Welcome to the month-long series “Homeschool HIGH SCHOOL Made Easy,” a follow-up to the popular “Homeschool Made Easy” series (now published on kindle). I’m sharing tips from my experience as a homeschool graduate and homeschool mother, showing YOU how easy and enjoyable these high school years can be for you and your teen. Be sure to sign up for the entire series so you don’t miss a thing!
This week in our series on homeschooling in high school, we are focusing on individual subjects. How can we fulfill our student’s requirements, make the courses easy on the entire family, and meet our goals of fulfilling the big why in our homeschool? That’s what we’re looking at this week.
There are two academic courses that set the foundation for all the rest of our studies in the Garfias home. These two disciplines shape the emphasis for the rest of our classes, they fuel our family discussions around the dinner table, they inspire our family vacation destinations, and (we pray) they shape the adults our young people will become: Bible and history.
Bible and history form the core of our homeschool. They are intertwined quite a bit, too. We can’t discuss history without noting God’s plan for His own glory through the centuries. And the Bible itself reveals the history of God’s love and grace for mankind from creation to the end of time. Because our big why of homeschooling, our purpose for teaching our children and teens is all about loving God and loving others, studying how God has demonstrated love toward mankind and how mankind has responded to Him and to one another . . . that’s the heart of our efforts, right there.
Centering Homeschool High School in the Bible and History
We’ve said before that knowing your why for homeschooling makes everything else easier — it shows you what to focus on and helps you know what is not important. So if you go back to your own family’s why, you will likely see a subject or two that jumps out at you. This is your own foundational subject, the emphasis that will shape everything else you teach. And trust me, that makes things so much easier!
How does that work? Take a look at how our central courses of Bible and history frame our homeschool each year, each semester, every week. Rain or shine, sickness and health, good times and undercaffeinated zombie days, we can have success by staying true to our focus.
Each day begins with “Bible time,” a reading from a Bible story book like Illustrated Family Bible Stories or study from a family devotional like A Family Guide to Narnia, or chapter of Scripture with discussion and prayer. Each student memorizes Scripture and learns Bible study skills in AWANA. And on weeks we don’t have AWANA work, we memorize verses together.
Take a look at your own homeschool priorities and mission, then find the core learning that is right for your family.
We take our Bible studies deeper with personal application. I might spend a couple weeks talking about how to take notes in church, how to use Bible study tools, and how to share the gospel with a friend. We read missionary biographies (what boy isn’t inspired by David Livingston?). High schoolers take a Bible overview course for at least one year, a semester each of Old Testament and New Testament survey with these books. (I prefer to have them complete those the year they study ancient history.)
How do we help our student study Bible independently? Since this is a foundational subject, I will be more hands-on with Bible than with other subjects. We do read together each morning and frequently discuss Scriptural truths we are learning together. But there is still quite a bit of independent study:
- I encourage my teen to have regular private devotions (though I don’t require them to show me or prove their private time. Their personal relationship with God is as personal and private as mine is, and I don’t expect them to read my own devotional journal.) and provide materials to help like a study Bible, devotional, or journal.
- I require my teen to complete a year of AWANA work for school credit.
- I also require my teen to complete the Bible overview study and/or church history written work (included in my history curriculum) on paper and file it away. Not for grades, but for proof of completion. I ask to glance over it every couple of weeks.
How do I show proof of work? In Bible, we keep the AWANA book (signed by their AWANA leader) and a binder of Bible study notes and church history research. It’s all thrown into the Rubbermaid container at the end of the year. This is the only subject in which simple completion earns an A.
Bible is not a requirement for graduation. But if the student completes one AWANA book and a couple hours a week of study in church history, missionary biographies, Bible overview, and/or worldview along with some written work to demonstrate knowledge gained, I will give the student one credit of Bible on his transcript.
Since history is, alongside Bible, foundational to our family’s homeschool why, nary a homeschool week goes by that we haven’t studied this subject. If we are sick, we are reading history books in bed and watching history videos. If we are busy and overwhelmed, we are discussing history in the minivan. If we are on vacation, we are visiting museums, historical sites, and cultural events.
There’s no such thing as “being behind in history” in our house. Just not gonna’ happen. History is who we are.
Homeschooling is a relationship with your child, not just a stack of books to get through somehow.
Now, if you are a classical or Charlotte Mason homeschooler, this may be true of you, too. Homeschoolers who organize their learning on a four-year cycle of world studies find themselves centering their literature, writing, research, and art projects around their history studies. But the why takes this a step deeper.
If your history studies (or science, or English, or whatever you chose to support your why) are central to communicating your family’s purpose and vision and ministry and relationships, this once burdensome subject is suddenly light with meaning. It’s who you are, not just something you do. It’s how you relate to God and mankind, not just answers on a paper. It’s a relationship with your child, not just a stack of books to get through somehow.
So how does that work in the daily grind of homeschooling? In our homeschool, I plan our school year around what we are studying in history. That curriculum (in our case, Tapestry of Grace) forms the basis for our school calendar, our semester dates, our weekly emphasis. At the beginning of the school year, I plan out when each semester and quarter of our history course will begin and end, and even put it on the family calendar. Now the whole family is on the same page.
Each week, I make our lesson plans two weeks ahead of time in history. I may not plan much ahead in any other subject, but I know where we are going and what we are doing in history — because that affects everything about our week. When I see exciting new topics coming up in the next few weeks, I alert my husband and children so they know where we’re going: World War 2 next month, or three weeks on South America starting soon, or ancient Egypt in two weeks. We all start looking forward to it, planning for things we want to do in conjunction with our studies, working together to get the most out of each lesson.
When I’m making the lesson plans, I also log into our public library catalog and place holds for materials. I look for books, videos, and reference materials that will make our studies come alive. And, truth be told, I also look up what materials I need to return this week!
On Mondays, I give out the week’s assignments (and my high schooler plans her week of work). At the top of every assignment notebook I write the history reading for that week (again, because that subject is the cornerstone for the other academic pursuits).
Then the rest of our studies in the humanities coincide with our history for that week. We study literature, geography, government, church history, comparative religion, philosophy, worldview, art history, and music history from the perspective of what our history lesson is on that week. Now, we don’t touch on every single one of those subjects every week, but we can usually pull information and resources on several of them every week.
For instance, when learning about British colonialism and trade in India, we studied the geography and history of that subcontinent. We learned about the beginnings of Buddhism and Hinduism, and we visited an Asian art museum for a private tour with a docent who showed the children how to find common elements in Indian art of this period. Then we read about the missionary Adoniram Judson who ministered in nearby Burma during this period of time.
That seems all very involved, but it only took two additional hours of reading aloud in addition to our regular history reading along with one afternoon’s field trip; all that spread over the course of a week or two. We all gained valuable insights into this period of history, the beliefs of others, and how these impacted their actions.
How do I help my student study independently? Again, since this is a core subject for us, I am more hands-on with history than other subjects. But most of the work is still done by my teen in his own time:
- I give my teen a list of required reading at the beginning of the week. He does that as well as any independent research necessary to grasp the lesson before discussion time.
- Comprehension questions are included in the curriculum. Whether or not the student uses them or writes down the answers is up to him as long as he thoroughly understands the lesson.
How do I hold the student accountable? This is such an important course for me that I hold students doubly accountable for each lesson:
- Each week, we hold a deep history discussion for all the students together for over two hours. We cover not only what happened and with whom, but the resultant worldview issues that are raised. This discussion also pulls in geography, government, church history, and philosophy concepts. I expect the students to come prepared with fresh insights and thoughtful questions based on that week’s reading and research.
- Every Friday, the high school student completes a written test that includes short answer questions and one long essay on that week’s lesson.
- Once a quarter, the student completes a comprehensive cumulative written exam that includes all the history, geography, and government for the year so far. It takes over an hour and includes maps, timelines, short answers, definitions, a short essay, and one or two longer essays.
History is my one hard course. I am confident that if my students survive history at home, they will not only know how to think and live in the world they encounter, but they also can survive nearly any academic course they’ll ever take! ha!
What if your family’s emphasis is not on the subject matter God gifted your individual student?
My oldest son always knew he would study the sciences when he grew up. He told me when he was ten he would be a scientist, and he narrowed his focus to mathematics as a senior. So I gave him plenty of opportunities to study science and math at his own pace. But we still kept Bible and history at the forefront.
Why? Because of our family’s why. No matter what path God has for each of my children, no matter the careers and ministries and lifestyle they each fulfill, they still have the same two most important duties: love God and love others. Work hard at both. My husband and I knew that saturating them with the truths of God’s Word and the records of His dealing with mankind was the best possible preparation for those duties.
And now in college, my son has found his Bachelor of Science program includes no history, geography, or literature. I am relieved to know that he has a firm grasp of — and a healthy appreciation for — how God has worked over time.
In my state of Texas, students are required to earn three credits in social studies (one American history, one-half each in government and economics, one in world history or geography). You may check your own state’s requirements by googling your state name and then “high school graduation requirements” or by checking the HSLDA recommendations here. Because of our heavy emphasis, extensive research, and heavy project assignments, I give each teen a credit for honors history each year of high school. This is one of the few courses I can confidently give honors credit in, and I’ll share how I determine that when we cover transcripts later.
Choose the foundational subject right for your homeschool.
Bible and history form the basis of our family’s homeschool. My husband and I feel confident that by emphasizing Bible and history in our homeschool, we will fulfill our homeschool why and succeed in our highest parenting goal: demonstrating our love for God and love for others by working hard at what He has given us to do. Take a look at your own homeschool priorities and mission, then find the core learning that is right for your family.
What about you? What is your foundational academic subject?
This article contains affiliate links to help support this site, but all recommendations are products I actually use and love. I am not a legal expert on graduation requirements in any state; please do your own research and plan accordingly.