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As of Memorial Day weekend, I’ve officially graduated a homeschooler! Since pulling my daughter, Sarah, out of public school in sixth grade, we’ve followed an unschooling approach, and it’s been an amazing experience in so many ways.

Many people were supportive of our relaxed homeschooling methods at first. When Sarah approached high school age, though, people started throwing around the “transcript” word. “She’s going to have to do something more formal for you to count it on a transcript!” “What if she needs a transcript for college?”

Creating a relaxed homeschooling transcript: It can be done!

In great news, we were able to make a wonderful transcript encompassing 33.5 high school credits, and it was accepted by our local colleges with no questions asked.

So how did we do that?

Know your requirements

If your student has a specific post-high-school plan, work with those requirements in mind. Similarly, if your state has predefined requirements for graduation, start planning for those in ninth grade and ensure you have material that can be reflected appropriately on your transcript.

My biggest recommendation in this area is conversation. Have conversations with your teen about their goals, and if college is in the plan, call and talk to an admissions officer. Please do not rely only on what a college or university posts on its website! Most have alternative options, and you want to discuss those with a real human being who can give you guidance.

As an example, most people looking at transcripts actually do not require grades to be given! We simply describe our approach as “mastery-based,” which means we work on a subject until it’s fully understood, so we give no grades because they’d all be As anyway. While you can certainly provide letter or number grades, they serve as a good example of the value of talking to people about what must be included and what doesn’t need to be, and that’s key to developing a relaxed homeschooling transcript.

This is an example of one year's work on our relaxed homeschooling transcript.

This is an example of one year’s work on our relaxed homeschooling transcript.

Learn to speak transcript-ese

Before doing anything else, you should determine what you want to count as a credit. We follow the Carnegie Unit method of 120 hours of study for one credit, 60 hours for a half-credit, and so on.

There are other methods, and again, you may need to go back to specific requirements that apply to your family to choose your strategy. We’ve found Carnegie to be pretty universally accepted, so that’s what we chose.

With that in mind, you need to think about turning what you do into transcript language – what I call “transcript-ese.” There are a few keys to transcript-ese:

  • Think about themes, not necessarily traditional subject areas. A blended effort studying Shakespeare and Elizabethan England could be listed as “Shakespeare: Literature and Culture,” even though a public school might separate those into different history and English studies.
  • Integrate key words, such as “literature,” “cultural geography,” “concepts,” “fundamentals” or “advanced.” These are all the sorts of words that transcript recipients are used to seeing, and they can be applied to your family’s learning as well.
  • Don’t forget the “extras.” Hours spent on field trips, watching relevant movies, attending artistic performances and talking about the topic at hand – all of those count toward your credit hours. Many people limit their counting to just reading and producing a product such as a paper, but that sells short all the great other experiences your student has had.
  • Think about current events. Homeschooling during the 2016 presidential race offered us a great credit on government and political science, for instance.

Some examples of relaxed homeschooling turned into credits

Comparative literature: Our description of this course was “Evaluation of literary works and their film and stage adaptations.” We watched movies based on books, and read or listened to audiobooks or looked up summaries online of the books on which they were based. We talked about how they differed and which we liked better, and how the screen adaptation process works. Finally, we attended some plays based on literary works for a completely different look at adaptation.

Animal/environmental studies: Sarah earned 3.5 credits in this area over her high school years, and it came almost entirely due to her work in our local 4-H program. Our course description was “Study of wildlife, zoology, ecology and conservation issues in PA and worldwide.” In addition to her 4-H work, a lot of our credit hours here came from discussions and field trips to various animal shelters, sanctuaries, zoos, aquariums and more.

Philosophy: Time Travel: This course’s description was “Reading and research in the philosophies of time, time travel and metaphysics.” Believe it or not, we don’t even watch Dr. Who, which would be a great stepping-stone into this topic! But we did explore a bunch of time-travel fiction novels, dive into Quantum Leap on Netflix, and read various philosophers’ writings on the concept of time travel. Is time malleable, such that you can change events when you visit another time, or is it more like a library, where you can go observe but not effect any change? That’s the kind of stuff we enjoyed talking about for this credit.

Government/political science: This course is described as “Detailed study of the American state and federal governmental system and election.” As I mentioned above, current events were key here. We read about, watched about and discussed a variety of elements in the 2016 presidential election, and from there branched out into state and local elections. Sarah also participated in a 4-H program called “Capital Days,” in which the 4-H teens visit our state capital, Harrisburg, for several days and do a mock legislative session, which was a great hands-on addition to this credit.

Concepts of algebra: We described this course as “Foundational study in equation-based thinking, conceptual math, problem-solving.” Our state, Pennsylvania, requires that algebra be taught, but does not specify the level at which that must be done, nor the number of credit hours required, so this half-credit course was a perfect fit for my liberal-and-performing-arts-inclined student. We talked about ways algebra appears in life, such as comparison-shopping at the grocery store, and played algebra-based games like Dragonbox.

Film and photography studies: “Detailed study of the art of film and photography, including creating and editing” is how we described this class, which came about after Sarah developed a huge interest in modifying and editing photos for her Norman Reedus fan account on Instagram. She then moved on to video editing and composition, and we studied the works of a number of photographers and videographers. Sarah also spent time talking with a family friend who owns a photography business about the equipment and skills required to be a professional photographer.

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Want to get more ideas like this about developing a transcript in a relaxed homeschool? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Unschooling High School Transcript, where I walk through every single class on my now-graduated daughter’s transcript!)

About Joan Concilio

Joan is an unschooler, web developer, painter, writer, geek, human and frequent wearer of interesting tights. In no particular order. Her daughter, Sarah, is an 18-year-old unschool graduate, and their family shares their story at unschoolrules.com.

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