Planning for your teen’s high school electives is the funnest part of the whole process of high school curriculum planning! Here you can get creative and enjoy the process of exploring your child’s interests. One of the beauties of homeschooling high school is that those interests don’t have to take extra time in addition to school; they can be an integral part of school. Which means a more relaxed day for the whole family! Happiness!
Note: this article is the fourth in a loose series. If you are looking for more information on high school curriculum planning as a whole, then you will want to read the other posts I’ve written about the subject:
The Easy First Step for High School Curriculum Planning,
The Easy 2nd Step for High School Curriculum Planning, and
Planning Your Homeschool High School Requirements: Core Courses.
(If you have followed the planning procedure I’ve outlined in the first three articles in this series, then you should have a piece of paper with a lot of spots that say “elective” on them. What to think about when filling these spots with specific courses is what we will discuss today.)
I don’t actually try to get specific about high school electives until I am doing my planning just prior to each semester. My kids’s interests seem to change with the weather, lol. I want electives to be fun for them, a chance to explore something that they enjoy in further detail. There is always the danger that having to do schoolwork for a particular topic will take the joy out of it, but that is a chance we take. 🙂 If they still like it after taking it as a course, that may mean it’s a possible career path!
Some courses that I used as electives were actually in core subject areas such as science and language arts. But if the student had already completed high school core requirements in that subject area, then I counted the extra course as an elective.
Not all high school electives have to be for a letter grade. There are several that I put on their transcript as pass/fail courses. I do that mostly because I don’t think Driver’s Ed, for example, is worth giving a full-fledged A to, thus skewing the GPA in a positive direction. Nor do I want to give written tests for it, so as to feel like an A was earned — I just want to give credit for the time spent learning to drive. Counting that the same as earning an A in history or math seems unfair to me.
Prepping for standardized tests was another P/F course in our house (they put in the hours but I didn’t expect them to prove learning to me), as was Early Childhood Education (one daughter spent a lot of hours nanny-ing for a local family).
The flip side of that coin is that you don’t want to have too many P/F courses on the transcript. So some electives will definitely need to be ones that you feel comfortable giving a letter grade to, because the course requires a reasonable amount of work and learning. Examples of this type of elective would be an extra science course such as Astronomy, or something your child is focusing on as a possible career path like serious art or music study. In these types of courses there is evaluation of learning such as tests, papers, portfolios, recitals, etc.
When considering how much credit to give for high school electives, the following rule of thumb is a good one: a 1/2-credit course should encompass at least 60 hours of work. Thus 1 credit would be a minimum of 120 hours of work. This is not necessarily true for core courses — for them, more hours is a good idea (more like 150-180). But for electives, the requirements need not be so stringent.*
For the P/F type of elective, logging hours is a great way to prove that the credit is deserved. Once the child has reached 60 hours, you can give them 1/2 a credit. A true confession would be that I also occasionally used the TLAR method: That Looks About Right. 🙂 I didn’t log every time I gave my child driving instruction; but I do know that over time it came to at least 60 hours. (And probably took at least that much off my life span…) Especially if you count the time they took reading/studying the book to prepare for the written exams at the licensing office.
Here’s another crazy thought: not all the time for a course has to take place in the semester you place it on the transcript. Driver’s ed is a great example for this idea, too. All of my kids took over a year from start to finish for the driver’s ed process. I placed the course on their transcript for the semester in which they finished — or in the case of one daughter who still hasn’t taken the final test, on the last semester of senior year.
We get so wrapped up in how high school is “supposed” to be. We forget that WE are the decision-makers when it comes to our homeschool. This has been my mantra and will continue to be so: it doesn’t have to be that hard! We have a lot of freedom when it comes to electives, just as in every other aspect of homeschooling high school. 🙂
High school electives we have done:
Be aware that not all of these were used for every child, lol. Each kid is different, as I’m sure you know. I did keep our core course curriculum the same for every one of them (until we started with Classical Conversations, that is), but high school electives were based on personal interests and learning styles.
Violin: One daughter decided in her sophomore year of high school to pursue this for a college major. So she upped her practice time to 3+ hours a day. Guess who got 3 credits for violin each year after that? And since she received instruction from an outside teacher who could evaluate her progress, and was required to learn theory and give recitals as evidence of learning, she received a letter grade.
Note: This is a perfect example of making things easier. Because she was practicing so much, and I was counting it as credit, I did not have to fill her school schedule with a bunch of other high school electives. And it gave her the freedom to devote that much time to practicing, rather than having to fit it in around a long school day. This was a win-win for everyone! (And she is due to graduate college in May as a Classical Violin Performance major, with the intention of moving on to grad school in the fall. Can you say PROUD MAMA?? 🙂 )
This is also a good time to note that there is discussion among the ranks about whether to count things for credit or count them as extra-curriculars. Many people claim that extra-curriculars are important on a college application, so you don’t want to count everything for credit.
The way I see it, though, it doesn’t have to be an issue to stress over. I counted as much as was needed to obtain a reasonable amount of graduation credits, and whatever was left became extra-curricular. And no college turned my kids away for not being well-rounded individuals, lol.
Marine Biology: This is an example of a science course that was used as an elective. We used Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Marine Biology.
Astronomy: This was a fun, hands-on course, requiring the student to observe the night sky and make maps of it, among other creative projects. We used this resource: Signs & Seasons: Understanding the Elements of Classical Astronomy.
Meteorology: We used an online course from BYU. Their courses are actually reasonably priced and quite well done. I ignored their requirement to take a proctored final at an “official” location and just computed the final grade based on online tests and quizzes. I didn’t want or need their accredited credit, lol. I can decide what is worth credit in my own homeschool. We have the pow-ah, y’all!! 🙂
Driver’s Ed: We kept a loose record of hours behind the wheel and gave a P/F grade. There was also a booklet and video available from our insurance guy that one daughter was required to absorb. Oh yea, and our special driver’s education field trip. Muahahaha…
Home Ec: One course was “Cooking” for the daughter who made dinner once a week for over a year; “Early Childhood Development” was earned for LOTS of babysitting. These were P/F.
Bible: A P/F credit given for personal and family Bible time (you could probably also include church attendance). I only used this once, but you could conceivably count it each year.
Standardized Test Prep: I detail this course in the post called Homeschool ACT and SAT Practice.
Extra foreign language: One daughter was very interested in foreign languages and wanted to learn more than just one. She ended up with a credit for Russian 1 and another for German 1 on her transcript, in addition to 4 credits of French. The French was considered a core course; but the other two I considered to be electives, so I was less stringent in the requirements for them. She received letter grades for them, though, because they weren’t just time put in; there was evaluation of learning.
Here’s what we used:
French (it wasn’t an elective but I’m including this info for the curious): Breaking the Barrier French — their three books are worth 4 credits. I called and spoke to the writers themselves to verify this. *smugness*
Russian: We used another BYU online course for this. See link and further info under Meteorology above.
German: I cannot recommend the online German at Oklahoma State University enough. See a more detailed review here.
PE: One daughter played softball in the local recreational league. The time she spent at practices and games was worth .5 credit each year.
Geography: Not all courses should be rigorous, or we would all get burnt out very quickly. Geography can be a way to check the elective box with a fairly easy workload, depending on the curriculum you choose. We used PAC World Geography, which is a series of workbooks similar to Lifepac.
Intro to Fiction Writing: My one daughter was interested in Creative Writing as a possible major. So this extra Language Arts course was taken as an elective, for her to get her feet wet. We used the book Learn to Write the Novel Way, which takes the student step-by-step through the process of writing a novel. Really neat!
Work-Study: My son is working 16+ hours a week at a “real” job, lol. There is no reason not to count his time as credit for school. Think of all the things he’s learning about customer service, work ethic, employee relations, business practices, etc. I will probably not count it for more than 2 credits per year, however.
Once you’ve gotten as far as planning high school electives, you’ve gotten to the easy part! Whether you are giving a letter grade or it’s just a pass/fail course, your kids will enjoy doing something other than the hardcore subjects for part of their day. And here is where flexibility and creativity can come into play, as you work with each child to develop a wonderful homeschool high school experience for both of you. Woot!!