The Possibilities of Elective Credits: Part I

What about elective credits?

Mike and I field this question often. 

The short response?  

There are endless possibilities to potential elective credits. 

If your high school student is enrolled in a public or private school, be sure to check the school's offerings. Choices vary for each school. 

If you are home educating the high school journey, know your state statute and graduation requirements as well as how they apply to home educated students. Find out if your state allows parents the freedom and responsibility to create core or elective courses. This is important because some states require home educated students to take only courses offered in the state. Other states give parents the ability to oversee the child's education, hence the creation and oversight of classes, should the family choose that path. Your state statute requirements will provide what is required of the parent and student and therefore shed light upon the possibilities available to the family.

For those who are home educating and have the ability to choose elective credits, consider:

The life-goals (if known) of your learner. For some high schoolers, they will have a clear understanding and direction for what they will pursue after high school graduation. Other young adults will be exploring their interests and therefore, getting a better idea of what they might do after they turn the tassel. The good news is there is no right time for a learner to decide next steps after graduation.

If there isn't a clear path, prepare for the broadest possibilities.  Be careful not to short change the young adult. 

For learners who have an inkling of what they want to do post high school, they will move forward in that direction. As you help process their ideas, keep an open perspective. Be ready for change. An interest one semester may transform into a niche the following semester.  

One of our high school learners became interested in veterinarian medicine. She even considered this as a possible career path for a few months. We felt our next right step was talking with professionals in the field and preparing for a job shadowing experience or volunteer opportunity should either become available to her. In our brainstorming process, we considered several venues: a vet's office, a local clinic, and the county animal shelter. As part of our conversations, we came up with what questions which would be helpful should an opportunity to talk with a veterinarian present itself. Our questions included:

  • What universities are considered optimal for this profession?
  • What are the potential degree and career paths for this profession?
  • What classes or experiences were most helpful in the education process? 
  • What are the specialty ares of this field of study?
  • What would you, as a professional, recommend for a young adult pursuing this career?

While present at on-site opportunities—job shadowing, volunteering, or internships—our high schoolers are encouraged to be mindful and open to how they can bring value to the host while present. This might include offering to fold clean towels or empty trash cans. We also encourage our young adults to observe office etiquette and practices (real-life learning at its best). Along these lines, we suggest visiting several venues within the same niche as well as any which are closely related or dependent upon the specialty. In the case of veterinary medicine, specialties may include veterinary oncology or ophthalmology. From the varied experiences, the learner is able to compare office practices and evaluate care from a broader perspective. Ultimately, these experiences may allow the learner to narrow his or her potential field of study while earning high school electives.

Experiential learning in high school is as valuable as in the elementary and middle school years. 

When thinking about elective credits, parents and learners can take into account the acquisition of life skills while also considering the academic admission requirements of the learner’s top choice universities. This consideration is—from our experience—extremely important and often overlooked. Colleges of interest frequently get deleted from the list of potentials for many reasons. Sometimes it’s the test scores which make the choice seem out of reach. Other times it’s the foreign language requirement. There are a plethora of other reasons, too. However, perhaps the most common reason parents tell us they eliminated a university from the list of possibilities is the belief that the cost of the education is beyond the financial reach of the family. Mike and I encourage parents and young adults to keep every potential school on the list of consideration, even if attendance seems out of reach for some reason. In doing so, students will be prepared academically for admission to all their choice colleges come application season. We know learners who desired to attend private, out-of-state schools who eventually were awarded full room and board for four years based on academic merit, community service, or in one situation, a drawing at a college fair! 

The interests of your learner. I find it ironic that elementary-aged children are often encouraged to explore their interests, yet as the middle and high school years loom on the horizon, the tune changes. When it does, students, parents, and educators tend to concentrate on core courses (with good reason) while pushing strengths and giftings to the side. Yet, often those strengths and giftings are the very elements which learners need to be successful adults--not to mention reduce the stress of some tougher core courses. Wouldn't it be wonderful if--during the middle and high school years--students, parents, and teachers could find ways for learners to complete required courses while also engaging in and exploring interests and strengths? 

As home education evaluators and consultants, Mike and I have seen AMAZING outcomes for young adults who have had opportunities to complete required core courses (and therefore be eligible for college admission at schools of their choice) while also delving into areas of interest.

While studying algebra, history, and biology, our third high schooler continued to build the business she started in middle school. In doing so, she was able to complete core courses while also learning important small business skills: purchasing and crafting inventory, budgeting and filing taxes, investigating advertising, setting up a website, and showcasing inventory at craft shows and expos. Her income allowed her to purchase her own clothing, save money, and tithe to church. To manage her income and expenses, she created a spreadsheet where she recorded her finances. Personal Finance found its way on the transcript that year, right under the algebra, American history, and biology.

The current life season of your family. When my grandmother was terminally ill, we spent four months visiting and researching facilities--navigating pros and cons of each--as Gram's needs changed. In addition, we visited Grammy three times a week, caring for her and connecting with her "friends" in each facility. We talked with care workers about what they did and how they obtained their education and professional licensing. As evaluation time rolled around, I couldn't even begin to remember all we did. But, my high schooler did! In fact, she asked whether all she had taken part in and learned could be used for credit. GREAT question! And after discussing all she learned and researching high school and college course equivalent to what she completed, I titled the course Cares and Concerns of the Elderly. Definitely an eye-catcher on her transcript. You can read more about how this course came about in this blog post. 

What situations are upon your family? How can those normal, every day opportunities become credit? For example, if you're painting your house, your learners are learning how to calculate the amount of paint needed, research paint types, buy good tools (good quality tools make the job go well), use and care for tools properly, run a pressure washer, trim paint small areas, roll on paint, clean rollers and brushes, and store tools so they can be in good condition for the next project. The list is endless. As we tackle painting the outside of our home this week, I stepped up our ladder thinking, this is real-life home economics (though in the past I titled the course home maintenance and repair). If you need to tackle a home project and don't know where to begin, model for your children how to find an expert in the field (read more about this here) or search for an online tutorial. These are important research skills your learners will need in life. 

What are the elective possibilities for your young adult? Begin observing what the learner is already doing? Where are the areas to which he or she gravitates? Are there real-life activities and opportunities in which he or she is participating? Considering interests, strengths, and aspirations as well as the admission requirements of the high schooler’s top college choices will return great rewards as the high school years come to a close.

A last note for consideration...

What about excessive credits? 

As Mike and I have worked with families over the past twenty-three years, there have been a few cases in which a student has earned excessive credits--more than 35 credits! In other words, the reader of the transcript would wonder if the learner ever slept. However, this has been only a few scenarios. In those situations, parents were able to include content from one course into another already existing course without being accused of credit inflation. It is possible for homeschooled students to earn more credits than the average student. This is acceptable if indeed the credit is not inflated. 

For more information on documenting elective course work, check out part 3.

Needing ideas for elective course titles? Click on over to Part 2. 

This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children. 

This refreshed post was originally published December 2016.

What is a Picture Book?

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A picture book is a work which combines literary eloquence with artistic merit--words and illustrations--working together to tell a story. Generally, picture books are written with 200-800 words (depending on the age of the targeted audience) on 28-32 pages. Historically, picture books have been written to the preschool through mid-elementary audience, yet these masterfully crafted gems speak to the hearts of readers of all ages. 

Wordless picture books. A wordless picture book is just that, a book without words. The illustrations alone tell the story, unless, of course, the person holding the book chooses to imagine and craft the text. One of the Bastian's favorite wordless picture books is Jerry Pinkney's extraordinary The Lion and the Mouse, a retelling of Aesop's classic tale. This treasure won the 2010 Caldecott Medal for its illustrative excellence. 

If your younger readers enjoy visual storytelling or prefer to create their own storylines based on provided illustrations, these wordless picture books may add some spark to your morning read-aloud time. 

  • Briggs, Raymond, The Snowman
  • Spier, Peter, Noah's Ark
  • Spier, Peter, Rain

Concept picture books. Little learners devour information, especially if content is presented with a twist of fun or catchy repetitive phrases and rhythmic rhyme. With this engaging, low-stress presentation, picture books can teach age-appropriate concepts (colors, numbers, opposites, and letters) to eager, curious littles. 

Children ages 2-8 enjoy learning concepts through topics of interest, for example, cowboys, insects, or construction vehicles. Concept picture books make this possible and do so through relaxing moments with resources which foster both early learning and literacy.

  • Alakija, Polly, Counting Chickens

  • Carle, Eric, 10 Rubber Ducks

  • Demarest, Chris, The Cowboy ABC

  • Demarest, Chris, Firefighter A to Z

  • Emberley, Barbara, Drummer Hoff

  • Krull, Kathleen, M is for Music

  • Laroche, Giles, If You Lived Here: Houses of the World

  • McMillan, Bruce, Jelly Beans for Sale

  • Pallotta, Jerry, The Icky Bug Alphabet Book

  • Schnur, Steven, Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic

  • Wadsworth, Olive A., Over in the Meadow: A Counting Rhyme

Traditional picture books. I remember the librarian reading Blueberries for Sal as I sat imagining the smell of fresh muffins cooling in the kitchen. Through the unfolding plot of the the book, I could feel the fear Sal felt as she wandered off in the field and could no longer see her mom. Sal became my friend. I hoped she would find her mom, cheered her on as she met a mama bear. This is just one of the classics I associate with read-aloud time and school library visits. As a young mom, I couldn't wait to introduce my children to my literary pal, Sal.

Traditional picture books invite readers into the story, into the lives of the characters. While reading, listeners develop empathy and understanding of others' feelings and circumstances, almost without knowing the transformation is taking place. For this reason, picture books become a child's first experience with the power of story. Together as a family, we've jumped into the plots of Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens, and Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.

Should you be a time and life season where you are building your home library, here are some must-have picture books to brighten up your shelves. 

  • Ackerman, Karen, Song and Dance Man

  • Brett, Jan, Town Mouse and Country Mouse

  • Brown, Marcia, Stone Soup

  • Burton, Virginia Lee, Katy and the Big Snow

  • Burton, Virginia Lee, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

  • Burton, Virginia Lee, The Little House

  • Cooney, Barbara, Miss Rumphius

  • Estes, Eleanor, The Hundred Dresses

  • Galdone, Paul, The Gingerbread Boy

  • Gramatky, Hardie, Little Toot

  • Hoban, Russell and Lillian, Bread and Jam for Frances

  • Keats, Ezra Jack, The Snowy Day

  • Keats, Ezra Jack, Whistle for Willie

  • Krauss, Ruth, The Carrot Seed

  • LaMarche, Jim, The Raft

  • McCloskey, Robert, Lentil

  • Newberry, Clare Turlay, Barkis

  • Swift, Hildegarde, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge

  • Ward, Helen, Unwitting Wisdom: An Anthology of Aesop’s Fables

  • Ward, Lynd, The Biggest Bear

  • Yolan, Jane, Owl Moon

Biographical picture books. Our older picture book readers (which includes mom!) enjoy reading about real people who solve real problems. With biographical picture books, young readers don't have to wait until they can read chapter books to read about and meet some of the world's most significant history changers. Our favorites have included

  • Dooling, Michael, Young Thomas Edison

  • Moses, Will, Mary and Her Little Lamb

  • Martin, Jacqueline Briggs, Snowflake Bentley

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Every child ought to know the pleasure of words so well chosen that they awaken sensibility, great emotions, and understanding of truth.
— Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart, Zondervan, 2002, p. 18

What is a picture book?

A picture book invites readers into learning and into the stories of others, gently, peacefully, and purposefully. There will be pondering. There will be wonder. There will heart-changing impact, sometimes so subtly it will go unnoticed for a bit of time. 

Some of our most treasured family read-aloud moments and discussions have come from the pages we've turned together. With each book selected, read, placed on our shelves, and the read again, a legacy formed. That legacy is sweet, precious, unique to our family, as it will be yours. That story legacy is a gift, a gift which will continue to span generations. It is just one benefit of keeping learning real and relational. 

Every. Moment. Matters. 

I recently presented Picture Book Treasures at the 2018 FPEA Convention. If you would like more information on picture books and building a home library, the MP3 can be purchased in the FPEA store

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When Curriculum Looks Different

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People often ask what we use for curriculum.

The short answer? We use anything which will help our children learn what it is they are trying to learn. And, if it involves real life, even better.

Sometimes our curriculum looks traditional, like a math textbook.

Other times our curriculum is a stack of Living Books.

A few months ago, my middle schooler initiated a flower bed renovation project. She wanted a flower garden to call her own, a place she could eventually grow cut flowers. A few visits to the clearance section of the local garden shop and she had rescued several very nice—but wilting—flowers (aka curriculum). With a little research in a field guide and a how-to online tutorial (more curriculum), the plants were thriving.

Today we added a few more resources to the curriculum—a collection of solar garden lights. Before placing them in the bed, we experimented with them in a dark room. So fun! The littlest learners were enthralled!

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“Flashlights without batteries!” one shouted.

Curriculum incorporates all that a learner uses to learn the content of a specific subject. Though we are often tempted to stay within the means of what we know or have experienced as curriculum, in real-life the definition of curriculum broadens to include any materials used to foster a student’s understanding.

The possibilities are endless.

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Consider broadening your sense of what curriculum includes. Maybe it’s

When learning is real, relational and intentional it's remembered! 

Every. Moment. Matters.

REAL-LIFE Spelling

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I had a hard time spelling when I was a child. It was hard. Red marks plagued my weekly tests. 

Though I understand the reasoning behind word families and traditional methods--I learned the pedagogy as an educator--I've been reminded that theory and practice are not always instant friends. Like any teaching means or method, nothing works for every child. 

It didn't work for me. It hasn't worked for all my children. 

Several of my children and I learned to spell by seeing correctly spelled words--and using the correctly spelled words in written context--over and over.

In other words,

repetition in real-life context returned the greatest retention. 

Perhaps you have a child who learns best by experiencing the written word in real life, in context in the environment.This post is for YOU! 

Yesterday as I prepared to visit the grocery store, a young learner asked to make my shopping list. I accepted the offer. She made the list and later spelled a few several times in her spelling book. The list provided access and practice to high-frequency (used often), real-life words, words which would be used over and over in her lifetime. The result? Spelling for the day. And, it mattered. 

Learning wasn't just a list, it was life! 

Today my daughter asked for more grocery words. I stopped what I was doing and quickly looked for a grocery ad to help us develop a list of words she thought were important. Her perception of what words mattered or would be helpful to her later in life fueled her desire to learn. Ultimately, she realized the words would one day help her make lists for shopping visits and the correct spelling would be important. She had taken ownership of her learning. 

A desire to help + real-life need = learning with purpose

Grocery words may not interest your child. Instead, words of interest may be might be tied to simple machines, clothing, computers, or art. Start with an interest to discover learning with purpose. 

If food words are of interest to your learner, here's a leveled list we created. 

Grocery spelling for beginning spellers

  • pie
  • tea
  • bag
  • pea
  • ham
  • nuts
  • can
  • corn
  • apple
  • fish
  • leek
  • beef
  • beet
  • salt
  • ice
  • rice
  • pork
  • meat
  • milk
  • beans
  • pita
  • cake
  • roll
  • egg
  • oil
  • dip

Grocery spelling for intermediate spellers

  • blueberry
  • strawberry
  • banana
  • pumpkin
  • ketchup
  • sushi
  • fruit
  • water
  • yogurt
  • celery
  • peanut
  • dairy
  • butter
  • cream
  • juice
  • sauce
  • pasta
  • grain
  • cereal
  • olive
  • carrot
  • apple
  • squash
  • grapes
  • orange
  • juice
  • lemon
  • pepper
  • coffee
  • muffin
  • cookie
  • cheese
  • bacon
  • steak
  • roast
  • mango
  • salad
  • lettuce
  • crackers
  • onion
  • pudding
  • pizza
  • biscuit
  • turkey
  • chicken
  • lentil

Grocery spelling for advanced spellers

  • fillet
  • burrito
  • lasagna
  • mushroom
  • cucumber
  • pierogi
  • detergent
  • charcoal
  • sandwich
  • pastry
  • salami
  • cheesecake
  • mozzarella
  • grapefruit
  • asparagus
  • raspberry, raspberries
  • avocado
  • pineapple
  • potato, potatoes
  • tomato, potatoes
  • broccoli
  • sausage
  • salmon
  • tilapia
  • shrimp
  • tenderloin
  • margarine
  • edamame
  • vegetables
  • batteries
  • sirloin
  • bakery
  • expresso
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Extended Learning

  • Use a weekly grocery ad to make a list of foods needed for three meals a day, for seven days. 
  • Write words on index cards. Choose ten of greatest interest and copy those on a white or chalkboard, twice a day. Younger learners may enjoy writing the words with chalk on the driveway or with a finger in a sand tray. 
  • Make a word search. There are word search generators online. 
  • Play grocery Scrabble. Only food or grocery words are eligible for play and the weekly grocery ad may be used during play. 
  • Take a behind the scenes tour of your local grocery store. 
  • Take a factory tour of a milk product processing plant near you. Our local grocery store has a processing plant an hour and a half from our home. It is amazing! 
  • Visit a U-Pick farm. 

Read Grocery-Related Picture and Non-Fiction Books

Hearing grocery-related words spoken and used in context--builds knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure as well as provides a means by which math, science, and history content can be gained in a relaxed setting. Hearing content in context often keeps curiosity engaged and wonder active. 

  • Milk: From Cow to Carton, Aliki
  • From Milk to Cheese, Roberta Basel
  • From Tomato to Ketchup, Roberta Basel
  • Eating the Alphabet, Lois Ehlert
  • Growing Vegetable Soup, Lois Ehlert
  • The Fruits We Eat, Gail Gibbons
  • The Milk Makers, Gail Gibbons
  • The Vegetables We Eat, Gail Gibbons
  • From Seed to Plant, Gail Gibbons
  • Bread and Jam for Frances, Russell Hoban
  • Blueberries for Sal, Robert McCloskey
  • The Vegetable Alphabet Book, Jerry Pallotta 
  • Tops and Bottoms, Janet Stevens

If the interest in everyday food words grows to an interest in farming, check out this post on our favorite farm books

Spelling can be real, relational, and intentional.

It matters! 

Field Trip Learning with Multiple Ages

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Dad's first day of Spring Break invited us all--six learners ages 2-20 and two parents--into an educational extravaganza. We visited the Lego exhibit at Leu Gardens. 

Learning surrounds us. It's part of life. Gathered around the kitchen table working math problems, we often forget the rich learning which takes place when we venture out, walk through life together and learn.

Last Friday,  as we marveled at Lego creations and smelled Sweet Alyssum, I remembered how much littles (and bigs) need field trips, time out and about to learn together.

While on our Lego garden adventure, 

  • the youngest learners instinctively balanced on the curbs and looked for rabbits. We didn't stop to run or roll down the hills, though it would have benefited their vestibular development. On another visit, we will definitely leave time to run and roll! 
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  • the elementary learners compared the number of bricks in each sculpture. This allowed for practical comparison of place value and oral practice of reading and saying numbers over ten thousand. 
  • the learners, together, marveled at the patterns in the Lego sculptures. While we oohed and ahhed, we deepened our appreciation for one another and the things each considers beautiful. 
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  • the learners worked together to navigate the map to find the places they wanted to visit. When they had a question, we encouraged them to consult an older sibling. While navigating, heading to the north forest, we heard owls hooting above our heads. We stopped, looked in between branches and gazed at these magnificent birds. We watched as two owls called out their territory and then had a brief altercation with their talons right above our heads! The youngest learners asked great questions as their curiosity was sparked. I am glad we took time to look up! 
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  • the middle schooler with a current interest in horticulture, stopped to read signage which explained foliage. She took pictures of plants she wanted to incorporate into our yard. 
  • the high schooler and college student enjoyed taking pictures of the amazing blooms, chatting about life as they walked along. I loved watching them spend time together and marveling at the wonder their siblings were taking in. 

While visiting the gardens, I was also reminded me that children often tell us what they need. The key is listening (and not having an agenda--ouch!). After walking about an hour, the littlest--map still in hand and spying a nice shady hill--interjected her thoughts,

"I think we need a picnic!"

She articulated her need to stop, sit, and enjoy a snack. Honestly, we all benefited from the refreshing break. Snacks eaten, we headed out for the second part of the self-guided tour. 

After walking and enjoying the outdoors for three hours, we headed to the car. The youngest cried. We instantly thought, "She's ready to go home!" Instead, when I asked about her sadness she said, "I didn't see any rabbits!" Dad decided we should stop at the library on the way home and check out some rabbit books. Tears disappeared and a smile returned to her face. 

A stop at the library was a perfect way to close out our day together. 

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What learning adventures await your family today? Maybe nature walks? Maybe puddles? Perhaps something which will come about spontaneously.

Whatever that learning adventure is, may it be one which is memorable for your family. 

Every. Moment. Matters!  

The Volunteer Advantage

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Colleges and universities LOVE applicants with volunteer experience. These opportunities tell how the high schooler used his or her time, in other words, how the young adult spent his or her hours outside of books and traditional learning environments. In fact, some colleges value community service so highly that they are offering scholarships for accomplishments in service. 

And, some states--like ours--require volunteer service for merit scholarships. 

Knowing what universities look for regarding community service and researching your state's merit scholarship may prove beneficial to your high school learner.

Al Nunez, Director of Admissions at Illinois Institute of Technology, was interviewed for the November 12, 2013 issue of U.S. News and World Report. In that interview he encouraged students to highlight their accomplishments.


Applying to a university is your time to brag about yourself. Talk about all the things that you’ve done, including jobs, including whether you’ve volunteered at your church or did community service.

Why volunteer?

  • Volunteer opportunities offer opportunities for high schoolers to learn more about themselves and impact the lives of other people.
  • Community service may provide leadership opportunities. Colleges and universities are looking for applicants who have taken on leadership roles. 
  • High schoolers preferring hands-on, experiential learning with interpersonal interactions can thrive in these environments. Truly, this can be an area where kinesthetic learners can thrive.
  • Service opportunities can help high schoolers fine tune what they enjoy, how they learn best, and what career field they may want to pursue. 
  • Volunteer opportunities also make great experiential stories for application essays.
  • When the time comes to request letters of recommendation for college admission, professionals and supervisors who have worked with the high schooler through volunteer opportunities may be willing to write on the applicant's behalf, commenting about work ethic, acquired skills, and character.

As evaluators, we've enjoyed the company of high school young adults who've benefited from the volunteer advantage. One particular young lady we know served thousands (no exaggeration) of hours which provided her a competitive advantage and helped her land a $25,000 scholarship. 

Why NOT volunteer?

Service hours are just that, opportunities to serve with a sincere heart. They are not requirements or obligations to meet. Often there are people on the receiving end and those people matter. People are not projects or resume enhancements and they don't want to be served with that type of attitude. When volunteer hours become boxes to check off, they are no longer means by which to serve with empathy and compassion. 

In addition, often community service becomes a means by which the parent-child relationship is strained. We all fall into the nagging "Did you log your hours?" trap at one time or another. Stress and fear will affect our high schooler's attitudes toward service. When we do, it is time to back up and reflect on that matters.

Where volunteer? 

Volunteering, like many other aspects of the high school years, is another venue to build relationship and communication skills. Brainstorm ideas together. Talk about volunteer etiquette. Role play requests or phone interviews.

These ideas may be talking points. 

  • serve at local animal shelters
  • raise and train service animals
  • sort groceries in food pantry or shelter
  • serve meals at homeless shelter
  • serve as a police explorer
  • provide service at local horse barn 
  • serve in local teen court
  • help with registration and water distribution for marathons and fun runs. 
  • deliver Meals-on-Wheels
  • serve with Special Olympics or local Down's syndrome chapter (graduate schools often host these types of events)
  • read to children in children's home or residents in assisted living and memory care facilities
  • create floral arrangements for church altar
  • weed flower beds for non-profit or local recreation center
  • be a safety ambassador for National Safety Council
  • design a website for church or local non-profit organization
  • provide counter or concession help for sports events
  • place flags on grave sites of veterans
  • tutor elementary students
  • collect clothing and non-perishables for shelters and crisis centers
  • work with a political campaign 
  • serve on a building team for Habitat for Humanity
  • be a mentor with Big Brothers, Big Sisters
  • serve as a junior assistant coach for youth sports
  • collect food or other needed items for animal shelters 
  • prepare a meal or care packs at Ronald McDonald homes (usually near children's hospitals)
  • pack meals for hurricane or typhoon relief
  • gather crayons, small tablets, or other items for pew packs to be given to small worshippers.
  • usher at local theater 
  • work at the local library
  • volunteer at local science center
  • serve at wildlife rehabilitation or Audubon center
  • provide musical entertainment or puppetry at assisted living and memory care centers
  • play or sing with church worship teams
  • serve on disaster relief teams
  • sew costuming for theatrical performances
  • construct music or theater sets
  • provide babysitting or childcare for Bible studies, MOPS meetings, or parent meetings
  • plan a birthday celebration for residents at assisted living center

Like many aspects of the high school experience, not all colleges require or put equal weight on the same admission requirements. Princeton ranks admission requirements here. Research and knowledge are important. What is beneficial to one learner will not be beneficial to another. 

Will volunteer and community service benefit your high schooler? 

The answer will be unique to your high schooler and may be only conversations and clicks away. Your efforts will make a difference, not only for your high school learner but also for the people who are blessed to benefit from his or her sincere service.

YOU can celebrate high school! 

 

The contents of this post are meant to share personal experience and are not intended to be legal or educational advice. 

 

 

High School Credit for Work Experience

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“Can I count my high schooler’s work experience for credit?”

In the course of a week, three parents asked me this question. One in particular came through the Celebrate High School Facebook community.

The answer is multi-faceted, unique to state requirements and learner’s educational and career path.

First, parents must know and understand their responsibilities and freedoms under their state home education statute.

Find out

  • Are home educated students in your state required to meet state graduation requirements?
  • Does your state statute allow parents to oversee coursework and determine course credit?
  • Are parents given the freedom to create titles for courses or must the state DOE titles be used (as is the case with some private schools)?

The answers to those questions will contribute to your decision making process.


The second step in the process of deciding whether or not to award credit for work experience is to determine what the high schooler gained from his or her employment. Life skills? Knowledge? Personal development? The gains vary greatly dependent upon the high schooler's motivation, work ethic, job title, and employment requirements. Again, this is highly individual. 

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Determine Gains

Conversation with your high schooler is essential in the process of determining the gains. Why? Likely, as with most parents, you are not on the job with your learner to see and hear what he or she encounters or discovers. Engage in discussion. Ask questions. Listen for the young adult's passions, likes, and dislikes without condemnation. Often as young adults process, they need someone to mirror back or clarify what they expressed. I find it helpful to remind myself that when my middle and high schoolers share feelings, they are processing, perhaps sharing thoughts for the first time. The thoughts and feelings shared matter to them and when I ask clarifying questions, they often come to a better understanding of the situation. As you walk the journey with your middle or high schooler, not only will the gains of the current job become known, but the relationship between you and your teen will have great potential for growth as well. 

To help determine what skills and knowledge were acquired by the employment--the experiential learning opportunity--consider asking your high schooler:

What skills he or she feels were learned as a result of the work experience?

This is one of those occasions when I encourage parents to make a bullet-point list of skills and content the high schooler learned. Seeing the visual list often clarifies gains and aids in determining a course title which is specific and accurate to the experience. Examples may include Equine Science (barn assistant who interacts with equine professionals, observes or oversees equine care and nutrition), Nutrition and Wellness (assistant to a personal trainer), or String Ensemble (member of string quartet playing for weddings and special events).

Are the skills focused on a specific content area or are the skills broad, focused toward soft skill and personal growth development?

Looking over the content acquired, determine whether the skills were specific to an area of study (paid position at a zoological park) or broad, general and related to successful movement to adulthood (time management, personal growth, and communication skills). The difference may be titling the course Zoological Studies or Personal and Career Development.

Did the high schooler earn accolades, awards, or hold specific leadership roles (positional or managerial titles) associated with the experience? 

For example, if your young adult is a shift manager there are likely managerial and leadership skills involved in what he or she does while on site. Perhaps a course title like Managerial Leadership, Leadership Strategies and Techniques, or Exploration in Culinary Management might be suitable. 

Our daughter became a self-employed, small business owner in middle school. She continued to build her business through the high school years. Not only did she create and keep track of inventory, she registered her business with the state, filed quarterly sales tax, figured profit and loss statements, kept a running log of sales and inventory, opened a checking account, built a website, handled emails, filled orders, and participated in craft venues. She earned money, but she also gained knowledge and work experience. With integrity, I awarded her one credit in Business and Entrepreneurial Principles.

Our journey of awarding credit for paid work experience hasn’t come without criticism. Yours won’t either. In fact, you may have been told you can’t double dip —count paid work experience as high school credit. 

"You can't double dip!"

This happened to me. A well-meaning veteran homeschool mom informed me I couldn’t use work experience for credit. I listened. Yet, as a Mom who has the freedom to oversee our children’s education, knowing the life lessons and knowledge my young adults were gaining in their paid employment opportunities, I set out to research. It just didn't seem right not to be able to obtain credit from such rich, valuable life experience. 

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Credit Worthy

I discovered my state provides the right for me--as a registered home educator--to oversee the education of my children. In that freedom, I am able to decide what can be deemed credit worthy and I can title mastered content accordingly. I could not ignore the fact that my high schoolers were engaged in learning while on the job. And, with the valuable conversations Mike and I were having with our high schoolers, we knew they were learning content not taught in a traditional textbooks or acquired through lecture. The skills and content they were learning required experience--opportunity to do, decide, make mistakes, and to try again--often under the guidance of a mentor or the supervision of a professional in a career area. In addition, I observed our high schoolers applying what they learned in the work setting to other areas of their lives. They would summarize what they learned on any given day, share their thoughts about what they experienced, and ask questions about things that intrigued them. Our discussions led to discovering deeper life truths as well the building of grit, growth mindset, and personal emotional intelligence—some of the most valuable assets to adulthood and future employment.


What our learners were gaining on the job was credit worthy. 


In my mind, the experiences—the content learned while on the job interfacing with professionals—was credit worthy, regardless of whether or not the high schooler was paid. Essentially, the learner was paid to learn!

If life is learning and learning is life-long, it made sense to me that I could confer credit.

Our second son was invited to apply for a summer job as a teacher’s assistant at a preschool. I knew the Director and many of the teachers who worked at the school. In fact, I had worked there as a high schooler and my experience became a catalyst for my choice to pursue early childhood education. Knowing the value of my personal experience, I encouraged our son to apply for the position. Yes, he would earn a paycheck, but he would be mentored by knowledgeable staff who knew the developmental needs of young children.

Art camp began and indeed our son came home each day recounting his experiences. He commented on the conversations teachers had with students, how they listened and responded with open ended questions. He observed as teachers fostered curiosity and intentionally planned activities to promote wonder. His understandings of the developmental stages of art came from comparing preschooler's line drawings and seeing beaming smiles of accomplishment. Learning was experiences, not just memorized facts. In addition, he was learned about classroom management, developmentally appropriate art experiences, and the profession of early childhood education.

The summer came to a close and he was invited to remain on staff for the next school year. He would be the outside assistant--the preschool physical education overseer. He accepted. This change in position brought opportunities to observe the stages of motor development in real life. He watched children progress from running to galloping, from climbing stairs one foot at a time to alternating feet. He knelt down beside children who poured sand in funnels and floated boats in water tables. We talked about discoveries he watched children make and asked me about my experiences with children on the spectrum. The knowledge he gained through his experiences at the preschool were some of the very same things I studied in my college early childhood college courses.

At that moment, I realized the fifteen hours a week he was working at the preschool was preparing him with life skills of time management, communication skills, and workplace etiquette, but it was also equipping him with a foundation of knowledge in the area of early childhood development. In his junior year, I awarded him one credit in Introduction to Early Childhood Education.

Where is your learner employed? Maybe it is the local hardware store where knowledge of tools and home repair are prerequisite for employment. Maybe your high schooler was hired as a shift manager at a local eatery, managing and overseeing a team of co-workers. No matter where your young adult is employed, consider the skills being acquired, the career-related vocabulary being obtained, the decision making involved as part of the job, the conversations being had between coworkers and employers, and subject content being mastered through the opportunity. No doubt much more is being learned than you or your student imagined! 

Titles Speak Volumes

Generally high schools title work experience Executive Internship or Work Study. These are broad brush titles which say nothing about the student or content. However, if the home educating parent has the freedom to title courses, course titling can be strategic, mirroring the student’s interest and the content knowledge gained. Here is a small sampling of title examples. 

Arts

Creative Photography

Studio Arts

Printmaking

Dance Technique

Dance Performance

Dance Kinesiology

Choreography

Eurhythmics

Music Performance (use specific instrument in titles if appropriate)

Music Ensemble 

Jazz Ensemble

Chamber Orchestra

Music Internship

Music Composition and Arrangement

Musical Theater and Production

Music Technology and Sound Engineering

Theater Production

Cinematography

Technical Theater

Set Production

Acting

Theater Management

Print and Broadcast Media

Library Media Services

Journalism

Digital Art Imaging

Digital Media Design

Video Production

Visual Technology

Computer Sciences

Applied Computer and Information Technology

Information Technology

Business and Entrepreneurial

Business Principles

Marketing Strategies

Marketing Principles

Managerial Principles

Health Sciences

Nutrition and Wellness

Food Service

Human Growth and Development

Introduction to Early Childhood Education

Personal and Career Development

Capstone or Cornerstone Projects

Capstone Seminar

Capstone Research

Consider the course titles provided in this blog post about electives. 

This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children. 

 

Transferring AP, Dual Enrollment, and CLEP Credits

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Accelerated credit—earning early college credit while in high school—is often referred to as advanced credit or credit exemption. The most common accelerated learning options include dual enrollment, Advanced Placement (AP), and College Level Examination Program (CLEP).

Dual Enrollment

Dual enrollment allows learners to earn high school and college credits simultaneously, before graduating from high school. Although dual enrollment can be a great option, it is not the best option for all learners.

Credit Exemption Options

Credit exemption by means of testing is another acceleration mechanism. Examples include AP and CLEP.  Parents and students should be aware that colleges and universities adopt institution specific guidelines for accepting accelerated credit by exam and often post test score and course exemptions on their websites. Knowing what will and will not be accepted can save time and money. 

  • Advanced Placement (AP) equates to college credit if the student takes the corresponding AP exam and scores well. Acceptable scores and the college credit earned with those scores varies from university to university. For example, Stetson University offers a chart stating scores, credits earned, and courses which may be substituted for the earned scores. 
  • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) is sponsored by the College Board. Though some colleges and universities accept all CLEP exam credits--there are 33 tests available--others have specific guidelines as to which exams they will honor. Again, it is helpful to search a university's website to find out the details. 

To find out whether a learner's college of choice accepts dual enrollment, AP, or CLEP, search for a universitiy's transfer of credits statement on the school's website. Most universities devote a whole page to transfer of credit guidelines with links specific to their campus. 

This list may help get you started in your quest. 

Bellhaven University

Clemson University - AP

Florida State University

Georgia State University - AP

Georgia State University - CLEP

Harvard College

Iowa State - AP

Iowa State - CLEP

Kansas State

Kansas University - AP

Kennesaw State University

Louisiana State university

Miami-Dade College - AP

Miami-Dade - CLEP

Miami University of Ohio

Michigan State University

Millersville University -AP

Penn State University - CLEP

Purdue University - AP

Purdue University - CLEP

Rollins College

Seton Hall University

Stetson University

Texas A&M - CLEP

Thomas Edison State University

University of Alabama

University of Florida - AP 

University of Florida - Credit by Examination

University of Florida - Transfer Statement

University of Kentucky - CLEP

University of Maryland - CLEP

University of Massachusetts - CLEP

University of Minnesota - CLEP

University of Montana - CLEP

University of Nebraska - CLEP

University of North Florida

University of Oklahoma

University of Oklahoma - CLEP

University of Tennessee

Wheaton College

Wofford College - AP

Looking for the home education admission requirements for colleges and universities? Check out this blog post. 

Just one more reason why

EVERY. MOMENT. MATTERS. 

even in the high school years!

This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children. 

Dual Enrollment? Not So Fast

Dual enrollment offers learners opportunity to earn high school and college credits--simultaneously--before graduating from high school.

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It's a great option for some students.

But, it isn't the best option for all students.

Yes, sign me up! (the Pros)

  • Free or reduced tuition for college-level courses.
  • Experience campus life.
  • Offers student opportunity to learn course content in the student's area of interest.
  • Student's enrolled get to learn what goes into completing college work.
  • Allows colleges and universities to validate a student ready and capable of handling college-level material.
  • May improve a student's weighted GPA. 
  • May equate to graduating from college early. 
  • Evaluation (grade and credit) based on the entire course, not on single test performance. 

Not so fast! (the Cons)

  • While there's money to save, there may not be savings in the long run. Be sure to research what courses are needed for a degree and if credits will transfer. 
  • Not all learners are ready to walk on campus alongside older students. Perhaps, inquire about online options.
  • Not all admission advisors are versed in the prerequisites for specific college majors, hence some courses may be taken and "wasted". Parents should stand ready to know the requirements of a learner's four-year degree (or possible majors) and double check advisor guidance. 
  • Not all credits may be accepted; some courses in the major area may be required to be completed where degree will be earned. Check transfer policies like this one for UNF. 
  • Excess hours may be costly
  • Some colleges won't accept all dual enrolled courses. Research and ask questions to avoid unnecessary surprises. 
  • Grades earned become part of a permanent college transcript. 

Some of the biggest mistakes we have seen families make are:

Not knowing degree requirements. We know students who weren't sure of future major take an introductory science course (generally without a lab and worth three college credits)--Introduction to Biological Sciences, for example--thinking it would be easier, only to find out once the major was declared the lab science was required. The student sat through another science--Biology in most of the cases we know--again.

Starting dual enrollment too early. It is wise that parents remember DE grades become a permanent part of the college transcript. We personally know quite a few families wishing they had waited to dual enroll their students--especially for foreign language--because doing so compromised their learner's GPA. And, in some cases, being on the President's list (with a 4.0) each semester of the AA has earned students merit scholarship when transferring to an institution to complete the Bachelor's.

For example, several young adults we mentor through annual evaluations decided to complete foreign language credit through dual enrollment. Each of them soared through the first semester, each earning an A. However, the second semester the students didn't fair as well because of the difficulty of the content. In the majority of those learners earned a C, compromising their overall college GPA. 

When our learners hit the high school years, we discussed accelerated credit options with each student. Each had different options to consider due to their varied after high school plans. For our learner who did dual enroll, I am thankful we did not consider foreign language as part of his dual enrollment plans. Why? At the end of earning 60+ hours for his AA, the university to which he was transferring offered him scholarship monies because he transferred to complete his Bachelor's with a 4.0 GPA--hence earning a spot on the President's list every semester. Could he have gotten A's in his foreign language classes at the state college? Possibly. Yet, thankfully we didn't take that gamble. 

Additional resources

If you are a Florida resident, consider this comparison of accelerated learning. 

Parents looking for additional research may want to refer to this article by The National Center for Postsecondary Research.

The decision to dual enroll should not be taken lightly. Each learner is unique in ability and maturity. In addition, some students find it more beneficial to focus their high school years in other directions--perhaps theater, entrepreneurship, or sports. Other learners will need the boost dual enrollment can provide. Dual enrollment is an individual family and learner decision and is worth every moment of research, questioning, and considering. 

YOU can celebrate high school by building and executing a plan unique to the individual learner. 

Just one more reason why

EVERY. MOMENT. MATTERS. 

even in the high school years! 

 

PSAT: Understanding the Scores

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Recently a parent asked me to help her understand the scoring of the PSAT. One of the first questions I asked her was what test her learner took. There are several tests with PSAT in the title (including PSAT8/9 and PSAT10), but only the scores of one test--the PSAT/NMSQT--can be used to qualify for the scholarship. Students usually take the PSAT/NMSQT in the Junior year. There are exceptions to this requirement of which parents should be aware. 

Though we talked about several aspects of the test and scoring, I encouraged her to connect with several reputable sites so she could better comprehend not only the scoring but also the National Merit Scholarship competition. 

First, I pointed her to several online resources which explain the scores of each of the PSAT tests: the Duke TIP identification program, the College Board's explanation of the PSAT8/9, the College Board's explanation of the PSAT10, the College Board's parent tutorial for scoring of the PSAT10, and the Princeton Review's scoring guide. 

Second, I encouraged her to learn more about the NMS competition itself. I pointed her to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation's website where she could read about how to enter the competition.

Third, I encouraged her to look over the Student Guide of the National Merit Scholarship Program. This guide is usually sent to school guidance counselors. Because the mom who asked me about scoring was a homeschooling mom, I knew she would be acting as her learner's guidance counselor (of sorts) and thought the guide would be helpful. 

With these resources at her fingertips, the inquiring mom could find the answers which best paralleled the unique questions she had for her learner. Working with hundreds of parents, one thing I have come to understand is that though there are some general questions most parents ask, parents also ask very specific questions based on the individual circumstances of a learner. Perhaps your questions are both general and student specific.

Be empowered! YOU are your learner's best advocate. 

Portfolio Possibilities: What to Include

To keep track of the volumes of work samples for four learners, I am trying something new this year. Well, it isn't really new. I tried it before, but unsuccessfully. 

I decided to give it another try. 

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Different season. It's working...so far! 

In our state, statute requires parents to keep work samples for their children. With four learners, the pile of completed work on my kitchen table grows daily. Books read. Papers completed. Field trip brochures.

If I don't tame the pile, it can get the best of me. 

This year, I am keeping my log of activities (another statutory requirement for our state) on the kitchen table where I can log conveniently. After logging, I place the samples in a plastic tote. Then, sometime over Christmas break, we will have a family sorting party. Each child will receive a binder for their samples. I pass out plastic sleeves for odd-shaped treasures. At the end of the sorting party, each child's portfolio begins to take shape. To lessen the stress, second semester work is placed directly in the binder after it's been logged. The end result will be a portfolio ready for our annual evaluation. 

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What is a sample? 

Samples. Every family interprets the meaning of samples differently. In 24 years of doing home education annual evaluations for other families, we've seen the full range of freedom in terms of samples. One family will bring 5 work samples for each subject while another family brings every.single.paper for every.single.subject. That's the freedom of the law. Parents decide what is needed for their family.

Sample examples. Traditional math lessons come to mind for many. It is what we remember from our school days. Yet, when considering other subjects in light of the variety of educational philosophies held by parents, the possibilities for samples grows. For families with a Charlotte Mason philosophy, there will be book lists and sketches, maybe a nature journal. For traditional textbook families, there will be notebooks of answers and solutions and lists of spelling practice. And those who learn on the road? They may have photos and travel brochures to attest to their learning highlights. 

Over the years, parents we've evaluated saved: 

  • math lessons and scratch work
  • writing or poetry samples
  • journal
  • research papers
  • article critiques
  • reading lists
  • magazine subscription listing
  • book reports or summaries
  • primary source document listing
  • documentary listing
  • lab reports
  • dissection reports and sketches
  • nature notebook
  • sketches
  • theater tickets 
  • movie reviews
  • photography
  • video clips
  • graphic arts samples
  • sports stats
  • sports videos
  • recipes
  • URLs from independent studies
  • community service hours
  • achievement award certificates

Some families happily eliminate paper, capturing everything digitally. In recent years during evaluations, we've swiped I-pads to view scanned work and flipped through PowerPoint presentations of field trips. Other families design digital scrapbooks. In our digital society, portfolio possibilities continue to grow. Be creative! If your family is learning on the go or on the road, consider how you might take advantage of digital technology. 

What about high school portfolios? 

I get this question often, especially since families come back to us year-after-year. As those families move into the high school years, they begin to feel the pressure of credits and college admission. To ease the pressure, I remind them that the types of work samples saved really doesn't change. The point of the portfolio is to show that the learner has made progress at a level commensurate to the ability (at least in our state).

Though the work samples saved during the high school years is generally the same as the elementary and middle school years, I do encourage parents to take special care to log titles and authors of books (in a digital document for easy interfacing to other documents) as well as community service hours (documented on company letterhead). Doing so can save time in the late junior and early senior year when families begin gathering college application documents.  

Taming paper trails doesn't have to be a full time job. I found doing a little bit each week helps keep my long-term sanity. I know you can tame yours as well. Perhaps keeping work samples in one place is a next right step in the positive direction. 

Citizen Science: Get Real with Learning

We like real learning. Learning which is practical, hands-on, experiential, with purpose. 

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Becoming a Citizen Scientist is one way children and young adults can immerse their studies in real science for real purposes. And, the projects integrate into almost every curriculum or can be used to create an independent study. Budding scientists dive in and dig as deep as their interest takes them. 

One of my high schooler learners participated in a local bird banding experience with an ornithologist who worked in a local park area. This particular learner is not a science guy. However, when he arrived home he couldn't stop talking about the experience. The opportunity brought his biology unit about birds, alive; and my son took part in real scientific research. 

Citizen Science projects can be found online. Simply type "citizen science projects" in a search engine. Here are a few to get started and jump start creative ways to integrate real science into the day. 

Citizen Science- Cornell Ornithology 

Science Buddies

National Wildlife Federation Wildlife Watch

10 Popular Citizen Science Projects

PBS Kids- Citizen Science

National Geographic

To enhance the study, think outside the box. 

  • Interview a scientist in the field of study.
  • Visit an aviary, aquarium, or arboretum and talk to the caretakers about what their work entails and what education was needed to work in the field.
  • Start a collection--rocks are a favorite--label and categorize.  
  • Start some porch science.
  • Talk with scientists at a local Audubon facility. 

And, as always, read a few good books! You never know when a little learner will grab ahold of an older learner's current study. Some of our elementary and middle learners love these hard-to-find science readers

Over the years, we have enjoyed: 

Are You A Grasshopper?, Judy Allen

All about Sharks, Jim Arnosky

Look Out for Turtles, Melvin Burger

Ant Cities, Arthur Dorros

Frogs, Gail Gibbons

Owls, Gail Gibbons

The Honey Makers, Gail Gibbons

Frogs and Polliwogs, Dorothy Childs Hogner

The Life and Times of the Bee, Charles Micucci

The Bird Alphabet Book, Jerry Pallotta

The Frog Alphabet Book, Jerry Pallotta

From Tadpole to Frog, Wendy Pfeffer

The Ant and the Grasshopper, Amy Lowry Poole

Cricketology, Michael Elsohn Ross

One Small Square: Backyard, Donald Silver

Sea Shells, Crabs, and Sea Stars, Christiane Kump Tibbitts

What Lives in A Shell?, Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Middle and high school learners may want to read a Living Book or biography to bring a personal connection to their Citizen Scientist project. Some of our favorites have been: 

Luther Burbank, Plant Magician, John Y Batey

Louis Pasteur: Founder of Microbiology, Mary June Burton

Ernest Thompson Seton, Naturalist, Shannon Garst

The Story of Louis Pasteur, Alida Sims Malkus

The Story of Marie Curie, Alice Thorne

 

 

Beating Afternoon Boredom

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Who doesn't battle afternoon boredom?

Let's not take a show of hands. Rest assured, my hand would be raised. 

You know the story. Three o'clock. Children squabbling. A high schooler STILL needs help with Algebra. And dinner? It's frozen on the counter! 

Afternoons can be hard. Yet, after years of beating afternoon boredom, I know the efforts I made toward defeating "I'm bored" syndromes--in myself as well as my children--mattered. In fact, hobbies launched and rediscovered interests became catalysts for entrepreneurial pursuits, high school courses, and career choices.

Beating afternoon boredom is worth every ounce of time and energy we can muster. 

At a recent mom's event, a group of ladies gathered after to ask me how our family beats the afternoon wearies. 

Our strategies varied with life seasons. 

When we had two eager, active boys, we: 

  • spent many afternoons outside. 
  • visited local parks. 
  • had Popsicle and wading pool parties--adding measuring cups, a bucket, and garden hose to change things up--as long as the weather allowed.
  • ran around outside playing with squirt guns.
  • played in the lawn sprinkler. Notice the hose and water trend?
  • read a book together while sitting on a blanket outside or on the couch inside.
  • took an afternoon bath with bubbles and wrote with shaving cream on the walls (great for practicing letter formation).
  • took nature scavenger hunts. 
  • played hopscotch or jumped rope. 
  • created with sidewalk chalk on the driveway. 
  • painted the garage door with water and paint brushes. 
  • tossed bean bags. 
  • bought a basketball hoop and gathered children from the neighborhood to play. 
  • played wiffle ball in the dead end street.
  • created with watercolors.
  • encouraged outdoor adventures and independent studies. 
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When we had lots of littles with a few bigs who needed afternoon help, we:

  • sat on the floor in the hallway across from the bathroom so I could supervise littles in the tub while also helping an older sibling with math or editing papers.
  • spread a blanket under a shade tree for afternoon tutoring while the littles rode bikes around the driveway or played hide-n-seek. 
  • listened to audio books, our favorites being Jim Weiss recordings and Your Story Hour, again while mom worked with the bigs.
  • offered play dough, pattern blocks, old magazines to cut, or watercolor paints. 
  • enjoyed playing in the sandbox while mom and older siblings sat nearby and completed math or mom edited papers. 
  • used masking tape to create a "village roadway" on the carpet so littles could build houses and garages for their toy cars and play "village". 
  • made a masking tape hopscotch on the carpet for littles to be active when weather wouldn't permit us to be outside. 
  • asked bigs to go on a date and take learning to new surroundings. 
  • discussed the plot and characters of a current read while running errands or taking a sibling to practice. 
  • encouraged bigs to work on independent studies. 
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When we had a menagerie of ages, we: 

  • enjoyed front porch read-aloud time. 
  • created with Lite Brite.
  • went to visit great-grandma. 
  • sat together on the couch and read books of interest. Farm study was always a favorite. 
  • took a teen or young adult on a date to talk about things that mattered to them. 
  • used a coupon and bought five pounds of clay at a local craft store. 
  • spent time at a local park or community swimming pool. 
  • made brownies for the elderly neighbor and went to visit. 
  • built a fort outside. 
  • dug a hole in the backyard (not my favorite or my idea, but it was sibling generated and encouraged collaboration and working together). 
  • made impromptu afternoon library runs. 
  • created something yummy in the kitchen, often to "surprise" Dad when he returned from work. 
  • made cards for family member's birthdays.
  • enjoyed spin art. 
  • cared for our porch science projects
  • spent the afternoon creating with watercolor. 
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Go ahead! Beat the afternoon boredom. YOU can do it! It will be worth your time and effort. 

And, in the process, your children and young adults will learn valuable life skills: time management; collaboration; communication and conflict resolution; work ethic; teamwork; working independently; and caring about others ideas, thoughts, and feelings. 

Ant Study

Our ants arrived!

It felt like Christmas complete with shouts of hooray and looks of wonder. 

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"Look at them move!"

"How will we get them out of the tube?"

"Let's read the directions!"

Questions. Comments. Ideas. 

Just a week before the ants arrived, we found the ant farm on clearance. Thrilled, the children marveled at the box as I I reminisced about the ant farm my older children experienced years prior. In fact, I had been praying I would find an ant habitat for study.  

Ant farms make learning come alive. 

In the process of getting the habitat set up and becoming acquainted with our new little friends, science intertwined with oral reading (reading the instructions and ant information), reading comprehension (following directions), math (setting a timer to measure duration and measuring water amount), as well as an experiential lesson in patience.


Put the ants in the refrigerator for ten minutes.

 

So much learning in a tiny vial of ants. 

Ants in the fridge, we watched as the timer counted down. When 10 appeared on the screen, we all instinctively began counting down.  10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, , 3, 2, 1...

"ZERO! Get the ants!"

"Look at them! They are still."

"They must be sleeping. Time to take them out and put them in!"

Then I worked fast. (Hint: Ants wake up FAST! Be ready to move quickly.)

Once in their new home, the ants got to work. My children were enthralled. 

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The children sat, watching progress, for at least thirty minutes. As they observed, they asked questions. 

  • Is that ant dead or sleeping? 
  • What is that ant doing with the sand?
  • Why are they piling the sand at the top? 
  • Why do they crawl over one another? 
  • I wonder what they will do while we are sleeping? 
  • Did that ant die already?
  • Do we have a queen? 
  • What does a queen look like? 

Our ant study was just beginning! 


Extended ant learning study for all ages

Read a good book. Experiences help children understand written material and fuel further learning. If a child becomes interested in a topic, place books related to the interest in the home: on end tables, night stands, or book shelves. If a study pops up spontaneously, plan a visit to the library and help the learner find the section containing books about the interest. Some of the ant books we read:

   Fiction

  • One Hundred Hungry Ants, Elinor J. Pinczes
  • The Ant and the Grasshopper, Amy Lowry Poole

   Non-fiction

  • Are You an Ant, Judy Allen
  • Ant Cities, Arthur Dorros
  • The Life and Times of the Ant, Charles Micucci

Observe ants in their natural habitat. Take learning outdoors. Look for ants. Spend time watching their activities. Take pictures and make your own ant study book or journal. 

Make a sketch. Sketching integrates another learning modality into the experience. In an ant study, learners can go outside and observe real ants, sketching what they see. This will likely lead to wanting to know more about ant anatomy and environments. Add your sketch to your ant study journal. 

Learn and label body parts. Watching the ants made my children curious about the ant's body. From their questions, we researched and learned ant anatomy, drawing and labeling each major part (head, thorax, abdomen) as well as the more specific parts (mandible, antennae, compound eye, legs). Enchanted Learning offers a diagram of the anatomy and ant information.Life Studies site has a page devoted to ant study. Another great addition to an ant study journal. 

Study the lifecycle. Every living creature has a lifecycle. Ants are no different. In fact, one of my children asked if there were eggs in the vial. Enchanted Learning helped us here, too. 

Take a closer look. Magnifying glasses are great tools for looking at live ants. However, the Magiscope is a great way to take an even closer look. Do so with a few dead ants. Otherwise, you may get stung or they may crawl away from the stage. 

Have an older learner, perhaps middle and high schooler? Research myrmecology and entomology. How are these branches of science related? Who are the leading scientists in these areas and what contributions did they make to the field? How did their works impact science and the general population? If opportunities are available--perhaps through a local pest control service, zoo, or college campus--consider interviewing a myrmecologist or entomologist. We discovered how one scientist is studying ants and bees

Helpful sites

Arizona State University School of Life Science, Ask a Biologist page. 

Harvard Forest

Life Studies

We bought our ants through Life Studies

Ready to learn about ants? The process can be one of the most rewarding and remembered events of childhood learning. If you decide to introduce learners to this amazing creature, tell us about your experiences, or leave helpful resources your found, in the comments. 

 

 

 

 

Childhood of Famous Americans: Living Books for Young Learners

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Over twenty years ago, a veteran home educator suggested I read titles from the Childhood of Famous Americans series to my children.  Doing so would bring history—real problems solved by real people—alive, she claimed.

I purchased our first COFA and the children and I curled up on the couch to read. The book fueled questions, fostered wonder, and begged my children to read more. What a find!

That mom was right!

The Childhood of Famous Americans (COFA) series, praised by parents, teachers, and librarians for over sixty-five years, was first introduced to the public in the 1940s and continued to be printed into the 1960s by Bobbs-Merrill. Originally printed in hardback form, these fictionalized biographies (suitable for independent readers third grade and up or to be read aloud to any age) became instant favorites and were reintroduced in an infamous red, white and blue paperback form in the 1980s.

These books have engaged my children since the early 1990's.

Our family prefers the original hardcover books. Their large font invited emergent readers to read and allows younger eyes to comfortably read the text. Sadly, the hardcovers are now out of print. However, they can be found in online sales or in used bookstores.  If we cannot get our eyes and hands on these hard-bound treasures, we look for the well-known red, white and blue covers.

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Over the years, whenever we began new unit of study or a learner developed a new interested, we tried to find a COFA title to personalize learning. These books have allowed our young learners to learn history through real people, real problems, and real solutions. When we study a specific era, I use this list. With over 170 COFAs to choose from, there is sure to be one to be woven into any study.

Recently, the COFA flame was recently rekindled as one of my youngest children wanted to read about “real baseball players”.  I immediately looked through the stacks of COFAs on our shelves. Indeed, we had a paperback cover copy of Roberto Clemente: Young Baseball Player and a hard cover copy of Knute Rockne: Young Athlete.  I pulled those from our collection.

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I am thankful for that experienced mom’s recommendation to begin reading books from the COFA series. Since that day, we’ve been eagerly reading about the childhood lives of famous Americans, learning some very interesting lesser-known facts about people we have come to admire.

More about the Childhood of Famous Americans series:

  • The books are fictionalized, though based on information about the childhoods of these famous Americans.
  • Children find the books inviting because of their focus on the childhood life of people they know only as adults.
  • Each book is packed with noteworthy experiences, personality traits, and adventures from the growing up years of famous inventors, scientists, statesmen, and explorers.
  • Children gain understanding of how a person’s experiences and personal gifts contribute to and impact the lives of other people.  
  • By the end of each book, the reader is left with the desire to find out what happened next, a perfect lead to further study.


In recent years, several publishers are working to bring the once-out-of-print-titles back to life. A great endeavor, however in the process some of the books have undergone editing and rewording. One publisher, Patria Press, began reprinting the stories in 2002, renaming the series Young Patriots. 

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Want to learn more about the heroes and heroines who shaped our country?

Find a COFA title and relax on a comfy couch. You and your children will discover inspiring details from the lives of the men and women whom we often know only through their adult accomplishments.

Bringing Physics to Life

My soon-to-be high schooler loves science, always has. She builds, creates, designs. Tape, staples, duct tape disappear overnight. There are springs from pens and spare flashlight bulbs stored in a tackle box, in case they're needed. 

Then we found this treasure in the new book section of the library. 

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After reading The Physics of Everyday Things, I understood the workings of items I see used every day.

Physics came to life! 

I wish physics made sense to every learner. 

In fact, I think it can. 

Two of my three graduates have completed middle and high school physics. As with other subjects, we endeavored to bring physics to life with Living Books. This learning season, we found yet another living physics gem!

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Reading The Physics of Everyday Things started a learning frenzy. Within a few days of checking out the book, my learner needed more books. I began the search. 

  • Albert Einstein, Pamela Zanin Bradbury (Messner biography)
  • Electrical Genius, Nikola Tesla, Arthur J. Beckhard (Messner biography)
  • Electronics Pioneer, Lee DeForest, I.E. Levine (Messner biography)
  • Isaac Newton, Harry Sootin (Messner biography)
  • Rocket Boys: A Memoir, Homer Hickam (adult biography section of the library)
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • The Discoverer of the X-Ray, Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen, Arnulf K. Esterer (Messner biography)
  • The Story of Benjamin Franklin, Enid LaMonte Meadowcroft (Signature series)
  • The Story of Madame Curie, Alice Thorne (Signature series)
  • The Wright Brothers, David McCullough (adult biography section of the library)

These books really did add practical application to the physics concepts, concepts which were once words on a textbook pages--difficult to grasp--now had real life meaning and application. In addition, we watched the movie October Sky as a family. The movie is based on the book Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam. (The movie should be previewed by adults, first)

For those of you have multiple children spanning the ages, there are books for younger learners which can fuel an interest in all things science and inventions. Our favorites are from the Childhood of Famous Americans series. These may be helpful to your family. They were for ours! 

  • Eli Whitney, Boy Mechanic, Dorothea J. Snow (COFA)
  • George Westinghouse, Young Inventor, Montrew Dunham (COFA)
  • Harvey S. Firestone, Young Rubber Pioneer, Adrian Paradis (COFA)
  • Lee DeForest, Electronics Boy, Lavinia Dobler (COFA)
  • Robert Fulton and the Steamboat, Ralph Nading Hill (Landmark series)
  • Robert Fulton, Boy Craftsman, Marguerite Henry (COFA)
  • Robert Goddard, Pioneer Rocket Boy, Clyde B. Moore (COFA)
  • The Story of Atomic Energy, Laura Fermi (Landmark)
  • The Story of Submarines, George Weller (Landmark)
  • The Wright Brothers, Quentin Reynolds (Landmark)
  • Tom Edison, Young Inventor, Sue Guthridge (COFA)
  • Wilbur and Orville Wright, Young Fliers, Augusta Stevenson (COFA)

Breathing Life Into High School American Literature

I've had great literature teachers. I've had not so great literature teachers. 

How about you? 

What do you remember about the really great literature teachers who taught you? 

I am a people person.

Perhaps you are? And, maybe your high schooler is, too?

We've had people-person high schoolers learning in our home. These young adults needed to meet people--the real people who changed their field, maybe even changed the world--in order to remember. In the case of literature, some of our learners needed to meet the authors.

Imagine our delight when we found this vintage treasure? 

Famous American Authors by Sarah K. Bolton

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Biographies of the lives of authors brought our literature studies to life. 

Reading the biographies of authors helped my high schooler understand how life events influenced their writing. Truly fascinating!

There was life in our high school learning. 

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With this resource, our current high schooler was able to read about Louisa May Alcott and then read the classic, Little Women. The people connection had brought literature to life while earning our high schoolers credit

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Famous American Authors was a welcome addition to our high school American Literature course. It may be to yours as well. 


 

 

 

Trusting Children with Little, Leads to Much

Children entrusted with little will one day be able to be trusted with much. 

What is your child able to be trusted with today, right now? 

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It's hard, isn't it, to say yes--to trust, to risk. 

When I was a young mom, I held on more tightly, regulated and controlled what I could, fearing the worst, yet longing to raise children who would one day to be independent. As my oldest children grew, I realized I was doing them a disservice. They wouldn't become responsible, and one day independent, if I waited until the day before I expected them to launch. I had to change my thinking. 

If one day I wanted them to be trusted with much, I needed to begin trusting them with little. 

It would be a process. 

  • A receipt from the grocery store. My two-and-a-half-year-old always wants to carry the receipt, along with the spare change. When I give her the handful--all of it--she feels empowered, trusted. And, she is mindful of what she's doing, like she is guarding a million dollars! 
  • The keys to the house. When we pull in the driveway, my six-year-old always asks for the keys as soon as I pull them from the ignition. She wants to carry the keys and unlock the front door. In doing so, she feels capable, able to help the family enter the home. 
  • My cell phone. A few weeks ago, Mike and two middle girls took a road trip to the softball World Series. When I called to check in, one of the girls answered the phone. The proud voice on the other end exclaimed that Dad let her be the secretary, especially when he was driving. She felt important, able to meet a need.
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The empowerment to independence was indeed a process. When the day came for each child to sit in the driver's seat of our car for his or her first solo ride, babysit, or travel alone, I knew he or she was ready. Each of the children had had a multitude of opportunities to prove responsibility and trustworthiness. 

On our second son's wedding day, I remember reflecting on his readiness to not only be responsible for himself but also to consider the well-being of another person into his days. One day he was entrusted with bringing in his bike from the rain, another day to was instructed with how to use grandfather's fishing pole. A year or so later, he was given command of a canoe of younger scouts. Not too long after, he asked for the keys to our car, and then, a few years later, he waited at the end of an aisle for his bride. Trusting him with a little grew to trusting him with much. 

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It was a process, one which took time. And, looking back, the years flew faster than I ever imagined they would. 

Pew Learning for Young Worshipers

The parenting years are training years! There's potty training, voice training, executive control training, strength and core training. And, then there's what we call pew training, those moments on Sundays when littles learn to sit, enjoy, and later contribute to "big church".

Training years can be exhausting, marathon sessions of reminders, follow throughs, and well-dones.

At least they've been for us.

We've parented children with active minds and busy hands, lively imaginations and energetic bodies.

These traits didn't change on Sunday mornings!   

Pew training is not a new fad. It has been taking place for generations. I remember sitting in the pew as a child. Sitting by my grandmother, I watched as she dug in her purse to find me a mint. Mint in mouth, I handed Grammy a pen, a hint I wanted to play tic-tac-toe. Later in the service, my mom wrote a number on the church bulletin and I would hunt through the hymnal for the hymn with the corresponding numeral. I loved sitting with my family in church. I felt big, part of a larger community of people.

I am thankful for the sacrifice my parents made to include me in their Sunday morning worship. 

Mike and I have been pew training for more than 25 years. Currently, our Sunday worship times include coloring, puzzle solving, and bead stringing as our just over two-year-old daughter prefers to sit in the service (as long as she can) with our family. To help her in her desire to be with the family, I pack a bag of treasures, things for her to look forward to, just as I anticipated Grammy's mints and games of tic-tac-toe.

How do I prepare for pew training? It's all about what I pack in our bag. 

What's in the bag? 

  • thick cardboard puzzles with piece count appropriate to the age. Our toddler will stand in front of the church pew chair and solve the puzzle on the seat of the chair. 
  • a few board books, especially ones with textures or quiet flaps. I change these out frequently so there is a new selection in the bag. 
  • crayons and quarter sheets of cardstock. Colored pencils become drumsticks and noise makers, hence the crayons, and standard paper creates a crinkly paper cacophony. Cardstock quarters has quieted coloring sessions. 
  • a quiet snack in a quiet wrapper.

In addition, I pack a few treasures for our preschoolers and early learners, just in case. 

  • thick cardboard puzzles, again piece count appropriate to the age and ability of the child. 
  • a small notebook and crayons. Some of our young worshippers enjoy drawing something they hear about during the sermon. 
  • a tablet of stickers for use with notebook or to fill the empty white space on the bulletin. For emergent readers and spellers, I pack letter stickers. 
  • a toy car. 
  • a quiet snack in a quiet wrapper. 
  • beads and a string or pipe cleaner for stringing and small motor skill building. A plastic bag quiets shuffling beads.
  • a small doll or a few Lego figures. 

On the weeks I forget to pack a treasure, I pull a pen from my purse and allow little worshippers to draw on the church bulletin. Our early learner likes to search for and circle vowels or specific letters she chooses on the printed bulletin. 

Not every Sunday unfolds smoothly, even if I prepared. For example, this weekend I spent the majority of the service in the lobby! Even still, I don't feel my efforts were wasted. I know I made it one step closer to the goal: being able to sit in church as a family.

A few weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of our pew. There stood our children, toddler to adult (plus a few friends an adult child invited) extending the entire length of the pew. What a blessing! Twenty-seven years of pew training (and counting) in the making. Our efforts were worth every obstacle we had to overcome.

The efforts we made in the pew training season proved fruitful. 

Fellow pew trainers, YOU got this! May you one day look down the pew and see the fruits of your labor standing and worshiping together. 

What Much Time Do You Spend on High School Subjects? Part 1: Learner and Subject

Several parents asked me recently, 

"How much time does your learner spend on one subject?" 

There is no clear, cut-and-dry answer to this question. Answers depend on the learner as well as the subject. This has been true for our learners as well as for many learners we know. It also depends on how a learner prefers to schedule his or her day. I will talk about that in part 2. 

The learner. It's no surprise that learners take in information differently as well as at different rates (and that doesn't change in high school). What takes one learner thirty minutes to read will take another learner an hour. Add the factors of listening to audio materials or whether or not a learner values the content and there are yet two more variables to consider. 

The subject. Content matters. Again, there are many variables to consider. If a course is traditionally a one-credit course; for example, Algebra 1 or Biology, the course is written with the assumption the student will spend a minimum of one hour of study and instruction, five days a week. Lessons and content are formulated with the Carnegie unit in mind. 

For non-traditional or elective courses, The student's interest in the content is one factor which can increase or decrease study time. Interest in subject increases rate and retention. On the other hand, interest in a subject may also propel a student to dig deeper in and spend more time in independent study. Instructional level of the material also plays a role in calculating how much time to spend on a subject. If the content is presented at a level higher than the instructional level of the learner, time needed increases. 

Learning time varies greatly dependent on the learner and the subject, even in high school.

There is a general rule of thumb (read guideline) used to determine time spent on each subject. It is based on the traditional high school credit standards.


A one credit course (like math, English, social sciences, and science--even some electives) will require 45 minutes to 1 hour of learning each day--for a total of about 5 hours per week.


We have experienced this difference first hand. One of our learners naturally spent one hour per day on each of his core subjects. He preferred learning on that schedule. On the other hand, another learner naturally liked a block schedule. He would spend 3 hours on biology one day and 2 hours the next. Still another one of our learners learned in chunks. She spent great periods of time learning all she could about one topic. Each of our learners transitioned very well to life after high school. 

Let's say a high school learner is taking college courses while in high school--dual enrollment. The student and content variables remain important, yet there is a different recommended guideline to study time. 


For every one credit hour enrolled, a student will spend approximately 2 to 3 hours studying outside of class time. Therefore, taking three credit hours (generally one course) will equate to 3 hours in class and 6 to 9 hours of outside study time. It will follow that taking twelve credits of courses (generally four courses) will equate to 12 hours of in class work and 24 to 36 hours of outside study time. 


As you look forward to this next learning season, consider the important factors of both learner and subject. Part 2 of this series will focus on scheduling.