Customizing Her Graduation Ceremony

Spring is my favorite time of the year. I love May, in particular; everything is green and growing. We’ve left behind the cold bare branch of winter and summer’s promise is everywhere. More symbolically,  it’s graduation season and students blossom into graduates and continue to grow into their new lives.

The 2020 graduation season was one which I was particularly looking forward. The cancellation of commencement weighs particularly heavy on my heart. My daughter would have had two commencement ceremonies – one with her high school graduating class and another with her college peers who, like her, completed a two year degree.

She has worked her butt off these past few years. Spring term most especially because she is taking 17 college credits in addition to finishing up requirements for her diploma. Based on her course load – organic chemistry, physics with calculus, matrix methods and linear algebra, and differential equations – we’ve always known it would be tough. We certainly did not anticipate doing all these courses online.

We are feeling all the feelings, both somber and hopeful in response to the state of the world in 2020. For some, it has proven to be truly the worst of times. Yet, as we see an expanding sense of community, we take heart that there is some goodness as well. 

Honoring Our Graduates

The way in which we choose to honor our graduates varies from family to family. There are many ways to celebrate graduates – whether they are graduating from a brick and mortar school or homeschool. In a post I hosted at The Curriculum Choice, Celebrating Our Homeschool Graduates, homeschool moms shared their ideas for recognition and graduation.

My daughter’s graduation this year was not how we had envisioned it. We have rescheduled to a later part of the summer and made several adjustments to our plan. Rather than a luncheon, for example, we are planning an open house with staggered visitation from guests.

The decorations I created and the gifts we have prepared for her can continue as planned. Ever the optimist, I am excited that we will be able to create our own private commencement ceremony. We are even able to have her childhood role model, Jane Goodall, give an address.

The Commencement Speech

Public figures and celebrities are using social media to share their messages of hope and inspiration. In some ways, this has provided families with an opportunity to customize the graduation experience.

Consider planning a private graduation ceremony for your immediate family or as restrictions relax, invite extended family to join you. Choose recordings from speakers your child admires. Here are a few examples:

Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall, UN Messenger of Peace, shares her support and excitement for your future. Enjoy her virtual commencement speech to honor your achievements and share it with friends and family. Together, we will build a better world for people, other animals and the environment we share.

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama also spoke to the graduating class of 2020 as part of NBC’s Graduate Together special. He tells graduating seniors to “set the world on a different path” while being “alive to one another’s struggles” as they navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.


Congratulations to the Class of 2020! Let’s celebrate all of your incredible achievements.

Preparing Your High Schooler for College

Getting into college is the culmination of all a student’s hard work in school. It also requires a well-thought-out plan. My son’s interests and goals for the future are not as clearly defined as were his sister’s. Preparing him for college is a little more complicated.

Throughout his middle school years, I have enjoyed watching him discovering his passions as well as his personal strengths. Homeschooling has allowed him the freedom to pursue his interests and follow meandering paths.

Now that he is in high school, college – if he chooses it – is only a few years away. The self-directed learning skills he learned during the grammar and logic stages will continue to serve him well.

Customizing Your Homeschool

When homeschooling the high school years, there are so many things to keep in mind. Honors courses, electives, GPAs and transcripts … Oh my!

For the past few years, I have focused on helping my daughter prepare for college. She has always known she wanted to pursue a career in engineering. Her courses have thereby always included a lot of math and sciences.

As a dual enrolled student – she has been able to take full advantage of the STEM classes available at the community college. Now that she has been accepted to the university of her choice, my attention shifts to my youngest.

My son’s interests and goals for the future are not as clearly defined as his sister. This takes a more concerned effort on our part to ensure we make choices that will provide the best option for him in the future.

Depending on his career path, college may not even be the best course for him. Currently a sophomore in high school, it is really too early to tell.

Dual Enrollment

Regardless of why he may choose, it is our goal as a family to provide the best platform from which he can launch. We want to ensure he is ready to go in whichever direction he chooses when the time comes.

He is presently considering two very different paths – aviation or music. Unfortunately, there are few opportunities for either where we currently live. We’ve sought out a private teacher for music but there is not a youth orchestra or classical ensemble whereupon he can gain experience playing with others.

Like his sister, he is dual enrolled at the community college. We have even used a similar forecasting plan to help outline the courses he will take at the high school and those he will take at the college.

We chose this avenue because will provide him with a solid foundation in mathematics and English language skills – writing, public speaking, etc. He will be able to fulfill high school graduation requirements while simultaneously completing baccalaureate core or undergraduate courses.

Though aviation courses are not available and even the offerings in the music department has been severely reduced this past year, he has been able to take significant strides towards completing an Associates Degree. In all likelihood he will finish his associates long before earning his diploma.

The dual enrollment approach is not for everyone. It was the best choice for us first and foremost because I knew both kids were mature enough to handle the college atmosphere. We were also able to receive tuition reimbursement from a charter or umbrella school so the financial benefit was huge – essentially two years of college for free.

I received a copy of Homeschool High School with College in Mind by the author, Betsy Sproger, in exchange for an honest review. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

Preparing for College

When my daughter started high school, Betsy’s book, Homeschooling with College in Mind, provided a great starting place. She shared tips and success stories based on her own experience homeschooling her daughter during these later years.

I am delighted that her book has now been revised and updated just as my son embarks on his own journey. It’s been a great tool as I refresh my approach to homeschooling high school.

While college may not be a consideration for all students, Betsy’s guide is a great start for families homeschooling this final stage of the trivium. Most families find homeschooling these later years to be daunting simply because of the record keeping involved. Betsy provides templates to make these tasks manageable.

She gives tips for handling stress, how to earn credits, and walks readers through the process of creating a transcript. Her ideas for the college application essay and the section on the Common App are especially helpful.

I appreciate that she outlines several ways students can earn credit: the textbook method, the hours method, and the mastery method. We have used a little of each in our homeschool and her guide to translating this onto a transcript is easy to follow.

Homeschooling with College in Mind is available in both paperback and for the Kindle. Her conversational tone provides a relaxed, encouraging approach to the often stressful high school years.

With Betsy as your guide, will feel confident and motivated to continue your homeschooling journey through the high school years and prepare your children for college.

Homeschool Science for College Bound Students

As a former elementary science specialist, science has always been a major part of our homeschool. During the grammar and logic stages, I taught each of the kids together following a three year cycle (life, earth, and physical sciences) emphasizing hands-on labs and outdoor experiences.

As the kids have matured and their interests have developed, I have begun to customize their coursework to align with college in mind and their individual career goals. As a result, the courses they have taken (or will have taken in the near future) are unique to each.

*Make sure to enter the giveaway at the end of this post for an online homeschool high school science course. Giveaway ends 8/30/19!

Disclaimer:  I was compensated for my time for this review. All opinions are honest and I was not required to post a positive review.

Options for Homeschool Science

Providing a quality science education through high school is a common concern amongst homeschool families. Considerations like budget, time, and even your own level of comfort are frequent topics of conversation at co-op or in online forums.

There are many different avenues available for teaching science in your homeschool. While traditional textbooks, lab kits, and literature based instruction remain popular, online courses and dual enrollment are gaining momentum.

Dual Enrollment

In our homeschool, we opted for the dual enrollment option. This was the best choice for us for a multitude of reasons but primarily cost. Keep in mind, it is important to take into consideration the aptitude and maturity of the student prior to making this choice. It isn’t for everyone.

Additionally, the grades the student earns in college courses will forever be on their transcript. It is also critical to research the local regulations and admission guidelines of the universities to which your child intends to apply. Not all schools accept dual enrollment credit.

Another related option is credit by examination. Students may earn college credit through examination by passing standardized exams in numerous subjects including biology, chemistry, and natural sciences. Taking an accredited AP course is NOT required. Students may study independently using textbooks, online courses, or even tutors of their choice.

Online Courses

There are a growing number of companies that provide diverse online educational opportunities for students around the world. From computer programming to local ecology, the choices are endless.

Online classes are not just for kids. There are a wealth of courses and materials available for adults providing both personal enrichment and professional development.

College Prep Science

One provider that stands out is College Prep Science. I am impressed by the acumen of the author. He has worked as a college professor, has more than twenty years of experience teaching homeschooled students, and he’s a homeschool dad!

The course offerings are diverse, here are a few that will be offered September 2019:

  •  Biology – College Prep (9th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Chemistry – College Prep (10th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Physics – College Prep (10th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology (9th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Exercise and Sports Physiology (8th-12th) – One Semester Class

Like most public and private schools, College Prep Science uses a virtual lab service with all classes that allows students to perform very realistic labs online. Students are able to virtually pour liquids and chemicals, light burners, move things in the lab, weigh things, measure temperatures, record results, etc.

The courses provided by College Prep Science are Christ-centered.

Students are instructed on how to produce quality lab reports and they turn-in formal lab reports which are graded. Emphasis is placed on students understanding scientific inquiry, the scientific method, and the resulting science lab reports.

“We focus on building critical thinking skills and developing a research and inquiry mindset with the resulting quality lab reports and thinking skills that affect every area of academics and life.”  ~ Greg Landry, College Prep Science

Summer Camps & Weekend Intensives

Often you can also find incredible summer opportunities at your state university. A year ago, my daughter took part in a week long intensive engineering camp where she was able to take part in authentic research, connect with professors in her prospective field, and make friends with other teens with the same goals.

College Prep Science

College Prep Science offers two day Biology and Chemistry Lab Intensives in 15 locations nationwide. Parents may issue school credit for these as they deem appropriate. According to their website, each two day intensive is the equivalent of a full school year of labs.

They also provide online bootcamps for ACT prep and CLEP Biology prep. For students planning to be science majors in college, doing well on the “science reasoning” section of the ACT is especially important. 

Online Science Class Giveaway

To enter this amazing giveaway of an online science class ($680 value) from College Prep Science, you’ll need to subscribe to their newsletter. One winner will be announced in their newsletter on August 30, 2019.

Teaching homeschool science with college in mind does not have to be overwhelming. I hope these options can help you successfully navigate high school science. Best wishes with the giveaway!

Homeschooling High School: GPAs and Transcripts

My daughter is a junior in high school this year and has begun to apply for scholarships and is considering early admission to the university. As the year begins to wind down, we are giving more thought to her high transcript.

Teen girl holding hands in shape of peace symbol with text overlay "GPAs and Transcripts", magnolia tree in bloom in background

Many homeschool families get stressed by this aspect of homeschooling and fear the university will not accept a “homemade” transcript. The process of calculating your child’s GPA and creating a transcript is not difficult. There are many tutorials online to help guide you through this process.

Through our research – talking to local high school teachers and admissions counselors at our state universities – we have found it is best for high schoolers to use an unweighted GPA. In other words:

  • A’s receive a 4.0
  • B’s receive a 3.0
  • C’s receive a 2.0

I strongly suggest that the course be taken over again if the student earns anything lower than a C. Though our preference is to keep it simple, you can use half-points or quarter-points if you want to use a plus/minus grade system.

However, as many of the courses my daughter has taken are dual-enrollment course at the local community college, I opted to not use letter grades on her high school transcript. Instead, we will use a mastery approach. We do not consider a course complete until the material is mastered at the appropriate level.

The Core Courses

To apply for admission to a university in Oregon, the courses that students must have completed are outlined as:

  • Language Arts – 4 years (12 trimester credits)
  • Math – 3 years (9 trimester credits)
  • Science – 3 years (9 trimester credits)
  • Social Studies – 3 years (9 trimester credits)
  • World Languages – 2 years (6 trimester credits)

In a future post, I will share more details about the language requirement and different avenues by which to fulfill it as homeschoolers.

What About those Electives?

In addition to the student’s GPA, admission requirements also assess student preparedness and academic potential by looking at the unique context of each student’s personal experience.  Academic performance is not the sole criterion and successful applicants demonstrate a wide range of passions and life experiences.

Teens have many different interests and as they pursue their passions, homeschool parents often wonder how they might translate these hours onto a transcript. I previously wrote a post detailing the ABCs of High School Electives and provide a peak into how this can be done easily.

Academic Rigor

Often homeschool families and/or high schools will weight the GPA because they want to show that students with a weighted grade have completed an academically rigorous course (as in 5.0 for a rigorous course instead of 4.0).

However, it is much easier and more effective to show academic rigor by simply including the level of rigor in the title of the course on the transcript. For example, if your homeschool high schooler completed an honors level language arts course their senior year, the transcript might say: English Language Arts IV (Honors).

Please note that the College Board owns the term AP, so all courses that call themselves such must have approval. However, students may prepare for and take AP exams without having completed an approved AP course. It is important to confer with the university of choice whether they will accept AP exams for university credit.

For more information on homeschooling high school transcripts, two of my favorite resources by fellow homeschoolers are:

The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Unschooling High School Transcript from Joan Concilo at Unschool Rules

Do You Make This Big Homeschooling High School Transcript Mistake? from Heather at Blog, She Wrote

Our Foray into Squirrel Taxidermy

Several months ago as I was driving my daughter to campus (she takes classes at the local community college where she is dual-enrolled), we observed a squirrel that had been hit by a car. We’ve always had a nature centered focus in our homeschool and thus she has never been squeamish about such things. In fact her immediate response was, “Mom, turn around! I want that squirrel!”

I did as requested and she immediately hopped out, proceeded to carefully pick up the squirrel with the aide of several paper napkins we had in the car, and gently placed it in the trunk. “It was still warm. I have to call Papa. I can’t wait to try to taxidermy it.”  Ever the teacher facilitator,  I returned home and found a ziplock bag in which to store it and placed it carefully in our spare freezer.

teen girl with a dead squirrelMy father is an avid outdoorsman. I grew up with him hunting and trapping – keeping his family provided for even when he was unemployed due to mill closures. To this day, his walls are adorned with taxidermy trophies of his catches – his freezer is filled with wild game.

Her interest and fascination with taxidermy is not a surprise. She has talked it about it for some time and thus she jumped at the opportunity when it presented itself.

Small Game Taxidermy

There are plenty of books on taxidermy, but none covers small game with the learning and depth of The Complete Guide to Small Game Taxidermy. Drawing on generations of experience, the author covers all aspects of the art. From proper field care and tanning to crafting life-size mounts, this book will help any individual to approach master status.”  When I read this description on Amazon, I knew immediately this was the book we needed. Fortunately I was able to find it at our local library. There are multiple chapters – several specific to taxidermy processes (skinning, fleshing, base building, mount care, etc.) and several focused on specific mammal species.

After reading up on the process and conferring with Papa (he had had some experience with taxidermy himself and was thereby able to guide us through the process), we scoured the internet and found several suppliers of taxidermy kits. A kits provides all of the tools and taxidermy supplies that you need to successfully perform a great mount conveniently packaged together. You don’t have to worry about trying to figure out what tools and items you need.

There are many different poses or mounts available. The hardest decision was therefore what position to choose. The size of her specimen however, it measured just 7.5″ from the base of the tail to the head, narrowed the choices considerably.

Taxidermy Step by Step

One of the best tutorials we found was How to Taxidermy a Squirrel (not for the squeamish – I thereby did not embed the video but link to it if you desire to view it). I love that it features three amazing young women. It was filmed on location and supported by The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. Girls in STEAM rock!small mammal or squirrel taxidermy kit supplies

  1. Purchase a Mount and Taxidermy Kit (chemicals for preservation, etc.)
  2. Gather your materials and prepare to skin out the specimen, as instructed in the video and text tutorials.
  3. Make an incision just below the head on the dorsal side down to the tail.
  4. Carefully cut between skin tissue and the body downward and toward each leg, gently pulling the hide away from the body.
  5. Pull the legs back and out of the skin tissue, using your knife as needed.
  6. Remove the hide from the head and ultimately, the tail. The video linked above does an excellent job detailing how to do this.
  7. Once the hide has been removed, carefully scrape off any meat tissue that may remain.
  8. Wash the hide gently in warm water and dish soap to remove blood and residue.
  9. Put hide into a canister with the dry chemicals (from the kit) and shake it around for about 10 minutes.
  10. Let it rest in canister for a day or two.
  11. Test the skin to be certain it fits on the form. Enlarge the recesses for the eyes on the form and make any necessary cuts on the form for a better fit.
  12. Carefully stretch the hide onto the mount and glue into place. Use pins on the lips temporarily.
  13. Secure mount to a wooden stand and / or display.

We are not quite finished with our first foray into squirrel taxidermy. We discovered the mount we ordered was a little too large for the hide. We thus need to do a little trimming. I’ll post an update on Facebook and Instagram as soon as she completes her project.

Until then, you might also enjoy these fun little nature quizzes that feature an Oregon native squirrel: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition and Early Summer Edition.

The Nature Book Club

Welcome to The Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month.

 There is a theme for each month in 2018. The theme this month is winter birds and nests. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details and for a giveaway!

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts! Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in February:

Squirrel Nutkin small world play from Small Worlds Preschool
Our Foray Into Squirrel Taxidermy from Eva Varga
Nature Walk: Looking for Tracks from Handbook of Nature Study
Arctic Ground Squirrel Lapbook from Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus
Beaver Habitat Building for Kids from Rule This Roost
Good Reads for Fun on Groundhog Day from The Playful Scholar
Meerkat Post Art Activity from Wind in a Letterbox
Easy Watercolor Squirrel Activity from Table Life Blog
Stellaluna Online Book Club from Hide the Chocolate

image of a stack of books in the grass with text overlay listing monthly theme

WHOOP! – The Nature Book Club Giveaway!

We’re so excited about this month’s freebie.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Party Rules

  • Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
  • The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
  • You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
  • By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it!
  • Let’s party.

Finishing Strong #150: Transitioning to College

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.

Finishing-Strong-500x500I am delighted that families homeschooling middle and high school age students are coming together and finding inspiration in one another. That 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 from Education Possible, and Heidi from Starts at Eight.

I know you will find the posts that have been shared with us inspiring! Grab a cup of tea, kick back, and take some time to check out the wonderful posts shared below. What are your favorites?

My VIPKID Experience @EvaVarga.netWorking From Home

When I talk with my friends and family about our choice to homeschool, many have commented that they would love to homeschool but financial worries hold them back. While everyone’s financial situation is different, there are many ways you can earn an income while working from home. One of the most rewarding that I have found is VIPKid.

I started working for VIPKid a few weeks ago and have had a fantastic time getting to know my Chinese students while also learning more about teaching ESL. It has been both challenging and a lot of fun.

While getting up at 4a.m. each day is grueling, the smiles I see on their faces when their camera turns on make each yawn worthwhile.

Finishing Strong

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.

The top posts shared last week

Below are a couple of the posts I most enjoyed from last week. The first post is the one that received the most clicks. You won’t want to miss it! high-school-forecastingHigh School Forecasting

from Me here at Eva Varga (Academia Celestia) ~ Learn how to compose a four-year plan to guide your student through each academic year – everything you need to know to coordinate schedules, CLEP Exams, and College Courses.

Responding to Questions About Homeschooling High School

from Heidi at Starts at Eight ~ While the numbers of families choosing to homeschool continue to rise. Homeschooling high school is still an anomaly in many areas of the country. Heidi shares tips for responding to the queries we are often asked in regards to our schooling choice.

How to Navigate the College Selection Process

from Heather at Blog She Wrote ~ Heather’s post is perfect timing for us. My daughter is now a sophomore in high school and she is just beginning to give thought to which university she may like to attend. While she is leaning towards the state university (both her father and I are alumni), we are encouraging her to keep her options open. I love Heather’s perspective and insight – she’s graduated one already who will be attending Purdue! – into the process of selecting the right college.

@ @ @

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?

Guidelines:

  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!
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  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.

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