Homeschooling and a Journey to College

Performing on Unicycle As promised quite awhile ago, here is my final homeschooling post.  (Our daughter is now a sophomore in college.)

Our daughter was homeschooled from age three all the way through high school. She knew she wanted to go to college at an early age, so although our homeschooling style was very unstructured and eclectic, we made sure she covered the requirements she would need to get into college. We kept records of any projects she did, outside classes she took, and requested letters from teachers describing the classes and how our daughter did in the classes.

We joined a homeschool support group when our daughter was three, and at one time belonged to three groups.  We did most activities with one group, but went on field trips and occasionally joined in on  activities with the others.  We also joined a homeschool co-op when she was nine and attended one to two days a week for several years.  Our daughter had the opportunity to teach a Circus Skills class there.

Although homeschooling is legal in the U.S., the various states and even towns have their own homeschooling regulations. Our town's public school did not allow homeschoolers to participate in any classes or activities, so she could not take AP classes there. We were able to find online AP classes for calculus, history, and English literature. Our daughter took junior college or university classes in English, math, science, history, and language and took SAT subject tests or AP tests in those subjects. We found out that taking the PSAT test specifically in October of the junior year of high school was a requirement in order to compete for the National Merit Scholarship.

For more about our high school homeschooling see post, Homeschooling a Teen.


If your child has a goal of attending college, do research to find out what your child needs as requirements for the goals she/he has. What we did that worked for us:

1. Start gathering information early.  Books and homeschool support groups are wonderful resources.

2.  Keep good detailed records of any and all classes and activities that could possibly come under the heading of homeschooling. Think outside the box.   For example, a trip to an art museum could go under "Art" or "history".  Playing regularly scheduled basketball with homeschool friends counts as P.E.  Playing games such as "Yahtzee" and "Hare & Tortoise"" teach math skills. I kept a record for each year subdivided into "subjects".

3. Call colleges and talk to admissions offices. Ask specific questions such as which they prefer for high-school science classes -- AP classes online, but without labs or lab classes at a local junior college. What do they require for languages? Are AP tests important? How many SAT subject tests are required and are there any specific ones they want applicants to take?

4.  Utilize the College Board. It's a huge wealth of information.  We signed up to be able to use all the resources.  You can check out information on various colleges, find out test dates for SATs, APs, SATIIs and register online for most tests.  They have practice test questions and AP course and exam  description downloads.  The store has an online study course our daughter took - much cheaper than the Kaplan tests, for example.  We also bought AP recent exam books and other study material for the exams.

5. Have child take SAT subject tests right after she has finished taking the equivalent of high school requirement for each subject even if it is in 8th grade. Most colleges require 2 - 3 SAT subject tests. Some schools have a preference or even a requirement for specific ones.

6.  If child is interested in competing for the National Merit Scholarships, find out the date as early as possible and make sure she is signed up before the deadline to take the required PSAT test in October of her/his junior year in high school.  There some schools such as University of Oklahoma who offer free-ride scholarships to National Merit Scholarship finalists.

7.  Take outside graded classes and subject-specific standardized tests if possible.  Our daughter took outside graded classes every year during high school.  Colleges like to see outside class grades and standardized test scores in addition to independent work done at home.  (Our daughter took the National Latin Exams and the Le Grand Concours {National French Exam})

8.  Join a support group.  It's great for socialization and comradeship for both child and parents.  We had our own science and math fairs, history days, and just fun board game days.  Families can also get together to work on projects or study subjects together.

9.  Get out of the house.  We went on field trips to historical spots, science centers, art museums, factories, farms, the Perkins School for the Blind (a fascinating tour at the school Helen Keller attended -- we even got to try writing some braille.)  During the summers we went to the beach or a swimming park with our homeschool group.  We played volleyball together at a local park.  During the winters we went swimming at an indoor pool, played in a gym, went ice-skating.  We did rock climbing.  Some families in our group even organized group skiing lessons.  Any work and/or volunteer experience is also invaluable.

Good luck on your journey!


Projects Around the House - More DollHouse Work

This is the last summer before my daughter leaves for college.  She will be a freshman at MIT in the fall.  We are a homeschooling family, and I will especially miss times my daughter and I spent working on various projects together. (More about our experience applying to colleges as a homeschooler in an upcoming post.)

This summer my daughter and I are trying to finish our dollhouse.  This is a dollhouse from a Buttercup kit we started on a few years ago and have been slowly working on it together as her time permits. (You can view the original post about the dollhouse here.)  Now the outside is almost finished.

We covered the rectangular and round exterior windows with a thin layer of moss and then covered the moss with small seashells.  We used reindeer moss on the long arched side and front windows, but were undecided about how to finish the outside of the front door -- with a different moss than the adjacent arched windows, with seashells, or with twigs.  After much discussion and trying out different materials, we settled on twigs with a background of the reindeer moss.

Here is our progress on the door so far.  We used an X-acto mitre box and saw kit to cut twigs to the length of the door.  Then we glued them side-by-side over the moss.  The moss covers the bare door so the wood doesn't show between the twigs.  Here are some detail photos of us at work:

We found tiny hinges at A.C. Moore.  The hinges had teeny brass nails that we finally we able to hammer into the wood.  We will remove small sections of the moss on the house where the other part of the hinge will go and then glue back on the moss to cover the hinges.

We are trying to decide on a doorknob for the door.  This is one possibility that we like.

A Busy Time

After a busy summer preparing for a teddy show, I am now preparing documents  for our homeschooled daughter's college applications.  Because she is homeschooled, we are having to make documents for  materials that the high schools typically supply to the colleges.  These include creating our own homeschool transcript with descriptions of all classes, a read books list, guidance counselor letter, a cover letter explaining why we decided to homeschool and our homeschooling philosophy, and common application homeschool supplement.   There are more schools to visit, interviews to schedule, and so many different deadlines for everything. I may not be able to do regular posts this fall, but will post as often as I can. :-)

Homeschooling and Reading Together


Daughter (age 5) and mom reading favorite "vampire" book together.

Like many parents, we read to our daughter from the time she was a baby.  She always loved books.  As a  one-year-old, she would toddle over to her low bookshelf, pick out a favorite book, and bring it to me to read to her (over and over).  Reading together was a frequent activity throughout the day, and she spent as much time with her books as her toys.

When we started homeschooling, reading together became part of our "curriculum".  If I was reading to her, we could read books of a higher level than she could read on her own because her comprehension level was ahead of her reading level.  If we were learning about Colonial America, we read books about life in colonial times instead of text books - and always with lots of pictures.  I also introduced her to cherished favorites from my childhood.

Even as our daughter grew older and became a voracious reader on her own, we still found time to read together.  We read history and did French together.  She or I would pick out novels that I read to her.  We would sit sideways together on a sofa while we read, and it felt like a special time of the day.

The last couple of years, we decided to read plays and short stories together.  We would take turns reading, switching turns with character changes in the plays and after several paragraphs with the short stories.  We still do this, although, our time at home together becomes less and less as she grows older.

We are currently reading our way through The Haunted Looking Glass edited by Edward Gorey.  This collection of horror stories selected by Edward Gorey was a favorite of mine when I was young.  I couldn't remember the title, but was able to find it by searching horror story collections through our library consortium.  I remember thinking this book was so scary when I was little.  It had enough creepiness to it, that it gave me nightmares.  So far my daughter thinks it is good, but pretty tame compared to some other books she has read.  We'll see how it goes.   I'm also interested to see if the same stories that were so scary when I was a girl feel as scary now.

Homeschooling and Learning French

Learning French at Home:

Eiffel Tower at night from hotel window
Eiffel Tower at night from hotel window

It's hard to find good options for learning a foreign language as a homeschooler. To me the best way to learn foreign languages is through immersion, or being in a situation where everyone is speaking that language exclusively. In school, there are daily classes that can be taught as immersion classes. This is harder to set up as a homeschooler. Homeschoolers frequently use tutors, but their cost can be prohibitive especially for daily lessons which result in the best progress. For beginning foreign language learners, homeschooling families can find a teacher and form their own classes. There are audio and software language programs available, but they vary widely in quality.

We used the typical homeschool resources for learning a language:  audio and computer programs, a homeschool co-op class, and a tutor. I had a background in French from school, so could help some with basics. My daughter and I worked on French together, and I found it slowly coming back to me also.

pedestrian shopping street in Paris
pedestrian shopping street in Paris


We got to the point where we started looking for a more intensive program and found the Contacts: Langue et Culture francaises program by Jean-Paul and Rebecca Valette. It is the equivalent of the first year of college French, and includes a text, audio tapes, and a lab book. We went through the course at our own pace and found it very good. (Please be aware there are some errors in the lab book, though.) After that, we felt the need for a regular immersion class and took a year of immersion classes at a local university extension school which included four hours a week of class for the first semester and a lot of reading, grammar, listening, speaking, and writing in French. The second semester was mainly web-based. It included keeping a blog in French, participating in online discussions in French, lots of reading, watching videos, more grammar and four 5-hour Saturday immersion sessions which included eating lunch together and chatting in French while we ate. We found that our French performance increased greatly that one year.

I recently got Tell Me More French Performanceby Auralog and am pretty happy with it. Because it has 10 levels and three modes of working in it, I find I can start at the point where I feel comfortable, and change the working mode to suit my mood.

Another good program is "French in Action", a PBS series that is available for purchase through Annenburg. It is expensive, but can often be found in libraries.

I found Friends Abroad, a website for finding international penpals who are interested in learning another language, last year, and found several French-speaking penpals through the site. The site is set up so you can "correct" the other person's English email before you send yours in the chosen language. They receive both your email and a corrected version of their email. Friends Abroad also has a "chat" or IM option and a talking option through Skype. Friends Abroad members must be at least 16 years old, so it isn't an option for young children. My daughter started using it when she turned 16. For ways to insert accents in your typing see Dawn Ontario's How to Produce Accents page. The page also explains an easy way to type French accents in Microsoft Word under "Microsoft Word Shortcuts".

This year my daughter has two French penpals through Friends Abroad. They write to each other two to three times a week. I have also had a penpal through Friends Abroad for over a year. We were fortunate to be able to meet and spend a wonderful evening with her and her lovely family on a trip to Paris last year.

If you are trying to learn a language on your own, there are several software programs available. These can be supplemented by watching French movies (with or without subtitles). We find French videos at the library and on cable movie channels. Also many English language dvds now come with the option of viewing them in French or Spanish. Le, France 3. Fr, and TF1 have short videos online.

We found several resources for listening to and reading French on the Internet. Radio France International (RFI) has a special section for learning language here with a variety of activities including Le journal en français facile with news broadcasts given at a slightly slower speed. BBC Afrique also has news articles and news broadcasts in French. One Thing in a French Day has podcasts in French with text that you can read along with. Chante France is an online radio station with French pop artists.

There are also several online French reading opportunities. Le Figaro and Le Monde are French newspapers that have online access. A search on Google France for French language blogs in an area that interests you (such as cooking) will bring up blogs in French. There are also links for some French blogs in my blogroll.

We've found we can cobble together a French learning atmosphere using a variety of resources. The most important thing we discovered was to practice speaking, reading, and writing French on a regular basis and to have regular opportunities to hear native spoken French.  We found resources we enjoyed so we were motivated to continue using them.

Reference Resources online: is an online English/French and French/English dictionary (It's also available in Spanish and Italian.) that is very helpful when you're writing in French on the computer. It also has a forum you can join. You can then post questions about words or phrases you can't find. They have always been answered very quickly for us by native French speakers. Wikipédia is a French language version of Wikipedia. You can listen to pronunciation of French vowels and consonent sounds on has a lot of helpful information on French grammar. has online French classes that begin with a placement test so you will start at the appropriate level. BBC has beginning and intermediate French language classes online. The "Ma France" units have interactive videos with comprehension questions.

Reference Resources Books:

Schoenhof's Foreign Books is a wonderful retail foreign bookstore in Cambridge, MA. that also has a website. The website is being reconstructed, so may not be working perfectly right now.

Here are some of our favorite reference books.

Dictionaries and Thesauruses:

Harrap's Shorter French Dictionary published by Chambers Harrap Publishers * Huge, but very complete.

Larousse Advanced French-English/English-French Dictionary by Editors of Larousse

Larousse Concise Dictionary: French-English/English-French by Editors of Larousse A good paperback size. *

Le Petit Larousse Illustre 2007 edited by Larousse (This is more like an illustrated desk encyclopedia - it is completely in French.) *

The Cambridge French-English Thesaurus by Marie-Noklle Lamy and Richard Towell

Using French Synonyms

by R. E. Batchelor and M. H. Offord


Ensemble: Grammaire en action by Raymond F. Comeau and Normand J. Lamoureux This is a complete course in French grammar. We used it as a text in our university extension class. *

The Ultimate French Review and Practice by David M Stillman and Ronni L Gordon *

Advanced French Grammar by Monique L'Huillier *


Bescherelle: Complete Guide to Conjugating 12000 French Verbs edited by Bescherelle (English version) -- These are the best for conjugating verbs. If you have Bescherelle, you don't need other French verb books. *

Bescherelle: La Conjugaison Pour Tous by Frederique Hatier (French version - completely in French)


Mastering French Vocabulary: A Thematic Approach (Mastering Vocabulary Series) by Wolfgang Fischer

Using French Vocabulary by Jean H. Duffy

French for Reading by Karl C. Sandberg and Eddison C. Tatham *

Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French by Natalie Schorr *

Reading Practice:

Pauvre Anne by Lisa Ray Turner and Blaine Ray This is an "early reader" level book in French. There is a series of the readers by these authors.

Ensemble, Littérature by Raymond F. Comeau and Normand J. Lamoureux This is wonderful with glossaries on each page and a CD for listening to several selections in the book. We used it for one of our texts in our university extension class. *

Easy French Reader by R. de Roussy de Sales

French for Reading by Karl C. Sandberg and Eddison C. Tatham *

French Stories / Contes Français (A Dual-Language Book) by Wallace Fowlie *

Fun Books to read:

Le Petit Nicolas by Sempe-Goscinny There is a series of the Nicholas books. *

Les Aventures de Tintinby Herge *

Many comics in book form are available in French and there are also French comic series such as Tintin, Lucky Luke, and Nathalie. We bought several when we were in France including a Garfield and a Nathalie, but there is a large selection online here. You have to buy a minimum of five books. Canadian online bookstores are another possibility. Fichtre is an online Canadian bookstore that specializes in French comic books. For more on using comics for learning to read, please see my previous post on "Homeschooling — Comic books and Learning to read" .

mini cars Paris
mini cars Paris

Homeschooling -- Comic books and Learning to read

vintage comic covers

As a kid, I collected comic books.  We had a big painted cabinet in the over-sized hallway of our St. Louis duplex with two shelves stuffed with over 200 comic books.  When friends came over we hung out on the hallway floor and spent the day reading and playing board games (our other obsessive pastime).  My comic book addict friends also had large comic book collections.  When I visited their homes our usual activity was reading and discussing comics.

Little Lulu and Tubby Summer camp

When our daughter was learning to read, I started searching out sources for comic books.  My only favorites that were still being published were the Archie and Betty and Veronica series.  I could also find the Disney Donald Duck comics.  Their forms had changed to fat, little mini books.   I got some of these, and my daughter loved them.  But, I wanted to share with her the comics I loved most as a child, Little Lulu.  A search at local book and comic stores turned up an expensive hard-cover book.  I wanted the originals though.  This lead me to a search on eBay where I was able to find some of my favorites -- the Giants, big, thick 25¢ specials like Little Lulu Goes to Camp and Little Lulu Halloween. The 25¢ specials now ran $30.00 and more a piece.  I also found some original Betty and Veronica and Little Richie Rich which were much more affordable.  I bought some of each, and Little Lulu also became one of my daughter's favorites.  Michele Maki has a wonderful Little Lulu history and information section on her homepage website here. The Little Lulu stories have been reprinted in a series of books still available, Little Lulu series.

sample pages Little Lulu Summer Camp

The nice thing about comic books for kids is the format; the pictures drive the story and can be followed even if the reading level is very low.  The humor and drawings are so engaging that kids will pore over them, trying to get as much of the reading as they can because they want to.  I never worried about comic books not being suitable reading material for my young daughter.  My main concerns were for her to enjoy reading and to read a lot.

Homeschooling a Teen

daughter reading

We have always homeschooled.  Our daughter is now sixteen and looking back I see how much homeschooling, especially with an only child, has always been a fine balance.   Sometimes unschooling -- following the child's lead -- seemed perfect.  There were many wonderful afternoons spent outside with magnifying glasses examining interesting objects of nature, lots of time spent playing board games, and learning crafts.    Then as she grew older, there were doubts and uncertainty.  Was she getting a "good education"?  Maybe we should be doing more structured schoolwork.  Then we would make schedules and plans, use math,  grammar and spelling workbooks and try to incorporate more rigid learning.  When we would start feeling constrained, we loosened up on the shoulds and have tos.  Talking to other homeschool moms, I discovered the doubts and uncertainty we felt seemed to be a common thread in the homeschooling community.  After a while, I learned to accept it as part of the process.  We learned to listen to what we were feeling and changed as time required it, sometimes swinging more toward unstructured learning and then swinging back towards more structure.

Socialization was also a fine balance.  We would be very active with homeschooling activities, play-dates for the kids and mom (and dad) visits for the adults, field trips, and classes.  All of a sudden it felt like too much and we would cut back on outside activities to have more time at home.  After a while, we would feel the need for more outside involvement and add back in more activities.

As my daughter grew older, her need for determining her own path increased to the point where she knew she wanted and needed a structured learning environment.  She was beyond what we could help her with in many areas.  Now our job as parents was to help her find the resources to learn what she needed.  This ranged from tutors for languages, lab science classes at the junior college, and an online AP class through Stanford U.

Her socialization is now also her own.  Like schooled kids, she makes her own plans and has a busy social life.   Like other homeschooled kids, she has grown up interacting and being in groups of mixed-aged kids as well as adults.  As a result, it feels normal to her to play with kids of all ages and she is comfortable in adult company as well.