How to Integrate Life Learning into a High-School Transcript

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Life learning experiences can and should be incorporated into your student’s high school education. This requires you to get creative!  Remember, “electives” will be as rigorous and useful as you make them!

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Our eldest child provided me with tons of experience from the get-go. Most definitely not a “book learner”, he developed a serious fascination with cars as he approached the time to get his license. Always having been a kinesthetic learner, he became intrigued with the functioning of an automobile. However, my husband and I didn’t really see him pursuing a career as a mechanic. So, while we remained firm that he would be college-bound, it was apparent that, at least during his high school years, we’d have to come up with a more creative way to further his education.

This became a wonderful blueprint for a high school application for Unit Studies! He became a voracious reader about anything auto-related, and I asked him to maintain a reading list. It began with magazine articles but grew into all sorts of books – autobiographies, car-related inventions, histories of his favorite makes/models, more science-focused books on the actual workings of engines and systems. All these covered relevant studies in science and history. Periodic reports developed his writing skills. At times we’d go down to the shop where he would show us, with the aid of “props” and other appropriate visuals, what he’d been learning. Other times he’d share at the family dinner table. Both situations were opportunities to develop presentation skills. Working on a project with his dad helped him learn and then hone newly developed mechanical skills, too. He kept records of time spent on all his shop- and study-time, and at the end of the year, was able to receive a full credit, two years in a row, for a life-skill course we called Auto Mechanics I and II.

This is just one example of concrete life-learning that can be included in your teen’s educational history.

Now, while there is no “trick” to do this, there are two “must haves”:

  1. a credible logging system of activities, book read, skills learned, etc.
  2. translating said log into education-eze. This is the language that teachers, principals, and administrators use to understand and process every student’s educational history, presented in the form of a high school transcript. It’s a combination of grades, credit hours and averages that yield what is termed a GPA (grade point average). This is utilized, along with standardized test scores such as the SAT or ACT, to predict the success your teen will have in college.

Documenting Life Experiences

It’s easy enough to figure out how to assign credit to “regular” courses. Most of the time, when your student finishes a book or program of study, you give him a grade and a year’s worth of credit. When he finishes a life-learning event, however, things get a tad more complicated.

It’s for these cases that you need a bit more backup. Here’s what to do:

  • Definitely plan ahead. Have a game plan for the activity/opportunity. Is this potential career training? A life skill? Something that could be applied to a standard subject? For example, a “junior zookeeper” position that included animal studies could be applied to a biology/life sciences credit. Keep accurate records of activities, time spent and contact info of supervisors.
  • Make sure the program is well rounded. Ensure they read relevant books (and keep track of them, of course), and complete at least a research paper or two. Writing is a skill that is extremely useful in both career and life. Create a course syllabus, outlining what will be studied, or use already-created programs such as the ones at Skill Trek. Also, assign some sort of final project where they can present a summary of their experiences and learning.
  • Create a grading rubric and use it as a class “contract.” A rubric is a description of what standards need to be met to achieve each grade (to earn an “A”, you must do A, B and C , etc). If you present it at the beginning of the experience, your teen will know what your expectations are in terms of his/her effort and will be able to adjust accordingly.
  • Assign credit appropriately. Generally speaking, award ½ credit for 75 hours of study, and a full credit with 150 hours of study. Determine the amount of time spent, the level of expectations met on the rubric, and voila! You have a grade and credit amount to add to your high school transcript and include in figuring a GPA.
  • If college is in any way a post-high school probability, be sure to consult with an admissions counselor at one or two colleges that might be under consideration to see what kind of admissions requirements they have. Don’t be afraid to call them, a discussion over the phone in no way commits you to anything!

See? That wasn’t so hard, was it? Here’s the best thing about it all! By using this process, you can incorporate a myriad of electives, jobs, and extra-curricular experiences into a robust and relevant high school program of study for your teen. No longer will you hear them pose the “Am I really gonna use this in life?” question!

Documenting Honors/Awards and Extra-curricular Activities

Depending on how many and what kind, you could divide this list into categories, or simply format them in a bullet list. The easiest and probably most clear way would be to present them as you would a resume. Include the most recent first, with the dates of involvement and a short description, but only if necessary.

It also bears repeating here that you do not want to oversell your child’s success. Yes, put his best foot forward, but don’t contribute to the misrepresentation that homeschool moms can’t or don’t accurately portray their children’s achievements.

From record-keeping to high school transcript

In terms of coming up with forms and other record-keeping tools, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. A book that I found helpful years ago and still use is Senior High: A Home-Designed Form+U+La.

Yes, it is an “older” book, written by a veteran homeschooler, Barbara Edtl Shelton, who led the way for many of us when the modern homeschooling movement was still in its infancy. Yet, it contains a plethora of forms and formats for record-keeping. Although they are very paper-intensive, anyone with a decent knowledge of Word or Excel will easily make the transition to more computer-friendly and personalized formats. While you may be slightly overwhelmed by the number of different options presented, a weekend of study with your favorite beverage will help you sort it all out.

You can also shoot me an emailand I’ll give you a hand. This was my homeschool “bible” while putting our two oldest through high school, and I can offer some options to help you get the most out of it.

It does take preparation, planning, and follow-through to craft a practical and useful high school experience for your child. However, it’s not rocket science (although you could have her study that and receive a full science credit).

Although academic preparation is vital for a college-bound student, incorporating solid and practical “real life experiences” will round out a fulfilling and rigorous high school program at home! Which will more-than-adequately prepare her for a wonderful future!

How do you integrate life learning into your student’s high school transcript?


Pat Fenner has been homeschooling her brood of 5 for over 20 years, fine-tuning and adapting her methods over that time. Preparing for a soon-to-be empty nest, she shares what she’s learned and encourages others over at BreakthroughHomeschooling.com, and through consulting and coaching services. Join her over there and sign up to get weekly encouragement and support for parenting teens and homeschooling high school in the 21st century!

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