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Difficult High School Subjects

image - Elliott kids 2011

The Elliott kids - December 2011

If you’ve been following along with our current year’s homeschooling plans, you know that we’re homeschooling five children, plus we have two little ones. This gives us a 10th grader, 7th grader, 6th grader, 4th grader, and 1st grader.

Several of you have written to me, wondering how we get everything done in a day.

Well, it’s been a fairly good year! We’re relatively on target.

Except for high school. That’s a tough one! Some of our son’s subjects have been fine, but three subjects have been real bears.

Algebra 2, Chemistry, and Spanish.


They’ve been enough to make me want to throw in the towel completely!

Why High School Is Hard

  1. It’s been 20 years since I studied these subjects, so I couldn’t remember how to do quadratic equations, I never had a fourth element (plasma) when I studied chemistry, and I couldn’t even remember how to count to ten in Spanish.
  2. I tried to keep just a lesson ahead, but I got behind really fast. Then I couldn’t answer questions. I was waking in the night in cold sweats!
  3. He’s not the only student I’m teaching. Some days, I’d be switching between 10th grade and 1st grade so many times that I started to feel dizzy (and cranky).
  4. I think we picked the wrong curriculum. We started the year using A Beka for each of these subjects, and for the first time, it has not been a good fit for our family.

Some Alternatives We Looked Into

  1. We thought about dual enrolling our son at our local community college. Several homeschooling families mentioned that this was an option, but in our district, he’s still too young.
  2. We considered learning some of these courses by distance learning, such as the ones offered by Bob Jones University Press. However, we didn’t have the budget for this.
  3. We tried to enroll him in Minnesota’s virtual academy, a free public-school option that uses K12’s curriculum. This was not ideal, but we felt he had a good grasp on the Bible, we knew we’d be overseeing him carefully, and we liked the variety of electives they offered. However, in the end, we weren’t happy with the lack of options that gave us as parents — and we were not comfortable having no say in our son’s education. (After all, this is at the heart of all we do. Our children are our God-given responsibility, not the state’s.)

Some Things We Learned

  1. We prayed a lot more. Sometimes we forget to pray, so I wonder if that’s why God allows difficulties. Hard times drive us right back to the Source of all knowledge. As usual, He has proven faithful to answer our prayers for wisdom (James 1:5).
  2. We thought more about why we home school. At the end of the day, our choices weren’t about what is easy but about why we’re even bothering. Seriously, the easiest option would be to put him on the school bus like normal parents. But we feel called by God to home school, because of direct instruction we read in His Word (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
  3. We discovered more about our son’s interests and abilities. When these courses started giving us trouble, we realized that they weren’t necessarily required of all careers or lifetime goals. Even though we believe our son is still young enough to be free to change his mind, we were able to evaluate his interests, his learning style, and his current weak areas to come up with a plan that he likes, we approve of, and we feel more capable of doing.
  4. We found out that better, easier, and cheaper options abound! We were feeling overwhelmed because we hadn’t really done our own homework. By asking other experienced parents for advice, we discovered new curriculum treasures.

Our New High School Plan

  1. Algebra 2 – We narrowed our choices down to three favorites: Teaching Textbooks, Math-U-See, and Life of Fred. In the end, we chose Life of Fred because it is completely self-teaching, a skill that we discovered our son needed more practice in. The texts are fun, however, so he seems to be enjoying it. In addition, because every occupation our son is thinking about requires a very high level of math, we were pleased to know that Life of Fred can continue to teach him for many more levels of math. This was, ironically, the cheapest option as well.
  2. Chemistry – One option was to continue using our current A Beka textbook, but combine it with free teaching videos from Conceptual Chemistry. We chose, instead, to get Home School Chemistry in Your Home, another self-teaching curriculum, one that focuses on research skills, another area that showed up as rather weak in our evaluation of our son’s abilities. It gives research assignments and a weekly lab to the student, plus a weekly quiz, so he learns to find out answers on his own. The mother’s guide gives me all the answers, including for the labs. It would cost around $150 if we bought all the lab supplies, but we already own most of these. This author has not yet published a physics text, so I’m still searching for options for next year. (We’ve already done physical science and biology.)
  3. Spanish – Even though I started the year with A Beka Spanish, since then we’ve purchased two more curriculum, in a desperate attempt to conquer this subject. Rosetta Stone seems an obvious choice, but since it’s so expensive and since I’ll be needing a language option for 18 more years yet computer software isn’t likely to be compatible with our computers for that many years, Rosetta Stone doesn’t seem to be a good option for our family. (Besides, my next children seem interested in a variety of languages. I’d have to get stock in Rosetta Stone before long!) Imagine my delight to find out that our local library offers Mango, a free language-learning program online. We figure we can get about one semester’s worth of high-school Spanish for free, after which our son should be feeling comfortable enough with the basics to continue learning by himself. (The grammar part is easy for me — the only easy part.) I’m happy to report he is really enjoying it (and I’ve been playing around with their free Hebrew lessons).

In addition, we discovered that while he is interested in engineering someday, he’s also in love with art. I honestly had no idea — and he’s pretty good, even if I’m his mother and biased. 🙂 He’s saving his money to purchase some digital art equipment for his computer, so maybe you’ll start seeing some of his work on my blog someday.

So all’s well that ends well? Maybe. I’m just thankful for God’s leading and protection. Want to know what verse came up this week on my kitchen-sink perpetual calendar?

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
   I will counsel you and watch over you” (Psalm 32:8, NIV).

My Heavenly Father makes the best guidance counselor!


Homeschool High School

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  1. Jennifer in PA says

    I appreciate hearing how your thought process went especially as another family who has to really carefully consider expenses. We are just on the cusp of highschool for my dd but as she is not a strong academic and already is working on a program through Vintage Remedies to become a master herbalist her high school years are more clear to me. My son who is now in 6th grade is much more of a puzzle at this point.
    We are also using Life of Fred and it has worked really well for my dd. For my ds he needs something else along with it to explain things more in depth and for us that has been Keys To series which are also quite affordable.

    • Thank you, Jennifer! It helps so much to have you post books and ideas! It would be *awesome* if this became a long and encouraging page full of comments like this…

  2. Thank you again Anne for sharing! …As I have a 7th grader fast approaching the high school years and eager to learn! Mom isn’t quite so sure which way to go. Your transparency and honesty are refreshing and the information you offer is very valuable! 🙂

  3. I realize that homeschoolers in central Mississippi are blessed with a unique arrangement, but I thought it might help someone else to share our situation. We have several moms who are part-time instructors at the local community college who teach math to homeschoolers in slightly different ways.

    One mom teaches the junior high and high school level classes for us (this year she is teaching pre-algebra, alg I, geometry, and advanced math while next year she will probably teach alg II instead of adv math) while the other mom teaches a dual-enrollment class in the fall of Intermediate Algebra (no college credit but lets colleges know you are prepared for College Algebra) and College Algebra in the spring for which you DO get college credit. Both of those classes are listed as credit courses on your homeschool transcript.

    The great benefit is that these are classes taught by Christian homeschool moms in their area of experience (and my area of limited knowledge!), gives the children a “safe” intro to college and has actually gained us some respect in the dual-enrollment coordinator’s office (she sees the young people’s grades and knows the instructors, so she knows we are preparing our students to do well in math and believes this applies in other subject areas as well).

    I hope this makes sense as I don’t edit effectively when typing on an iPhone. :-/


  4. We are homeschooling a 5th and 7th grader this year who have struggled in the public school system before this. As l look at math options, Life of Fred seems to be the best option for them, especially since they currently hate school and I would really like to instill the love of learning into them. However, there are so few practice problems. Have you found a need to supplement the Life of Fred. Do you think this curriculum would be good for their situation?


    • Heather,
      In all honesty, yes, maybe some supplementation is good. I suppose it would depend on the child. For my oldest son, he just seems to need more practice, so that he learns to apply what he learns in Life of Fred until it’s second nature and until he speeds up well enough to be able to do well on standardized testing (required in our state).

      With my younger children, I am working to do better at drilling basic math facts, something I didn’t do as great at with my oldest.

      I really like using for extra practice. It’s free! 🙂

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