How to Plan Your Homeschool Electives

Ahh, the ever-mysterious, “homeschool elective.”  It sounds so simple, but it can actually be kind of a tricky subject for homeschooling parents to deal with.

This is because, for many homeschooling families, a child’s learning is already inherently shaped by extracurricular activities, personal interests (AKA self-directed learning) and field trips/volunteer activities outside of the home. 

Sure, core courses in language arts, math, science, and history are ever-present, forming the foundation of education (unless you’re 100% into the unschooling method). However, the truth is that many homeschooling families also actively seek out alternative learning in a variety of creative, supplemental (and child-directed)  forms. 

Therefore, the homeschooling issue with electives has little to do with whether or not we have electives (because we almost always have more potential electives than we know what to do with)! 

Instead, it has much more to do with the fact that we sometimes struggle with how we should  perceive/define/ own them (and document them!)Here are some of the areas in which I think things tend to get a little fuzzy for us:

  • What is the role of electives in my homeschool?
  • How do I figure out what actually qualifies as a “homeschool elective”?
  • Should I document electives? How?
  • Does my young child even need electives? 
  • How do I choose the best electives for my highschooler?

In today’s post, we’re going to dive in and talk about some key facets of electives for your homeschool. If you have additional questions, feedback, or wisdom, please feel free to comment and chime in with your own insights!

What “Counts” As An Elective?

First, a bare-bones definition: an academic “elective” simply refers to something educational that your child chooses to learn. That’s it.

As I said earlier, this can seem a little fuzzy to many of us homeschooling parents who are looking for something more definitive: our children often are already often doing a lot of educational things that are fun for them. 

However, the fact remains that it doesn’t really have to be that complicated. A course or activity can count as an elective if it is:

  1. Educationally-oriented
  2. Something your child expresses an interest in learning

Depending on your homeschool method, the term “educational,” might be more traditional/formal to you, such as a foreign language course, or something a little more out-of-the-box, like film-making or archery.

As a former homeschooler,  I can attest to the awesome freedom of this. I attended public school as an elementary student and the bane of my existence was PE. I could NOT play volleyball or softball for my life, and it ultimately resulted in some serious bullying. 

However, I’d taken dance classes from the age of 3, and it was an area in which I’d always done well. When I switched to homeschooling, it was miraculous to me that my dance classes (which I attended several times a week) were able to count towards physical education elective. Later, this also provided opportunities for extra responsibility/life learning as I began to teach dance classes as a highschooler.  My college had no issue accepting this as PE on my transcript. (And, as an added bonus: I still enjoy teaching dance classes today). 

As you talk to homeschoolers and homeschooling families about choosing electives, you’ll likely find that stories like mine are pretty common. Homeschooling parents tend to embrace opportunities to get their children excited about learning, and the homeschooling format allows greater flexibility to pursue elective options that might not be found in a more standardized setting.

The Role of Electives in Your Homeschool

In addition to exciting your students about learning, electives offer even more than this in a homeschool environment. 

For younger homeschoolers, the great variety of electives to choose from in homeschooling allows children to gain exposure to many new and exciting types of learning. As they begin to discover what interests them, they learn more about their own identity. This fosters emotional growth and self-confidence, as well as intellectual learning. 

Older homeschoolers may use electives to help them narrow down on (or even pursue) a future career path.  For instance, a homeschooler who loves robotics and technology has the flexibility to pursue time-intensive opportunities (such as an internship) that would help him/her land a dream job later on (and/or stand out on a college application). 

Electives may also present opportunities to get your homeschooler plugged into different social communities and meeting friends and mentors with similar interests to their own!

“Playing by the Rules,” with Your Homeschool Electives 

So yes, there really is a good amount of flexibility regarding the electives that you can choose for your homeschooler. 

However, we need to talk about some things you should probably consider as you get ready to list electives on your homeschool transcript. Here are a few factors to consider in your homeschool planning to be sure your that your child’s electives,  “play by the rules.”

Check with Your State: 

If you’ve been homeschooling for a while, you already know that laws about homeschooling vary a lot from state-to-state. You can easily look over homeschool-related laws for your state via this website.

 Unless you live in one of the very strictest homeschooling states, your state is unlikely to have an issue with your elective of choice (as long as they aren’t taking the place of core classes). 

However, checking over these rules will give you an idea of how thorough you should be with documentation (yes, even in documenting electives). 

 For example, say you have a child who loves to paint and draw, and he/she chooses Art as an elective. Your state may (or may not) require a time-log, the name of the curriculum (or private teacher) utilized, and a portfolio demonstrating efforts/progress. 

Sidenote: this is one of many reasons that resources like Sparketh can be so helpful—you’d easily be able to show the courses that your child has learned and provide documentation of their projects via the learning tracks

Documentation 

Documentation isn’t the most fun part of homeschooling, it’s true. However, it is important (even if you don’t live in a super strict homeschooling state). Sure, your child may not need a ton of documentation, but it’s much better to have plenty of records just in case you do need them. One day your child might end up in public/private school, or you may be faced with a skeptical college admissions rep!

Here are some things to keep in mind for documenting homeschool electives: 

  • How many hours per week does the elective take? Keep track of “attendance” and time.
  • What will you call the course on your homeschool transcript? Consider how the elective will look to someone who is skimming the transcript. Just like when you write a professional resume, you want to choose a name for the elective that sounds respectable, truthful and clear. 
  • Are there any references (coach, teacher, online mentor) you can list for the elective? 
  • Can you document your child’s progress or learning in any way? For instance, are there competitions or certificates/medals won? Can you keep a portfolio of art, typing speeds, or graphic design? 

All of these things will help you start defining your chosen homeschooled electives, and give you documentation that you might need in the future!

Psst: Did you read the words “homeschool transcript” and got freaked out because–oops– you don’t have one? This resource can help you out. 

Should it Recieve a Letter Grade?

If you are keeping a detailed transcript so that you can show it to a potential school later on, or for your child’s college application, keep this in mind: not all electives require a letter grade. Some are fine as Pass/Fail subjects.  As the homeschooling teacher, you get to decide this at your discretion.

 However, your child’s A in Driver’s Education might stick out (in a not so great way) next to a series of Bs and Cs in the core curriculum, making it look like you are purposefully skewing their GPA.  

However, if your student has been studying an elective like Computer Skills or Art, and you have the documentation to show his/her hard work and progress, a letter grade might be a good idea! Again, it’s up to you. This is just something to consider as you plan.

Age Factor 

Another important thing to consider when talking about electives is the age of your child/children.

 If your children are young (elementary/early middle school), then you may not want to worry as much about whether or not something is officially an “elective.” Instead, focus on documenting those core courses and allowing them to dabble some different electives and extracurricular activities until they find something they really want to spend more time learning about. Or keep your “official” electives simple to document by choosing something like a foreign language or physical education course. 

If you have older children (highschool), then you’ll probably want to start considering things like college choices/ majors and job/life aspirations. These factors can and should help you and your child choose good electives to dedicate time and effort towards each semester/year. 

Elective or Extracurricular? 

 As I said, our homeschooled kids are busy learning all the time, often in non-traditional ways. So how do we draw the line between what should be an elective course versus an extracurricular activity?

The answer is that, in most cases, it’s entirely up to you. Personally, I’d suggest choosing the interests that are easiest to document, and that your child spends the most structured chunks of time in, as “electives.”  If you have older children, then you may want to choose/document electives that are most aligned with their academic/career goals.

For example, my daughter says that she wants to be a chef when she grows up. If we decide to work our way through preparing recipes in a cookbook, or if I enroll her in a kids’ baking class, then I’m going to find a way to document that process as an official elective. 

Something like “culinary arts” reads better as an “elective” than an as extracurricular activity, on paper. If I document culinary arts as an elective, then it will help others to see that it was something she was really serious about and spent dedicated time on.

 (My daughter is really young right now,  but this example would especially hold true for children who are middle-school-aged and up and express a career aspiration). 

That being said, not every creative endeavor that your child chooses to pursue has to be an elective, either!  

There is so much value in extra-curricular activities as well.  If your child wants to dabble in various activities or spend time volunteering with an organization, or sing in the choir in church…those things don’t have to be electives. They can just be fun, developmental facets of growing up. 

(Note: college applications value extracurriculars as a glimpse into a candidate’s personality, and you don’t have to document them nearly as much).

You ultimately make the call on which things which activities in your child’s life should be an elective or an extra-curricular activity. Both have value and, while they may seem similar, both have different types of benefits. Ultimately it’s all about balance!

Amazing Electives to Include in Your Homeschool 

Lastly, if you’re here because you are looking for some elective ideas to offer your homeschooler, here’s a fun list to get you brainstorming! Notice how some of the bolded options have subcategories with “a homeschool twist!” Enjoy!

The Arts: 

  • Pottery 
  • Art History 
  • Film-making 
  • Graphic Design 
  • Fashion Design 
  • Culinary Arts 
  • Creative Writing: Fiction Writing, Non-fiction, Journalism or Poetry 
  • Drama/Theatre 
  • Dance: ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, lyrical, international etc.
  • Any musical interest

Foreign Language

Note: whereas most schools have limited choices in terms of languages offered, homeschoolers can choose to learn any language they want as an elective, plus some less traditional options such as Latin, Greek, Hebrew, American Sign Language, etc.

Trades/Life Skill Based Electives 

  • Mechanics 
  • Finance 
  • Home Economics 
  • Agricultural Science 
  • Forestry 
  • Driver’s Ed
  • Any trade of interest (if your child has a career interest, see if you can find or make a course of study to teach them more about it and see if it’s truly a good fit!) 

Physical Education Activity

Pretty much any sport, traditional or non-traditional, can count as this type of elective as long as it is attended/taught/practiced consistently. In addition to team sports, you could also count activities such as: 

  • Golf
  • Fencing 
  • Dance (again) 
  • Involvement in a regular workout program at your local gym (Pump, Crossfit, etc.)
  • Martial Arts 

…and so many more! Click here to read about more choices for awesome homeschool electives!

Note: some states will require documentation of a Health course in addition to documentation of the physical activity for this to count it as PE, so check your state guidelines.

Electives offer a fantastic opportunity to help your children make a formal study of their interests. Homeschooling provides the chance to offer them an even greater variety of choices. Ultimately, when it comes to electives, I hope you have fun trying some different things out to see what gets your child really excited about learning! Don’t forget to document the journey. Even more importantly, don’t forget to enjoy it!

Written by Kathryn Gustafson

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