be interested to know that not all public high schools are accredited—only 77 percent of the high schools in Virginia, for example, have accreditation.) What you do want your child’s transcript to reflect is non-parent-provided proof of academic prowess. This can come in the form of graded co-op classes, dual enrollment courses at your local college, SAT or ACT scores, awards, etc. Most colleges are not going to consider whether your child’s high school transcript was accredited or not when deciding on admissions and financial aid.
Myth: A portfolio is superior to a transcript.
Fact: The Common App makes transcripts a more versatile choice.
Portfolios used to be the recommended way for homeschoolers to show off their outside-the-box education, but since more and more schools rely on the transcript-style Common Application, portfolios have become a hindrance. (Obviously, portfolios are still important for students studying art or creative writing, where work samples are routinely requested as part of the application process.) In some ways, this format is even easier to manage than a portfolio—you can record high school-level classes your student took before 9th grade and college courses he took during high school in convenient little boxes. And don’t worry that your student won’t be able to show what makes him special: The application essay remains one of the best places to stand out as an individual. Some schools even include fun questions to elicit personal responses: The University of North Carolina, for instance, asks students what they hope to find over the rainbow.
Myth: Homeschooled kids don’t test well.
Fact: On average, homeschoolers outperform their traditionally schooled peers on standardized tests.
All that emphasis on test prep in schools doesn’t seem to provide kids with a clear advantage come test time. Homeschooled students score 15 to 30 percentile points above the national average on standardized achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of education or the amount of money parents spend on homeschooling. That includes college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. Research compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics shows that homeschoolers scored an average 1083—67 points above the national average of 1016—on the SAT in 1999 and an average 22.6 (compared to the national average of 21.0) on the ACT in 1997. This doesn’t mean these tests aren’t important—good scores can open academic doors—but it does mean you may not have to worry about them as much you’d thought.
Myth: Homeschooled kids are not prepared for college.
Fact: Homeschooled kids adapt to college life better than their traditionally schooled peers.
This one always makes me laugh. Homeschooled kids probably have more hands-on life experience than their traditionally schooled counterparts. Homeschooled kids are usually more active in their communities, and because homeschooling is a family affair, they are more likely to have everyday life skills—the ones you need to make lunch for yourself or comparison shop for a tablet. Homeschooled teens also tend to be active participants in their own education, figuring out ways to manage their time and workload with their social lives long before they start college. Most importantly, they are able to interact and work with people of different ages, backgrounds, and cultures in a positive way, which is really the most important life skill of all. Perhaps that’s why homeschoolers are more likely to graduate from college (66.7 percent of homeschoolers graduate within four years of entering college, compared to 57.5 percent of public and private school students) and to graduate with a higher G.P.A. than their peers. Homeschoolers graduate with an average 3.46 G.P.A., compared to the average 3.16 senior G.P.A. for public and private school students, found St. Thomas University researcher Michael Cogan, who compared grades and graduation rates at doctoral universities between 2004 and 2009.
This article was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home | school | life, and we’re reprinting it online in 2016.
Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better! Today, Amy's talking about how she homeschooled 8th grade this year.
Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 8th grader. (You can see what 7th grade looked like for us here.)
If I had to sum up 8th grade in one word, it would be “transitional.” We did a lot of learning and had a lot of fun, but we also spent a lot of time figuring out how to make the transition from middle school to high school. My daughter is opting to homeschool through high school, which thrills and panics me, but I wanted to make sure that whatever she wanted to do, she was prepared. So we spent this year working on skills that don’t always come up in homeschool environments but that are important for higher-level learning. I’ve mentioned note-taking, which is essential for lecture-based classes that she’s bound to run into at some point. We’ve also slowly shifted responsibility for deadlines to her shoulders. Homeschooling tends to be open-ended for us, which means projects get done when they feel done—which can be a couple of hours or a couple of years or never. This year, though, I made a point of giving my daughter due dates for some things and letting her keep up with them. We’ve talked a lot about due dates for things like research papers, where you’re really excited and just want to keep going and going but have to figure out a logical stopping point in order to get it done on time. My daughter also found that having a deadline made her second-guess herself—she’d wrap up a perfectly good project well in advance of the deadline and start to worry that she hadn’t put enough time or effort into doing it—shouldn’t it take her until the deadline to complete the project?
We’ve also started experimenting with grade feedback. I am not a fan of grading—honestly, a lot of things we do in our homeschool defy traditional grading, and I really like that fact. But at some point, we’re going to have to pull together a transcript, and while I think the pass/fail solution would be ideal, it doesn’t always work well for GPAs if you want to go to a more competitive school. So we’re playing with grades. I don’t give her grades in subjects like math, where it’s easy to see from how many problems you got right how you’re doing with a particular concept. I try to give input in the more nebulous areas, like history essay questions, where I can say, “This answer is good, but I would probably give it a B—it would be an A if you’d gone on to explain why the Treaty of Indian Springs was so controversial instead of just telling me that it was a controversial treaty.” Interestingly, I was all stressed out about the idea of grades, but my daughter doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.
As far as what we studied, here’s what we used:
Eighth grade was our year to study state history. We used the free online textbook Georgia: Its Heritage and Promise, which did an impressive job of making a pretty fascinating subject almost completely boring, but it was a good spine. We read a lot of supplementary books together and—once I was mobile again—took a lot of field trips. A few years ago, we did a study of women in Georgia history, so it was fun to revisit some of those figures again from a slightly different perspective.
My daughter kept a notebook, which she filled with facts, thoughts, sketches, taped-in photos, and other notes from our studies. Every few weeks, we’d come up with a big-picture question for each other: How was Georgia different from the other twelve original colonies? What was Reconstruction like for people living in Georgia? We’d answer each other’s questions and chat about what else we might have included or any particularly good points someone made. (I like writing essays, which not everyone does, obviously, but we had a lot of fun working on these together.)
Our last year of Latin (sigh) was a continuation of what we’ve always done: We used Ecce Romani (though we jumped to books 3 and 4 this year) and did vocabulary cards, translation, and exercises for each chapter. Latin is the place where my daughter learns most of her English grammar, and that was true this year, too. If my daughter wanted to continue, she’d definitely be well-prepared for more advanced Latin next year.
We tackled Life of Fred Prealgebra with Biology this year, but it was slow-going. I feel like I’m not very good at teaching math—I know my one way to solve the problem, but I’m not good at explaining how to do it or helping someone find another way that works better for her. We made it through, but it was definitely harder than it needed to be for both of us—I’m really glad Jason is here to take over math for high school.
We read a lot of books that tied into our Georgia history study (Some of our favorites included Juliet Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, Cold Sassy Tree, and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.). We also thought this would be a good year to explore an author’s complete body of work, so—like many people—we focused on Jane Austen, working our way up from Love and Friendship through Persuasion. (We didn’t read the unfinished Sandition.) For me, this was really fun—I love Austen and all those lovely Austen film adaptations—and my daughter really enjoyed it, too. She worked on a big paper over the course of the year about mean girls in Jane Austen, which turned out to be very interesting. I loved seeing it develop over the course of the year—as she read more and thought more, her ideas got deeper and more nuanced. It was very cool to watch.
We used The Story of Science this year, and we loved it. I found The Story of Science through Rebecca’s review (thanks, Rebecca!), and it was the perfect combination of readaloud and hands-on for us. I wish we’d discovered it sooner because I would have loved to use this series throughout middle school. I didn’t get the student workbook—my daughter usually just keeps a notebook for classes—but I did get the teacher’s guide so that I could have the lab instructions.
My daughter was the copy chief for her creative writing class’s magazine—though all the stories came in so close to deadline that she didn’t get to do as much actual copyediting as she was hoping. She took the class at our local homeschool group.
My daughter also got really adventurous with her cooking this year, inspired, perhaps, by our obsessive viewing of The Great British Bake-Off. She continued her knitting and sewing, having a brief fling with cross-stitching followed by a return to plushie making. She practiced her piano and guitar (almost) every day, did nature walks and kept a nature journal (not daily) with me and her brother. She wrote and illustrated comic books, got really interested in Maria Mitchell (the astronomer), and made all her own beauty products. (Her bathroom smells really good.) Sometimes these interests superseded “regular academics,” and that’s always perfectly fine in our house. Sometimes, she just wanted to read all day or had a shiny new video game that had to be played immediately and obsessively, and so that’s what she did. She really loves reading aloud and doing all the different voices, so I’ll often find her in her little brother’s room, reading to him. To me, all of this is part of homeschooling—as much as math or history or science.
Our schedule was hard to find a rhythm for this year, but eventually we fell into a routine that worked. Some of that difficulty might be because of my injury through the fall, which made everything kind of janky, but I think a lot of it was because we were trying lots of new things and it took a while to find the ones that worked and to get the hang of some of our new patterns. In some ways, our routine was the same as always: My daughter gets up when she gets up (later and later every year!), we do our structured work together after she has breakfast, then she does her independent work and whatever else she wants during the day and evening. (It’s weird to go in her room to say good night and see her sprawled on the bed at 11 p.m. writing essays or doing math problems, but that seems to be her prime creative thinking time.) But it was hard for us to find a balance that felt like the right mix of hey-we’re-learning-stuff and hey-this-is-fun, and I’m really glad we decided to tackle that challenge this year instead of waiting until 9th grade. I feel like this year has helped us know better what we’re doing as we move into high school.
As far as testing goes, we went ahead and did the PSAT this year—I signed her up to take it at our neighborhood high school, and while dropping her off at that cafeteria all by herself was both heart-wrenching and terrifying, she did just fine—on the test and in the strange environment. (I’ve done testing at home every year since Suzanne suggested it, and while I tend to think testing is annoying and not at all representative of what someone knows, I think Suzanne was right that just doing it every year takes the anxiety right out of it for prone-to-test-panic kids like my daughter and gives them practice sitting for so long without being able to take a break.)
Writing all this up is kind of reassuring because this year felt particularly hard, like trying to find my way through an unfamiliar terrain in the dark without a map. But looking back, I think we did a good job—we shifted some of the big pieces in our homeschool, but we were able to do in ways that let us keep the things we love about homeschooling. I guess transitions always feel messy and uncertain while they are happening. And, of course, when I asked my daughter how she thought this year had gone, she grinned her adorable grin and said “Great!” So that’s all right.
Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better!? Today, Shelli's talking about how she homeschooled her 3rd grader this year.
This has been a busy year for my nine-year-old son, and for me, I’m a little in awe with the changes I’ve been seeing in him. He’s becoming more mature and disciplined, yet he’s just as creative as ever.
Last year, I wrote more about his building projects because he was a “little engineer.” This year he surprised us by becoming interested in playing the piano, and through the year, he’s slowly shifted all his attention to learning about classical music. I don’t think his building tendencies have stopped, but they’re definitely on the back burner for now. His piano playing has become a big part of all our lives, so I’m giving it a heading all to itself! (See below.)
I should also note that this year has shown me how the flexibility in homeschooling is a huge asset. As my son’s interest in piano and classical music took center stage, I was able to let go of some curriculum ideas I had for the year. For example, we have put off foreign language, some Art Fridays, and just general “busyness” that I might have filled our time with, if my son didn’t become so engrossed in his new project. It’s been great to be able to do this, and I feel it’s given me the opportunity to give him what (to me) is more of a priority: time to play and be a kid.
Here is what we’ve accomplished during my son’s third grade:
My son wanted to work on spelling, so we completed Level 1 of All About Spelling, which I thought was a great program. He didn’t particularly like this program, but I think it gave him confidence that he can spell. He is not a child that is going to write anything voluntarily; it’s just not his thing. So we’re moving slowly in this area.
To improve handwriting skills, I have used both Handwriting Without Tears and a calligraphy set.
We are getting ready to do a standardized test, which homeschoolers in my state (Georgia) are required to do in the third grade, so I’m using a test prep book to review, and we’re also using some posters I have to learn the parts of speech.
We’ve done a lot of reading this year. My son loves reading Calvin and Hobbes, and he’s enjoying reading the Battle Bugs series to himself. A few books I’ve read to him this year include My Father’s Dragon, Charlotte’s Web, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Story of Dr. Doolittle, and On the Shores of Silver Lake among others.
Math was a priority for me this year, and I feel we have made great progress in it this year. We completed four more Life of Fred books, which brings us to a total of seven books in that series. Right now, we’re reviewing math in our test prep book.
I have also begun to require that my son memorize the times tables, and we started with the three times tables. I put a little chart of “the threes” up on the wall, and I covered the answers. We go over it every time we do lessons. To make it fun, I began timing my son on how fast he could recite the 3 times tables, and I got him to try to beat his last time. My six-year-old has joined in on the fun too!
You can read about some of the other math games we’ve played this year here.
My son loves science, and he’s ahead in this subject, so I haven’t made it a big focus this year. However, he attended a homeschool chemical engineering class during the fall, and everyday we watch nature and science documentaries. This summer we’re going to begin using a middle school level science curriculum, which my son can’t wait to try. I’ll write about that at a later date.
I don’t do a lot of formal work in this area because we learn so much through our daily routine. Occasionally we watch history documentaries, and my son keeps up with current events with the New-O-Matic app. I also did a short study this year on the Cherokee Indians because there are so many local attractions in our home state of Georgia with historical references to the Cherokees.
Last year I made a Big History Timeline for our wall that we update whenever we learn something new about history, and we’ve made good use of it.
During the fall, my son took a pottery class, and we’ve done some art lessons at home. I usually do art on Fridays, but I let it slide for a while. Now I’m getting back into that routine again. We also visit our local art museum regularly to see new exhibits.
As I mentioned above, this has been my son’s big focus this year. He will have been taking piano lessons for one full year at the end of May! When he started, my husband and I casually said we’d be happy if he lasted one year since music is part of a well-rounded education. We had no idea how far our son would take it! Here’s a more specific list of what we’ve done this year:
- Because our son progressed so quickly in his lessons, we went from a digital piano, to an upright piano, and now to a grand piano! Crazy, I know! But we feel it’s very important he has the right tools to work with to accomplish his goals. We have all enjoyed learning about how a piano works and the different brands of pianos, etc.
- When we met a piano teacher whose knowledge and focus better matched our son’s goals, and he expressed an interest in working with our son, we took the opportunity to switch teachers. (Though I’ll ever be grateful for his first teacher who helped instill a love of piano playing through her warmth and enthusiasm.)
- My son has begun studying the great composers. We use Meet the Great Composers, Greene’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers, and the Internet. My son watches many classical performances on YouTube.
- At two nearby universities, we are able to attend faculty and student recitals for free, and some of the bigger student performances are inexpensive to attend, so my son has attended 10 performances this year!
What are some of your favorite curriculum, resources and accomplishments that you have made this year?