How to Create Your Own Homeschool High School Curriculum

NOTE: Today we have a guest writer — because I have no clue how to create your own homeschool high school curriculum, LOL. But Amy Sloan from Humility and Doxology does — she is a second generation homeschooler with experience doing homeschool this way both as a student and as a parent. I'm so excited that she is sharing her knowledge with us here! Read on for good stuff!

Many of us started homeschooling because we didn’t want to force our children to fit inside a box. 

We relished the opportunity to creatively approach the subjects we were learning. 

We avoided a school-at-home methodology, and looked for unique hands-on learning experiences instead. 

We went to the library and brought home stacks and stacks of fabulous books in order to deep-dive interesting topics.

Homeschool looked a lot like field trips, projects, audiobooks, conversation, and exploration.

But then… our wonderful kids became teens, and we started to question everything.

Throw out the creative, textbook-free approach to homeschool! Time to think about transcripts, test scores, and college, after all! Suddenly, we were discarding the very thing that made our homeschools unique. 

Something about the high school years freaks us out and makes us think maybe it's safer to just stick with a more traditional approach. You know the kind I mean: one textbook per subject with worksheets, quizzes, and exams easily graded with the help of the handy-dandy accompanying teacher book answer key.

But, haven’t we lost something significant? The very years when our teens are coming into their own, are beginning to think deeper thoughts and question bigger things, those are the years we’re going to cram them back inside the box we spent their whole childhood rejecting?

Could there be a better way?

What if we could still, at least occasionally, throw out the high school textbooks and create our own customized homeschool high school curriculum?

You CAN create a unique customized homeschool high school curriculum! Step away from the textbooks and break outside the box. Here's how:

Choosing Which High School Course to Customize

Let’s be real. Most of us are not going to choose to create our own homeschool high school curriculum for every course our teens take. Maybe there are some awesome homeschool mamas out there who do this, but frankly that makes me too tired to even think about, especially as a mom who has little kids and teens at the same time! 

Some of us may even have students whose future career or education goals require them to take certain courses a certain way.

But just because we can’t be flexible and creative with every single course doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to take advantage of our homeschool freedoms.

Ask yourself these 2 questions:

  1. What subjects are especially important to ME (the parent)?
  2. What subjects are especially important to my TEEN?

As an example, it was incredibly important to me that I provide a robust, varied, and intensive course in the humanities for my teens. (Humanities includes history, literature, arts, and related subjects.) I also wanted to be able to craft a customized approach for their philosophy/religion studies and to their government/economics studies. So those have been the areas I personally have focused on customizing in our homeschool high school instead of purchasing a curriculum-in-a-box.

If your teen has a certain area of passion or interest, listen to them! Find ways to incorporate it in their more traditional studies, certainly, when possible. But don’t be afraid to create a one-of-a-kind high school credit just for them. I have a child, for example, who is fascinated by historical fashion and creative writing, and we will likely see those subjects show up on her official high school transcript.

I truly believe that anything you could have customized in elementary and middle school can be customized in high school. That doesn’t mean you should customize each of those things, but don’t feel locked into the textbook model if that was never your approach to begin with!

But what does it look like to create your own high school curriculum?

Know your state’s laws

First, like Ann always reminds us, the only rule you have to follow is the homeschool law of your state. So read up on that and make sure you’re obeying it.

Remember that what your local public school does, what your homeschool mom friend does, and what the random person on the internet does are not the laws of your state, so don’t get distracted!

You can know you’re legitimately providing a high school credit when you consider the length of time your student spends working and the depth of content in what they study. For more details about exactly how to assign credits, see Clearing Confusion about Homeschool High School Credits.

Develop your course goals

Second, know your end goal for the course. What are the main topics you want your student to learn about? What are the main questions you want them to be able to answer upon completion? What skills do you want them to acquire? What would “finished” look like to you?

For example, when I crafted a customized high school Government and Economics course of study for my teens, I had a list of questions and ideas I wanted them to be able to reasonably answer and discuss by the end of the course.

It would probably be much easier to just get regular textbooks, fill out some workbooks, and pass some tests. But I truly believe the books we read and discussions we have had are incredibly valuable and worth our extra effort!

You might have a particular book list in mind as your goal. Perhaps there is a tangible physical product that is the goal. Perhaps your teen wants to be able to have fluent conversations and read books in another language. 

Whatever goals you determine, write them down and/or discuss them clearly with your teen. We can always tweak and make adjustments later on, of course, but remember that a man without a vision will perish!

List your course of study

Either on your own or with your teen plan out exactly what “finished” will look like — i.e. the specific reading, writing, and other activities that will encompass what the teen works on during the course. I personally think this is the most fun part of creating our own homeschool high school curriculum.

Here are a few examples of things to include on your course plan, but it is really only limited by your creativity:

  • Book list
  • Writing assignments
  • Projects
  • Lectures, documentaries, or other audio content
  • Outside employment, apprenticeships, or tutoring
  • Time log requirements

To return to my Government and Economics example, I assigned a book list to be read, particular Supreme court decisions to be researched and discussed, writing assignments to be completed, and some documentaries and other films to be watched. We also had regular times to meet and discuss the things my teen was learning.

Note: To break the course of study into daily tasks, see How to Create Homeschool Lesson Plans from Any Curriculum.

Determine your grading plan

Yes, yes, I know what you're probably wondering: “But how do I grade without tests and worksheets?”

Remember, you are going to have a better idea than anyone else what your teen actually knows or doesn’t know.

I have to admit that there were plenty of times I passed tests and got awesome grades but could tell you next to nothing about what I actually learned (*my high school Spanish course ahem*).

But when we are crafting our own high school curriculum, we are going to have a finger right on the pulse of what our teen is learning. Don’t be afraid to let that guide you! My kids know from personal experience that B effort gets you a B!

Other things to potentially use when evaluating their grade:

  1. Completion of the assignments (seriously, though. Did they finish the assignments you gave them? Expect this. Inspect this.)
  2. Progress and growth in knowledge/expertise
  3. Writing assignments, narrations, some other form of journal entry in daily or weekly form, art projects, or a final cumulative research paper. Have a struggling writer? What if they create a YouTube video or podcast instead?
  4. Number of hours spent working on the subject
  5. Input from another mentor (if they were involved with an outside tutor or employer)
  6. Discussions and/or oral exams

Related: Tips for Teaching and Grading Writing

If this still makes you feel antsy, you may also have the opportunity to take a CLEP exam or something similar, depending on the subject your student is studying. Our customized government curriculum was rigorous enough that it prepared my teen to pass the CLEP US Government exam.

(I share that just to encourage you that creating your own curriculum can still work in high school, not because I think taking the CLEP was necessary in order to somehow prove what we had done.)

Decide what you’re going to call the course

Before I go, can I just remind you that your outside-the-box course does not need to have an outside-the-box title on the transcript? Our family still calls subjects we’ve approached in non-traditional ways by traditional names like “British Literature” and “History of Western Civilization” and “US Government.”

There’s no need to try to be cutesy on the transcript. Make it easy for people to understand what your student studied by using vocabulary that everyone is familiar with.

You can create your own customized homeschool high school course!

Bring joy, depth, and creativity back to your homeschool high school plan

Step away from the textbooks (ok, maybe just one or two of them) and create your own homeschool high school curriculum that is as unique as your teen. And then enjoy homeschooling the way you originally envisioned it!

Amy Sloan
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