Getting Started With Home Schooling For Location Independent Teenagers

home-ed-teens

Image by HckySo

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Eva Gill from Gill Adventures

As I began this journey of planning for living location independent as a family, I found many bloggers who had left a breadcrumb trail I’ve been able to follow. For many questions, this made answers magically appear with little effort on my part, and I am extremely grateful. One path that was not so clearly marked as I set off was choosing home school curriculum for our teenager…

Many of the families I found who had home schooled on the road had younger children. Others with older children had no intention of stepping back into the life they left behind, or returning to a public school system at the end of their travels.What we needed was a curriculum that would allow our children to learn independently throughout our travels, before transitioning back into traditional education when we return.

Researching Our Options

Our first step was to look at any state provision of off-campus education. Oregon, like many states, offers an online public school. Although I understand that some states will allow a child to enroll if they have been attending school in that state and plan to return at the end of travels. Oregon does not. The requirement here is that the materials be used physically in the house to which they are sent; domicile and tax status notwithstanding.

I would suggest that any parent from the USA planning a limited time, location independent experience look into the availability and requirements in their state.

After surfing around unsuccessfully online, I turned to my sister-in-law, who had home schooled her children while living in Japan for seven years. Her experience looked much different than ours would, as she had a permanent home where the boys could keep stacks of textbooks and desktop computers were set up at three stations in the living room.

From her came the first and probably most important piece of advice: start with the school your child will be returning to. Contact the counselor there and find out exactly what they will accept.

From the counselor at our local high school, we found that the best way to assure that Hannah could step back into class with her peers was to choose an accredited program that will issue transcripts. This is not so important for elementary and middle school, as they have more flexibility.

Refining the Search

An online search for home school curriculum and private online schools produces a flood of results, which I found overwhelming. Comparing programs based on company websites was sort of like buying a car by looking at it through a keyhole. Hannah and I made a list of our priorities:

  • No books – As we will be living from one suitcase and one carry-on per person, we won’t have room to lug books around. The girls must be able to access what they need electronically, via computer or Kindle.
  • Teacher support If Hannah does not understand something, there needs to be someone available who can help. We understand that this may not be 24 hour availability. After all, we’ll be in a different time zone, and sleeping during “school hours” back home. But, at least, someone available that we can e-mail or chat with through a forum.
  • Accredited – To be able to return without worrying about testing or the need to repeat anything.
  • Mid-year start – We are leaving in February, so will need to start for the second semester. As Hannah is currently in the 8th grade taking both high school Spanish and Algebra 1, we will need to enroll her in these two courses to finish the school year, and full time as a freshman in the fall.

We found a couple of online private schools that look like great programs. In Ojai, California, is a private prep school called Laurel Springs which specializes in expatriates and families who are traveling extensively. They can offer a lot of support and even customize curriculum to learn about places we would be visiting.

We could enroll at any time, classes are on the schedule of the student. This is a very attractive program, and, sadly, expensive. Not by private school standards, but for those of us accustomed to free public schooling. It would be a great fit for a family with a bigger budget.

Another private online school is offered by k12.com, with either a complete package or individual classes. This program seems to have a little less support and is not as customizable as Laurel Springs. I understand that this company is actually the service provider for several of the public online school programs.

They also offer their program via private school for those of us who do not qualify for online public school. This also translates to private school tuition, albeit a bit less than Lauren Springs.

So, we added another priority to our list:

  • Cost – We need to be able to afford the schooling without choking. Although keeping up with schoolwork and not falling behind is a priority, much of the learning over the next two years will come through the experience, not the curriculum. We don’t have to pay for “the best,” we just don’t want to lose any ground.

Even with the list, sifting through websites was a huge undertaking. I turned to an association I am a member of, which has a special interest group for home schooling families. I posted the question on their forum, explaining our plans and what we needed. Connecting with people who have been homeschooling and know some of the programs available was very helpful.

Curriculum Options

There are several very good curriculum options out there, some of the non-accredited are even offered by accredited schools, such as Aleks Math and Thinkwell. For families who don’t mind going through the process of home school testing, these are outstanding. For us, we want the simplicity of transcripts from an accredited school.

Finally, we settled on Compuhigh, which is an online division of an accredited high school. It is fully portable, and teacher support is available as we need it. They will provide transcripts in the end, so returning to public school will be simple. Enrollment and completion dates are flexible. And, comparatively, it was a decent value for the price.

There are great improvements on their way that will change the face of schooling on the road. Current programs are one-way. Interactivity with instructors through the programs themselves is working its way into online college curriculum, and will trickle down into high school and younger. Huge libraries are being digitized to be made available online. Between Google, Gutenberg, Kindle, and Nook, we will have access to much more information from anywhere.

Yet, even today there is so much more available than a couple of years ago. So, as we head out, I’m casting a few of my own breadcrumbs, hoping that they’ll make the trail a little easier to find for the next family.

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4 Responses to Getting Started With Home Schooling For Location Independent Teenagers

  1. Carmen

    January 31, 2010 | 1:45 pm

    I’m currently on the road for a year with my two teens and 9 year old. At home we are in a Waldorf/Steiner school. We started by speaking with the school about our plans, seeing what they might miss and what they might need to make up. Luckily, my girls have been very good students every year. If they had been struggling I think I may have gotten more resistance from the school about leaving. Instead, we got a high five and assurance that their places should be available on our return. Our first semester we chose to use another Waldorf school in Brazil. I felt this was the best choice for them to be able to learn Portuguese and experience Brazilian teen life. That turned out to be true. However, academically, the school day was a pretty big waste of time for them. Still, I think it was worthwhile in these other aspects. This semester we are in Oaxaca and my teens are homeschooling. We have chosen an online literature course through the University of Missouri classes for homeschoolers. It is designed for talented highschoolers who are ready for university level. Because the math at our regular school is very advanced we chose to travel with texts from home and a plan from their teacher there. They have mapped out what they need to accomplish before our return. Here in Oaxaca they have signed up for portrait drawing, mexican cooking and will likely add Spanish and a dance class later in the spring. They are also volunteering at a local place to work with children of the poor. I can’t say how pleased I am with how things are coming together for them. Their time is spent doing what they are truly interested in. The work is challenging but they are really enjoying it. I guess the message from me is – go for it! Be creative and put together something that will really reflect your teen’s interests and fuel their love of learning!

  2. Mike Peach

    January 31, 2010 | 3:16 pm

    Alternatively you could set your children free and let them learn autonomously without the need for the strictures of curriculum based learning.

    unschooling.com would be a good place to start or just google ‘unschooling’ or ‘autonomous education’.

    Breadcrumbs scattered. :)

  3. Eva Gill

    February 6, 2010 | 9:21 pm

    Thanks, Carmen and Mike for your thoughts.

    It sounds like an amazing experience with your family, Carmen. It has been really cool for me to connect and learn from others who are wandering.

    I’m not sure whether we will be in one place long enough to make it worthwhile to enroll in school while we are underway, typically our longest stops will be two or maybe three months. It would be a great way for the kids to connect with others their age, if nothing else. Your idea of taking just a couple of classes locally might be a good alternative.

    For us, we are planning to return to public school when we get home, which is why the accredited curriculum is such a big deal. The Waldorf system puts a lot more trust in parents (and the kids.) Perhaps rightfully so, because all of the families involved are making very active choices for their children’s learning, which may not be so true of public schools.

    Although all of the teachers and administrators from the public school system in our area are supportive and excited for us, they don’t have any flexibility. As much as I personally love the “unschooling” idea personally, it poses the risk that the girls, especially our high schooler, would have to repeat some classes or a whole grade when we get home. This would break one of the key promises I made to her when we started planning this adventure.

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