Finishing Strong #124: Resources for Homeschooling Teens

Welcome to Finishing Strong ~ a weekly link-up dedicated to families homeschooling middle & high school kids. Each Wednesday, moms just like you share their best tips, encouragement, advice, and more for teaching older kids at home.

I am delighted that families homeschooling middle and high school age students are coming together and finding inspiration in one another. That’s has been the goal of Finishing Strong since its inception. Thank you!!

Finishing Strong is hosted by me here at EvaVarga along with my friends – Heather from Blog She Wrote, Megan and Susan from Education Possible, and Heidi from Starts at Eight.

Featured this week is a Science Milestones post highlighting the impact Mary Anning had on the field of paleontology in its early days as a scientific discipline. As a woman, she wasn’t given the credit she was due until recent years. Read The Heroine of Lyme Regis to learn more about her.

finishing strong 124

Below are some of the posts I enjoyed from last week, as well as the one that received the most clicks (in the #1 spot). Did I choose one of your favorites?

1. 6 Steps to Fit in All the Subjects for Homeschooling Each Day

A peak into how one homeschool family covers history, geography, reading, spelling, math, science, Bible, penmanship, grammar, and electives all in one day of homeschooling. Can it really be done?

2. The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Unschooling High School Transcript

I absolutely LOVE Joan’s post and found so much valuable information in it that I felt compelled to share her post with you. She walks you through transcript-ese, what to include and even what is not necessary (SAT scores), and detailed examples of how to translate life experiences and studies to course descriptions and credits. This is a must read post for anyone homeschooling high school! 

You might also be interested in learning about the process of High School Forecasting – tips on coordinating extracurricular schedules, CLEP exams, and coursework.

3. How to Teach Literary Genres with a Library Scavenger Hunt 

While we visit our local library regularly, Stacey’s post made me realize that I’ve always directed our activities with my daughter in mind. We’d covered genres and library skills years ago and I thereby presumed my youngest is familiar. However, her post has inspired me to take a little more time on our next visit to ensure my youngest has the research skills and knowledge he’ll need as an independent learner.

@ @ @

As always, thank you for helping us to make Finishing Strong a key resource for families who are homeschooling through the middle & high school years.

What are you going to share with us this week?


  1. Link up to 3 posts from your blog. Make sure you use the exact URL to the post, not to your home page. You can add any post related to homeschooling middle and high school students. Posts unrelated to that will be removed.
  2. Please no advertising, individual Pinterest pins, Facebook, Twitter, or other link-up links!
  3. Grab our button to add to your post after you link it up. Each week we will be choosing our favorite posts to highlight on all 4 sites. If you were featured, we would love for you to use the “I was featured” button.
  4. The linky will go live on each co-host’s blog each Wednesday at 6am EST, and will be live until Tuesday at 11:55 pm.

Please Share!

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Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

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Finishing Strong #117: Hobbies, Student Passions, & Unschooling

Welcome back to Finishing Strong!

Finishing Strong is a place for families who are homeschooling middle & high school kids to meet up in order to share tips, encouragement, advice, and more. We know it can be stressful homeschooling teens, which is why we’ve built this community.

It is brought to you each Wednesday by the ladies at Blog She Wrote, Education PossibleStarts at Eight, and myself.


In honor of International Women’s Day, featured this week is a post celebrating the work of Anna Botsford Comstock, the esteemed author of the Handbook of Nature Study. Her words are as valuable and relevant today as they were back at the turn of the 20th century when her book was first published, Nature Study with Anna Botsford Comstock.


We hope you’ll take some time to check out the amazing posts that have been shared with us. We are so thankful to all of our readers and contributors who help make Finishing Strong a key resource for everyone homeschooling through the middle & high school years.

Middle School Hobbies20 Middle School Hobbies For Education by Our Unschooling Journey was our most read post shared last week.I really enjoyed this because it helped me to realize all we really do experience in homeschool. While the kids may not pursue each with fervor, her post is a little reminder of all that we have accomplished.

Opportunities for Homeschooled Teen

Relatedly, I also enjoyed reading Heather’s post, Creating Opportunities for Your Homeschool Teen as it provided encouragement for me to allow my kids to pursue their areas of interest in more depth. “High school is all about how to help your teens … [have] authentic experiences which prepare them for what lies ahead.”

It is so easy to fall victim to the comparison game. Even with over ten years of homeschool experience behind me, I still catch myself thinking we aren’t doing enough, we aren’t covering enough material. These two posts help me to realize that life experiences and child-led interests really can (and do) prepare students for their future.

Homeschool Teen Behind

On a similar note, I also enjoyed Ann’s perspective in her post, When You Fear That Your Homeschooled Teen is Behind. “College is NOT for everyone, and neither you nor your child are a failure if you decide on another path.”

As always, thank you for helping us to make Finishing Strong a key resource for families who are homeschooling through the middle & high school years.

What are you going to share with us this week?


  1. Link up to 3 posts from your blog. Make sure you use the exact URL to the post, not to your home page. You can add any post related to homeschooling middle and high school students. Posts unrelated to that will be removed.
  2. Please no advertising, individual Pinterest pins, Facebook, Twitter, or other link-up links!
  3. Grab our button to add to your post after you link it up. Each week we will be choosing our favorite posts to highlight on all 4 sites. If you were featured, we would love for you to use the “I was featured” button.
  4. The linky will go live on each co-host’s blog each Wednesday at 6am EST, and will be live until Tuesday at 11:55 pm.

Please Share!

Add our button to your post.

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Were You Featured?

Grab an “I was featured” button!

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Our Relaxed Homeschool: What We Do & How We Do It

When I meet new people and they learn that we homeschool, often the first thing they say is, “Oh! I could never homeschool; you must be so patient.”

Our Relaxed Homeschool

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I immediately admit that their assumption is far from accurate. I have begged and pleaded. I have bribed. I have yelled. Yes, I have even broke down and cried unconsolably.

If I were trying to do school at home, I would not have the patience either. But that is NOT what we do. Instead, we have a gentle, relaxed approach. For this reason, it has been 10 Years & We’re Still At It.

Our Relaxed Homeschool Schedule

The way we approach education here changes with the tide. I have thus learned to enjoy the ebb and flow, the seasonal change. We homeschool year-round to accommodate for our relaxed approach. 

Primary Grades

In the primary grades, we followed a Charlotte Mason approach. Our lessons were short (no more than twenty minutes for each topic) so our academic part of the day only came out to around 3-4 hours per day.  We tried to always have academics finished by lunchtime, and would save art, music, and handicrafts for the afternoon.


  • Literature
  • Geography
  • History
  • Math
  • Copywork/Dictation
  • Foreign Language
  • Art Appreciation
  • Music
  • Handicrafts
  • Life Skills
  • Daily Walk


  • Literature
  • Music
  • Foreign Language
  • Group Activities
  • Field Trips
  • Nature Study
  • Daily Walk

Intermediate Grades

We are still heavily influenced by Charlotte Mason now in the intermediate years, but I have also become more comfortable with an Unschooling approach. We don’t really do tests, quizzes, or worksheets. We believe that learning happens all the time, and for us, it rarely happens in tightly defined areas like “spelling” and “geography”.

We live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise and using conventional schooling on an “on demand” basis. The interests of my children dictate our course map – the texts we read, the projects in which we immerse ourselves, and whether or not they take a course (in-person or online). The activities are chosen and engaged in freely by the learner. They were not dictated to the learner through curricular mandate to be done at a specific time and place.

In three areas, however, I do take a more hands-on approach to influence and guide their choices – Math, Mandarin, and Music (or M³). Learning a new language doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and lots of practice to master the vocabulary, grammar, and nuances of a foreign language.

Our Relaxed ScheduleIn many ways, math and music are like languages. I thereby expect my kiddos to complete four math lessons each week, practice their instrument and either work on Mandarin homework or practice vocabulary daily. In this way the material stays fresh in their minds and they become increasingly fluent or skilled.

Using our homeschool planner (I have used both a paper planner and more recently an online planner), I list the lessons I expect each of the kids to accomplish during the week. They have the freedom to choose when those lessons get done. I have outlined my 4 steps to intentional planning previously and I still do this. It helps us to see the big picture and to know how to make adjustments in how much is reasonable on a day full of obligations away from home.


  • Literature
  • Music
  • Mandarin
  • Math
  • Fitness (Swim Team, Hike, etc.)


  • History
  • Geography
  • Science
  • Nature Study
  • Writing
  • Passion Projects (Art, Aviation, Coding, etc.)
  • Service Learning (Scouts, Volunteering, etc.)

Our Curriculum ChoicesOur Curriculum Choices

In some subjects, we utilize curriculum – math, languages, and history. In other areas, we do not – science, geography (we learn mostly through our travels), literature, and fine arts. We pick and choose what suits our interests and our goals. I thereby spend a significant amount of time reading other homeschool blogs, doing research, and putting together course outlines.

Over the years, we have tried a lot of different curriculum materials. I have written about many of them here and here. We keep coming back to our favorites:


Singapore Math (elementary years)

Life of Fred (middle and high school years)

Mr D’s Math (high school years)


Better Chinese (foreign language)

Writing With Ease (middle school)

Cover Story (middle school)

King Alfred’s English (high school)

History & Geography

Story of the World (elementary and early middle school)

The History of the World (middle and high school)

North Star Geography (middle and high school)

~ ~ ~

HomeschoolwithoutcurriculumAre you an Unschooler or just want to learn more? Find inspiration from the iHomeschool Network bloggers Homeschooling Without Curriculum.

A Day in the Life of an Unschooler

I asked my kiddos to write a short essay reflecting upon a typical homeschool day and they asked if they could collaborate on the article together. This is the result of the assignment. Written by Geneva. Photographs by Jeffrey.

A Day in the Life of an Unschooler @EvaVarga.netA Day in the Life of an Unschooler

The typical life for a homeschooler – and an unschooler at that – is, well extremely hard to explain. One day we might complete as much as we had planned while the very next day we do very little. It is this and the fact that we are not attached to a schedule that we have the ability to learn whatever we most desire. In an attempt to give you an idea about a day in the life of a homeschooler, I will try to summarize a typical day.

Usually I wake up, put together a small breakfast, and play on my phone for a small while – I read my email (my mum and Mandarin teacher send me my assignments), text my friends, and watch a little anime. After about an hour of this I proceed to work on language. I nearly always do it first, because it is one thing I enjoy doing so it doesn’t feel like a chore. It also helps me get motivated to finish the rest of my schoolwork. When I am done with that I either do music or math depending on my mood.

A Day in the Life of an Unschooler @EvaVarga.netFor math, I will sometimes use Khan Academy (which is a website that has videos to help you learn), but mostly I do the next lesson in Life of Fred. If I get frustrated, I might switch and come back to it a little later or ask my mum for help.

I will practice the violin for about 30 minutes, take a break by doing a few chores around the house, and then practice for an additional 15 minutes. Sometimes, though rarely, my brother and I try to play together with some music that we have both been learning.

A Day in the Life of an Unschooler @EvaVarga.netBy now, it is around lunch time. I find something to eat though sometimes mum will fix up a meal. Thereafter, anything that is left I then do to finish up.

I nearly always save writing for last because it is definitely my favorite. It gives me something to look forward to while doing my other schoolwork. On occasion mum will read from a writing book that has an assignment that she wishes us to do, other times I will write a letter. Most often I can write about whatever I please.

Some days we complete history or science together. When mum reads aloud, we often do something quiet to keep us entertained and from falling asleep. I generally draw and my brother sometimes builds Lego.

A Day in the Life of an Unschooler @EvaVarga.netWe have a lot of time to pursue projects that interest us. I love that I have the time to learn what I want to learn.

Hop over to the 7th Annual Not Back to School Blog Hop at iHomeschool Network to see what a typical Day in the Life looks like for other homeschool families. Or, write a post of your own and link up!

Build Your Homeschool Library: Book Sale

Independent Study Projects: Learning Science While Exploring Interests

Science is about learning and solving problems. Ask a question, research, collect data, analyze the data, and communicate the results. As students engage in independent study projects, they are doing exactly that.

There is no limit to what types of projects students can explore. Students can choose to write original music, design a hybrid car, create lessons to teach others computer programing or coding, knit a sweater, research how other cultures define beauty, and more.

independentstudyEven my daughter, who in the past has chosen fly tying as her independent project. Along the way, she found instructional books or videos, followed instructions, made mistakes, diagnosed the problem, and tried again. These strategies are the cornerstone of science.

By giving students time to learn what they want to learn, you give them a chance to experience what adults are expected to do every day at the workplace or at home. They discover that learning for the sake of learning is a wonderful experience that should be enjoyed as they head out into the real world.

These real-life learning experiences give students (and teachers) the time they need to be innovative, and it makes learning as enjoyable as it should be.

Where Do We Start?

Ask students what they would like to learn about. Some students may be overwhelmed with possibilities and take a few weeks to decide. Others will change their minds after a little research. But with guidance and encouragement, students can identify a topic that interests them.

Once they’ve chosen their topic, students then set a goal, make a plan, and choose a method of documenting their plan, research, and progress. Some will blog or keep a notebook, while others prefer to track their progress with a Pages or Word document.

How Do We Stay Focused?

To assure students stay focused, a few simple rules can help:

  • Your project must involve new learning
  • Your project must be safe
  • You should be able work on your project at least once each week
  • You should document learning while working on your project
  • You should plan to spend the whole year working on your project
  • You will give two presentations on your project – one at the end of each semester

passionprojectIn our homeschool, we set aside time each Friday for independent study projects. However, they often work on their projects throughout the week. At times, it is even difficult to pull my son away from his projects to get other tasks completed. I can’t blame him. Who wants to take out the trash when you are focused on weaving a 12-plaited paracord bullwhip ?! {click the link to watch a video}

We also provide the kids with an opportunity to share with us the progress they are making during our monthly Family Five Share. They are expected to share examples in at least five areas: reading, writing, handcraft, music, and memory work.

Build Life Long Skills

Independent study projects also provide students with opportunities to connect with others – to learn from their peers and from adult mentors. Through my daughter’s interest in fly tying, she developed relationships with other fly tiers who took her under their wing (pun intended).

In some circles, independent study projects are referred to as The Passion Project or Genius Hour. Google allows it’s engineers to spend 20% of their time to work on any pet project that they want and thus they use the term 20-Time Projects. Whatever you choose to call them .. get started today. You will love the autonomy that students develop through discovering their passions.

 Our goal as educators should be to create lifelong learners.  Independent study projects are a huge step towards that goal.

4 Steps to Intentional Planning

I wrote a post recently in which I inquired whether we too busy to connect with others and to make a commitment to community and family?  I haven’t found the answers but I have discovered that I am not alone.  I know balance is something we all struggle with … whether we choose to homeschool or not. Homeschool families, however, have the added burden or joy (depending upon your outlook) of also planning extracurricular activities around the needs to complete curriculum.  As Angie commented,

“People say – you guys are always busy. I say we are always engaged, intentionally. When I ask these same families to join us, I don’t have to ask you to guess their response – we can’t, we’re too busy. We have stacked our days on purpose to have large amounts of free time.”

Like Angie and other homeschool families, we are engaged in intentional activities and varied learning opportunities.  I take advantage of every available resource and seek out opportunities for learning, particularly areas that I can not teach myself.  When we attend community lectures, get involved in fraternal activities or volunteer work, we do so with purpose.  Even so, I constantly strive for balance and to achieve it, rely on the flexibility of our schedule.  Today I would like to share with you our step-by-step guide for intentional planning.

intentional planning

Step 1 :: Create Your Master Schedule

Each trimester, sit down with a master schedule and note the days and times the kids have lessons – extracurricular activities, lessons with tutors, co-ops, etc.  These will undoubtedly vary from family to family but essentially it is any activity you coordinate with another – whether it is attending church service, a private lesson, a sport, or regular volunteer obligation.

In our home, the kids have Mandarin lessons twice a week for an hour each, music lessons once a week for 30-45 minutes, bible study and science co-op are both once a week, and swim team is available five evenings a week (though we generally attend only three times).  On a monthly basis, we have Roots & Shoots outings, Barnesklubb, and lodge business meetings.   I also like to color code activities which also correspond to our family calendar. 

Step 2 :: Plan Lessons & Outings in Blocks

With your master schedule in place, you can now begin to fill in the open time with formal lessons and chores.  I like to do this in chunks and utilize a modified cleaning schedule from the Fly Lady.  Though we do math and language arts daily, we focus on history on Monday and science on Wednesday.  This creates uninterrupted time during which the kids can explore topics of personal interest – crochet, aerodynamics, reading, and of course Minecraft.


I also work with the kids one-on-one regularly.  When Sweetie is working with her Mandarin tutor, I work with her brother in math and writing; when Buddy brother is engaged in his piano lesson, his sister is expected to write a letter (and vice versa).   I thereby carry along a school bag wherever we go that contains the kids’ math books, writing paper, notecards and stamps, and a read aloud (a novel or poetry).

I also chunk together our errands around town. Once a month (lodge days), for example, we are away from home for the majority of the day.  I thereby plan our visits to the library (and sometimes the bank or post office) on this day.  Though it makes for a very long day (we depart at 8:30 a.m. and don’t return home until after 9 p.m.); it is easier than making several trips back to the house for only 30-60 minute windows.  On the flip side, our hectic Thursday is always followed by a relaxing Friday with no obligation outside the home whatsoever.

Step 3 :: Allow For Change

When opportunities for play dates or field trips present themselves, forgo your formal lessons.  There is no harm in taking a day off, especially when it is for an educational experience or activity rich in learning.

Peruse your local newspaper, community websites, and bulletin boards – you’ll be surprised at the variety of opportunities that surround you.  Many of which are free!  This week alone, in our local community there is a walking tour offered by the historical society, a hook and needlers club gathering, a vermicomposting class, two fun runs to kickstart the new year, a Roots & Shoots outing, a Mandarin story time at the library, and many more.

Highlight those of interest to you and discuss the possibilities with the kids.  What captures their interest?  Put them on the calendar and go!  These opportunities are not only rich in themselves but provide for experiences the kids can write about and share with others later.

Step 4 :: Let Them Lead

Now that the kids are older and exploring personal interests, conflicts arise more often.  When they do, we weigh the benefits and occasionally make adjustments.  Generally, the conflicts are in the evening when we have swim team.  Fortunately, we have the ability to go to swim practice five times a week (six if we go on Saturday morning), our goal is to swim at least three times a week and we generally able to do so regardless.

My daughter has always had an interest in fly fishing. When I learned of a fly tying class offered in the fall and spring each year (one night a week for six consecutive weeks), my daughter was ecstatic.  It meant giving up swimming on that night but it was her decision. Fly tying has become a passion, however.  She attended Fish Camp this past summer and received a fly rod and reel for Christmas.  She is already learning to balance her own interests.

Next week, I will share a series of video posts describing How I Teach.  Each day will focus upon a different curriculum area – Monday: Language Arts, Tuesday: Math, Wednesday: Science, Thursday: History, and Friday: Fine Arts.  I am really excited for this series.  See you then! :)