Homeschooling High School: What Worked and What Didn’t, Fall 2013

I had a long list of things to do on our Christmas break.  I wanted to update high school reading lists and transcripts.  I wanted to order any new books we needed.  I wanted to get ahead on the assignment blogs I use for my teenagers.  And I wanted to review the last semester as part of my general reflection on what worked and what didn’t and where we should go from here.

Then my three year old dumped a glass of water on my laptop (making it the second computer casualty this year), someone who shall not be named accidentally set the riding lawnmower on fire, things broke, the baby wouldn’t sleep… and all the activities started back up again, in complete disregard of the fact that I still wasn’t done straightening up the school shelves.

In fact, I am still not done straightening up the school shelves, and I’m still waiting on books for my elementary kids, too.  This year has kind of been like that.  But then again, some things have been working pretty well, too.

What’s Working

  • Using blogs as lesson plans and assignment lists.  I set up two blogs this year, one for my fourteen year old daughter’s geography and zoology assignments, and one that serves as a combined writing/literature/history/religion lesson plan for both my seventeen year old (junior) son and my (freshman) daughter.  This is great because there isn’t any paper to lose or forget, I can include links, and in the case of the kids’ combined work, I only have to write things down once.  Also, I don’t have to fuss with charts. (I hate fussing with charts.)  I think the blog format especially lends itself to doing work in units or unit-like divisions, which is how we generally work through content areas like history or science.  The only problem is, if I don’t keep up with posting, we get into trouble.
  •  Memoria Press language classes.  This is the third year we’ve been involved in the Memoria Press Online Academy.  Obviously we think it works.  This year both my teens are taking Latin III, and Gareth (junior) is also taking Biblical Greek I, a new course this year.  The courses are expensive, but honestly, not any more expensive than the classes both are taking at one of the organized homeschool coops in our area.
  • Landry Academy Biology 2-Day Lab Intensive. The Landry Academy Lab Intensives are held in cities all over the US. (Ours was in a hotel conference room.)  It works like this: you spend 2 full eight hour days doing all the labs generally included in the typical high school course… plus some.  (My kids dissected a cat in their lab intensive.  We definitely didn’t do that in my high school biology class!)  The kids really, really liked this.

         Highly recommended.

  • Abandon Hopefully: Western Civilization I plans by Sally ThomasOk, so we are not using these as written.  Yet.  But that’s because we have telescoped the first four weeks of non-Greek and Roman ancient history into an entire half credit’s worth of work.  (This was Gareth’s request for history this year, that we study global ancient history.)  But we’re using many of the books and resources she’s suggested as a base, adding our own from there, and I expect to follow her lesson plans much more closely once we do finally get to the Greeks and Romans.  Like, next month.  I hope.  
  • Why Greenland is an Island, Australia is Not, and Japan is Up for GrabsHat tip for this little book goes to Jen at Wildflowers and Marbles, who uses it in her 9th grade booklist.  It’s a slim volume that we’re using as a spine for my 9th grade daughter’s homemade geography course this year.  When we were mapping out her first year of high school, we both agreed that geographical knowledge was a gap she had for one reason or another, so we wanted to remedy that this year with more formal study.  Our general method is for her to read a section or chapter for an overview of the topic and then check our blog for links and assignments relating to the topic.   Here’s a sample:   

3.  Read chapter 4 of Why Greenland is an Island: “Not So Trivial Trivia”.  She has a long list of geographic facts she’s put together for her own edification.  The last item on her list is “poorest countries”.  Because this was written in the 90’s, she talks about Somalia, but also says, “When you read this, another nation may be suffering more than Somalia… I’d encourage you not to ignore this final item just because it seems out of date.  Rather, substitute the latest information, or part of the world where suffering concerns you the most.  And finally, ask yourself what you can do in the way of contributions, lobbying, or volunteer work to relieve the anguish of those who live there.”
Here’s a project that will be due next week: Try to find out what the poorest country in the world is, or at least make a list of very poor countries.  Choose one to research further using Geography of the World, National Geographic, your atlas, and the Internet.  Investigate Catholic missions to that country and the country’s saints and any Marian sites (if any).  (Food for the Poor may be good place to look, also.) Set aside some time to pray for the residents of that country, see if there are any programs for us to help with, and prepare a report about your findings.  It should be 2-3 pages long, typed.  

          (She wrote her report on Zimbabwe.)

  • Paid Outside Coop Classes.  This one is both a score and a miss this year.  On the one hand, both kids have enjoyed having classes with actual real people, some of whom they know from other places.  They’ve gotten interested in Shakespeare, they’ve learned how to prepare homework and turn it in on time.  Gareth has learned how to deal with a difficult teacher and enormous amounts of work.  Which brings us to…

What Didn’t Work

  • Paid Outside Coop Classes.  Lesson learned — two days a week with a varying schedule in the middle of the day is tough on the younger kids.  (And ergo, tough on Mom.)  Also, I’m making lemons out of lemonade here a bit, but… having the kids take traditional classes from teachers who are certified has made me realize that even with all my faults, I have not done such a bad job of educating my kids.  And also, I am never ever going to give extra points on a test because my kids didn’t use their bathroom passes.  Uuuuurgh.
  • Morning Time.  Which pains me to write, because we have been saying prayers and reading aloud in the morning for years.  But having the teenagers headed out the door two mornings a week has really screwed up our normal routine, and I haven’t yet figured out a way to compensate.  
  • Zoology.   Katydid’s zoology course (homemade) is not working out as planned, so we’re going to make a few tweaks for the second semester.  We’re using The Zoology Coloring Book, which is heavy on non-mammal, non-bird zoology.  While I still think that The Zoology Coloring Book is the best general resource for zoology available, it really is sort of exasperating if what you want to study isn’t planarians, hydra, or insects.  
  • Not giving enough structure.  Things went smoothly when I kept up with the kids’ blog posts… and not as smoothly when I didn’t. 

Overall, I think high school is going better this year than last year.  The biggest factor influencing how well it’s going?

Me.  When the kids were younger, my involvement was more about sitting with them while they did math or reading book after book aloud.  Now I have to adjust to being involved by keeping up with the lesson plan blogs and reading the same books they’re reading… but on my own time.  It’s an adjustment I haven’t always successfully made… and probably won’t always make successfully either. But the more I try, the better things go.

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  1. I just loved reading this post! One of my favourite types:) Fascinating!

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