Sunday, October 13, 2019

It's just a season

Parenting moves through season - exhaustion, frustration, sorrow, release.

Or, looking at the good days - snuggles, growth, blossoming, independence.

Each season has both good and bad. (just like real seasons - everything bursting with life, including springtime allergies . . . )

Those early spring days (literally and figuratively) of parenting our first newborn, I remember pacing the floor in tears because he simply would not sleep. And, yet, midday when he did sleep I could hardly put him down. I could stare at him all day. Watching each little twitch of his lip, each rise and fall of his chest, each clench of his fist. I could not take my eyes off him.

I realized in those days how much my parents loved me. I had never understood it before. Parenting brings those moments often, in each season. This place of in between. I can suddenly step back and see what this looked like from a different generational stand point.

Additionally, I realized how much God loves me. The beauty of the gospel message hit home in a way it never could have pre-parenthood. God loved me enough to give up his son - his only son. I comprehended love in a whole new way. I didn't love my child more than my husband, but it was somehow a purer love, a more selfless love, a more self-sacrificing love without even trying. Here he was, a part of me, but outside of me, and in those days I still saw him as an extension of me. I could not yet see ahead to the growth and blossoming and independence.

Parenting an infant, toddler, and preschooler has days of exhaustion and days it tries your patience like nobody's business, but it is a surprisingly short season of parenting, at least in hindsight.

Before we know it the exhaustion diminishes (no not really, you just get used to it, or become caffeine dependent).

Then, on top of perpetual exhaustion you add almost daily frustrations. Kids head into school years and need boundaries and broader horizons. They need security and freedom. They need to explore and stay grounded. And, while their physical growth might settle into a routine, their mental growth seems explosive. By fifth grade, they are mostly smarter than us (at least in terms of planets and state capitols and technology and the names of our bones).

Again, I appreciated my parents in a new way as we entered this stage of parenting. Looking past all the grudges I tucked away for the great injustices of childhood (like early bedtimes and eating gross food and too many chores), I remember the experiences they found for me. Dance, music, travel, science, nature, play. They let my mind absorb and learn and kept me safe. I lived through it, and I hoped the same for my kids.

God's love as we live through the "elementary school" years of our faith is an instructing love. He disciplines, teaches, protects, and matures us through mentors, parents, and His Word. Times He might have seemed unloving or distant were really moments that He stepped back and let me try out my growing independence. I imagine Him restraining Himself from stepping in to a tough situation so I can better learn and grow stronger.

Teen years. How do we even begin to describe them? These "kids" that think they know everything about life and are ready to head out on their own (as long as we are still footing the bill and stocking the fridge). 

At first, I thought these would be years of increased discretionary time for me. After all, I don't need to wash their clothes, plan their snacks, pack their backpacks, or schedule their days. But parenting in these autumn years becomes more mentally intensive. 

Giving advice without sounding bossy or judgemental.
Letting kids make their own decisions, win or lose, succeed or fail.
Sometimes moving out of the role of most influential person in their lives.
Still very needed for late night talks, security, love, boundaries (but looser), life skills, meals, a safe place, and a sounding board for everything from relationships to school essays. 

I carry incredible sympathy and understanding for my mom now. When I think back to the parenting done in anger or the times she seemed distant, I realize she was probably so stressed out and I was clueless to all she had on her plate and was trying to manage. Parenting teens is hard, especially when you also have adult kids and younger kids still to manage.

Winter years of parenting - a whole new discovery as they become fellow adults. 

Exhaustion is now chronic (no longer the energetic 20 something of my early parenting years), frustration comes in spurts, sorrow over hard growth points, and then they fully break free.

I need to write my parents a letter. I knew my teen years were sometimes rough, but I'm sure my early adult years weren't much better. Despite marrying young and moving out at 20, I did not appreciate most of what my parents did for me. I was blind to all I put them through and asked of them and all they gave so freely to me. I saw only the arguments, not their pain of letting go.

Stepping back makes me apologize to my parents and my kids. I didn't get it all right. But, God's grace is sufficient, and I'm in this for the long haul. I love the words of George W. Bush to his daughters, "Nothing you do can make me stop loving you, so stop trying."

And, the beautiful truth of God's unfinished work in them that draws me again to be patient - He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. He's not done with them, yet. 

Thankfully, He's not done with me either. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Homeschooling High school -- CLEP exams

Image by tjevans from Pixabay

One of the great success stories of our college-prep experience has come in the form of CLEP exams. Before we jump into the hows, we need to understand what they are and why they might not be a good fit for you.

What is a CLEP test?

The College-Level Examination Program® gives students an opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school through independent study and taking of an exam. I am not an official College Board rep, but I am just sharing from our experience in hopes that it might make someone else's journey a little easier.

CLEP tests can be taken in a variety of subjects and are chosen individually. There is no required course of study. The student chooses the test they wish to take, register online, schedule with the testing center, and go take the test.

Why not to use CLEP tests to earn college credit

  • Not all schools accept CLEP credits. If you don't know where you are going, it could be risky to spend the time and money on CLEP tests hoping that they will save you time and money later on. However, if they fit into your high school plans without a lot of adjusting, it is still likely worth that risk. There are 2,900 schools that accept CLEP scores, and you can check if schools you are interested in make the cut on their website
  • Some students simply don't test well. Some of our kids have used CLEP, others have not. If students typically struggle to get a test score that accurately reflects their knowledge in a topic, CLEP tests (and AP for that matter) might not be the way to go.
  • CLEP tests often require a good bit of initiative and independent study. If your student requires lots of hounding on your part just to finish their core requirements for school, CLEP tests will likely just bring more stress to your teen and your relationship. There are other ways to earn college credit. If CLEP is not a good fit for you, your child, your schedule, don't sweat it. 
  • CLEP acceptance is subject to change. If it stresses you out, move on to another option. College's change CLEP policy or drop them altogether now and then, so be prepared for that possible disappointment if you choose to CLEP.

How to prepare for a CLEP test:

Choose a test

This might sound easy, but it is probably one of the more challenging steps.
When choosing a test, consider:
  • Standard college requirements.  Think General education classes here -- English 101, College Algebra, Intro to Sociology, History, etc.
  • Current knowledge and studies. If you just aced high school chemistry, it might be worth trying the Chemistry CLEP. If you soaked up every bit of your US History class, study up for the CLEP in that area.
  • If you have a college in mind, check out the website to see which tests they accept and the required score. The best way to do this is to google, "CLEP" and the name of the college. It is often difficult to find it just searching around the college's website.  


  • Start with your high school material. This should be pretty well mastered if you have any chance at a passing score.
  • Buy the study guide from College Board (optional). These are limited in the information that they offer, but are downloadable immediately with purchase.
  • Buy another study book, carefully. Read reviews for the particular book you are looking at. We have only purchased a couple, and stuck with ones from, purchased through Amazon. I usually hesitate to purchase study materials from anyone aside from the test designer, but we have generally found these helpful.  
  • Check out online study options. Modern States is an excellent option that will walk you through test prep and give you a good idea when you are ready for the test. They also will help you financially if you use their materials to study for one of the thirty-two subjects on their site. I also found this site with more links with online study options.
  • Don't rush into it. Take your time to be as prepared as possible. Know the test, materials, and the score you are aiming for.
  • If you have access to a college text, look that over as well.  
  • Expect to spend 1-4 months prepping depending on how much time you have to put into it on a daily basis and your current knowledge base. 

Register for the test

This involves two main steps - register on the College Board site, and schedule your testing time with a local test center. You will print your ticket from the College Board website, and communicate with the test center (these are listed on the College Board website) about what they require for using their facility.

We called our local community college and scheduled a 90 minute time slot in their testing center. We paid a $25 fee upon arrival (it would have been waived if we were enrolled for classes there). They were very easy to work with.

Taking the test

  • Bring required materials (ID, registration ticket, fee for testing center (if applicable), pencils, and nothing else).
  • Come rested. Prepare similarly to how you would for the ACT, SAT, or other standardized test. Eat a good breakfast, arrive mentally fresh (minimize stress the morning of the test), relax, and determine to do your best. 
  • You will have 90 minutes for most tests. 
  • An unofficial score will be available to you immediately.
  • CELEBRATE! Pass or not, you have taken an incredible step toward earning a college degree affordably and deserve recognition for all your hard work. 

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The CLEP Official Study Guide is helpful for getting started, but is not adequate as a stand alone for any given subject. The Official Study Guide might be helpful in deciding which test you want to study for, but it is lacking in enough details and practice questions to adequately prepare for a test. 
  • If you do not get the score you want, you will need to wait to retake the test. After three months, you can try again for a better score.
  • If you do get a passing score, be sure to put it on your transcript (here's an article about how to do that:
  • This PDF has loads of pertinent and current info to answer questions and refer to often:
  • Consider using CLEP even after you graduate high school. Most colleges allow you to continue to take CLEP exams while enrolled or during breaks. Most also have a cut-off when they will no longer accept them for credit, so be sure to know the rules for your college of choice so you do not waste time studying for a test that will not count toward your degree. 
  • Think about the cost savings. Assume you spend about $125 on a CLEP test (College Board fee, testing center fee, and study materials). Even the cheapest community college classes will usually cost you about $500 per three credit class. If you can knock off a semester of college with CLEP, it is the equivalent of getting a $1875 scholarship, and if you were planning on a regular 4 year school you just saved yourself closer to $10,000 dollars. And, that's just the beginning. 
  • Colleges vary in how current tests need to be. Our daughter passed her first CLEP test after her freshman year of high school. Some schools reserve the right to disregard test scores older than a year or two. So, it can be a bit of a gamble, but we decided for the cost it was not a significant one. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Fear of Man

Sometimes you read a book that just hits home. That settles deep into your being and speaks words of life.

In reading through It's Not Supposed to be This Way by Lysa Terkeurst, I am finding that kind of book, and I'm only in chapter 4. Each chapter has picked up a piece of my life and brushed it off and put it back where it belongs.

Now, in chapter four it is speaking deep into an issue that created some of those pieces. I boil it down to fear of man.

Too often, for the sake of keeping the peace, I walked the easy path, the quiet path, the hidden path.

Lysa stated it beautifully when she said, "The enemy wants us paralyzed and compromised by the whispers and doubts and what-ifs and opinions and accusations and misunderstandings and all the other hissing handcuffs crafted by fear."

I worried (worry) too much about what others will think, and often rationalized it with Scripture (If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, life at peace with everyone). 

That doesn't fix anything, and doesn't draw anyone closer to the kingdom, myself included.

We present this artificially pristine image of ourselves while mentally looking down on an acquaintance's equally artificial presentation.

We cover up and accessorize and decoupage and repaint and touch up and bury and season our lives thinking God needs some help to make us palatable. 

Next to Christ, we all fall in the "Nailed it" category when going it in our own strength.

But God's Word says I am a, "holy and dearly loved child of [my] heavenly Father."

You are wonderfully made.
You are a treasure,
You are beautiful.
You are fully known by Him and lavishly loved by Him.
You are chosen.
You are special.
You are set apart.
No matter what You've done or what's been done to you, these words of God are true about you.
May we carefully choose what we remember and what we forget.  (p. 65)
Reminds me of Adam and Eve, trying to cover up when they felt they weren't enough, trying to smooth things over.

So thankful that God peels back our attempts to cover up our flaws superficially and loves us through the whole experience. If we need to surrender or repent, we need to do that. If we need to accept a weakness, do it without resisting. 

God created me the way I am for a purpose, brought me through the life experiences I have had for a purpose. Completely God-crafted. I can drop the act and follow in confidence, my Lord and Savior. My Father.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Homeschooling high school - tailor made

 Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Probably the single most important reason we have continued to homeschool our kids all the way through to high school graduation is the ability to tailor their education to their specific needs, interests, and personalities.

Some kids are more bookish and will thrive in a history/lit heavy course-load.

Others, love math and science and so we will hit the bare minimum elsewhere and stockpile STEM credits.

Still others just struggle in school. Every subject is a struggle. Every year a battle to the final test or project. College may or may not be on their horizon. We meet the requirements, plus a little, and pursue other interests and opportunities.

Homeschool gives them the time to pursue other training and experience without short-changing their preparedness for college.

Start in Junior High (if possible). We start getting a jump on high school credits in 8th grade, sometimes even 7th. Many students are ready for Algebra 1 before high school (can still be put on their high school transcript). Avid writers could handle a high school level writing class and tuck that out of the way early. Usually these are subjects they are going to surpass the state standard credit requirement anyway, but there is no need to wait until they are a freshmen to start mastering high level topics and have them ready for college by the time they are old enough to begin taking dual enrollment college classes.

Choose their track (and change it as often as necessary) - academic, apprenticeship, athletics, fine arts, etc. What do they love right now? Spend extra time on it. Take a class, park district session, workshop, etc. Explore it from every angle to best evaluate if it is just a hobby or if it is career or college major material.

Give credit where credit is due. As they pursue some of the extra areas, track their hours. I have a generic sheet I make up with 140 check boxes. If they spend 140 hours in any topic, I put that as a credit on their transcript. Theater, robotics, debate, sports, music lessons, cooking, ministry, anything that they are putting serious time into and learning a skill can be included on their transcript as an elective or at least as an activity.

Begin considering CLEP and dual enrollment opportunities (more details on this in another post). These can take the place of a class, fill the summer months, or just add extra credits to an already complete transcript. CLEP tests can even be taken during college, but the more they take advantage of the better, usually.

Make a plan. HSLDA has a simple worksheet that you can use for this. Remember to compare it with the state requirements, and remember not to settle for "good enough."

You can do this. You know your child better than anyone else.

It helps immensely if both parent and child are excited about the possibilities. Researching options and information together can help as you talk through some of the fears, hesitancies, and of course options as you make a plan for the best education pathway for your child.   

So many topics still ahead  -  College credit, transcripts, goal setting, finding resources, building confidence, finances, and more.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Homeschooling high school - Finding a standard

One important principle that drives our family's high school decisions: The state requirement is the bare minimum, not a standard of excellence. Yes, we have to meet the legal requirements, but for most students, that level of accomplishment is not truly satisfactory to succeed in college or most post-high school endeavors. And, it is quite generic (thankfully), leaving lots of room in their schedule to personalize their education along the way.

This is where your high school plans might take a sharp turn away from someone else's. Freshman and sophomore years might look similar, but by junior year (or sooner) you will hopefully start refining their education for their unique post-high school path.

For example, if they are inclined toward math and science, you will beef up those classes. Maybe you will look for STEM camps or a robotics group. If animals seem to really draw their attention they might volunteer at an animal shelter or get a job at a pet store while leaning into their science classes. Opportunities are endless and as unique as your child: co-ops, speech and debate, internships, summer jobs, theater, music, church ministry, mission trips, babysitting, shadowing people, sports, classes and camps, and just about anything else you can imagine. All of that is part of their personalized path to adulthood. 

This is an area of decision making that you will revisit each year. Your child likely has some ideas as a sophomore, but their dreams might change dramatically by senior year. Each year, through prayer and research, make the best decisions you know at that time.

Employing that technique, we have had very few regrets for time spent in high school, and no two kids have walked the same path.

Most kids head to a four year college after high school, so let's examine best practice for that path first. 

Don't shortchange your student trying to double count courses. These requirements are so basic, that there is no reason to shoot for anything less or to rationalize a compromise. You want them to write, read, calculate, process, debate, research, discover, learn, experiment, speak, and analyze as much as absolutely possible during these four years. Now, there might be kids who seriously struggle with academics. I would still press to surpass the state requirements as much as possible. Their best without stressing them (or you) out is where you should prayerfully aim.

As we were talking about these items recently, a friend of mine mentioned that they had been advised to choose four core classes each year and then build their schedule from there. At first I thought that was pretty sound advice. And, it wouldn't really hurt. You have about 13-14 required core credits, so 4 a year would get it done. However, as I thought it over more, I thought, "If you start out with four, you are setting yourself up for a potential time crunch."

Reasons I think 5-7 core classes per year would be a better goal:
  • Set the bar high and they will often achieve it. If they keep driving after extra credits from the beginning, they can really capitalize on the high school years. 
  • I would really, really, (REALLY, really) encourage you to try for a little heavier freshman year and see how you all handle it. There is for sure no shame in trimming down the middle of September if it ends up being too much. But, you both just might be surprised at how much can be done.
  • A rigorous high school schedule is excellent preparation for college. On more than one college visit, I listened to students talk about how hard freshman year was. And, the reason - because senior year of high school was so light, they were not used to working hard and budgeting their time. Make the most of every year of high school.
  • The more courses and areas they study in high school, the more exposure they have to potential areas of interest. High school is prep time for real life and while they don't need to lock in their career path, the more they explore, the more they will know what they like and do not like. 

So, what classes do you take?

To determine this I looked two places - college websites and high school websites. Even if you have no idea where your child is going to college, pick a college with a solid reputation and see what their website has to say about high school graduation requirements. Again, aim high.

Three colleges that I have respect for, for various reasons, have this to say about high school coursework:

  3. (know your school as soon as possible, Moody is not heavy on academics, but ministry involvement and goals do figure in significantly). 
Then, I checked out a local private high school that has a respected college prep program. Here was their 4 year plan for students:

Bible - 6 semesters including: Foundations, Spiritual Formation, Life of Christ, Doctrine and Apologetics

Business - 1 semester of Economics and Personal Finance

English  - 9 semesters including: Communication, English I, English II, English III, Senior English

Fine Arts - 2 semesters

General Electives - 9 semesters (Any course not required for graduation )

Mathematics - 6 semesters including: Geometry  and Four additional semesters of Math

Physical Education/Health - 5 semesters One for each year including Introduction to Health

Science - 6 semesters including: Physics, Chemistry, Biology

Social Studies - 6 semesters including: World History, U .S . History, U .S . Government 

That's a little more representative of what I expect my child to get out of a high school education.

From here, we are ready to make our individual plan. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Father God

Father - a male family leader intended to nurture, guide, protect and provide for his children.

God - the supreme, infinite Being that created the universe and remains sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent while seeking a personal relationship with mankind whom He created in His image.

I'm in the beginning of a month of focusing on the Lord's Prayer using a book called Lord, Teach Me to Pray in 28 Days by Kay Arthur.

So far, I'm still lingering over that first phrase. "Our Father which art in heaven."

Father God.

Individually, those words carry such beauty. A good father, and all the soul-stirring imagery that comes with it  (think "Butterfly Kisses" or "Cinderella"). That's what God is, in the ultimate way. The best there could be.

Every act driven by love, genuine, selfless love.

Wanting a personal relationship with each of His children.

Speaking, interacting, loving, providing, protecting. teaching, leading, modeling.

Father. Daddy.

But, He doesn't stop there. As we approach His throne in prayer, we can be sure we have come before His father's heart, but we also are communicating with the God of the universe.

He knows my thoughts. He knows what is best for me. He knows tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.

He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is our shelter and strength. Ever present.


I have often opened prayer time with s focus on worship and praise, but adding that simple word, "Father" to that time of worship gives it a sweetness, a tenderness, a fullness that it previously lacked.

If you do not already, I would challenge you to open your prayer times this week with those two simple words, "Father God" and pause a minute as they sink in.

No greater privilege. No greater love.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Homeschooling high school - Illinois State Requirements

Disclaimer: I am not a professional. I'm just a homeschool mom sharing what I have discovered over the years and pointing the way for others to find the right path for their child in the teen years. Be sure to read carefully, research, document, pray, and as a family find the best course for your child, including following state guidelines.

A couple links before we begin. An article here gives a clear overview of Illinois laws that relate to homeschooling.  HSLDA has even more details (that link might not work as you might need to share your name and email in order to view).

On to high school specifically . . .

First, the document. Here is the Illinois State Board of Education Graduation Requirements. It is 18 pages, and while I would encourage you to read through the paper in its entirety, what you are really looking for is on page 2 and further laid out in a chart in Appendix A:

Any student entering high school as a ninth-grader starting in the 2008-09 school year and beyond will have taken the following minimum number of courses during high school: 
 4 years of language arts;  
2 years of writing-intensive courses, one year of which must be offered as an English language arts course and may be counted toward meeting one year of the four-year English language arts requirement. The writing courses may be counted toward the fulfillment of other state graduation requirements, when applicable, if writing-intensive content is provided in a subject area other than English language arts; 
 3 years of mathematics, one of which must be Algebra 1 and one of which must include geometry content; 
 2 years of science;
 2 years of social studies, of which at least one year must be the history of the United States or a combination of the history of the United States and American government; and 
 1 year chosen from any of the following:
  •  art;  
  • music; 
  • foreign language, which shall include American Sign Language; and 
  • vocational education.  
Additionally, starting with students entering grade 9 in the 2016-17 school year and thereafter, at least one semester of civics coursework will be required 
Let's break these down a bit.

4 years of language arts. This includes any course on literature, grammar, writing, and/or speech. We have usually shot for more like 5-7 years/credits of LA in high school. Which might look something like this (with grades following in parentheses):
  • Institute for Excellence in Writing level C (9) - some of my kids started this in 8th grade to get it out of the way and free of room in their high school schedule.
  • American literature (9)
  • British lit (10) - or world, ancient, more American, modern, etc.
  • Essay and Research writing (10)
  • English 101 (11) - college level course taken online (more on these later)
  • Speech (12) - college level course taken online
  • possibly a grammar course if I feel they need it, otherwise we'll use Easy Grammar workbook or an ACT/SAT prep book as a refresher. 
2 years of writing intensive courses. These can be included in the LA credits. We have always done 2 years of a course that is exclusively writing. However, you can use another course for that second credit if it involves a lot of writing. For example, when I was in high school we had to write a 10 page research paper for our history class in addition to other various writing assignments and essays throughout the year. That would have qualified for this second writing credit.

3 years of math. Pretty straight forward. Algebra 1, something that covers geometry, and one other course. I am thankful that it does not require a separate geometry course although at this time I have had all of our kids take a year of geometry. However, if you use certain curriculums (like the earlier Saxon math books) geometry is integrated into Algebra 1 and 2, so a separate course is somewhat redundant. For that third credit you will usually do Algebra 2, but might also consider consumer ed, Pre-algebra (if your student isn't ready for algebra freshman year), or college math credits (Advanced math, trig, calc, college algebra, etc.)

2 years of science. As much as my kids cheer when they hear there are only 2 years of science required in high school, I never let them off with just that. Also, you will probably want to make sure that one of those years is biology as many colleges require high school level biology on incoming transcripts. Typical high school science would be biology, chemistry, and physics, with the math requirements getting progressively harder when taken in that order.

2 years of Social Studies. Again, we go for all four years here. We do this subject with all the kids together and have increasing expectations as they grow. One year has to be American history and include a semester on civics. This is a great opportunity for real life learning - help with an election, assist in a candidate's campaign, or just study and learn about a current election. I might recommend a field trip to Springfield as well. So much history packed into that city!

1 year of art, foreign language, music, vocational ed. We require two years of foreign language and 4-8 years of art, music, etc. This is when your child's individual interests will get recognition on their transcript. Give them credit for theater involvement, that black belt they earned, the team sport they enjoy, or the hours spent developing their drawing skills.

Also, not mentioned here is the health requirement (1 semester), and it also says every student should have 9 weeks of consumer ed. These are mentioned in a footnote in the appendix . . . 

That's a lot of information and detail, but that's the basis for everything else. Always make sure you are meeting the legal requirement for homeschooling your high schooler.

From here we get to the fun part - tailoring the plan for your high school student.