Planning For High School, by Lisa Appelo


Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been homeschooling kids since kindergarten, thinking about homeschooling through the high school years is daunting. What records will you need? Can lab sciences and pre-calc really be done at home? Even though thousands of other homeschoolers have graduated and gone on to successful post-high school experiences, it can still seem like a grand experiment until you’ve graduated your own child.

I have found there are five keys to high school planning. Follow these to curb misgivings and missteps.

1. Start with the end in mind. Before you look through the first catalog, sit down with your child and talk about post-high school goals. Does your child prefer a large state university or a small liberal arts college? Will she likely go into the service or to a vocational school? While not immoveable, knowing the end goal will help you shape the high school years.

In our family, we knew our children would most likely go to a state university because of their career goals and an excellent state scholarship program. With that in mind, we looked at two things: the state universities’ admission requirements and any special homeschool conditions. One university required homeschoolers to take several accredited courses, or alternatively, SAT II exams in those subject areas. Armed with that information, we were able to fold in accredited classes over the high school years. It would have been a major roadblock had we discovered this during the senior year admissions process!

Once you know your student’s post-high school vision, you’re almost ready to open the catalogs. But first, pause and reassure yourself with step 2.

2. Just take the next step from 8th grade. Moving into high school is much like moving a child from kindergarten to first grade or from 6th grade to 7th. While high school may seem like promotion to a whole new world, the student is just progressing up one step academically. For many core subjects, this simply means going to the next level in that subject. In math, for example, the student might move from Saxon Algebra I to Algebra II. If you already have favorite curricula, some of it can be used right into high school.

Even the schedules and learning style you found in the middle years can be used in high school. Thinking of just going up one level, rather than creating a whole new structure, will help take the angst out of high school planning.

3. Research state graduation requirements. In most states, homeschoolers are not bound by state graduation requirements. But these standards help indicate two key things: what colleges in your area are looking for and what credits graduates will have taken — graduates in the same college application pool as yours. If graduates in your area routinely take four years of core academic subjects (math, science, social science, language arts and foreign language), you will want your student’s transcript to reflect that as well.

Also, while most college admission sites list the minimum requirements, be sure to look at the freshman profile page. This page gives a picture of the test scores, GPA, and credits for the freshman class actually admitted and attending. At this point, you’re ready to make the four-year plan, only in light of Step 4.

4. Sketch a four-year plan. In pencil. Now that you know your child’s goals, what worked in eighth grade, and your state’s requirements, you’re ready to rough out a four-year plan. Go ahead and add in details like curriculum you might use or online classes that would fit. Be sure to write in tests that should be completed along with courses (AP, CLEP or SAT II) as well as tests necessary for dual-enrollment and college (PSAT, SAT, ACT).

Now is the time to get out the catalogs and dream big! Just remember that this draft will change. Before your child graduates, new books will be published. Outside classes and local opportunities will appear. Or your student may develop a new passion. Of course, the beauty of homeschooling — sometimes most clearly seen in the high school years — is being able to tailor learning to our children. Even in pencil, this sketch will provide a great scaffold for the next four years. Just one more thing to add:

5. Consult a local source. This is my favorite part because it usually means I get to take another  homeschool mom out to lunch. Choose someone who has already put kids through high school and is familiar with state requirements. Ask her if she sees any problems with your four-year plan. In the best of worlds, this parent will share the transcripts, planning forms and tried-and-true wisdom learned from the process.

Planning for the high school years does not need to be intimidating. Even for those completely new to home education, these five practical steps will get you started and help you craft a plan for your high schooler. And be sure to stay tuned, as Sandbox to Socrates will cover the high school years in more detail in October.

Lisa Appelo is in the 16th year of homeschooling her seven children. The oldest three were homeschooled through high school and went on to their first choice colleges. Lisa continues to teach the others in grades 2nd through high school at home, most recently as a suddenly widowed single mom. Each day is an adventure in life and grace.

Great Books: The Canterbury Tales, by Jen W.




The Canterbury Tales are one of those required readings that most people suffer through in high school without really taking the time to understand, deeply appreciate Chaucer’s ability to cover numerous aspects of the human experience or even stop and think about whether or not they find it enjoyable reading. Are you the type of person who likes the type of chaste, romantic stories that you might find in Christian romance novels? Or are you more of the type who loves irreverent humor like the type found in modern farce? Either way, Chaucer has something for you.


When my students read The Canterbury Tales, the first thing I have them do is read through The General Prologue. I have them make three columns: people that Chaucer likes or approves of, people that Chaucer does not like or disapproves of and people that Chaucer is ambivalent about. Students nearly always get this wrong the first time around. They skim, they don’t see Chaucer’s biting sarcasm, they don’t connect that the implications they would read into the words today are often the same implications that Chaucer intends. Two prime examples of this misunderstanding are with the Summoner and the Pardoner.

Read quickly, students assume the usual modern tropes as they skim the text. These are religious men, so the students assume goodness. The Summoner’s appearance is described in detail, but in seemingly opposing phrases. His face is described as red and “cherubic,” but because it is covered with sores, he has crazy eyebrows over his small eyes and he smells bad. Modern students are accustomed to this sort of rough exterior holding a heart of gold, but Chaucer tends to be more literal. The Summoner’s interior is no better than his outward appearance, he is usually drunk, he is lecherous and a liar. The Summoner was someone who was charged by the medieval church to charge people with spiritual crimes and bring them before the ecclesiastical court. The description of The Summoner’s many faults, his ignorance (he barely knows any Latin, despite hearing it all day when in church), the way in which he brushes off the teachings of the church (pointing out that you can pay a bribe to excuse yourself) both show that Chaucer thinks little good of him. Students recognize this when you have them go back and read the section aloud. One of the main things they catch onto is the quip about children being afraid of him. Are they merely afraid of him due to his outward appearance and gruff, drunken behavior or is there another reason? My students have mostly asked when they came to this line, “is he a pedophile?” I think, yes, that definitely one possible implication that must be entertained, even if it is not a certainty.


The Pardoner’s description is not much better, but without careful reading it’s easy to miss. The Pardoner is in many physical ways the opposite of the Summoner. He is gentle. He is smooth and hairless. He has flaxen hair. He is carries religious articles. But, a closer look shows other aspects. He is like a gelding. His flaxen hair is greasy and lank. He carries jars of pig-bones. He carries a bag stuffed full of pardons that he is selling for a price, hopefully to a trusting country parson who will pay a dear price for a real religious relic. The implications of his description are a matter of intense controversy. Chaucer surely means the hairless, gelding description to be distinctly negative. Is he really a woman? A hermaphrodite? Is he part of a couple with the Summoner? I don’t think it’s possible to say for certain, it only matters here that sexual immorality of some sort is being implied. These are as much criticisms of the church as they are personal criticisms. The church was in the midst of the great schism. Many of Chaucer’s close friends were executed during the political turmoil of the time. Chaucer was forced to leave London for Kent. There was even a specific event involving pardoners who stole money they claimed to be collecting for a hospital. The Friar’s Tale deals with a summoner who is working for the devil. Clearly, Chaucer is making statements about the corrupt nature of the ecclesiastical structure and politics of the time.

These are the sort of descriptions that can give many students their first realization that the human condition is exactly that, the human condition. There truly is nothing new underneath the sun. Society is no more degenerate now than it was then. Chaucer certainly seems to disapprove of the degenerate nature of several of the pilgrims, but does Chaucer fully approve of the opposite?

The Knight could be seen as the opposite of the first two pilgrims we have looked at. He is first described as “worthy.” He values truth, chivalry, truth, honor and other high-minded qualities. He has ridden to war in defense of Christendom. He is at once wise and humble. But, he is also serious and unhappy. He is the first of the pilgrims to tell his story. His story is chaste, romantic, classical and boring. This is the drawback of clean living. It isn’t very exciting. The same can be said of many modern similar stories. Each of the pilgrims tells a story that reveals their nature and reveals more of what Chaucer thinks about them. Their stories reveal both their proclivities and their prejudices (such as The Prioress’s Tale which is a gruesome, anti-Semitic story).

If you thought that the pilgrims were going continue in order of medieval societal hierarchy, you are quickly disabused of that notion when The Miller jumps in with his own story. The fact that the pilgrims do not continue in some sort of order gives a democratic or egalitarian feel to the group. The Miller’s Tale is a rollicking one involving adultery and more than a healthy dose of scatalogical humor. The ribald nature of The Miller’s Tale rivals modern movies like The Hangover.

The depth and breadth of Chaucer’s tales, told by his pilgrims, is one of the major things that makes them worthy of reading today. Few modern authors could manage so many different genres and styles of writing. The collection shows that movies like The Hangover are not the result of our cultural downfall or erasing of Christian values in a secular society. Stories both chaste and…well…not so chaste have existed since people started writing down stories in the English language. They even existed at this time, when the church was at the height of its political and social power.

Taken as a whole, both the prologue and the stories are a tale of what it means to be virtuous. Because the truth is, we are all Chaucer. Humans admired many of the same things then as they do now. People might find the risque nature of The Miller’s Tale hilarious or offensive, but it is a tale of getting by on one’s wits, justice and the benefits of maturity. The Parson’s Tale offers advice of not believing everything you hear, not being overly trusting and cautions against greed. The Reeve’s Tale takes a “eat or be eaten” attitude toward human nature that suggests that every man is out for himself.

These tales illuminate the nature of the each pilgrim and often, the nature of humanity of a whole. “Holy” men of highly questionable character, cheating businessmen, people who take their civic duties seriously, women fighting to be recognized as equal to men; the pilgrims are a mix of people that can still be found in modern society. This allows students to appreciate the fact that human nature has remained largely unchanged, that the struggles faced today are not new.

It smacks of Kurt Vonnegut’s quote, “But I have to say this in defense of humankind: In no matter what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got here. And, except for the Garden of Eden, there were already all these crazy games going on that could make you act crazy, even if you weren’t crazy to begin with. Some of the crazymaking games going on today are love and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards, golf, and girls’ basketball.”

Careful reading allows students to connect with people of the past in a way that sanitized summaries in a textbook do not allow for. It allows them to see that there truly is nothing new under the sun. It humanizes the people of the past. It allows students to think that maybe they can make a small difference in the world, even if they cannot change human nature. Say what you want about the downfall of Christian values, but you cannot deny that people have always enjoyed stories that involve sex and fart jokes.

While sex and fart jokes are a large part of some of the stories, there are other stories that balance those out. Taken as a whole, both the prologue and the stories are a tale of what it means to be virtuous. Because the truth is, we are all Chaucer. Humans admired many of the same things then as they do now.


Jen W.jen_wJen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

What Can Jane Austen Tell Us About How to Choose a Spouse? by Jen W.


A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.

I will never forget sitting in a college survey class as a literature major while a nursing student complained about Pride and Prejudice. “It’s unromantic! It’s boring! Darcy is such a jerk!” Even at 18 years old, the comments made me believe that I had an idea of why divorce rates were so high. I didn’t think it was unromantic or boring, but I have a pretty good idea why other young women believed it was so. “Romance” has been sold as a product for a very long time, but the idea of what it means changes with the times. There is a famous correspondence between Charlotte Bronte and the literary critic George Henry Lewes in which Bronte roundly criticizes Austen as lacking in wildness and passion. Obviously, the books of the Bronte sisters have those things in spades. But, heroes like Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester would raise the eyebrows of any sane parent, just as Edward, the sulky vampire from Twilight, would likely do today in reality.

And that is the trouble with stories that tout the value of fantasy over reality. Sure, many women find men who brood and obsess over them to be exciting on some level. But, these are often the women who wind up pressing domestic violence charges against their partners later. Obsession, unlike what the perfume commercials would have you believe, is an unhealthy emotion. These types of relationships are hardly a recipe for domestic bliss.

It’s true, Jane Austen died nearly two hundred years ago when the lives of the women she wrote about were very different than the many choices that women living in much of the world have today. It is also true that she never married, so what would she know about choosing a spouse? But I contend that a large part of the reason that she is both popular and relevant today is that she was a shrewd observer of human nature, and those observances resonate today. But they resonate in the realities of long-term relationships, balancing a family and running a household instead of engaging in a love affair. Having a torrid love affair simply shouldn’t be anybody’s main goal in life, and it isn’t good enough reason to get married.

Novels, since the birth of the genre, have been full of rejected, seduced, and abandoned maidens, whose proper fate is to die. 

In Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, she focuses on the plight of a family of women who have not been treated kindly by their only living male relative. They are basically left destitute and rely on the charity of a distant relative. This focus provides a theme that continues through several of Austen’s books, the relative lack of economic and political power of women. Gothic novels are full of young women whose fates are exactly as described in the above quote. But, Austen hoped to give her heroines a chance at a happy, stable life. 


The novel’s sisters, Marianne and Elinor, are a pair of contrasting heroines whose lack of economic status hampers their ability to marry decently, the only possible salvation from their current destitute status. Marianne is the “sensible” sister of the pair, however, this word at the time had a very different meaning than it does now. Today, we might call Marianne a free spirit or artsy or sensitive or even emotional. By contrast, her sister Elinor represents “sense.” In this context, it shows that she is intelligent, reserved and displays good judgment. We expect to see these two sides at war, but in truth, what we find in the end is that the desired result, according to Austen, is a balance between the two. Elinor nearly loses her chance at love by not being forward enough while Marianne comes close to ruination by sharing too much of her sensitivity and passion with a man not committed to her.

How about the men in the novel? Elinor is attracted to Edward Ferrars because he is intelligent, pleasant-mannered and steady. His sense of duty initially holds him back as he is promised to another and his restraint hurts Elinor. In the end, it is his sense of duty that allows him freedom of choice, and he chooses Elinor. Marianne, on the other hand is first attracted to John Willoughby, a dashing young man who flirts with and flatters Marianne. I’m certain that he sends her pulse racing in a manner that Charlotte Bronte would have approved of. He leads her to believe that he intends to marry her, and she allows him to take a lock of her hair, earning her the disapproval of the more careful Elinor. But he needs a wife of financial means. Even though he claims to love Marianne long after he has given her up, he has treated her in an unkind and careless manner. This is not how you should treat the person that you love. We later find out that Willoughby has impregnated and abandoned at least one other young woman, leaving an impression that this could have been Marianne’s fate as well. Marianne marries Colonel Brandon in the end. He is constant, kind, and takes her into his confidence with painful secrets in order to save her feelings. It is through making wise choices of marriage partners that the women gain both in love and in economics.

I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.

Arguably her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice continues the discussion of women and their lack of economic power. As the novel opens, a wealthy and eligible bachelor has moved into a country neighborhood. This new addition has thrown the neighborhood, particularly the Bennet family, into a tizzy. You see, the Bennets have five daughters, an entailed estate, no male heir, and have saved little to support the girls upon their father’s death. The girls attend a local ball at which time we are introduced to not just one, but two rich bachelors!


This focus on the wealth of potential suitors seems predatory, especially for modern readers. But, as the novel slowly unveils, it becomes clear that the financial future of the Bennet ladies is full of peril. The wacky family members, the financial distress, the fact that all of the girls are “out”– all of these things spell trouble of the sort that tends to scare off potential suitors.

What types of character traits does Austen find desirable and which does she condemn? Certain we see the condemnation of an excess of pride. Elizabeth’s pride blinds her to the true character of those around her until she is, nearly tragically, proven wrong. Mr. Darcy’s pride is what spurs him to deliver what is arguably one of the worst marriage proposals in history. Both learn to think outside of their personal scope to see the viewpoints of one another.

Other character traits that are undesirable include the flighty, nervous nature of Mrs. Bennet; the self-importance and the fawning, false flattery of Mr. Collins; the overt snobbery of Lady Catherine de Bourgh; Mr. Wickham’s gambling, indebtedness and womanizing; the wishy-washy behavior of Mr. Bingley; the rudeness and meddling of Caroline Bingley. Really, the book at times seems to be a parade of bad behavior and manners. But, by contrast, we have the kindness of Jane, the wit and vivacity of Elizabeth, the dutiful nature of Mr. Darcy. But, what does Mr. Darcy really do to recommend him in marriage? What is it that makes Elizabeth change her mind?

First, she reads the letter he gives her the morning after the disastrous proposal and learns the truth of her incorrect beliefs and the true wrong that Mr. Wickham has done to Mr. Darcy. The fact the he willingly reveals such painful events is the very beginning of intimacy between the two. We first begin to see real change in Darcy when he accidentally surprises Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. They are on a tour of country estates. He catches Elizabeth off guard by how kind he is to her relatives. He speaks to them as equals. He invites her uncle to come fishing. She learns to see beneath the surface. He learns to open up enough to take care of people outside his direct circle.

The story of Pride and Prejudice is romantic because he takes Elizabeth’s offenses to heart. He opens himself up in ways that are uncomfortable for him. He takes her into his inner circle. He accepts her family. He takes care of her reputation. He defies his own extended family for love of her. He accepts her lower circumstances because he finally realizes that her circumstances have made her the woman that he loves. Likewise, Elizabeth comes to see Darcy as deep, sensitive, caring, intelligent and dutiful. He would never embarrass her like Mr. Collins might. He would never run up debts or attempt to seduce vulnerable young women like Wickham does. He won’t mistreat the people around him as Lady Catherine de Bourgh does. He won’t misspend his money, putting her future children in jeopardy as her own father did. He will take care of her and cherish her in every way.

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.

The third novel that we’ll look at is Persuasion. An interesting point in this novel is that our heroine, Anne Elliot is the wealthy but less favored daughter of a lord while her only real love interest had been turned away several years before due to his lowly social status. In the meantime, he has raised himself to a distinguished rank in the British Navy (as did Austen’s two brothers) and accumulated a fortune as a successful Navy Captain. Anne Elliot is a beleaguered soul. She is considered a spinster at 27 years old. Her father is in debt due to over-spending, but still maintaining his snobbery. One sister shares these tendencies. The other sister is married and more than a bit of a drama queen, languishing in “ill health” or hysterics when she isn’t the center of attention. The surrounding cast of extended family members and friends simply do not share Anne’s kindness or true refinement of a sort that doesn’t come from fashion or money.


Captain Frederick Wentworth returns to Anne’s life suddenly when his sister and brother-in-law rent her family home (it is being rented out in order to bring some income back into the coffers). He is aloof and treats her in a manner that shows he still carries the hurts of the past. He even praises one of the young women of their acquaintance for her headstrong manner when she vows not to let the opinions of other people sway her. He makes small efforts to take care of and protect her. But, when this turns to near tragedy, he quickly realizes that this isn’t necessarily the course of a wise woman.

In the meantime, her cousin and her father’s heir, Mr. Elliot, attempts to court her. She finds him attractive. His manners are pleasant and easy. He pays attention to her, which is a huge thing in and of itself for Anne’s confidence and mood. And yet, she doesn’t believe he is being truly open or honest. She tells Lady Russell (who encourages the match just as she discouraged Anne’s acceptance of Frederick’s proposal so many years before) that they would not suit. But Frederick doesn’t recognize Anne’s attempts to put off Mr. Elliott for what they are.

Finally, Frederick overhears Anne passionately explaining to another that women are the most constant in love, never giving up, even when all hope seems lost. This actually renews his own hope and spurs him into action. He writes her a beautiful letter, and she quickly rushes to reconcile with him. They are finally reconciled and their engagement renewed. Ultimately, this is a story of interrupted love in which the problems are overcome by forgiveness.

What traits does Austen warn us about? Vanity, not just in others but she warns us not to succumb to that trait within ourselves, giving over to false flattery. She warns about over-spending, urging economy, frugality and financial planning. She warns about both appearing too frivolous and too serious. She warns both about being too wishy-washy and too headstrong, instead urging us to approach problems with logic and a sense of balance. We should invest ourselves in quality people who are kind, who love us in spite of our many faults or the need to forgive us for past or present hurts. We should match up with spouses who are willing to put up with, take care of and socialize with our family, even when those family members we love are wacky, not socially appropriate or a bit crazy. We should look for ways they take care of us instead of associating with us when it is convenient or they get something out of it. It’s true that things like caring for your family may not seem as wildly romantic on the surface as digging up your grave or creepily watching you sleep. But, solid marriages aren’t made of people without normal coping mechanisms. I advise young women and men to look to Austen for advice on choosing a spouse instead of the Bronte sisters or Stephanie Meyer. You’ll be happier for it.

High School Dissection, by Jen W.

Dissection Day


Although dissection lab is not experimental science, there are very good reasons for high school students to engage in dissection. First, dissection is very useful in helping students better visualize biological structures. These apply both narrowly and more widely. Dissecting a sheep or cow eye not only teaches the student about sheep and cows, but they can apply that knowledge to the human eye. Secondly, dissection gives students confidence in their later labs. Dissection requires some amount of skill and precision, but there is no expectation of achieving a specific result as with later labs the students will experience in chemistry and other areas of science. Thirdly, when you take dissection in incremental steps, they gradually get used to the “yucky stuff” involved with dissection, which may help them get over queasiness that may be associated with the medical field.

First challenge for a veteran homeschool mom: finding the dissection kit in the science closet.

To get started with dissection, you will need several items: a dissection kit, a dissection tray, an instruction book and one or more specimens, you might also want to print lab sheets or worksheets. There are YouTube videos available of many different types of dissection that can help walk nervous students (and parents!) through the process.

There are several different dissection kits available. Personally, I really like the advanced dissection kit from Home Training Tools. The set has everything most students will need while keeping the price low. The scalpel is sharp, but easy to handle. The tweezers, probes and everything are made well enough to last through several kids. I added extra pins, extra scalpel blades and a magnifying glass to our kit. Note the instructions on how to change scalpel blades on the site, many people have trouble figuring it out without help.

I own this dissection tray. It is currently being used by my second child, having made it through several dissections with my eldest. It is still holding up very well. I appreciate the reusable aspect because it means that it’s always at hand.

You can see the tray at work dissecting an earthworm with pins in it in the featured photo.

We use this how-to book: How to Dissect by William Berman. This one book contains great basic information on dissection as well instructions for dissecting many different specimens, including all of the specimens that most students will tackle in high school.

I found free dissection worksheets here for most of our specimens.

There are several YouTube channels that provide students with excellent walk-throughs that will ease the mind of anyone nervous about dissection. I feel these two are among the best:

Carolina Biological

My kids do at least the following: earthworm, clam, grasshopper, crayfish, frog, starfish and perch. More science focused and/or less grossed out kids also do: a cow eye, a squid, a dogfish shark and a fetal pig. I feel this gives the more timid a solid feel for anatomical structures, and gives the braver and/or more science-focused kids a pretty good range of specimen examples.


Carolina Biological even has a useful video for dissecting the dogfish shark.

Although I strongly recommend hands-on dissection with real specimens, there are a few students who will be extra grossed-out and/or have ethical issues with dissection. In that case, as a last resort, there are virtual dissections available. Here are a couple of the more popular options:

Earthworm Dissection

Froguts Virtual Dissection

Squid Dissection

Jen jen_wW.– Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Ship, by Heart Cross Ranch


I have a daughter who flies helicopters. Big helicopters. The ones that make you think of Blackhawk Down. The Navy calls them Knighthawks or the MH-60S. They are BIG helicopters.

The Knighthawk is a multi-purpose platform, capable of search & rescue, Special Forces support, anti-submarine operations, and even recovering space capsules.

How did my girl ever end up doing that?

It started with a chance encounter on the 4th of July in Paris under the Eiffel Tower. My daughter was overseas with Hillsdale College studying, “Their Finest Hour: Churchill and WWII.” She saw several elderly gentlemen in WWII Army uniforms and recognized them as Sgt. Malarkey and Lt. Compton of “Band of Brothers” fame. She introduced herself and they had a lovely visit. A few weeks later, Malarkey mentioned on NPR how touched he was that high school students were excited to meet them. Little did he know that he had profoundly touched my daughter. She came home determined to live up to the “Greatest Generation.” And thus began our journey down the military academy path.

Warning:  the academy application process is not one for faint hearts. It’s time consuming, nit-picking, and headache-producing. But when they raise their hands and swear to “defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and your heart swells with pride, it’s all worth it.

A general overview of a typical academy prep for homeschoolers can be found here: Academy Admissions Advice for Homeschoolers.

I’ll address the rest of this article to the student/candidate as they should be the ones who complete the majority of the application process.

The process begins at Christmas time of the junior year with Summer Seminar applications. There are five service academies: United States Air Force Academy, United States Merchant Marine Academy, United States Military Academy (West Point), United States Naval Academy (Annapolis), and the United States Coast Guard Academy. Of those five, four offer rising seniors a chance to spend a week in the summer, getting a taste of academy life. Since USMMA is on a trimester system, they don’t have such a program. Enrollment in all four Summer Seminars (called different things for each academy) is very competitive, and most students apply for more than one. Who gets chosen to attend? All four are looking for similar things: high ACT/SATs, high GPA, involvement in sports, community service, and leadership, leadership, leadership. Since the process begins so early, it behooves the aspiring candidate to take the SAT and ACT early, in order to have those scores available. The academies are also looking to ensure geographic diversity, so they are eager to bring in prospects from every state. While not getting into Summer Seminar doesn’t mean you won’t get an Appointment, attending Summer Seminar does show interest and can help in the process later. Each academy’s summer program has a different flavor, but all involve an introduction to military life and some really cool classes. You might find yourself lined up on the bulkhead being “counseled” right before working on glider design. You’ll be making your “rack” correctly, memorizing page after page of “knowledge,” marching in formation and keeping your “eyes in the boat.” You might find yourself trying to take over the world in a political science scenario and then participating in team-building exercises. Each seminar runs about $400, plus airfare. You’ll come home with enough t-shirts for the rest of your life!

Some of the academies use the Summer Seminar process as a preliminary application for the academies themselves; others do not. But once your SS application is in, it’s time to start thinking nominations!  All but the Coast Guard Academy require a Congressional, Vice-Presidential, or Presidential nomination. That process requires attention to detail and a lot of stamina. The best advice we were given was to buy a good scanning copier. You’ll need it. Another piece of good advice is to create a separate email address, (one that you will check many times a day) specifically for academy admissions. Time to dump the “partyheartygirl at” address. Clean up your Facebook page; it WILL be perused. You’ll need to have letters of recommendation lined up, and most Members of Congress will want them submitted online.

This is where it gets tricky for homeschoolers and is something to consider as the high school years are planned out. Many Members want to see recommendations from science, English, and math teachers, as well as from outside sources.. We’ve had good success with using college professors from dual enrollment classes. A consistent question comes up:  “As a homeschooler, how will you function as a member of a group? How will you handle classroom learning?” Another constant is the class rank requirement, which a homeschooler obviously won’t have. Most MOC will be content with extrapolating class rank from the student’s ACT/SAT national percentile. Many MOC will close their nomination applications in early fall, some as early as September 15th—don’t be caught napping! Give yourself time to get those letters in and all transcripts sent. Most MOCs have a spot for course descriptions, school profile, guidance counselor letter, and resume. You’ll be doing separate interviews with your representative and two senators’ boards.

While the nomination process is well underway, it’s time to think about the physical tests. You  may have already done a CFA (Candidate Fitness Assessment) at Summer Seminar, but be aware that some academies will allow you to update them, and some will not. They each have running, pull-ups, pushups, and a weird kneeling basketball throw. You need to be in good shape, along with just practicing the skills. Run and then run some more. However, don’t run within 24 hours of your medical exam as it could skew the urine test results!

Next up—the DODMERB, Department of Defense Medical Exam Review Board! If you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re going to learn to speak in acronyms. There are twenty-four pages listed as disqualifications here: Disqualification Codes.  You  should read through these and see if you fall under any of the concerns. There are SOME waivers granted, but as the process becomes more and more competitive, those waivers are harder to obtain. Give yourself enough time to work through a remedial or waiver process; it takes time.

Once you are found qualified, you’ll be notified of your interview. Each academy does them a bit differently. Navy calls your interviewer a Blue & Gold Officer; West Point calls him a MALO; and the Air Force Academy, an ALO. They all want to get to know your motivation, your knowledge of the academies, and your confidence level. Now is not the time to show up in the t-shirt and flip-flops. If the interview is held at your house, a button-down shirt and khakis are in order. If at the officer’s office, it’s time to break out the blazer. Be early—15 minutes early is “on time” in the military.

I could write a whole book here, but someone else already has: The Naval Academy Candidate Book

There are books for AFA and West Point too.  Aspiring Midshipmen will also find these useful: Brief Points and Building a Midshipman.

Throughout this process, it’s important to have a strong Plan B in place. The majority of military officers go through ROTC, not the academies. The process for those scholarships is outlined here: How to Win ROTC Scholarships.

So, you’ve read the books, earned your Eagle, lettered in Varsity sports, interviewed, taken the SAT numerous times, been poked and prodded, produced voluminous paperwork, and now you wait. You may be blessed with an LOA (Letter of Assurance) or Early Action, or you may still be waiting in April. Or, you may take a different route, if you’re offered a prep year. Four of the five academies offer prep school years. Some are offered by the academies themselves, and some from alumni organizations. You’ll take a typical year of freshman courses and you’ll learn how to march and how to make your bed. At the end of that year, if you keep your grades up, and you secure another nomination, you’ll be raising your hand in the Oath that next summer.

The big day comes. You’ve said goodbye to Mom, Dad, and the dog. You’ll survive Plebe Summer, Doolie Summer, Beast Barracks, or Swab Summer. You’ll be tired and sore and wondering WHY you ever wanted to do this. The next four years will go by in a flash, and you’ll be tossing your cover in the air! And then the adventure REALLY begins!

Heartheart_cross Cross Ranch–Heart Cross Ranch is the mom of five children, three of whom have graduated. She is in her 26th year of homeschooling, with just three left to go! She lives high up in the Colorado mountains, in the nation’s icebox, on a cattle and sheep ranch. She enjoys being heavily involved with Boy Scouts, taking sports photos for the local paper, and anything chocolate. She confesses that much of her “homeschooling” consists of throwing interesting books at her children.

Our Journey Down the Dual Enrollment Path, by Heart Cross Ranch


This semester marked a milestone for our family: all five of our children have either graduated or are currently in college. It’s been an interesting journey.

We started thirteen years ago, when our oldest daughter was a sophomore in high school. We had no idea what we were doing, and neither did the college. We decided it was wise to begin with a class where our student knew most of the material, in order to learn “classroom”. We hit on “Fundamentals of Music,” basic music theory. Then it got complicated. We started with SAT/ACT scores (which were high enough for admittance to the college) and a homemade transcript, and I trudged up the stairs to the registrar on the third floor. I was told she needed instructor permission as she was underage. I tracked down the professor – not too hard as he was her orchestra director – and then trudged back up the stairs. Then I was told that we needed this and that, and I swear, I lost ten pounds on those stairs! The final straw was being told, “The school won’t pay for it; she’s not a junior.” I whipped out my checkbook and exclaimed, “HER school will pay for it. Do you want this money or not? If not, I’ll be speaking to the college president.” The tune changed dramatically. We finally got her accepted and registered, and the college figured out how to put her in the computer.

All was good: she had the highest grade in the class; and she learned how to deal with folks wanting to borrow notes and other students trying to cheat off of her. She went on to graduate high school with over 31 credits, all of which transferred when she began her undergraduate degree at Hillsdale College. Hillsdale even helped design her senior year to insure credit transference. It allowed her to graduate with Honors in four years.

We learned something new with daughter #2: to be cautious with the college as, unexpectedly, they matriculated her (i.e. they declared her a high school graduate and a degree-seeking student). This made her ineligible for high school sports and could also have fouled up NCAA eligibility. We learned to check EACH year that they hadn’t graduated her, again. We ran into another unforeseen question: if she was a full-time college student,  would she be ineligible for high school sports? We could not get a response in writing from the high school athletics association, so she dropped a class. We also navigated placement tests with this daughter, as she wanted to take math classes. She took some music theory, several science courses, battled some calculus, and took a bunny trail of several architectural classes.

She added something new to the mix: several overseas classes from Hillsdale College. The course on WWII was a life-changer. She was standing under the Eiffel Tower on the 4th of July when she recognized Sgt. Malarkey of “Band of Brothers” fame. That chance encounter set her on a new path, one that lead to appointments at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and the Coast Guard Academy. She chose to sing “Anchors Aweigh” and now flies helicopters for the US Navy. None of her dual enrollment credits transferred, as the academies don’t accept outside credits, but we were told her 45 DE credits were what got her accepted.

Our middle child’s interests did not lie in academic pursuits, but in more hands-on experiences. With that in mind, she began her college career with Lifeguard Training. Again, we picked a course where she could excel as she was a strong swimmer. It was a tough first semester, with 3 hours of swimming for lifeguarding, coupled with 2 hours a day of high school swim team, along with an hour per day of diving. We could smell the chlorine on her from across the room. She did some academic classes, such as science, writing, and programming, but she much preferred Emergency Response and Firefighter I. Again, we kept a close eye on matriculation status. She graduated with 29 credits, most of which transferred to the University of Wyoming.

Our son has thrived in the college setting, taking such things as academic writing, three physics classes, four programming classes, three math classes, Emergency Response, and the ever-popular Lifeguard Training. He will be just under full-time status this final semester. Again, the university matriculated him. With a change in how high school students are registered, we are now paying far less per semester hour than previously. That’s a relief, as he’ll graduate with 47 credits. We found that having a wide range of professors to write recommendation letters is a very good thing. We purposely chose our son’s courses so as to have English, science, and math teachers. He also took the WWII class from Hillsdale College, and again, it was a profound experience. He wrote one of his college application essays on his thoughts while standing in the American cemetery at Normandy Beach.

This brings us to our youngest. She’s begun her college career at 14 with Music Fundamentals, earning the highest grade in the class. She’ll tackle Lifeguard Training next semester, keeping up the tradition of reeking of chlorine. Next fall, she’ll jump into computer applications. From there  we’ll see where her interests lie.

The kids have learned a wide range of subjects and have been taught by some leading experts in their fields. It’s exciting to hear my son come home jazzed about the presentation from his physics professor or the latest cool trick from his computer science professor. They’ve learned time management skills, group dynamics, deadlines, and organization. As parents, we’ve learned to have early ACT/SATs, to have strong up-to-date transcripts, to pick the first few professors carefully, and to keep on top of the registrar. We’ve learned to be flexible with home school courses during college midterms and finals. I’ve been there to show the kids how to navigate a college bookstore, explained the importance of keeping the syllabus, and what prerequisites mean.

Dual enrollment has been a very successful part of our homeschool journey, and we’re grateful that our children have had a chance to experience it.

Heart Cross Ranch is the mom of five children, three of whom have graduated. She is in her 26th year of homeschooling, with just three left to go! She lives high up in the Colorado mountains, in the nation’s icebox, on a cattle and sheep ranch. She enjoys being heavily involved with Boy Scouts, taking sports photos for the local paper, and anything chocolate. She confesses that much of her “homeschooling” consists of throwing interesting books at her children.

Summer Self-Education with Professor Freeman

by Amy Rose

What do you do when your Homeschool Moms’ Online Book Club drags a little during the long, hot summer? Our group decided to stop reading books. Instead, we’ve been listening together online to Professor Joanne Freeman of Yale University as she teaches us (and many others) about the American Revolution. We have a Facebook group in which to chat as we listen, and we are having so much fun with it! Some of us have already taught this subject to our children  and are pleased to find we know the people, places, and events of which Professor Freeman speaks. Others in our group have younger children and are fortifying their knowledge before teaching this era of our nation’s history in their own home schools. Certainly, we are all learning.

This is an excellent foundation for an American History course for your homeschooled teens, or if you are really hardcore you could use it for Family Movie Night for 25 weeks. Or simply enjoy it yourself, to add another layer of depth to your own understanding of the era. Professor Freeman obviously loves her work and speaks very animatedly (and often humorously) about the founding of our country. She brings each hero, villain, and episode to life, while skillfully posing the big questions and providing perceptive and satisfying answers conversationally and memorably.

As Professor Freeman explains in the first lecture, the point of the course is to understand why the Revolutionary War was only part of the revolution. She quotes John Adams who said, “The war was not the revolution. It was on the effect and consequence of the revolution. The revolution was in the minds of the people.” We learn more about how the people of the era actually thought through the excellent teaching by Professor Freeman.

What exactly is the course about? From the introduction:

“The American Revolution entailed some remarkable transformations–converting British colonists into American revolutionaries, and a cluster of colonies into a confederation of states with a common cause–but it was far more complex and enduring than the fighting of a war. As John Adams put it, “The Revolution was in the Minds of the people… before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington”–and it continued long past America’s victory at Yorktown. This course will examine the Revolution from this broad perspective, tracing the participants’ shifting sense of themselves as British subjects, colonial settlers, revolutionaries, and Americans.”

The home page for the course is here: History 116: The American Revolution

The home page includes links to the syllabus, sessions, and recommended reading. (My friends and I did not purchase the books. You might want them for your students, or you might want to just use the lectures as “gravy” for an American History course that you’ve already chosen.)

And here is the first lecture, “Freeman’s Top Five Tips for Studying the American Revolution.”

amy_roseAmy Rose was a middle child growing up in a trailer park in the Midwest with talented parents who struggled financially. Her future life was easy to imagine until one magical day when she was thirteen, her fairy godmother gave her a box of oil pastels and a vintage textbook titled, “England in Literature.” Suddenly the entire wealth of riches found in the history of the West became to her a Holy Grail.  So she grew up and learned how to classically educate her own children who all turned out to be geniuses or at least mostly teachable.