The Pain of Making Curriculum Choices for Homeschool High School

by Jimmie Lanley on July 11, 2013


We are nearing the final stretch in this homeschool adventure! Emma begins ninth grade in August 2013. She is constantly reminding me that I have only four more years with her. It’s a sobering thought.

In all my years of homeschooling, this year was the hardest ever to make curriculum choices.

Why I Am Struggling to Choose High School Curriculum

1. There was the pressure (mostly unfounded) of high school — transcripts, credits, record keeping, and college admissions. Fears about doing  high school wrong can make curriculum choices harder than they need to be.

2. There was the concern of keeping my umbrella school (required by TN law) satisfied. In the lower grades, they have not been too concerned with what I did. I sent in grades each semester, and that was about it. But in the high school years (because they issue a transcript), they want to know what curriculum I am using.  I have never had to answer to anyone in such detail about our homeschooling, and I really chafe under the requirement. All of our years abroad, I was totally on my own, and I liked that.

But now I have all these worries. What if we want to make it up as we go? What if we want to change mid-stream? I’ve always been able to make such adjustments or wing it, but I can’t do that any more. When I told someone from the umbrella school that we make up our writing curriculum as we go, he was not happy. That was not adequate for them to issue a transcript. Then I said I didn’t need their transcript, and that made him really upset.

The umbrella school wants the names of the curriculum we are using. Saying that I make it up as we go isn’t enough. And with the exception of Sonlight, their recommended choices are all textbooks.

I am so bothered by these requirements that I even considered leaving the umbrella school and registering directly with the local school board. That is an option in my state. But I am unsure of exactly what that change will entail, and our local schools are going through a huge merger with county and city. Plus the city I live in is trying to create its own school system on top of that. It’s a mess that I really don’t understand or want to invest in figuring out. The thought of answering to them for homeschooling gives me pause since there is so much internal turmoil going on. So I’m sticking with my umbrella school, and toughing out their requirements. If I can survive eight years in China, dealing with communist bureaucracies, surely I can jump through the hoops of a Christian cover school.

3. I am now a full-time work at home mom, and time is a big factor in my choices. Obviously, Emma is already doing a lot of her work independently, but planning a living books curriculum on the fly does take quite a bit of time. I need to step back a bit and let someone else do more of the planning. So even as I chafe under my cover school’s requirements, I realize that using a pre-planned curriculum will be a big help to me.

4. The downside to using more pre-planned curriculum and fewer living books is that I’m departing from many of the Charlotte Mason ideals that I’ve held to for so long.  This is another internal struggle for me. I believe in these principles, but when the rubber meets the road, when I look at Emma’s learning style, her interests and passions, when I evaluate my own available time and the requirements of my umbrella school, I realize that things have to change. She is not a reader, and for us to use a living books approach means that I have to read to her a great deal. I don’t mind doing that, and I will continue to read to her in these years, but the living books approach also entails a lot of preparation work for me.

The Plan for Ninth Grade

So, I planned and researched, got frustrated and put it all aside. Then I pulled it out again, agonized over it, and shelved it in disgust. But finally, I think I have come up with a plan that will work.

  • I can afford it.
  • It will make the umbrella school happy.
  • It will work with our time constraints.
  • Emma can get the credits she needs.
  • And it matches Emma’s interests and learning style.

It is a plan, and it might have to change. I’m okay with that. In a few months I may be sharing how we chucked huge portions of this plan and chose something else.

But in the end of this decision making process, I decided to take my own advice.

For the most part, any curriculum choice can work (omitting the crazy options that you would never even consider). Obsessing over finding the perfect curriculum is insane. There is no perfect curriculum. Just pick something and go with it. It will work. And if it doesn’t, you can tweak it or replace it. Just choose.

I will share the actual list soon. I need to go over it one more time with Emma before I make my purchases.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Cheryl Bastian July 11, 2013 at 8:06 am

As a mom who is an out-of-the-box thinker (and educator) when it comes to home education law, I understand (and have been) where you are. This continues to be a frustration for me as I have yet another high schooler. Our laws sound similar to your state and it is often a challenge to craft a individual plan you know will work and fits your style, while meeting the expectations of the law. I found it easier (and have more freedom under our state statute) to enroll through the county district and write my own transcripts and course descriptions for college admissions. For my past two graduates (both attended college) this has worked beautifully.

I like your quote. “Obsessing over finding the perfect curriculum is insane.” There is no perfect curriculum and almost always, curriculum must be tweaked along the way.


Cheri July 11, 2013 at 8:13 am

Thanks for bringing us along, Jimmie. My oldest is entering 8th grade this year so I’ll be following your journey with Emma into high school closely (your middle school posts have been so helpful). Also, thanks for the seminar with Lee Binz a few weeks ago-that helped my confidence tremendously. And your reminder of no curriculum being perfect is exactly what I needed to hear today as I’m working on planning the fall schedule with 3 kids (it’s the first year with my youngest added to the mix). Many blessings to you!!


Giggly Girls July 11, 2013 at 9:30 am

Ugh!! An umbrella school sounds worse then what we have here in VA. We have to file a notice of intent, a list of subjects to be studied (This is new last year we had to give a description of curriculum. HEAV worked hard to get that changed.), and standardized testing.

Can’t wait to see you list of curriculum.


Lorus S July 11, 2013 at 10:55 am

I can relate! I don’t have an umbrella school, but I just graduated our oldest son (homeschooled all the way through in the state of Texas) and 2 weeks later we moved to Pennsylvania. The regulations here seem so extreme to me! Our daughter begins 9th grade this year and I am struggling to maintain our way of schooling and still meet all of the written requirements! Ugh!!
On a bright note: I am very happy with where our son is, he stayed in Texas to stay with his job and is in an excellent position for success. I know our method of schooling works and I am reminding myself regularly that I can work within the rules and still make the curriculum work for me. Hopefully one of these days I can stop stressing over it and let that soak in… 😉


Leah July 11, 2013 at 10:56 am

Have you considered West River Academy’s Umbrella school? You can make your own transcript if you like, or go with their transcript program.

You answer directly to them instead of registering with your state, and you are in complete control of what you do. It’s $325 for the year for a family with a one time $50 registration fee for new students.

I have been using them for a few years now as a legal cover. It isn’t Christian, but the director is wonderful.

If you would like a link, I can give you one, but I don’t want you to think I am spamming you!


SoCalLynn July 11, 2013 at 11:41 am

Thank you for sharing your process this year. I have many of the same concerns for my 9th grade daughter’s studies this year. The one thing I don’t have, however, is concerns about an umbrella, as we are completely independent this year for the first time ever. This is making me nervous, because I don’t want to mess up!


Bev July 11, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Take a deep breath, it is scary at the beginning, but it gets better as the years go by. My son just finished year 2 of high school. Here in NC we can do whatever we want. However, for this fall I wanted him to participate in duel enrollment at our local community college, which meant I needed a transcript and he needed to take the ACT. Well, they liked us and didn’t question my transcript. So I didn’t mess him up too bad, so far.

We too like living books, but I found that as he got older he was more into textbooks – a let’s get this done and move on attitude. Can you be vague in your descriptions? Student will complete literary analysis of classical literature such as Invahoe and Moby Dick, as well as more modern literature such as The Chosen and The Giver. You might even be able to say “complete reading list will be submitted upon course completion”. Let’s face it – even p.s. teachers skip or substitute books as the year progresses.


Sandy July 11, 2013 at 2:10 pm

My fourth, and youngest, child is beginning high school this fall. The choices were a little easier this time around because I’ve already done this three times. (His next oldest sibling will be a senior this year.) Despite that, homeschooling high school is still hard, for all the reasons you listed. Whereas before, homeschooling was about what our family believes about education, when you get to high school it is suddenly about what a lot of other people believe about education. I live in a state that doesn’t require any type of registration (I used to live in TN, so I get it.) but colleges still have requirements that they expect to be met with textbooks for the most part. Trying to do high school without textbooks is difficult for that reason. So, yes, it’s easier this time around, but that’s mostly because I went through the negative emotions the first two times and knew to expect them the last two.


Gena July 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I’m so curious to see your list. I’m sorry about the TN requirements. What a pain. You could move here to IL!


Phyllis at All Things Beautiful July 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm

I understand your pain and struggle. I am constantly struggling with it. I have the same umbrella program, too, probably, since it is in TN.


Sandra July 11, 2013 at 3:07 pm

It’s tough when real life – work commitments, child’s learning style etc- gets in the way of the way you really want to homeschool. I’ll be dealing with it a lot next year since my third child’s preferred tertiary institution is a lot more rigid than that which my older two opted for. As a result we’ll probably have to go the national curriculum/national exam route which I dislike. But I’m sure it will work out fine. It sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought and effort into your plan and it will undoubtedly be a good year for Emma – even if it looks different from how you might have envisioned it a few year ago.


Carrie July 11, 2013 at 10:19 pm

You might want to consider The Farm School. It is not Christian, but they are very flexible with filling out those required subjects with informal learning. Just a thought. They don’t require curriculum. I plan to use Home Life Academy now, but might switch to The Farm School for High School because of their flexibility. We are very relaxed in our educational approach.


Heidi July 12, 2013 at 12:57 am

Not sure what umbrella school you are using, but we use and enjoy Home Life Academy which is based in TN. We are still in elementary, but I understand their high school process is equally flexible– you (the parent) make all the curriculum choices and you are free to change/update your educational plan as you go along. I know of a family that used them all the way through high school and they were very pleased.


Beth July 12, 2013 at 1:11 am

I can’t believe she is ready for high school already. I can’t wait to hear what you have decided to use.


Heather July 12, 2013 at 4:44 am

The cover school…I’m wondering if the insistence on using a named curriculum has to do with writing the course description for the transcript? It would make it easier on them writing the description if they could just plug in the publisher’s course description. Maybe you could provide them with the description on your own program so it’s no different for them?


Melissa July 12, 2013 at 8:06 am

I’m so thankful you didn’t share your list yet, because I’ve finally settled on my son’s 9th grade curriculum after months of agonizing decision making and I really don’t need more options to make me second guess my decisions. 😉


Sarah July 12, 2013 at 12:26 pm

My oldest is starting 8th grade this year and I am already starting in on many of these same worries. I tend to do the write-my-own curriculum too and have been wondering how that works in high school credits, what’s high school level, etc. When I lived in TN I used Home Life Academy, not sure if they would work for you, but I don’t think they have the same strict requirements that an umbrella school has.


Kate July 12, 2013 at 12:58 pm

My oldest is still a year away from high school but I’ve begun my own struggle on how to homeschool his high school years and not be overwhelmed by it as I still have younger children who also need my attention.
We blessedly live in Texas so I don’t have any of the hassle of umbrella schools or accountability to school districts that others are faced with, but at the same time I want to be able to give him the absolute best opportunities throughout his high school years.
Just knowing that I am not alone in this new frontier of homeschooling lessens my own anxiety and has me looking forward to high school instead of being repelled by it.
Thank you.


Gina Reich Guzman July 12, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Hi Jimmie,
I just had to reply. I am in the same boat as you. I FIRMLY believe that CM provides a superior education for most kids but none of my kids have chosen to continue CM for the high school years. One went the unschooling route instead and the other two are choosing nontraditional schools for their teen years. It makes me sad but I know my kids are choosing what is best for them. Luckily, many of my friends are proCM, even if it’s not their own homeschool style, so now I am teaching some CM style classes to their kids which does allow me to continue my love affair with CM. You have my sympathies in regards to the whole high school struggle.


Drewe Llyn Jeffcoat July 13, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I have a great solution to the whole problem… Move south a few miles. Tada! All is well. MS has very relaxed HS laws. 😉


Angie July 14, 2013 at 12:33 am

I can’t wait to hear what Emma will be doing next year. Noah is just a year behind her, so I’ve always taken a keen interest in what you guys are doing.


shirley July 17, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I just wanted to say thank you, i will be doing 8th grade soon and I loved reading what you put about how you over came your trials. I gives me hope about when i will have to decide how to over come them in a couple years. thank you


Meg July 24, 2013 at 9:25 pm

I completely understand. I have a first grader and I’m making it up as I go along. No big deal. I also have a new-to-homeschool 10th grader (he was in a private school until it closed this spring and we have no other viable options), and I have no idea what I’m doing. We are at the other extreme – NJ has no oversight, so there’s nothing to “match up” against. Sure, I have to match the courses (3 sciences, 4 Englishes, etc.) to issue a diploma, but there’s nobody to tell me exactly just what *is* English II. My biggest concern is “Is it ENOUGH” to count?


Keri July 26, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Like you, I am also like to be totally on my own. Recently, my husband saw a commercial for the “Online” Public School. We have always used an online curriculum (Time4Learning). It works so well for us, that I do not want to change it, if I can help it. But, with my oldest ready for High School, I have been a bit worried/overwhelmed at what curriculum I will have to use. ( T4L used to only go up to the 8th grade.) My husband wanted us to look into the Public School’s Online program. I on the other hand was leery about it. I have heard that you do not have the freedom to control as much when you use it. The thought of answering or being told how to homeschool by a stranger, well it is upsetting. (I would have told that umbrella School guy the same thing too! ) That is why I started Homeschooling in the first place. To be able to teach, the way I know my children, learn best. Luckily, T4L is now offering High School courses, Whew! So, I am feeling much better with the new school year. I was starting to worry, that the way we had been homeschooling, was going to have to change. I don’t live in TN. Florida is different. Up until now, a yearly evaluation, is all I have needed to do. Im not sure if 9th grade will change things for me, hopefully not. Next week, I meet with our Teacher evaluator. I am sure she will let me know then if I need to change anything I am doing. I am not too worried though. T4L has been record keeping for me up until now. So, I am sure that will be sufficient. When it comes to your problem with using the umbrella school or just going to the school board. Why not take a moment and either call or go up to the school board and speak with someone about this. I am sure they can explain what would be expected, if you went that route. Just an idea 😉
Good Luck with High School and dealing with either the School Board or your Umbrella School!


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