July 28, 2022

Wisconsin Post-COVID Homeschool Data

It's common knowledge by now that homeschooling (actual homeschooling, not virtual public schooling or "distance learning") exploded in the first full "school year" following the March 2020 nationwide school closures caused by COVID-19 hysteria. Even the US Census Bureau admitted it, indicating that homeschooling increased from a pre-pandemic average of about 3% across the country to over 11% in Fall 2020 and a whopping 19.5% (almost one in five school-aged kids!) by Spring 2021. 

Many predicted the numbers would fall right back to pre-pandemic levels by Fall 2021, as government schools "got back to normal." And, of course, some parents did send their kids back into the system. But the big surprise was that most who pulled their kids out for homeschooling between March 2020 and Spring 2021 continued to keep their children home during the 2021-22 "school year," mainly because they had discovered the huge benefits of private home-based education and had lost any interest in returning their children to the factory-style system. 

I've read several articles to this effect over the past few months, heartened that parents' eyes have been opened and encouraged at their resolve to stay the course. And my colleague at The Homeschool Loft and I have experienced this anecdotally in our community as we've met with current and prospective homeschooling parents. 

But I was very curious about the numbers throughout Wisconsin, where I live, and finally got a look at the belatedly-released data this week. 

Despite the long history of homeschooling here - ours was among the first, in 1984, to re-legalize the practice in the modern era - and our incredibly favorable homeschool law, Wisconsin's homeschool numbers have always lagged behind those of many other states. We finally hit 2% of the school-aged population in Fall 2001, and the percentage hovered a little above or below that mark (representing anywhere from about 18,000 to a little over 21,000 children in any given year) all the way up until its pre-pandemic high, in Fall 2019, of 2.17%. 

Though nowhere near the national average during 2020-21, Wisconsin did see a huge homeschool spike in Fall 2020, when the percentage went from 2.17% all the way up to 3.25, a greater than 47% increase! In raw numbers, that means the state went from having 21,644 homeschooled children in Fall 2019 to an impressive 31,878 in Fall 2020. 

But, of course, the big test of the relative commitment level of the Badger state's crop of COVID-inspired homeschoolers is seen in Fall 2021 enrollment data. And the great news - for those of us who wish to inspire all parents to take direct personal responsibility for their children's education - is that Wisconsin reflected national trends in that vein, showing only a slight decrease in homeschool numbers. Specifically, the percentage of homeschooled kids in Wisconsin in Fall 2021 was 3% (29,402 kids), which was still a 36% increase from the state's pre-COVID numbers. 

Interestingly, it seems clear that those who left homeschooling in Fall 2021 did not return to government schools. In fact, government school enrollment decreased by over 25,000 students between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 and by another 792 in Fall 2021. But enrollment in private schools increased by 2,867 kids between Fall 2020 and Fall 2021, which is almost the exact same number of children (2,476) who left homeschooling during that timeframe. In other words, homeschooling is holding quite steady in record-high numbers post-COVID, and those who only tried homeschooling for one year then moved on to private schools rather than returning their kids to public ones.

In my opinion, this is wonderful news for Wisconsin, and I hope homeschooling numbers hold firm or even increase again this coming fall. Children everywhere, including in my home state, deserve the best education possible, which (contrary to stereotype) can really only happen when it is customized to each child's unique, individual needs. Quite apart from (illogical) school COVID policies and the (very disturbing) highly-politicized nature of government schooling these days, that's what it comes down to. And the best people to customize an education for a child are those who know him best and love him most - i.e., his parents - when they enjoy true academic freedom as afforded to them in homeschooling.

PhotoCredit: WorldAtlas

July 22, 2022

Choosing Curriculum: The Best First Move to Make

During my first years as a home educator, I quickly learned that there's "a lot" of homeschool curriculum, and I remember being overwhelmed and confused by "all" the options. And, when I began my research that culminated in the development of The Homeschool Resource Roadmap, I remember specifically thinking, "Wow, I'm going to have to send a lot of emails. I bet there are 300 companies." 

Fast forward to a little over nine years later and The Roadmap currently - as of today - lists and charts 5,437 different resource providers!

Now, try to wrap your mind around that. We're not talking about some 5,400 products spread out across the various subject areas, which would be prodigious enough. Nope. What we have are more than five thousand different companies, many of which produce multiple products and some of which create dozens or even hundreds of resources. For example, those looking into Elementary Math can choose from among 907 different companies. If you're seeking help with Reading/Phonics, you've got 522 companies through which to parse. World History? 592. High School Biology? 259. 

It's very good to have options (though, admittedly, I sometimes think, even as an unabashed capitalist, "Enough is enough already!"). But having so many possibilities from which to choose can feel downright paralyzing. I mean, how on earth would one busy mom have time and mental bandwidth - even with The Roadmap charts - to effectively wade through over 900 math options for her eight-year old? 

But there's one little move that can make a big difference. Simply put: avoid common core. 

I actually think there are many reasons to avoid common core (and, by extension, all its "cousin" standards), some of which I detailed in another post a few years ago. However, if we set aside the esoteric arguments and just look at the matter practically, steering clear of common core, et. al, does something very basic yet very important: it limits your choices

At first blush, that sounds rather negative to the average American. "What? I'll have fewer options?" But, as my mother-in-law (and probably her mother before her) has said, "Some things are just too much of a muchness." 

And choosing to narrow the curricula you'll consider for your kids to only those which eschew common core will not leave your cart empty at checkout. For example, there are 311 Elementary Math publishers that don't utilize common core in any way. Yes, that decreases your options by 66% (and, admittedly, takes some big-names out of the running). But do you really need more than three-hundred-some arithmetic possibilities? Likewise, avoiding common core in Reading/Phonics still leaves you with 200 options. World History? 285 High School Biology? 75

The fact is that - with the exception of Advanced Placement (AP), which is (sadly but predictably) fully in-the-tank for common core - you can wholly avoid anything affiliated with those standards and still have plenty of high-quality options from which to choose. And I would go so far as to posit that you'll start from a much higher pedagogical platform by eliminating common core from consideration; honestly, you won't miss out on anything of value by skipping it.

At least give it a shot, which you can do by studying the IND ONLY charts on The Roadmap. If you honestly consider all 311 non-common core Elementary Math curricula and determine that not one of them will work for your child, then you can expand your search to the other 596. If you analyze the content and methodology of all 285 non-common core World History options and decide none will suffice, go ahead and try to make time to look at the other 307. But doesn't starting from a high-water mark with a "limited" but still plentiful amount of options sound less intimidating than slogging through everything? 

As you'll see when you check out the IND ONLY charts, you can further narrow your prospects to a reasonable amount by vetting for other characteristics - i.e., target age range, worldview perspective, learning style approach, delivery method, etc. But consciously making the move to avoid common core is, in my opinion, the easiest, most efficient, and smartest move you can make in the curriculum-choosing game.


NOTE: For a complete (regularly updated) summary list of how many options in every subject area avoid common core entirely, click HERE.


July 13, 2022

My Curriculum Suggestions: A Reminder

Back in 2019 after having been asked by many over the course of several years, I compiled listings of my personal homeschool curriculum recommendations. I then shared them via a blog post, in which I also explained the parameters I'd used in making my choices. At the same time, I pointed out that, though I do like the suggestions I'd made, they are just my personal preferences and might not be a fit for other families. 

I guess unsurprisingly given my role in curating The Homeschool Resource Roadmap, I am still asked for my thoughts on curriculum. So I wanted to take a moment today to once again share the link to my original post. Even though the post itself is a few years old, I actually update the lists linked there on a regular basis as I work on updates to The Roadmap.

So, if you're interested in my two cents' about curriculum...

July 12, 2022

Arrowhead, Smarrowhead!

For I know the plans I have for you
- this is the LORD's declaration -
plans for your welfare, not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope.

This is Jeremiah 29.11 (HCS), a verse I've known for most of my time as a follower of Yeshua (Jesus) and one that has brought great comfort on several occasions. Yet a year ago, as these words reverberated through my mind, they (frankly) sounded like clanging gongs. 

You see, it was a year ago today that our realtor broke the news to me that we'd been outbid on the sixth house we'd toured in our quest for a new home. Of the six, it was the first upon which we'd placed a bid - so it's not as if I was saying, "Not again!" But that home - the Arrowhead house or just "Arrowhead" as we've come to call it - appeared absolutely "perfect" to us. Thus, losing it was a tough blow, made worse by the tightness at that time of the real estate market in our area.

It's not as if I thought that meant God had abandoned us; thankfully, I was more grounded than that. And I (admittedly, with my wise daughter Rachel's help!) was able to talk myself through the disappointment to keep things in perspective - i.e., "It's not as if we have to be out of our house by a certain date, and there have to be more homes to look at...eventually. God's got this thing." But I did cry. And I did wonder - even out loud - how there could be a better house for us than Arrowhead.

And I kept wondering intermittently as we continued to tour the handful of options our realtor found for us in our target area over the next couple of weeks. We made a bid on one other - Roselawn, the tenth home we looked at - but we weren't disappointed when we lost that one. It could have worked but we knew it wasn't really "it" even as we wrote the offer. And Jeff wanted to bid on the twelfth house - the one we've come to call "626." But, as much as Rachel and I agreed with him that it was adorable (and comparable in some ways to Arrowhead), we knew it was too small. So we skipped bidding entirely and it was snatched up by the morning after we'd toured it.

Our realtor assured us there would be something just like Arrowhead "only better" or just like 626 "only bigger." But by that point we were all so burned out on house tours I'm not sure any of us really believed her.

But God...

(Did you know that phrase appears 31 times in the Bible?)

Yes, indeed, God did have a plan...for our good and for our future!

Less than a week after our visit to 626 - and less than two weeks after Arrowhead (though at the time our hunt seemed to have been going on far longer!) - my friend Heather "just happened" to be in a certain neighborhood and "just happened" to see not just one but two houses sporting little "for sale by owner" signs on their front lawns. She immediately texted me pictures and addresses - as it turns out, both signs had gone up only that day - and we were touring first one and then the other by 5PM. The first was nice and could have been a strong contender if not for the availability of this one:

As we left this home and decided immediately to make an offer, Jeff was thinking, "We'll never get it; it's too good to be true!" I was likewise wondering if we really had a chance, and was also thinking, "Arrowhead, Smarrowhead!"

There are many "God-incidental" details I could share related to getting this home. But fast forward through making an offer on July 30 and some back-and-forth negotiations for the next few days to August 3, when - against all odds, really - the seller accepted our final counter. And, after getting our old home sold in two days flat and agreeing to a longer-than-usual waiting period to help out this home's seller as he finalized details with his new home, we closed on October 13. 

Since then, not a day has gone by that we haven't looked around and marveled that we're really able to call this beautiful house our home; it's been nine months now and we still need to proverbially pinch ourselves. On a practical level, this home has everything Arrowhead offered and then some. It's a lot like 626...but, yes, bigger (and literally right down the street!). And neither Roselawn nor the other for-sale-by-owner option or any of the other 12 homes we toured can hold a candle to it! In fact - though relative monetary worth is not relevant at the moment because we have no intention of selling anytime soon - I take it as one evidence of Jeremiah 29.11's applicability to our situation that the appraised value of Arrowhead and 626 have gone down slightly over the past nine months, while Roselawn's has increased a little and our home's value has gone up significantly. 

A year ago today, I was sad and a little disillusioned and worried. I knew Jeremiah 29.11 - it popped into my head as soon as I'd hung up with our realtor - which is a testament to the importance of memorizing Scripture (God can't bring to mind what isn't there to begin with!). But the sting of losing what I - in my fallible, human wisdom - was "sure" had to be the right thing was real. 

I share this story as an object lesson - to myself and others who might read this account. God has plans for us - relating to where we live at any given time and so much more. Sometimes (often?) His plans are not our plans, but - just as the "perfect" Arrowhead is a pittance compared to the beauty and suitability of the home He ultimately had for my family - so, too, He will show us over time how all of His plans are the right ones. He isn't angry when we grieve losses (even small ones in the grand scheme of life and eternity); He merely expects us to hold on to Him in faith as we navigate through our feelings and keep our eyes open to see His revelation of His plan in His time.

July 6, 2022

Hitting the "Reset" Button

Given that it's been about a year and a half since my last post, I gave serious consideration to chucking this blog entirely and starting afresh with something new. Alternately, I've thought about giving up blogging entirely since I'm busy with a number of other endeavors. But I've got several well-read posts here - whose URLs have spread far and wide and are even printed in my 2021 book - so deleting the blog seems unwise. And, even if I never gain a wide audience, I think there's value in regularly (hopefully far more regularly going forward!) writing about topics of interest, particularly to fellow homeschooling parents.

So...here I am, hitting the "reset" button on Views from the Road Home!

In one of my last "personal" posts here - in August 2020 - I gave a rundown of how the first six months of the COVID-19 situation had affected our family. By way of re-introduction, I'll pick up with a brief summation where that left off.

Rachel did not end up going to college anywhere. Who knows but that she may do so in the future, but for now, she's doing just fine without a degree. She worked her Girl Friday job through 2020 and into 2021, took a few online courses in biblical counseling, and also jumped on board as the stage manager for our local homeschool musical group's production of Beauty and the Beast. As soon as the play (for which she absolutely adored serving) wrapped, in May 2021, she was offered and accepted a part-time secretarial position with a lawyer from our church. Then - in January 2022 - she also took on the part-time secretarial position at the church. Between the two jobs, she essentially has a full-time gig doing work for which she's clearly wired and which she quite enjoys. She continues to live at home with our blessing.

Abbie and her husband, Gabriel, have adjusted well to married life. He earned a degree from the local community college in May 2021, adding to the half-master's he had previously earned in Costa Rica. And, after saving on rent by living with his brother, they'll be getting their own apartment in August 2022. 

Abbie was promoted to co-teacher at the Montessori preschool within a month of being hired, and stayed at that job until early July 2021. Working at that school, however, proved to be physically grueling, so she chose an entirely different direction in August 2021, taking an at-home customer service position with Humana. She enjoyed that and received regular kudos from her supervisors, but chose to tackle a new challenge in April 2022, switching into sales with United Health. She's thriving there, becoming one of the youngest-ever licensed insurance agents in the state and wowing her supervisors with the amount of sales she makes.

Jeff's company kept him working entirely from home for over 15 months, which was a very hard row to hoe for an extrovert. When he was finally "allowed" to return to the office, it was on a hybrid schedule. And even to this day, he only goes in about three days a week, working from home the other two. He hasn't been on a missions trip since 2019, and has had two planned trips to Guyana cancelled due to that country's on-going (draconian) COVID policies. But he continued via
MissionGuides to promote missions work through his involvement with the Perspectives course. And, in February 2022, he replaced his long-standing golf outing with a new endeavor, the Stone Soup Banjo Party, which was a roaring success.

I was asked in October 2020, to write a book, 8 Great Smarts for Homeschoolers, and was given a ridiculously short turn-around time of just six weeks. However, God gave me the words, and I finished the entire manuscript a week early! My editor at Moody Publishers was wonderful and was very complimentary of my work, suggesting only minor edits. The book came out in August 2021. Though I ended my official affiliation with Celebrate Kids in September 2021, my book continues to complement one of that ministry's key titles, 8 Great Smarts

An old friend, Jenny, reached out to me in March 2021, and - long story short - our reconnection resulted in the opening of a local homeschool-parent resource center, The Homeschool Loft, just two months later. Via our physical location - a beautiful office in a historic building - we provide one-on-one consultations, book clubs and discussion groups, workshops and seminars, and a curriculum-viewing library. We also started a weekly podcast, The Homeschool Loftcast, to extend our reach beyond our local area. And along the way, my family and Jenny's have become very good friends.

In May 2021, we invited a realtor to do a market-analysis on our home and were stunned to learn how much we could get for it. We decided to take advantage of our equity and the then-very-hot sellers' market and began to search in-earnest for a new home. Seventeen house tours and two failed offers later, we finally found our new home - in a suburb about five miles from the old place. Only then did we put our old house on the market, and it sold in two days! We agreed to a rather long wait before closing to accommodate the sweet gentleman from whom we purchased our new home and finally moved in mid-October. Though leaving the home in which we raised the girls to adulthood was rather sad, we all love our beautiful new home and look forward to making new memories here.

Abbie and Gabriel made two trips - one in December 2021, the other in February 2022 - to visit his family in Costa Rica. He was thrilled to visit after more than three years away, and she loved getting to know them.

Gabriel became an author in March 2022, with the publication of his first book, El Camino de la Resiliencia.

In April 2022 - after more than two years of steady work - I finally finished a complete overhaul of and update to The Homeschool Resource Roadmap. As of today, the site lists, categorizes, and describes over 5,400 homeschool-oriented curriculum and educational resource companies.

Abbie plans to continue in her current job for the foreseeable future, but she and Gabriel - an engineer who works for Nature's Way and also owns a general contracting business with his brother - are on the cusp of a whole new adventure beginning in December 2022. Actually, we all are, as we will welcome Abbie and Gabriel's son, Seth - our first grandchild! - into the world at that time. And, if Abbie does continue working, I - under the new title of "Nana" - will get to be Seth's primary babysitter.

As you might imagine, my continuing work on The Roadmap and for The Loft - not to mention maintaining our new home and keeping tabs on everything Jeff, Rachel, Abbie, and Gabriel are up to - keep me plenty busy. I also continue to serve on my church's worship team and even began taking weekly voice lessons last fall. In addition, many people have already asked when I'll write my next book...which I very well may do, in between changing Seth's diapers and reading him bilingual books.

Not that I need another plate to spin, but I look forward now with this reset to seeing how the Lord will lead with future posts here. If I can activate the best parts of the "Rou-Tina" element of my personality, watch for them regularly.

December 2, 2020

Transcripts and Diplomas

One of the most common questions asked in regards to homeschooling through high school is, "How will my child earn a diploma?" And then close on the heels of that query comes the next: "How do we get a transcript?"

The answer to both lies within the text of homeschool law. And, though it might seem strange if you've subconsciously believed the myth that only institutional schools are "real," homeschool law recognizes a child's parents as the bona fide, legal administrators of their private, independent homeschools. Therefore, as with any other legal school administrator, parents have the legal authority to decide on each child's graduation requirements and to then create and issue legitimate, legally-binding documentation - a diploma and transcript - when the child meets those expectations.

Unfortunately, misinformation abounds in this regard. Some mistakenly believe teens must enroll in "accredited" programs during high school in order to obtain legal documentation. Others think they must hire a "professional" provider to create and "validate" a child's transcript and diploma. But - with very rare exception (i.e., for an NCAA-caliber athlete) - neither is true. Again, homeschool law in almost every state ascribes to homeschooling parents - without a need for "oversight" by others - the legal authority to independently design and implement a high school course of study and to independently create accompanying documentation. And - absent evidence that a parent has somehow failed to comply with the homeschool law - employers, military recruiters, and college admissions officers must accept parent-generated documentation.

But once you understand the legal reality, how do make those documents?

To begin with, give them a professional look. Choose appropriate fonts, include all necessary information, accurately present the content in an organized manner, spell-check (!), and print the documents on résumé-quality paper. In fact, think of a teen's diploma and transcript as his or her academic résumé so that you'll be motivated to present them in the best possible manner.

In terms of the diploma, I suggest you do an internet search for "homeschool diploma" to view a variety of options for design and wording. Look as well at your own high school and college diplomas. Then design your child's diploma using as simple a program as Word or - if you have access and know its basic functioning - Adobe Photoshop, and print it on quality paper, perhaps parchment-style. Then sign it - with the child's actual graduation date - and consider adding an embossed seal somewhere. You can present it as a rolled scroll tied with ribbon, in a diploma cover, or framed. Here are two examples, one "fancier," the other perfectly acceptable but more basic:

Creating a transcript is, of course, a bit more involved because it requires keeping track of credits and activities beginning about four years before graduation. But, assuming you developed a system for doing so along the way, putting it all together into transcript-form - using a simple word processing program and printing it out on high-quality paper - is not all that complicated. As with diplomas, doing an internet search for "homeschool transcript" will yield many possible format templates, and your own high school and college transcripts are also good models.

Essential elements for the transcript's "introduction" include:
  • "School" Name: Whether you have chosen a formal name for your homeschool or simply refer to it using some iteration of your surname, place the name as the first element of the transcript's header. The header itself can be simple or "fancy." Just make it appealing and clear;
  • Official Transcript: Be sure, too, to clearly indicate in the header that this is an official (final) transcript;
  • Student Name: Provide your child's full legal name, including either a middle initial or full middle name;
  • Date of Birth
  • Gender: I consider this element optional and do not include it on my children's transcripts. Use your discretion;
  • SSN: I am not comfortable including my child's social security number on a transcript, which may be somewhat widely distributed. If you will complete a FAFSA, college application(s), and/or job applications, you'll include the SSN there for tax purposes, so listing it on the transcript is unnecessary. But use your own discretion on this matter;
  • Address
  • Phone Number
  • Email
  • Parent Names: Include the full name for one or both legal guardians, generally those who have claimed the child on tax returns;
  • Graduation Date: It is essential to list the day of graduation as well as the month and year;
  • Test Scores: Taking standardized tests (i.e., the ACT, CLT, SAT) is not required for high school graduation, but if your child has taken them, include composite scores. On the other hand, do NOT have your child take the GED! Having a GED is completely unnecessary and ill-advised. Taking a GED signifies being a dropout, which is inaccurate of homeschooled students, who earn wholly legitimate high school diplomas;
  • GPA: If the student is planning for any sort of post-secondary education, plan to include a grade point average (as well as grades for courses completed later in the document). It may be possible to submit a grade-less transcript in some cases but it is, unfortunately, still the accepted norm to include grades and GPA.

Because the transcript will include two or more pages, be sure to add a footer to help those reading it keep track of the complete document.

Next comes the "body," in which you will first list all the courses your teen has completed during his high school years. You may organize this as conventional schools do - by "grade level" (i.e., 9th Grade, 10th Grade) - or by subject area. The latter is not as common but is perfectly acceptable and may be both easier to compile and more authentic if you do not organize your homeschool around a nine-month "school year." Simply list courses chronologically in each subject area. In Wisconsin, my state of residence, homeschoolers are required to provide instruction in at least six basic areas each year - Language Arts, Reading (which is a component of Language Arts), Math, Science, Social Studies, and Health - so I used those subject area designations, along with others (i.e., Fine Arts, Foreign Language, Electives), on my children's transcripts. 

Course titles may be basic or more creative; the key is to use terminology that is recognizable to those who read transcripts (i.e., college admissions officers) and factually accurate. Thus, if a course was introductory in nature, label it as such by calling it "Introduction to..." or "Basic...". Alternately, be sure to accurately label any courses that were legitimately "Advanced" or "Honors." Likewise, if a child earned some of his high school credits at another school - i.e., you pulled him from public school after a semester or more there - and/or via dual credit through classes at a college, be sure to clearly indicate that. And, rather than submitting multiple transcripts, include the information for those other entities on the final, official transcript you compile and provide copies of the other partial transcripts only if requested.

If you're unsure what to call a course, get inspiration by doing an internet search for "high school course titles." Be sure to also indicate the amount of credit earned for each course - see my guidelines for determining that HERE - and, as previously mentioned, it's probable that you'll be expected to include grades earned (which can be calculated in any number of ways, depending on the curriculum and resources you use) for each course. You will use course grades and a notation of total credits earned to determine the child's GPA. Of course, you may try submitting a grade-less transcript if you'd like to see if it will be accepted, but be prepared to add grades if/when requested.

Some transcript-building guides suggest including brief course descriptions on a transcript, but I don't recommend doing so. First, adding such information invariably makes the transcript look cluttered and, therefore, less appealing. Second - and even more importantly - doing so is not the norm. In other words, transcripts for kids attending institutional schools do not include course descriptions and we should not voluntarily provide any information beyond that which is expected of others. For various reasons, a few colleges have developed a written policy requiring textbook titles and/or course descriptions from homeschoolers. But even if your child has his heart set on applying to such a college, that information should be provided separately from the transcript itself. Likewise - because it's not the norm on other students' transcripts - there's no need to include a "grading scale" on a homeschool transcript.

One of our homeschool battle cries is to, "Count everything!" In other words, if a teen spends time on some learning endeavor or activity, we should give him "credit" for it in one way or another. However, that doesn't necessarily mean awarding academic credit for everything. It is true, of course, that almost anything could be labeled as a "course," but it makes more sense to document some activities in other ways. And, since a homeschool transcript is a sort of résumé - aiming to demonstrate that a teen has had a "well-rounded" high school experience - we can/should also consider including other categories after the course listing, where we use some of a child's activities and accomplishments to round out those categories. Specifically, consider including sub-headings for Certifications, Honors and Awards, Extracurricular Activities, Volunteer/Service Experience, and/or Work Experience. And, for integrity's sake, do not double-count. For example, if your child volunteered at a horse farm for 200 hours and learned all aspects of equestrian science in the process, list it as either a course (in science or as an elective) or as volunteer experience - depending on which would be most logical for his post-secondary goals - not both. 

Finally, be sure to include a brief statement to "certify" the accuracy of the transcript along with the signature of at least one parent and the date of graduation. Some suggest having the transcript notarized, but I do not recommend doing so voluntarily, as kids who attend other types of schooling do not have notarized transcripts so neither should we be expected to provide outside "validation" of ours.

To illustrate these ideas, I've mocked up two sample transcripts to go along with the sample diplomas, above. Remember that these are not prescriptive (i.e., the way the documents "must" be formatted) because the authority to determine the design of a child's high school documentation rests solely with his own parents. But these examples - along with your own further research - may prove useful as you decide how to compile your child's records.



December 1, 2020

Homeschool "Graduation Requirements"

With rare exception, the homeschool law in most states does not specify homeschool graduation requirements. And even where a homeschool law lays out some requirements, it doesn't mandate that homeschools mimic public school requirements. In fact, as the legal administrators of our home-based private education programs – which operate independently of public/government schools – we homeschooling parents are generally charged with determining each child’s graduation requirements for ourselves, without regard to what public schools mandate.

Of course, a wise parent will begin with the end in mind in order to plan an appropriate course of study for a child, and engage in necessary research (i.e., visiting college and trade school websites to learn admissions requirements, checking with military recruitment offices, etc.) to determine what a child may need for his next step in life. After all, our primary responsibility is to insure that our children launch well. But the key word is customization – i.e., as home educators, we may legally and without apology customize a high school program for each child and determine ways to “count” all that the child desires to learn about and study. We are not bound by state mandates on those who attend public/government schools or the requirements determined by the boards of public school districts in which we reside; indeed, we should purpose to ignore all of that in favor of meeting the real needs of each of our uniquely-designed children.

It’s also very important to understand that our parent-generated diplomas and transcripts are legally binding and wholly acceptable, and that – in contrast to misinformation sometimes touted by various bureaucrats – obtaining a GED is not at all necessary or preferable. The documents we create should be accurate and professional-looking but, because homeschooling is a legal means by which a child of every age may receive a legal education, our final documents – without need for outside validation or “accreditation” - are just as acceptable as those from any other legally-operating school. 

Given all of that, most parents still want to get down to brass tacks – i.e., what does it take to earn a credit and how many credits does a teen need? In terms of the former, we may use any of three commonly accepted ways to award a credit with integrity, and we are free to incorporate all three in different ways, depending on each child’s needs.
1. Complete about 70% or more of a textbook or conventional online course.
Textbooks – and, nowadays, lecture-style online courses – are often the first means of content delivery we consider because these options mirror the approach used by the institutional schools with which we are most familiar. And sometimes this approach is best for a particular child and/or to advance his goals in a certain subject area. But remember that we – as the legal administrators of our legal private schools – may legitimately determine which textbooks and courses to use to meet our children’s real needs. Often that means we search for “high school level” books and classes. But for some children we need to seek out advanced coursework (i.e., college level) and for others we may need more basic material. Regardless of the label provided by a textbook publisher or course curator or how we might document it on the child’s transcript (i.e., one course may be called “basic” or “introductory,” another as “honors” or “advanced”), if a child works on it during his high school years, it counts as a legitimate high school credit. 
Additionally, the amount of time it takes to complete a course is not important (i.e., we need not organize our teens’ learning based on school-style 16-week semesters or 32-week school years). If a teen can finish a book or self-paced online course in a short amount of time, he still earns 1 credit. Alternately, if he takes more time than would be typical in a conventional school and/or you purposely spread out completion of the material over a longer period of time, he still gets 1 credit when done. And you may award a full credit if the child reaches 70% completion if you’d like. At first blush, that seems odd – as homeschoolers, we usually believe in completely finishing a book before moving on – but in some situations, allowing a child to stop before completion is appropriate. Indeed, most teachers in conventional schools rarely finish more than 70% of the textbooks they use, yet still award full credit. 
2. Accrue about 120 hours using a variety of resources.
The homeschool law in most states mandates that we “provide instruction.” However, “instruction” is generally not strictly defined within the law and is not limited to school-style seat work and textbooks. In reality, “instruction” includes the use of any resource or participation in any activity that can reasonably contribute to a child’s overall education. Thus, “instruction” can legitimately include the use of living books, media, hands-on activities, project-based learning, field trips, software and other online resources, etc., in addition to (or instead of) textbooks and school-style tests and quizzes. When using this approach, the commonly accepted standard – based on what is called a Carnegie unit – is to award 1 credit for every 120 hours or so of study (or a half-credit for about 60 hours). We need not be militant about this (i.e., if we keep a rough tally and a child spends 115 hours, we can still award a credit), but – as with every element of our homeschooling endeavors – we should use the hours approach with integrity. 
3. Demonstrate mastery.
Sometimes a teen is simply gifted in a particular content area and/or pours himself into mastery of it during his free time and without using any formal resources or keeping track of time. Because we want to give our kids credit for the holistic learning they undertake during all of their time in their high school years, we can legitimately award credits for such endeavors without using either of the other methods. As a rule of thumb, think about whether your child could demonstrate mastery of a content area or skill if asked by a person knowledgeable in the field. If you can answer yes with integrity, you may award credit based on demonstrated mastery.
Regarding how many credits to require in each content area for graduation, it’s worth reiterating the importance of avoiding the use of public school graduation requirements as your measure; simply put, those requirements are set for public school kids for various reasons, but they do not represent any sort of objective ideal worth imitating. Ignore them. Beyond that, the answer varies depending on the needs of each child.

For example, if a teen’s goal is to enroll in a 4-year college directly after high school – or to obtain an appointment to a military academy – you should study the real admissions requirements on the websites of colleges/academies of interest and use that to plan a high school program. If you do so, you’ll see two things: first, with rare exception, the requirements for most 4-year institutions are remarkably similar, so planning to meet requirements for one college will likely suffice for most others; second, quite a few colleges (including some Ivy Leaguers!) no longer list specific required high school coursework, taking a purposely more holistic approach and stating only that a student must have a diploma and transcript and submit appropriate standardized test scores and, perhaps, personal essays.

Alternately, you may be considering a community or technical college (i.e., a 1- or 2-year program), in which case your child’s high school plan can (and should) be quite different than if he were going to attend a 4-year school. In most such cases, the community/technical schools have no specific admissions requirements at all; instead, students must simply submit a diploma and a transcript and, perhaps, take the school’s placement exam. Some programs within a community/technical college do have specific admissions requirements, and if your child knows the program into which he wants to enroll, you might use those requirements in designing his high school expectations. But he can also take any prerequisite coursework at the college if he hasn’t already done so in high school.

Yet another option might be direct enlistment into the military, which is a completely viable alternative for any homeschooler and does not require any specific high school coursework. Or a teen may desire to go directly into a full-time job or start his own business; in those cases, his high school coursework can (should) be tailored to his specialized needs.

Given all the options, it’s impossible to say that all homeschooled teens must take a set list of courses – or that all must approach coursework in the same way. As intimidating as it might seem, the freedom and responsibility for deciding each child’s high school graduation requirements really does rest solely with his parents based on his real post-secondary needs. No one else has the authority to say otherwise.

But some general guidelines might put some minds at ease, so I offer this chart as a list of minimum suggestions (not my idea of “requirements”) based on customary expectations. On these charts, I have first listed – as a reference point – the required subjects named in the state homeschool law where I live (Wisconsin) and proceed from there.

Notes Regarding Each Subject:
Four-year colleges/academies generally want a student’s first high school credit to be Algebra 1, with a subsequent progression through Geometry and Algebra 2, followed by Trigonometry, Calculus, or Statistics, depending on the student’s planned college major. Though some mandate only 2 credits, most that list requirements say 3 or 4. 
Placement exams for community/technical colleges often include some elements of Algebra 1 and Geometry, so taking those courses at some point in high school may be beneficial. However, a student could study more “basic” math – General Math and Pre-Algebra – earlier in high school (and legitimately count the credits earned) and then take Algebra 1 and Geometry later. And for other options, credits may include any “higher” math of interest but might also be limited to more “basic” material such as Personal Finance, General Math, Practical Math, and Pre-Algebra if preferred. 
I’ve suggested a 2-credit minimum to facilitate compliance with the language of some homeschool laws that say math should be "covered" in some way every year (i.e., aiming for at least a half-credit every year). 
Though it is listed as its own subject within the text of some homeschool laws, Reading is not otherwise identified as its own subject. Instead, it is typically considered to be part of Language Arts or English.   
When 4-year college admissions counselors think of “English” credits, they generally expect that an “English” course has incorporated an appropriate mix of reading (literature) and expository writing. Spelling and grammar are not considered to be major components of such coursework; instead, it is assumed that mastery of those skills will be addressed within the writing process. While it’s acceptable to label courses simply – as English 1, English 2, etc. – it is also possible to list more customized course titles – i.e., Creative Writing, British Literature – but the courses should still reflect a balance between reading and writing. 
For 2-year colleges and other options, you will have more flexibility. Whatever course titles you list and credits you award, your goal should be to insure that your child is proficient in reading, writing, speaking, and listening at a level commensurate with his post-secondary needs. Thus, it’s probably wise to plan for 1 credit each year. But I suggest at least a 2-credit minimum to facilitate compliance with the language of a homeschool law that says language arts should be "covered" in some way every year (i.e., aiming for at least a half-credit every year). 
Some 4-year colleges require only 2 science credits, but most mandate 3 or 4 and sometimes indicate that 1 or 2 of those credits must be “lab science” (i.e., science in which the student participates in lab work/experiments of various types). While a typical science course sequence might start with General Science or Physical Science and then proceed to Biology, Chemistry, and Physics and – if time allows – Advanced Biology, Organic Chemistry or Advanced Physics, some colleges may not accept General and/or Physical Science, particularly for those pursuing a science-oriented degree. 
For other options, on the other hand, any of the above-mentioned credits are acceptable, as are less common courses such as Astronomy and Earth Science, and customized work in areas of special interest (i.e., Canine Science, Equestrian Studies, Botany and Gardening, etc.). As with other subject areas, remember again that even if you require fewer than 4 credits, your state homeschool law may mandate “some” coverage of science (not a full credit but some amount of relevant content) every year. I've again suggested a 2-credit minimum to facilitate compliance with this (i.e., aiming for at least a half-credit every year). 
The social studies – or social sciences – is often the area in which 4-year colleges get most specific. That is, they might specifically mandate 1 credit in World History, 1 credit in American history, a half-credit in Civics/Government, and (sometimes) a half-credit in Economics. But they generally don’t require that “world history” cover the entire scope of the subject (i.e., it’s possible to focus on a particular era for the credit). And if they have a more general requirement, a student might also (or alternately) study Geography, State History, Psychology, Sociology, Criminal Justice, and the like.

Other options again allow for much more flexibility in that any relevant subject matter can be studied and credited. But, of course, in the event that your homeschool law mandates “some” coverage of social studies (not a full credit but some amount of relevant content) every year, I've once again suggested a 2-credit minimum (i.e., aiming for at least a half-credit every year).    
Though some coverage of health-related topics (to include physical education/fitness if desired) is explicitly listed within the text of some states' homeschool laws, the subject is rarely mandated by typical colleges. However, if you must address “health” every year according to the homeschool law, you should give a student credit (at least 1 over the course of four years, perhaps more if earned), which can be listed as its own sub-heading or under Electives. And, of course, those aiming for military enlistment or an appointment to a military academy will have additional fitness requirements that can be built into Health coursework. 
Up until recently, the majority of 4-year colleges required two credits in a foreign language (i.e., two years studying the same language), and some still do. However, more and more colleges do not specifically require foreign language credits – or foreign language might be listed as a possible Elective rather than a particular requirement – and it’s not mandated for other post-secondary options.    
Some – but not all – 4-year colleges require a Fine Arts credit – i.e., study of some sort in music and/or the arts. Rarely, 2 credits may be required. Of course, a student aiming for an arts-related degree will want to earn multiple credits in relevant areas. And, even if not required, earned credits in the arts can be listed as Electives. This is not mandated for other post-secondary options. 
As I studied various college admissions requirements, I learned that most 4-year institutions – even the “elites” – require a surprisingly low minimum of just 15 to 18 high school credits. Of course, they generally favor students who exceed their minimums, and it’s worth noting – in the one and only nod I’ll give to institutional schools since homeschooled kids do “compete” with their kids for college admissions slots – that most coming out of institutional schools have earned 20 to 24 credits, contingent upon the way their school terms are organized. Now, depending on a homeschooled student’s pace of study, it is actually often very possible for him to earn upwards of 30 credits, but it would be wise – in order not to stand out in a negative way – to aim for at least 20 to 24 total credits. Thus, if a student following a 4-year college plan earns 17 credits in the required areas, he will need at least 3 to 7 elective credits, depending on what you set as his graduation requirement. 
For those pursuing other options, my suggested minimums yield just 9 to 11 credits. And, technically, if you’ve fully complied with the provisions of your state's homeschool law, it is legal – though probably not wise – to graduate a child without even tracking credits or creating a transcript. However, awarding a diploma without a transcript or with as few as 10 high school credits and no electives would very likely stand out in a negative way to community/technical college admissions counselors, military recruiters, and potential employers. That would be poor stewardship of our responsibility to our kids. 
Thus, you can use that minimum suggestion as a baseline and then – at your discretion, in order to maximize your particular child's holistic education – require more in any or all mandatory areas. And the beauty of pursuing something other than admission to a 4-year college is the flexibility to more freely delve into other areas of interest and passion,  too. So, I recommend going beyond the minimum and requiring at least 20 credits for graduation, having the child accrue the additional (9 to 11 or more credits) via extra coursework in required areas and/or through electives. 
In terms of what counts as an elective, the sky is really the limit. Electives can be earned as “extra” math, language arts, science, social studies, or health credits. Or they might include extra foreign language or fine arts, Bible/theology, computer programming, web design, keyboarding, filmmaking, culinary arts, clothing production, etc. Really, any area of study not counted via another credit can be turned into an elective by simply making sure a student has earned a half or whole credit in one way or another and creating an accurate, representative course title.
The bottom line - the reason this article puts the words "graduation requirements" in quotes - is that, aside from a responsibility to comply with the exact text of your state's homeschool law, each individual home-based education program sets its own graduation requirements according to the convictions of its administrators (i.e., a child's parents or legal guardians). We don't (shouldn't) consider public school requirements to be our own. We don't need to borrow the rules adopted by local private schools. Instead, we need to embrace the legal authority given to us via the homeschool law and devote the necessary time and energy into researching what would be best for each child's long-term well-being and go from there. We must actively decide for ourselves instead of passively accepting some other entity's requirements. Whatever each child actually needs in order to successfully step into life as a young adult is what we should plan for and facilitate during his high school years.

September 6, 2020

Epistle of the Felines: Our 2020 Cat Saga

I recently wrote a post about how so many things that were supposed to happen a certain way over the past six months haven't panned out as expected. And now I've got another entry in the "supposed to...instead..." ledger - one that warrants its own post.

We were not supposed to get a new cat this year. We have four - two different sibling pairs - and, even though my husband and I have pinkie-sworn with each other that we'll always have cats, I was very content with that.

But fast forward to the end of June when this little guy showed up on our back deck one day - and didn't leave!
After several days - even though I wanted to resist - we felt compelled to put out some water...and then some food. He was very friendly, and our cats did not stress about him through the patio door, as they've done with strays in the past. We christened him "The Apawstle Pawl" (Pawl for short) since he was generally self-sufficient but was willing to accept gifts when offered.

After a couple of weeks - yes, we waited that long, assuming he'd eventually "go home" - we finally let him come into the house one day...and he promptly made himself at home.
We were shocked that our cats were receptive to him - even the one who would be content as an only cat tolerated him - so we took that as a "sign" that we were supposed to add him to the pack. But we still let him outside when he "asked," and we were awakened in the middle of the night by a terrible cat fight the second day after he'd come in. And that morning Pawl was nowhere to be found; in fact, he stayed away for a full day.

Thankfully, he eventually returned and didn't look terribly beat up. But I determined right then that I'd convert him to indoor-only life for his own good. However, though he was as sweet as ever with us and still friendly with our cats, he began trying to mark his territory all over the house! He hadn't even hinted at that prior to the brawl with the other outdoor cat, so I surmised he might be trying to tell the other cat that our place was his territory.

I sympathized with his defensiveness, but couldn't tolerate spraying. So out on the deck he went again, and I tried a couple of times a day to bring him in to see if the spraying urge was only temporary. Unfortunately, it became clear that we couldn't trust him not to mark...but neither could I stand the thought of him living alone on our deck.

I did some asking around and found some friends-of-a-friend who could take Pawl. They live in the country about 30 minutes from here, so Pawl would remain an outdoor cat - but these new friends have about 10 other kitties and purpose to love them all very well. So I drove Pawlie out there at the end of July, and he has proceeded to adjust exceptionally well in short order.
We missed him - he has a distinctive meow we'd become accustomed to hearing from the deck - but felt good about his new home. And we thought that was the end of that.

But this is 2020, so we should have known better!

Once Pawl left, we noticed a young gray tomcat hanging around - in our neighbor's yard, though he wasn't theirs, and in our driveway. We figured he was probably the one with whom Pawl had had his tussle, and I was miffed at the little guy - cute as he was - because it was "his fault" that I'd had to surrender Pawlie. I determined that we'd shoo him away and hope he'd go away completely.

Of course, you can probably see where this is headed. By the end of August, he'd jumped the fence into our yard and managed to wheedle his way into Jeff's heart. In fact, Jeff took this picture one recent night when he (as has been his custom through much of this summer) was sleeping in a hammock in our yard.
After that, the cat went from visiting the deck a couple times a day to claiming it for his own and doing everything in his power to win us all over. And...of course, win he sure did!

On September 2, Jeff snuck him some cut-up hot dogs. I didn't know that so, when he and Rachel were on a bike ride, I put out some soft cat food for him. Jeff laughed at me...until Rachel snitched about the hot dogs.

We then let him inside for several hours on September 3, and, despite the fact that they'd only seen him through the patio door for a few days, our cats were surprisingly chill. Two have been rather tentative and one - our lone ranger - has growled at him. But Prince - the one who also loved Pawl right away - has already taken to licking his head, and not one among the five has gotten aggressive.

And he hasn't sprayed! In fact, though I wasn't sure at first if he'd use a litter box - he seemed afraid of it that first day - he's been a perfect gentleman in regards to his bathroom habits.

We let him out at night on the third because we weren't sure if all the cats could handle him being in overnight. But I let him in again on the morning of September 4 - I felt so bad for him because it was so windy that day! - and he's been in  - happily and at peace with all the other cats - ever since.

By the way, his name is Barnabas - named after The Apostle Paul's friend, the one with whom he did ministry for a time but from whom he eventually separated by mutual agreement. This seemed very fitting, given the circumstances - i.e., that kitty Barnabas and Pawl had apparently been relatively friendly with each other until their apparent late-night brawl, after which Pawl ended up "itinerating" out on the farm.

So...we were not supposed to get another cat this year. But then we were supposed to adopt Pawl. Instead, we found a more appropriate place for Pawl so that - unbeknownst to us at the time - Barnabas could adopt us a month later!

Of course, unlike so many of the "supposed to...instead..." moments of this year, this one at least - unexpected as it was - has a happy ending.
Ironically, we think both Pawl and Barnabas are about six months old (Rachel even wonders if they're biological brothers), which would put their birthdays at right around the time this whole pandemic business gained traction. So maybe, just maybe - now that they're both safe and loved instead of fending for themselves - might all the craziness of 2020 stop? 

Yeah, I don't think so either. But at least we've done right by not one but two cute little kitties. And, thankfully, there aren't any other strays milling around our property!

ADDENDUM - October 25:
There was another cat milling around, though she initially stayed under the neighbor's porch and skittered away whenever she saw any of us. However, she worked up her courage around the middle of the month and started visiting our deck, checking out our cats, including Barnabas, through the patio door and crying - just like Pawl and Barnabas - for a bit of attention. We christened her Lydia (after the New Testament Lydia whom Paul and, presumably, Barnabas knew). Yet we knew we couldn't keep her - she's unspayed and Barnabas isn't neutered yet - even though we felt horrible at the thought of her being stuck out in the cold all alone. So we put out the call to our cat-loving friends, in search of a new home, and one of my homeschooling acquaintances and her husband said yes!

We brought Lydia inside this morning - to make sure she was here when her new owners came to get her. After eating a good breakfast and exploring a bit - during which we kept all the other cats upstairs - she happily claimed a little cushion we keep under our bed and literally slept all day, warm and content, except for the times we couldn't resist visiting her and playing. We're now convinced that Pawl, Barnabas, and Lydia are siblings who were dumped in our neighborhood in June - but continue to be amazed at how friendly and healthy they all are despite their circumstances. And Lydia most of all might have had reason to be semi-feral - but, just like her brothers, all she needed was security and love.

We sent her off to her new home this evening, where she'll live with a few other kitty companions and some dogs as well. Based on how quickly she adapted here today and early reports from her new owners, we're confident she'll adjust as readily as both Pawl and Barnabas have. And we're confident - for real this time - that we've seen the last of neighborhood strays this year!
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