Recently, I was able to interview Lee Binz the founder of The Homescholar. She has spent quite a few years helping parents homeschool their high schoolers and provides resources for writing transcripts, keeping records, and getting college scholarships. Here is our interview. I know you will be blessed.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you homeschooled your children, and how The HomeScholar came into existence?
My husband Matt and I have two sons, who started their education in the public school system. Homeschooling had been something my husband and I had toyed with for several months, but the urgency increased as the situation at our children’s public school began to quickly deteriorate. My oldest boy’s classroom was totally out-of-control and there seemed to be no one in charge. My youngest, was about to enter the same classroom (the only advanced class available in our school), so our family was looking at 5 years of continuous chaos. We finally just said “No More!”
I remember that first year of homeschooling being one of ongoing battle with extended family. Their reaction to our homeschooling decision was one that thousands of homeschoolers have faced from either friends or families. The questions came fast and strong and almost daily: “Is that even legal?” “Aren’t you afraid they’ll fall behind?” "What about socialization?” “What about college?” “What about HIGH SCHOOL PROM!?” Matt and I pretty much resigned ourselves to patiently answering each of these questions repeatedly over the next 8 years. What we didn’t expect was for their attitudes to change suddenly, dramatically and virtually overnight…. It’s true, we literally went from Grandma and Grandpa saying “You are NOT allowed to ruin MY grandchildren!” one day, and the next day they are the world’s greatest PROPONENTS of homeschooling!
And what, you ask, could drive such a quantum shift of thinking overnight? Well, something happened that spring which carried with it the psychic shock necessary to change the minds of even the most stubborn grandparents. In fact, I’m guessing there were thousands of parents and grandparents around the globe who completely changed their attitude about homeschooling on that terrible spring morning. It was April 20, 1999. Columbine.
Homeschooling through elementary and middle school were fairly easy, but like many parents, I struggled with the fear of teaching my kids the high school subjects. Homeschooling high school is a hard business. It is demanding and requires an extraordinary commitment from both the parents and the child to be successful. Like many parents, I was afraid of failure. I didn’t know how to teach the upper grades, and I didn’t know where to get help. I also didn’t want to ruin my kids’ chances of going to college because they homeschooled high school. On top of it all, we had just moved to a new neighborhood that was MUCH LESS homeschool friendly, so I felt very isolated. I tried to overcome my fears of homeschooling high school by immersing myself in the resources from homeschooling experts. Unfortunately, I discovered that much of the high school information out there is darn near impenetrable. It seemed to me that the homeschool experts only offered opinion and guidance that was very closely aligned to THEIR preferred method of homeschooling.
Making sense of all the high school advice out there became a huge ordeal. It required extreme diligence and discernment to select the gold amidst the dross. To be honest, the learning curve was huge, and it came at the time that I was the least emotionally prepared to tackle it. I had teenagers, after all, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they are DEMANDING (kind of like two-year olds!) Who has time to search out information, ingest it all, sort out what works and what doesn’t, integrate it into your own homeschool philosophy and develop a workable plan, when all the while your kids are in the next room complaining LOUDLY about the smell of their biology dissection!
It was very difficult. And to be honest, it was sometimes extremely tempting to just put them back in school. I was desperate for ANY encouragement, validation or information about homeschooling high school. Finally, I realized that what was really lacking in my homeschooling was any sort of external support structure. So rather than just feel sorry for myself, I decided to create my own “Support Group.” I had a friend, Debbie, who was a homeschool mom with boys slightly older than mine, and who was living through the high school years. We took to each other like white on rice, and offered each other support when it seemed like the whole universe was aligned against us. I’m telling you, it was like finding a glass of ice water in the midst of the desert…it made all the difference in the world!
Looking back, Debbie and I provided each other with four critical ingredients for homeschool success: a willing ear to listen, a gentle voice to correct, a wise word to encourage and a warm heart to accept. With these critical elements in place, I believe even the most challenging homeschooling experience can succeed through high school graduation, because I've seen it - in my life and the lives of others. In fact, not long ago I graduated my two boys after eight years of homeschooling independently. We weren't sure what to expect when we started the college application process. I knew my boys had received a tremendous education, I just wasn't confident that the colleges would accept our homeschool. Boy, was I ever wrong!
I discovered the colleges were eagerly waiting for us! They loved our homeschool, were amazed at our records, were very impressed with our children’s socialization skills, and loved our students. The results: both boys received admission and great scholarships to every college they applied to. In addition, they both received four year, full-tuition scholarships from their first choice university!
After homeschooling, I decided to “give myself away” by helping other homeschool parents successfully navigate the high school years. When I started The HomeScholar, all I wanted in the whole world was to make a difference in the lives of as many homeschoolers as possible — with “a willing ear, a gentle voice, a wise word and a warm heart.” I remember when my husband and I exhibited at our first homeschool convention as The HomeScholar, people would look at us funny because, even though we paid for a booth…we weren’t selling ANYTHING. All I wanted to do was “shout from the hilltop”… “YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE!!!!”
Well, that was apparently exactly the right message to exactly the right audience. Parents were STARVED for encouragement, validation, community and information about homeschooling high school. They had needs and questions…BIG NEEDS AND BIG QUESTIONS…so I set out to give them the answers. And that’s how The HomeScholar was first formed.
What is The HomeScholar and what makes it different from the other high school and transcript resources that are available? What are the benefits of using this program?
A while ago, I created a free mini-course called "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School." (http://www.thehomescholar.com/avoiding-homeschool-high-school-mistakes.php) On the signup sheet, I asked an innocent little question: "What is your biggest question about homeschooling high school?"
I was expecting a few themes and some basic questions. What I wasn't prepared for was the overwhelming flood of fear, insecurity and questions that came pouring my way.
Listen to the heart cry from some of these "biggest questions:"
• Are we doing enough?
• Are we covering what they'll need for college and life?
• Is homeschooling high school even possible?
• How do I fit it all in?
• I'm overwhelmed! How can I do it right?
• How can I make up for my mistakes?
• Will I be able to teach the difficult classes?
Wow! My heart went out to the thousands of parents who responded. I know how these questions feel because these were all MY questions. I remember sleepless nights where my husband and I stewed over these very fears. Getting the answers for our family was a long, arduous process of research, questioning, and study.
Looking back, I was struck by how wonderful it would have been to be able to simply talk to a mom who had been through the process herself and be able to glean nuggets of information that could help. Like most people, I learn better from someone I know, like and trust. Then it struck me. Since there seems to be such a hunger for information about homeschooling high school, and since private consultation may be financially out of reach for many families, what if I collected all of my best helps and resources together in one place and make it available to everyone!
Let's face it; no one is an expert on everything. I remember when my husband and I "hit the wall" in high school math. It's true, even engineers and nurses will reach a point where they need to turn to experts for help on certain subjects. It simply wasn't worth our time to re-learn Algebra 2, and we felt we needed an expert's help. We solved the problem by purchasing a video math tutorial that fit our kids’ learning style. Outsourcing had come to our family!
Homeschooling high school can be intimidating. Many families would love to get an expert's help - to speak to someone who has gone ahead and surveyed the land, someone who can point out the traps and dangers. Remember: not everyone needs to be a pioneer! Parents can take advantage of those who have blazed the trail and can share what they've learned! Everyone who has faced the unknown recognizes the value in having someone nearby who has been there before and succeeded - someone who is eager to share the lessons they learned. That is what The HomeScholar is all about, and what sets it apart from homeschool programs which simply tell you what courses to study and how to write a transcript.
The HomeScholar offers a vast array of resources to the high school parent. A visit to my website (The HomeScholar) will turn up dozens of how-to training courses, both video and audio, webinars, free personalized support through phone consultation, in depth answers to challenging high school questions, templates and tools to ease your high school journey, articles and training resources, college prep checklists,and much, much more. Parents also have the opportunity to join my Gold Care Club, (http://www.thehomescholar.com/gold-care.php) which gives them weekly access to me - a proven and respected homeschool high school expert - when they need it for all of their homeschool questions. I’m available to coach, encourage and support. With the resources of The HomeScholar, parents will have access to training courses and tips on the toughest high school questions, and access to some of the best resources on the Internet to assist them as they walk this challenging and rewarding path.
Is the HomeScholar program something that a parent completes on their own or can a student complete a good portion of it if they are motivated?
The Homescholar is not a ‘program’ that a student or parent completes. It is a resource to encourage and equip parents to homeschool through high school. While there are resources that both parents and students will find useful (for instance, a webinar with tips on taking the essay portion of the SAT, or assistance in choosing the best college for a student), The HomeScholar can be compared to a library (complete with your own personal reference librarian) in that it provides parents with tools to accomplish their goals, as opposed to a school that prescribes coursework and determines when completion has been achieved.
Can all types of homeschoolers use the HomeScholar program? Do you need to have a curriculum to go from to write a transcript or can unschoolers use this program with success too?
I encourage parents who are contemplating high school to continue to use the homeschool methods that have worked for them in lower grades, and not to change the way they do homeschool just because their students are now in high school. Unschoolers to School-at-Home families—all of these students are learning; I help parents translate that learning into grades, credits and language that college admissions officers understand, without the need to change how children learn, or the need for expensive curriculum or tracking software.
Grades and credits are the love languages of colleges, because colleges need to understand your homeschool experience. I help parents to translate their unique homeschool experience into words and numbers that colleges understand. You can provide a superior high school education for your kids that will open doors for them. Your love for your child will ensure success beyond your wildest dreams!
Do all colleges require a transcript or do some of them go strictly by ACT/SAT scores?
Almost every college requires a transcript, SAT or ACT scores, and some type of college application essay(s). I offer comprehensive resources for parents who are looking for a college (http://www.thehomescholar.com/finding-a-college-dvd.php), trying to earn big scholarships, creating transcripts that colleges will respect (www.TotalTranscriptSolution.com) or crafting course descriptions and records that the colleges will LOVE (www.ComprehensiveRecordSolution.com). I’ve got everything a parent needs to know to help their child gain admittance and scholarships to the college of their dreams!
Do you have any other products at HomeScholar that my readers might be able to use?
I have many, many free Resources! Free monthly newsletter "The HomeScholar Record" - What you need to know, when you need to know it, free weekly office hours for a free 10 minute phone consultation (call me on Wednesdays, 1-2 pm (Pacific) at 1-888-Lee-2Help), free "Dear Abby" blog posts to answer high school questions. Subscribe to receive one bite-sized tip at a time. I have a free transcripts webinar called "A Homeschool Parents Guide to Grades, Credits and Transcripts", free instant mini-course called "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School", free homeschool articles for your support group newsletter so you can encourage others to homeschool high school, and free "Dig Deeper" resource pages provide detailed information on high school topics.
In addition to these free resources, I offer dozens of parent training tools (http://www.thehomescholar.com/parent-training.php), online webinars (http://homeschoolthruhighschool.com/), and resources to help parents feel completely confident in their ability to homeschool their child through graduation and into college and career.
Do you have any advice for new homeschoolers or parents who are new to homeschooling high schoolers?
Hang in there!! I have a special burden for parents who are new to the high school game! When my own sons approached the high school years and people began telling me how crazy it was to even think about homeschooling high school, I was still determined to do it. I decided to prove the naysayers wrong. I would succeed in teaching my children! They’d get into college! And darn it, they WOULD be socialized!!
During the early days of homeschooling, I had steel in my backbone. I knew what was right and no one could convince me otherwise. In addition, I still had a pretty solid mastery of the elementary school subjects so I didn’t worry too much about the academics.
But then one day it happened. When we purchased my eldest son’s first Physics book, I made the mistake of opening it…. Sir Isaac Newton! My high school nemeses! He looked out from the page and sneered, “You thought I was gone, didn’t you….” with a little maniacal laughter tossed in. Suddenly all of the negative messages that I had closeted in the back of my brain came crashing through. “You’re a pretender!” You can’t do this!” Who do you think you’re kidding?”
I was devastated. I had been so confident, so secure in my decision to homeschool, but there I sat, head in hands, brought down by a dead physicist. I think I was still at that table when my husband got home from work that night. I explained that it was over. “I can’t possibly teach the boys this year…because….sniff…I don’t remember physics….”
Matt earned many good husband points that night because he didn’t dismiss my concerns or say I was being silly. He simply opened the Physics book and sneered right back at our dear, dead Sir Isaac and said, “He’s not so tough. I can help.”
“I can help.” Are there any more beautiful words in the English language? It seems to me that more homeschooling battles have been won, more obstacles have been overcome through the power of those three words, than perhaps any other human expression. Homeschooling is tough business. Every homeschool parent needs a helping hand from a loving spouse, supporting parents, or a wise mentor -- preferably from all three.
Every parent has experienced discouragement at some point. Through my extensive first hand experience, I’ve determined that homeschooling discouragement is primarily born from fear...Fear of the unknown, Fear of failing, Fear of hurting our children's future, and Fear of looking foolish. If you ever consider homeschooling high school, I can promise these fears will find you. They may sneak up on you at a family event, or ambush you at a homeschool convention. You may even be sitting at church and get that overwhelming sense of dread. For me, the fear always seemed to come at night…in bed…staring at the ceiling….
The burden was so overwhelming. My deepest desire was to finish the job homeschooling my kids, but the responsibility was overwhelming. Parents who homeschool high school willingly assume the responsibility for the outcome of their children. I mean, if we fail, who can we blame it on: the schools? Society? The System?
Nope… all responsibility falls on us.
That is why I think parents who homeschool high school are some of the bravest people on the planet. They are my heroes. Who, other than a hero, lays down their life for another? Who, other than a hero, will sacrifice time, talent and money for someone else’s benefit? And who, other than a hero, will take full responsibility for the success of someone else’s education?
Are you a budding hero? Are the seeds of homeschool high school greatness resident within you? If there is one thing I know for sure, it is this. If I did it, you can too. I don’t say that glibly. I simply know that on the morning I stared in utter desperation at my son’s Physics book, it felt as if there was no one on the planet less likely to succeed in homeschooling high school.
So what happened? What changed? Well, I didn’t relearn Physics, if that’s what you’re wondering. Instead, I researched. Through an extended time of study, interview and dialog, I was able to eventually find answers to all of my high school concerns. In addition to this, and perhaps even more importantly, I found support and encouragement from other homeschool parents who walked with me through this hard part of homeschooling.
Don’t try to do this alone; seek companionship and encouragement from others, and walk together. Don’t succumb to the temptation to throw in the towel, just when the rewards to be reaped are so great! Homeschooling high school is so worth the effort!! It’s one of the best times you’ll have with your children, before they launch and start their own lives at college or beyond. Stay the course, and finish strong. I’m glad I did, and I believe you will be too.