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Challenging Courses and Dual Enrollment

Charlotte Mason High School Courses Dual Enrollment(This is another longer post in our series on homeschooling through high school with the Charlotte Mason method. Feel free to listen to the audio version if that would be more convenient.)

When my husband John has a big job to do around the house, he doesn’t just pull out a hammer and start banging away, expecting it to do everything. He has a whole five-gallon bucket full of carefully selected and arranged tools that he keeps near at hand (and more in his tool cart in the garage). He knows that a large job becomes more manageable with a variety of tools. From all of those options he can select the tool that will work best for each aspect of the task.

The same thing is true for homeschooling through high school. Don’t limit yourself to just one tool. There are many options available to help you succeed at your task. Today we will mention several possible tools as we discuss your questions about challenging courses, book selection, and dual enrollment.

High School Question #27: Do you use only living books or textbooks?

The high school years are a good time to introduce a few carefully selected textbooks for a couple of reasons. First, if the student is planning to go on to college-level classes, he will most likely have to use a textbook. So it can be helpful to give him a little prior experience using one.

Take some time to show him how to use a textbook, by the way. For example, when assigned a new chapter in the textbook, those of us who grew up with textbooks know to first turn to the back of the chapter and look at the questions to get an idea of key points to watch for. Someone who has not used a textbook wouldn’t know that tip. Explain how to use the subheads in the chapter like an overview and to help locate needed information. Those types of tips will be useful in college-level classes with textbooks.

The second reason for introducing some textbooks in high school is because some topics are not covered adequately in narrative form. For example, a narrative can tell about chemistry but that format doesn’t lend itself well to teaching how to do chemistry. There is so much math involved, that a narrative style just doesn’t fit well.

So the upper level sciences are a logical place to use some textbooks. Look for textbooks that are still somewhat conversational in style, if possible. And don’t feel like you have betrayed Charlotte Mason methods, because among the titles listed for her older students you will find a few textbooks. She used the best of what was available: living books whenever possible, textbooks when necessary.

High School Questions #28 & 29: How does one teach the higher maths like algebra and geometry and higher science like biology and chemistry in a CM way?

How do you use textbooks in a CM way?

With any math course, make sure practical use is included and the ideas behind the formulas are emphasized. You want the focus to be not just How but Why. The goal of the course should be to help the student think mathematically.

Continue to emphasize and expect the habits of attention, best effort, and accuracy from your student.

Keep an oral component to his work. Encourage him to narrate what he is learning. He may have to memorize some definitions or formulas or other facts, but make sure his comprehension goes beyond those facts to grasping the concepts underlying them. Check that your student is able to explain the ideas in his own words.

You can add some living books alongside the textbooks. For example, you could include living biographies of the mathematicians who proposed the different theorems as they are introduced. Or assign a book that describes a naturalist’s personal observations of nature as your student studies biology. Many possibilities exist for supplementing upper level science textbooks with living books in the same area of science being studied.

And be sure to combine science studies with weekly nature study.

High School Question #30: What does nature studies look like in high school?

Nature study is a lifelong endeavor. There is always something new to observe about nature. If the student has grown up with nature study, he will have an ample storehouse of common knowledge from which to draw at the high school level. Plus, his new science studies will add to that body of knowledge and give him new things to observe outside.

Nature study at any age should be approached with the anticipation of What else can I learn about the object being studied? In high school, nature study once a week will merely be a continuing of relationships the student has already established with living things outside his door as well as a growing relationship with new nature friends. His skills at keeping a personal nature notebook will continue to develop and, hopefully, cement the habit of being outdoors as an enjoyable habit for life.

It can be tempting to cut out nature study in the upper grades, but time outside is so important for mental, emotional, and physical health. Charlotte described time in nature as an opportunity to “get life into focus, as it were” (Ourselves, Book 2, p. 98). It seems that such an opportunity would be especially helpful to those struggling with hormones and emotional fluctuations.

So encourage your high school student to join you at least once a week, with his own nature journal, to go outside, slow down, breathe, watch, listen, feel, and record as he learns even more about the habits of living things around him.

High School Question #31: What history “spines” would you recommend throughout high school?

It depends on what time period is being studied. For a current list of our favorite history books for all the grades, visit the Curriculum Overview on our website. You can select any of the six time periods and see the titles we recommend.

High School Question #32: Where to find secular living books?

Some of the answer to your question depends on how you define secular. Most of the history books we recommend could be considered secular in a broad sense, in that the authors do not write from an overtly religious viewpoint. And I think you will find that to be pretty consistent across the board. Most excellent living books that I can think of are simply focused on telling the story of people in history or science or geography or on spinning a good yarn with fictional persons and situations, not propagating a particular religious belief. As Christians, we have tried to recommend books that are consistent with our biblical worldview, but most of them would not be considered pointedly religious books.

If, however, you define secular as containing no attitudes, activities, or mention of anything religious, moral, or spiritual, you may be hard pressed to find any good living books like that. Religion will of necessity be included in many history and science narratives, for religious beliefs have played an integral part in historical events and scientific discoveries through the ages. And morals will be included in most good literature books, for those are ideas that have ruled and continue to rule people’s lives.

It seems that a truly secular book—one with no religious, moral, or spiritual aspect included—would be robbed of most of the ideas that would make it living.

High School Question #33: What is more important: page count or number of books? I think I have good page count but too few books.

Let’s back up and look at the goal. The goal is to make sure your student is reading a variety of authors’ styles to help shape his own writing voice over the years. You also want him to get varying opinions and perspectives to think through. And don’t forget that sometimes a shorter book can have more depth than a longer book.

So don’t get too focused only on quantity of books or pages. Take that into account, but when putting together your high school student’s reading list, keep in mind the bigger picture of all these factors: reading level, depth of ideas, quality of writing, variety of voices, quantity of pages.

High School Question #34: I had AP high school classes that were demanding but prepared me well for my science career. I’m concerned I can’t provide the same high quality, or rigorous enough study for my kids.

Today, more than ever, you have lots of resources and options to help you with challenging courses. Many math and science curricula have an Honors level supplement that you could add.

Just yesterday I received an e-mail about yet another online course offering for advanced sciences, this one taught by a former college professor. You can also find courses with video instruction available from professors and other higher-level teachers.

Look for local options too. Is there a tutorial group in your area that offers classes in those subjects? Online college courses would be another way to raise the bar and enlist another person’s help to do the actual teaching of the content.

And don’t overlook the option of hiring a personal tutor. One who has a keen passion for the subject and a heart for your student is best.

High School Question #35: How should I approach a struggling learner in math? I tried 45 minutes a day for a time, but then we just got further behind. I have also tried assigning a set amount of work each day, but then it can take up to two hours and that doesn’t leave enough time to cover the other various subjects. I have also taken time to sit there for each lesson, but this year I have three in school and a nursing infant so I don’t have the capacity to sit for a lesson every day. My student will be going to college and will probably be majoring in a scientific field, so math will be utilized.

If your student is planning on majoring in science, you’re right, his math understanding must be solid. At this point, in the high school years, one-on-one work will be the best way to make progress and assure a solid understanding. Since that one-on-one time isn’t possible for you right now, it might be prudent to look into hiring a personal tutor.

It doesn’t have to be a professional tutor. You could check for people at church or relatives or friends who are strong in math and available to help. Hopefully this will be a temporary arrangement. Once your student grasps the concepts and gets up to speed, he may be able to continue on his own from that point.

High School Question #36: Is it possible to do a CM education and dual enroll in college?

Yes, it’s possible. Many community colleges and universities offer a dual enrollment option for homeschoolers. High school students can take a college class and, upon passing it, receive credit for both their high school diplomas and college degree or certificates. A quick Internet search will provide information on the dual enrollment programs available.

Now, don’t count on the college courses being conducted in a CM way. But you can continue using CM methods for all of your student’s other courses. Keep in mind that your high school student will need to get used to the different way of learning in college. So dual enrollment can be a good transition step.

Our purpose in using CM methods is not to create a person who can learn only with those particular methods. It is to give that student the advantage of CM methods and a feast of ideas to keep his love of learning alive and to equip him to be able to self-educate for the rest of his life.

You have spread a feast and worked hard to develop that student as a person with a wide range of interests, solid habits, and the tools and desire for self-education. You have done all of that to prepare him to succeed in any endeavor he might undertake. Dual enrollment is a great opportunity to let him use those skills and character traits with a new challenge and give him a taste of what may lie ahead.

See the next question and answer for some practical tips on continuing to provide the CM feast while doing dual enrollment.

(And, by the way, keep in mind that dual enrollment is not the only way to earn college credit in high school Your student can also earn college credit with CLEP tests.)

High School Question #37: Can you give some wisdom and direction for those of us interested in concurrent college enrollment?

I asked my friend Crystal, who has graduated three students from her CM home school and used dual enrollment for all of them, for some wisdom on practical matters. Here is some of her excellent and helpful advice.

  • Allow the older student to be responsible for his or her own schedule, with judicious check-ins.
  • Educate yourself and help your child become educated on the local options and on-line options as early as possible so that you are prepared to respond to opportunity or options based on knowledge, not conjecture or hearsay. Well-informed decisions are the most sound decisions. Whether your child pursues dual enrollment, college, or another path, the decision is ideally made on the basis of knowledge, alertness, and thought, not just circumstances or ease.
  • When considering whether your student is ready for dual enrollment, look for these things: He should be able to work independently and has begun demonstrating self-education. This also becomes a question of alertness on the part of the parent. Developmentally, is the child prepared to manage himself among older students, since most classmates will be eighteen or older? How do you, as the parent, perceive his habit foundation? How securely have the rails been secured?
  • Select the core classes that will be easily transferable to other colleges/universities and are part of the mandated curriculum; this ensures that the child will not have superfluous credit and that the child has increased freedom of choice when beginning college proper by satisfying some or all of the early requirements.
  • It can be helpful for the child to attend dual enrollment classes nearby, so he can drive himself to class and not disrupt the home schedule. On-line college coursework can also be an option.
  • By this time, ideally CM actions are now ingrained not as school activities but as a way of life. Keep clearing time for walks outdoors, travel, discussing books, arts, music, and more. Make sure this is not an overlay, but an intrinsic part of life itself.

Next time we will address a question that I am frequently asked. It comes in a variety of forms, but the underlying concern goes something like this: That sounds nice, but does it work? So in our next post in this series, we will hear from students who have graduated from CM home schools and gone on to college and life.

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