Even the most relaxed homeschoolers sometimes get a bit stressed and paranoid as high school rolls around. They wonder if there is any way they can maintain a family-like environment, while still coming up with a transcript that will help their students get into college.

In addition, the question arises: How much should the parent help out with planning and recordkeeping at this age and how much should the student be expected to do on his own?

If your desire is to stay flexible and relaxed, a balance must be found for both situations. First of all, of course, a parent must be aware of the typical requirements for college entrance:

  • 4 years of science (at least two that are “lab”)
  • 4 years of English
  • 4 years of math
  • 4 years of social studies
  • 2 years of a foreign language, plus electives

Of course, some state laws and universities have slightly different requirements, and there is the occasional situation where a student can get right in the front door of his chosen college with a less-than-stellar transcript. In fact, my first two children both got into college with something we wrote up together, entitled, “Submitted in Lieu of Transcript.”

First of all, once you know the requirements of both your state law and the college your student might want to attend, keep in mind that there is still room for flexibility, even if you are trying to come up with a typical transcript. For example, foreign languages could be learned with the typical book/workbook/audio format that schools use, or it could be learned through working at a job with foreign co-workers, or by attendance at an immersion school, possibly in another country. Some of my friends have just returned from a Spanish intensive down in Guatemala, where they lived, spoke, and heard things exclusively in Spanish for two weeks.

A science “lab” is anything that has a large hands-on component. For example, a biology lab could focus more on botany and be accomplished through maintenance of a high-level greenhouse. Use your imagination to try to figure out ways to motivate your teens and help them learn in a way that might not look quite so school-like.

As far as how much the teens should contribute, it varies quite a bit depending on their personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and your own. Some teens can easily take charge of their own learning if they are just turned loose by the parents. Most, however, will need some help moving in that direction.

Bearing in mind that helping students learn skills for their adult lives is just as important as developing academic prowess, the parent must make it a point to help them learn organizational and study skills. The smartest student might wind up flunking out of college if he can’t create, and stick to, his own schedule, make it to class on time, remember assignments, and turn things in when they are due.

In the classes I teach at the resource center, I ask the teens to maintain notebooks for each class. The front part of the notebook is for assignment sheets. If they miss a class and call or email asking for the assignment, I will be happy to provide it. However, if they are there at class and just don’t write it down and put it in their notebooks, I won’t respond! At some point, they have to take responsibility for such things. Similarly, I have refused more than once to allow a student to call his or her mother to bring a book that was left at home. At 16 or 17, that shouldn’t be the mother’s responsibility anymore.

When my kids were teens, I used to stand with my arms stretched out, like a seesaw. One arm was for responsibility, the other for privileges. I would tip over (like “The Little Teapot”) and say, “The more you take responsibility, the more adultlike privileges you will earn.” Similarly, the more they showed an interest in planning their own coursework for high school (and the more they were able to maintain their own records), the more I would listen to their own concerns–for example, if they wanted to eliminate a certain class or do it in an unusual manner. On the other hand, if I heard remarks like, “I don’t know” or “Whatever” when it was time to plan, then the plans would come from me. “Relaxed” in high school has a different meaning than in the elementary grades! It sure doesn’t mean, “Stay in your own room all day and do whatever you’d like!”

The bare minimum for my teens would be to keep track of their own assignments, maintain notebooks, and keep lists of the books they are reading. If they are motivated to do even more, they could maintain files for each subject. In those subjects, like science and math, if they are using a textbook, they should have the name and publishing information for each text, a copy of the Table of Contents, and the end of chapter tests. For a literature or writing class, they should have a list of the books they read, as well as samples of their own writing. In foreign language class, it might be helpful to keep vocabulary lists or copies of any grammar exercises they did.

When someone does a class in a more unconventional manner, that involves experiential learning out in the community, it is helpful for them to keep a scrapbook with pictures, drawings, log entries, etc. In addition, they should ask for “To Whom it May Concern” letters of recommendation from any adults involved in such experiences, and be sure to file them away for later.

Many times, it is the parent who will ultimately take charge of pulling all these things together into the proper form, using a combination of portfolios and transcripts. However, if the teen is capable of doing this on his own, more power to him! Ultimately, I do not believe in taking a teenager by the hand, pulling all the college entrance materials together for him, and taking the lead in interviews at the admission’s office. If, by that time, the teen isn’t willing or able to do at least 50 percent of this on his own, in my opinion, he isn’t ready for college. Perhaps a year off doing an apprenticeship, or missions work, or full time vocational training, or other work might be more appropriate.

Above all, remember that teens are young, transitional adults. The more you treat them as such, the less they will act like children. The balance may be different from one family to another, but navigating the teenage years requires team work and a constantly changing balance of power as they enter their adult years.

Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Winter 2017-2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Mary Hood, Ph.D., and her husband, Roy, homeschooled their five children since the early 1980s. All have successfully made the transition to adulthood. Mary has a Ph.D. in education and is the director of ARCHERS for the Lord, Inc. (The Association of Relaxed Christian Home Educators). She is the author of “The Relaxed Home School,” “The Joyful Home Schooler,” and other books.