Wednesday, March 3

5 Essential Tips for How to Unschool High School

As a Christian unschooler, I get a lot of questions about how to unschool high school. It seems that while people might have an idea of how it works for younger kids, they wonder about the rigors of high school. Usually, the worry stems from keeping records, awarding grades, and determining credits. Since I have already successfully graduated two kids and my remaining two are teenagers, I have some definite insights about doing it well. While the three R's--respect,responsibility, and relevance--are important, here are some other things to keep in mind.

5 Essential Tips for How to Unschool High School

If you are considering unschooling high school but you are new to unschooling, the first thing you need to do is de-school. Because unschooling is so very different from any public school setting, you need to get rid of all those schoolish assumptions. Your teen also needs to shed all those years of indoctrination of ideas, school behavior, and socialization. This is true no matter what homeschooling style you choose, but especially with unschooling high school.

Don't worry about falling behind. Teens are capable of learning very quickly when they find something interesting. Many teens have been known to complete an entire semester of a class in just a few weeks. Or, an entire year of a class in a matter of months. In fact, my oldest son finished an entire year of Algebra in just four months. And, my oldest daughter completed a semester of English in two weeks. So, don't worry!

Fulfill State Requirements, But Be Creative

First, unschooling does not exempt you from meeting state graduation requirements. Some states have more regulations than others, but all have a standard. In my state, my homeschool is considered a private school and so I am free to set my own graduation requirements. However, colleges, the military, trade schools, and other institutions have a minimum expectation of high school graduates. So, I did need to keep this in mind when I decided how to unschool high school for them. However, I also knew that I was free to design their "courses" however I chose. So, if you aren't already, you need to be familiar with how your state evaluates homeschoolers and the state high school graduation requirements.

What is a credit and what are course requirements?

Before I talk about getting creative with course planning, let's talk about what's usually required by law. That way, we know what we need to plan. Typically, most states require 4 years/credits of English, 2-3 years/credits of math, 2-3 years/credits of science, 2-3 years/credits of social science (to include American history and government), and one or more electives. My state also requires public school students to have physical education every year, a semester civics course, and a quarter credit in health, too.

A credit is generally about 120-160 hours of class time. (The range is because it depends on who you talk to.) In a public school, a credit is a full year course and a half credit is a one semester course. In most states, your teen needs about 20 credits to graduate. And of course, the materials used are the typical textbook, so completing the textbook (or coming close) is considered a full credit hour.

Keeping these requirements in mind, we can consider how to fulfill them. Let's assume we want to use something other than a textbook approach. So, with English let's remember that it is about listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Therefore, the following sample projects would more than meet the English requirement of 120-160 contact hours:

  • writing a novel
  • participating in Toastmasters
  • reading, watching, and analyzing Shakespearean plays
  • conducting a book club
  • writing a blog
  • participating in a debate club

And I'm sure you can think of other possibilities! This is just one subject area. Think outside the box and brainstorm with your teen about how he can meet state requirements while still choosing his own path. This is where the creativity comes in.

Collaborate, Not Dictate

That brings me to my next point about how to unschool high school. Unschooling is--at its heart--learning what one wants, when he wants to, and in the way he wishes. However, as you can see from my previous tip, we still may have to work within the framework of state requirements. So, it's important to gain your teen's cooperation and input. Show him the state requirements and talk about post-high school options. Then, discuss ways that he can fulfill those requirements in the way that he wishes. Remember, this is his future, not yours. He needs active participation in planning his path.

Train for Life, Not College

Just so you know, unschoolers can and do go to college! But, there are many routes to college just as there are many legitimate alternatives to college. One of these routes includes taking classes at the local junior college while still homeschooling high school. In fact, this is a legitimate route to how to unschool high school for junior and senior year taken by many families. If you do this, your teen can transfer credits and there's no high school transcript needed.

However, I know many families who structured their high school courses around what colleges required and then, their teens quit college after only a year or two. Others had teens who chose not to attend at all. These teens could have learned marketable skills instead. They also could have used their high school years to learn more about themselves and entered college later with a clearer focus on why they were there. So, unschooling high school should mean a chance to become an expert at something. That way, your teen can impress admissions officers as well as human resource personnel.

How to Unschool High School By Giving the Students Responsibility for Record-Keeping

Learning how to set goals and reach them is an important life skill. So are planning and organizing. In fact, many employers value those skills more than special training. And, they are absolutely necessary for success in college. So, give the record keeping over to your teen. I offer a Student Planner that is unlike other lesson planners because it's designed for unschooling high schoolers.


Finally, relax! You don't need to know everything, especially when it comes to how to unschool high school. Every family is different. You may do some coursework in a more traditional manner and some totally DIY. That's great. There is no right or wrong way to do it. And, because there are multiple routes to college and career readiness, don't worry about that! As long as you are meeting state requirements, you've got this!

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Julie Polanco is a Master Herbalist, aromatherapist, author, speaker, podcaster, blogger, and 18 year veteran homeschooling mom of four. She loves talking about natural learning and natural health from a Biblical perspective. For more about unschooling and to read more about her adventures with her four kids, check out her highly rated book, God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn.

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