Celebrate High School typography
An Invitation to Learn Outside the Textbook
Cheryl A. Bastian
became ill. Her recovery hung in the balance, and we realized she could no longer live alone in her apartment. My high schooler wanted to help secure appropriate care for Grammy’s health needs. I feared my daughter would get behind in her schoolwork, yet I knew the value of real-life learning and saw her immense passion to help. My daughter loved her great-grandmother and wanted the best for her.

After a discussion, we agreed our daughter should contribute to Grammy’s care. We did not want fear to keep us from the most important things. From that moment on—though I had my concerns about the time involved—my daughter:

  • Accompanied my mother and me on five facility tours
  • Attended meetings with care professionals
  • Sampled food in dining areas
  • Sat in conversations with financial advisors
  • Interacted with memory care patients
  • Listened to critical care needs when they arose
  • Heard the ins and outs of Medicare
  • Learned about hospice care
  • Helped to decide Grammy’s level of care
  • Helped pack up personal belongings in the apartment
  • Visited her several times a week once she was settled

No textbook was involved, but there were real learning opportunities: observations, conversations with professionals, meetings, and questions.

We never imagined the enormous impact this experience would have on our daughter, our family, and mostly, Grammy. Four months later, time came to update my daughter’s transcript. I talked with her, and she asked if we could include a course about senior care. I told her I would look into the possibility. After discovering a college course with similar content, I titled her course Cares and Concerns for the Elderly and listed it on her transcript.

The high school years have been exhilarating. Indeed, there are hard days, taking every ounce of courage we can muster, but there are also beautiful days, more significant than anything we could have imagined or planned. Interestingly, we often do not understand the significance until months, even years, later.

As my husband Mike and I allow our high schoolers to make suggestions and offer input about content, we give up some control. Sometimes this feels scary, even careless, because the traditional path feels safe and natural. It is how we were taught and what we know. However, we discovered our teens mature and grow while making decisions, managing time, and solving problems, over and over again. They also learn through making mistakes.

student doing homework

When our high schoolers do not have these opportunities, they cannot fully comprehend the options available and recognize the “no ceiling on learning” possibilities. As you begin to allow your teens to make choices and offer input, remember the process will look different for every family. Give your family room to grow. Encourage one another. Think personalized options, outside the traditional. If you are wondering where to start, consider these suggestions while remaining open to whatever opportunities come your way.

Living Books & Non-Fiction Materials

Living books—also called real books—add valuable high school content. These treasures escort readers through an era or event. For example, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, written by Captain Ted W. Lawson, a Doolittle pilot, provides a vivid account of the secret mission. Living books may be the bulk of a course—for the learner who keeps reading and reading—or can enhance a topic here and there. Versatility is part of the beauty of this resource.

We infuse living books and non-fiction resources into high school content—especially history, science, and the arts—similar to the elementary and middle school years. However, there is a difference. High schoolers need buy-in. Living books offer ways for high schoolers to have choice, show responsibility, and gain independent learning. While some high schoolers prefer to choose books from a compiled list of suggestions, others have definite ideas about must-reads. Find out what the sweet spot is for your teen, and launch from there!

“We discovered our teens mature & grow while making decisions, managing time, & solving problems, over & over again. They also learn through making mistakes.”
What About the Paperwork?

We know high schoolers who read parts of the personal journals of people like Lewis and Clark and the Wright Brothers. Other teens selected biographies of historically significant people such as John Adams or William Wilberforce.

When these great books are read, I encourage parents or their teens to log the titles and authors. This is particularly helpful if your state requires this documentation, but it can also be used to copy and paste to other documents, if you need a reading list or course description for college admission. These books could contribute to any credit awarded on the transcript. For us, they are a staple for Survey of American History.

Audio-Visual Resources

With ever-growing technology, audio-visual resources provide low-cost and often independently paced resources. Our learners have benefited from these resources specifically, with some choosing digital and audio materials as the preferred means of delivery.

As teens share ideas about how they could more efficiently and effectively learn content, they may suggest online tutorials, audio copies of classic literature, recordings of inaugural speeches and primary source documents, transcripts of historical events and landmark court cases, video clips from county or city government town hall meetings, and documentaries. These are all fantastic possibilities.

What About the Paperwork?

A few weeks after deciding to expand her nutrition and wellness study to researching the benefits of being gluten and dairy free, my daughter and I were invited to attend an event by a well-known nutritionist. At the end of the evening, one attendee was selected to receive a full nutrition curriculum. My daughter won! The next day I found her poring over the materials and listening to tutorials. Not only did she eventually complete the content, but she also studied, researched, planned, planted, and harvested her own garden.

None of it this was planned by me. It evolved from her personal interest in health and nutrition and was completely student-motivated. She kept a list of URLs she utilized and a bulleted list of activities. I helped compile the books she read or listened to. After almost two years of integrated study, I awarded a full credit Nutrition and Wellness and a full credit in Botany, Horticulture, & Landscaping on her transcript. Four years later, she continues to study and applies what she learns to her personal care.

Experiential & Project-Based Learning

Experiential, project-based learning is one of our favorite educational methods. It is real-life and hands-on. New skill and knowledge acquisition is gained through

  • Talking with professionals or experts
  • Job-shadowing
  • Internships
  • Volunteer service
  • Apprenticeships
  • Projects
  • Library programs
  • Employment
  • 4H & Exhibitions in county fairs
  • Scouting activities
  • Private instruction
  • City or county public forums & Political campaign work

By taking advantage of a combination of these opportunities, students learn from interacting with people of all ages, abilities, and cultures.

What Does This Look Like on Paper?

Bullet lists have saved my record keeping sanity for this method of education. Volunteer hours are listed in columns: date, hours, venue, supervisor, and contact number. Our musician keeps a dated list of all recitals, performances, guest appearances, and music-related events. For these hours and related study or practice, she was awarded one-half credit in Music Performance. Bullet points remind us of the value of learning in real life and help us to see how activities are related to specific areas of content.

Photography also helps record experiential learning. Our son built an 8-by-12-foot storage shed for a non-profit ministry for his Eagle Scout project. The project was extensive; essentially he built a small house with all that goes with it. We documented the entire process in photographs and kept all of the records in a binder. He put in hundreds of hours and learned throughout the entire process, mostly from professionals who could offer him more than I could. The experiences were some of the most valuable in his entire education, and I confidently awarded him one-half credit in Drafting and Drawing and one credit in Introduction to Building Construction and entered the titles, grades, and credits on his transcript.

Travel Experiences

Whether on a business trip, summer vacation, or extended road trip, educational opportunities abound. In several seasons of our family life, we embraced chances to tour battlefields, landmarks, and noteworthy homesteads. They added to our education and were credited.

What Does This Look Like on Paper?

As we traveled, I kept a running list of field trips and collected brochures or pamphlets. From the list of field trips, I was able to copy and paste museums, battlefields, landmarks, aquariums, author homes, estates, coal mines, and factory sites into college documents as needed for course descriptions. Our unique experiences became integral components—in addition to books and other resources—for a variety of subjects. Each of the courses was listed on our learner’s transcripts.

Magazine Subscriptions & Professional Journals

These often overlooked, forgotten resources are packed with potential. I didn’t consider periodicals a possibility until my oldest son began to read the newest issues of what he determined to be his favorite business magazines: Money, Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Business Insider. Reading magazines was his idea, discovered during a family library day adventure. I would have never thought of this valuable tool.

Like magazines, professional journals provide an avenue for area specific content. They also provide clues to the future of a career field as well as the niche areas parents may not know. In addition, these publications prepare learners for college-level reading.

“There is the potential for life and everything in it to be the classroom. It’s an invitation to think beyond the textbook and become problem-solving, solution finders.”
What Does This Look Like on Paper?

Every week I learned more about my son as he shared what he was learning from business influencers. I love our car rides together. Several weeks into his quest, he began to read non-fiction books related to current trends. A business credit was developing. I asked how he could add to his study. He suggested talking with his former baseball coach, a financial planner, and job shadowing business owners. Considering all he had learned, we titled this one-credit course Business and Entrepreneurial Principles, and I added the title, grade, and credit to the transcript.

There have been times when we had no idea what would interest a learner, what direction he or she wanted to pursue, or how to go about allowing our high schooler to have input into course content. In those seasons, we prayed, observed, and asked questions. We encouraged our teen to do the same. We all grew in faith and courage, empowered by the possibilities.

Interest fuels learning. It also lifts the content ceiling, meaning the level and depth of learning are not hampered by age or grade level. With the ceiling lifted and the possibilities endless, there is the potential for life and everything in it to be the classroom. It’s an invitation to think beyond the textbook and become problem-solving, solution finders.


heryl Bastian has been married to Mike for thirty years and began homeschooling in 1993. A mother of eight children—preschool through adult—Cheryl knows the trials and triumphs of embracing each season of life and is passionate about equipping and inspiring parents who want to nurture a desire for life-long learning in their children.