June 1, 2013

Preparing for the PSAT / NMSQT

Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test

National Merit Scholastic Qualifying Test

One of our sons qualified as a National Merit Scholarship Finalist! We are extremely proud of him and commend him for his hard work. Competing for National Merit Scholarships begins with taking the PSAT during the Junior year of high school to qualify. I'll share what we learned about taking the PSAT to help you prepare your students for college admissions testing and scholarships.


The purpose of the PSAT is to prepare for later taking the SAT and to determine National Merit Scholarship Program semi-finalists. Some universities require this score for admissions. To qualify for scholarships, students must obtain scores in at least the 97 percentile range. The focus of the PSAT is on critical reading, math problem solving, and writing skills.


The PSAT is given once a year in October with registration in mid-September. Test dates for 2013 are Wednesday, October 16 and Saturday, October 19. The test takes about 2-1/2 hours to complete. Scores only count when taken in 11th grade, but students in 10th grade may take the actual test for practice.


Contact the guidance counselor at your local public high school in early September to register and ask for a copy of the Official Student Guide which contains practice tests. Mark your calendar now! Registration is processed through the school, not online. The registration code for homeschool students is determined by the state they live in.


The cost to take the PSAT in October of 2013 will be $14 per student.

Practice Books

PSAT practice books are available and may be ordered from the College Board website or from Amazon for about $10 to $15 each. The practice books we preferred were from the College Board, Barron’s (especially for math), and Kaplan’s.


Students should begin taking practice tests during the summer before 10th grade in order to be ready to take the PSAT (for practice) in October. Our boys completed one practice test section each day, UN-timed, in order to become familiar with the test format and the types of questions. An important part of daily practice was to learn from the errors made by looking up and understanding the correct answers. Increased speed came about naturally as they completed more and more UN-timed practice test sections. Imposing time restrictions on every single practice session may frustrate and discourage students. We only gave timed practice tests occasionally. Each timed test did take less time to complete than the previous timed test.  Note: This method is NOT the practice method outlined in the practice books. The method described above is how WE decided to best accomplish daily test practice, which proved to be an effective AND pleasant experience for our boys.

For complete details about the PSAT, visit the College Board website.

National Merit Scholarship Program

About 1.5 million Juniors in more than 22,000 high schools entered the 2013 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2011 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®), which served as an initial screen of program entrants. In order to advance from Semifinalist to Finalist standing, a detailed scholarship application was submitted in which we provided information about our son's academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, and honors and awards received. In addition, our son maintained an outstanding academic record throughout high school, was endorsed and recommended by a leader in the community, wrote an essay, and earned SAT scores that confirmed his earlier performance on the qualifying test.

The National Merit® Scholarship Program honors individual students who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies. For more information about the competition, please visit the National Merit Scholarship Corporation website.

Begin preparing for college admissions tests early!

It is important for college-bound homeschooled high school students to have several objective test scores, such as the PSAT, ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests, obtained outside the home in order to confirm grades earned in the homeschool setting and to be competitive college applicants. Tips about the ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests will be shared in future posts.

May 8, 2013

The National Geographic Bee

Homeschoolers in our neck of the woods here in Kentucky are thrilled that a local homeschool student won the state-level Geographic Bee in April and is advancing to participate in the national competition in Washington, D.C. later this month!

Participation in the National Geographic Bee is a wonderful educational experience that is open to homeschooled students. This past January it was my pleasure to serve as Moderator at the school-level Geographic Bee organized for homeschool students in our area, and I look forward to serving in that capacity again in 2014. Here are a few tips to help your homeschool support group organize a school-level Geographic Bee in your area.


In early September, a letter and registration fee are sent by your homeschool support group to National Geographic requesting contest materials and designating a teacher (not a parent of a participating student) to be the recipient of the contest materials. The recipient of the contest materials must be the one who directs the Bee and later administers the qualifying test to the winner. There is a minimum participation requirement of six students in grades 4 through 8 for the 2013-14 school year in order to conduct an official school-level competition. The registration fee for the entire group is $100 and is due in October of 2013. This amount can be divided up equally among all participants, so the more participants, the better!

Date and Time

Announce to your homeschool support group that plans are being made to hold a 2014 school-level Geographic Bee, begin a sign-up list, and later schedule a date and time for the event (probably early January 2014). Working around the schedules of several students to set a day and time for the event can be tricky, so begin working to pin down a date and time as soon as the time frame for holding the school-level Bee is announced. 


Secure a location well in advance for holding the event. You will need a large room with tables and chairs placed in the front of the room for the participants, a podium for the Moderator, and seating for the audience. A name card placed on the table in front of each participant adds a nice touch. A large community meeting room, school classroom, or church class/fellowship room should work well. When reserving the location, allow a couple of hours for the actual event, plus ample time to set up and later clean up the room. 

Get Started!

With this much advance notice, students have plenty of time to study and prepare for the 2014 school-level Geographic Bee... maybe consider having a special focus on geography during the summer and/or the fall months. Click here for complete details about the National Geographic Bee, as well as study tips, resources, and more.

May 3, 2013

Report Cards and Grading for Grades K-8

Report Cards and Progress Reports

Report cards, sometimes referred to as progress reports, function as tools to monitor student academic progress and to document the subjects and courses taken by each student each school year. Initially used by school teachers to communicate a student's progress with his/her parents, report cards may appear to be redundant for homeschool teachers/parents to use, but the maintaining of report cards and/or progress reports are nonetheless required of homeschoolers in many states. Progress reports written in paragraph or journal form are an ideal way to record observations, progress, strengths, weaknesses, and interests of your student, which may be extremely interesting to read later as your child grows and matures. Regardless of the format, continuous updating of report cards and/or progress reports can work as a valuable tool in helping you to identify trends in your child's work, indicate areas where more work may be needed, and give insight to future educational plans. Be sure to check if report cards or progress reports are required by law in your state, and act accordingly. Keep report cards and progress reports with your homeschool's permanent records.

Our Homeschool's Grading System

In our homeschool, we adopted a simple grading system based on 10. My husband, having grown up in Italy, suggested that we use this scale based on the grading scale that he was familiar with that his school used. This scale easily converted to 9.0-10.0=A, 8.0-8.9=B, and 7.0-7.9=C. A grade of 10 was only given in our homeschool for exceptionally good work, and our boys understood that it was generally difficult to earn a 10. While they did not work just to get a "10", they did realize that if they saw a 10 at the top of the page they had the satisfaction of knowing that they had made a remarkable accomplishment. Being both homeschool teacher and mom, I did not want to fall into the trap of giving 10's for everything the boys did. I wanted to be as objective as possible in documenting the boys' work and progress. When grading papers, I used the Original E-Z Grader which has been an extremely useful tool throughout the years. The boys realized that I was not simply giving them a grade; the grade was earned based on their actual performance.

Grading Scales

Some schools use 94-100 for an A, while others use 90-100 for an A. Since grading is very subjective, there is no standard grading method, curriculum varies from school to school and from class to class, I suggest not losing much sleep over which grading scale you use. Simply be consistent with the grading system you choose, allow your children to be aware of it, and be diligent about maintaining any required documentation. 

Report Card Forms

Listed below are blank report card forms you may download, personalize, and print out. You are welcome to use these forms as they are or copy and modify them in order to customize for your particular needs. Print report cards on card stock for durability. Fold them in half to keep them conveniently in a small manila envelope with your homeschool's permanent records.

Elementary Report Card Forms
Middle School Report Card Forms

March 10, 2013

Homeschooling in Kentucky

In Kentucky, parents may choose to educate their children at home. Homeschools are considered to be private schools. There are no qualifications for homeschool teachers in Kentucky. All children between the ages of 6 and 16 must be enrolled in school. For complete details, refer to the Kentucky Department of Education's Home School page and print out the Kentucky Home School Information Packet. Read the information carefully and keep it with your homeschool permanent records for reference. 

Letter of Intent to Homeschool

Homeschool parents are to send a letter to the public school district at the beginning of each school year stating their intent to educate their children at home. The school calendar on your local public school district's website will indicate the first day of the school year. A sample letter may be found in the Kentucky Home School Information Packet. It is recommended that a copy of the letter be kept with the homeschool's permanent records, and that the letter be sent by certified mail with a return receipt. Attach the returned receipt to your homeschool's copy of the letter.

Progress Reports

Progress reports (report cards) are to be maintained to document the subjects taken and to monitor progress each year. Report cards are not required to be sent to the Kentucky Department of Education nor to the local school district. Maintaining a portfolio containing samples of the student's best work is recommended (not to mention that it becomes a precious keepsake of your child's work and progress through the years). 

Links to printable report card forms are listed below for your convenience. Print report cards on card stock for durability. For the Elementary and Middle School report cards, print on both sides of one sheet, fold in half, and place in a 5x7 manila envelope. Keep report cards with your homeschool's permanent records. 
Elementary Report Cards
Middle School Report Cards
High School Report Card

Attendance Records

Accurate attendance records are to be kept in a notebook, computer, calendar, etc. The minimum school term is 185 days, which includes the equivalent of 177 six-hour instructional days plus non-instructional days (recordkeeping days and/or holidays).

On this Attendance form, simply write the dates of instructional days on the numbered lines. Dates for non-instructional days may be written and highlighted for easy reference. Personally, for the "non-instructional" days, I enter and highlight dates for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day as holidays, and at the end of each quarter enter and highlight one or two recordkeeping days. Print the Attendance form on card stock for durability and keep it with your school's permanent records. 

Subjects Taught

Kentucky law states that homeschooled students are to be taught subjects that will educate them to be intelligent citizens. Instruction is to be presented in the English language. Subjects taught are to include, but not be limited to, reading, writing, spelling, grammar, history, mathematics, and civics. 

High School Graduation Requirements

Minimum high school graduation requirements in Kentucky are listed below, for a total of 22 credits. It is the responsibility of the homeschool to issue the diploma.

Language Arts, 4 credits
Social Studies, 3 credits
Mathematics, 3 credits
Science, 3 credits
Health, 1/2 credit
Physical Education, 1/2 credit
Visual and Performing Arts, 1 credit
Electives, 7 credits

Pre-college curriculum requirements in Kentucky are the same as those listed above, except that two of the Elective credits are for two years of one Foreign Language. Please note that the minimum graduation requirements are listed; taking even more courses is preferred for college-bound students.

Homeschool Support Groups

Joining a local homeschool support group in Kentucky is a great way to connect with other homeschooling families and to find encouragement, support, activities, and up-to-date information. If a support group isn't listed for your area, ask about homeschool contacts at your local public library. 

Be a Responsible Home Educator

Educate yourself concerning state homeschooling requirements and diligently work on a regular basis to maintain your homeschool's documentation in order to conduct your homeschool in Kentucky with confidence.

February 3, 2013

Individual Learning Plans

Schedule school subjects and their corresponding resources by downloading and printing out the Individual Learning Plan (ILP) worksheets listed below. This convenient system will help you to successfully plan and customize your child's academic years, as well as to plan purchases of books and other materials.

Individual Learning Plan for Elementary   doc
Individual Learning Plan for Elementary   pdf

Individual Learning Plan for Middle School   doc
Individual Learning Plan for Middle School   pdf

Individual Learning Plan for High School   doc
Individual Learning Plan for High School   pdf 

Assign Required Courses

Referring to your state's homeschooling and high school graduation requirements (see my previous post), assign required courses and electives to be taken each year on an ILP worksheet. Indicate which courses your student is to take each year and cross out any unused blocks. For example, a first-grade student might not take English, so the English block under the "1" would be crossed out.

For high school students, refer to the courses and credits needed to meet high school graduation requirements in your particular state or area, as well as any additional college admissions requirements, and assign each course to an ILP block. Minimum high school graduation requirements may not be sufficient to meet college admissions requirements, so be prepared for your student to take more than the minimum number of required high school courses if planning to attend college.

Scheduling high school courses takes a bit more thought since subjects may be taken all four years, a few years, only one year, one semester, or one quarter. For example, the high school science courses of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics could be taken in 9th, 10th, and 11th grades, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, or with a break in between. Check for course pre-requisites and schedule them on the ILP accordingly. For example, completion of Algebra I may be a pre-requisite for a Chemistry course. When a subject is not taken every year, cross out any unused blocks. For example, Health and PE would probably not be taken all four years of high school, so the years that Health and PE are not taken would be crossed out. 

Add Electives and Family Preferences

Add subjects to the ILP that your child and/or your family find interesting and important to learn about, such as Bible, Vegetable Gardening, Bicycle Maintenance, or Pet Care. In high school, elective courses may focus on college-prep and career-oriented subjects. The ILP worksheet will help you to evenly distribute and appropriately schedule all required and elective courses throughout the homeschooling years. As your student progresses, you will  have the flexibility to make adjustments as needed. 

Include Supplements

Think outside the books! Include an interesting variety of educational games, kits, DVDs, CDs, field trips, websites, projects, and activities to your child's ILP worksheet, too. When the blocks on the ILP worksheet get full, continue with notes on the back of the same page. If using the Word document on the computer, the table cells will expand as needed.

List Resources to Consider

Browsing homeschool catalogs? Shopping online? Going to homeschool conventions? Make a note of specific titles, publishers, item numbers, and prices of resources to consider purchasing for specific courses. Resources may include, but not be limited to, textbooks, workbooks, e-books, audiobooks, online courses, DVD courses, and dual-enrollment classes. Then, when the time comes, you will already have a collection of possible resources to choose from listed for each subject. This list will help to reduce impulse buying and over-spending! In the case that a particular resource doesn’t work out as expected, you will likely have other options already listed on the ILP worksheet. 

You Can Do This!

This simple, thorough, and flexible planning system worked for us during our 12 years of homeschooling. Whether you use the ILP worksheets listed above, create your own, or plan by hand on notebook paper, the method you choose is not as important as the actual planning itself. The long term benefits of first getting the big picture, planning thoughtfully, and then focusing on the details will definitely be worth all your efforts.

February 2, 2013

First, Get the Big Picture

New to homeschooling? Already homeschooling but need structure? Beginning high school?

Start by developing a general overview of your child's upcoming homeschool years with an Individual Learning Plan, or ILP. Working from customized planning worksheets and updating them regularly will help to assure that your homeschool:

  • meets all state homeschooling requirements
  • makes academic progress each year
  • stays on track, with flexibility to make adjustments
  • utilizes time, energy, and resources efficiently
  • reduces or eliminates unnecessary purchases
  • begins each school year with more confidence and less stress  

My next post will feature handy Individual Learning Plan worksheets for Elementary, Middle School, and High School years, along with plenty of tips for using them. 

In the meantime, become familiar with homeschool and high school graduation requirements in your particular state or area, especially regarding academic subjects and high school credits, and print them out. To find this information, refer to the websites of your state's Department of Education, your state's official Homeschool Association, or the HSLDA

Having this information available, together with the Individual Learning Plan worksheets, will help you to first get the big picture of your child's education, which prepares you to then focus on the details.

January 28, 2013

Universities Welcome Homeschooled Students

Here's proof that top-ranked universities really do welcome homeschooled students. I explored the web to see what’s expected of homeschool students applying as first-year undergraduates, and what I found was both encouraging and informative. For high-achieving students, begin planning early for high school in order to meet admissions requirements for these elite schools.

Princeton University
Yale University
Columbia University
University of Chicago
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Stanford University
Duke University
University of Pennsylvania
California Institute of Technology
Dartmouth College
Johns Hopkins University
Washington University in St. Louis
Brown University
Rice University
University of Notre Dame
Vanderbilt University
Emory University 

Attending this type of university might not cost as much as you may think! Many of these schools are "need blind", meaning that acceptance to the school does not depend on the family's ability to pay. Basically, if a student is accepted to the university, the family would pay an amount corresponding to demonstrated financial needs; the rest is covered by grants, work-study, and scholarships, without taking out loans. For participating universities, a Net Price Calculator can be found on the College Board website. Check the Financial Aid sections of individual university websites for more information.

Many universities, both public and private, use The Common Application with the Home School Supplement to apply online for admissions. It's a good idea to print out these forms now and review them for future reference.

January 27, 2013


We currently homeschool twin boys in 12th grade... with college just around the corner! With this blog I plan to share with you what we've used, experienced, developed, and learned along the way. I will begin with high school, since that's where we are now, and later take a trip down memory lane to review each of our homeschool years. Hopefully, this will be a place where you will find useful tidbits of information and encouragement as you endeavor to educate your dear children at home.