Homeschool electives should be the cherry on top of the sundae. They are the sweetest part of your homeschool, and yet they often end up being the cog in the wheel.
It shouldn’t be this way. In this post, I’ll help you diagnose the problems and stay away from the pitfalls that clog up the system. Then we will come up with an easy plan you can use today, no matter how old your kids are.
What are homeschool electives?
Electives are simply things we ELECT to take. They are classes or activities we get to choose. In the traditional school setting, electives are a very limited choice and primarily offered to high schoolers only. Don’t settle for that definition.
Electives are the cherry on top of the sundae, remember? Every age level should have a choice in what they want to learn and pursue. And every age level has a distinct purpose for electives. (You can read about those below each age division at the end of this post.)
In order to get high school credit for an elective, it should take about 120 hours to complete. That’s about half an hour per school day or 3.5 hours per week. Most high schoolers who participate in music or sports find 3.5 hours to be easy, as we usually put even more time into our activities.
I separate electives into four main categories: Life Skills, Fine Arts, Physical Education, and Discipline (or core) Electives. Let’s look at each type.
Life Skills Electives
It’s sad to see how little value life skills are given in our society. Schools are not teaching any of these things (not that I think it’s their job) and parents feel as though they must push academics.
Young people today are graduating with lots of head knowledge, but they can’t cook their own food. Think about how crazy that is. What’s the point of a successful career if you can’t even feed yourself? (Sorry, I’ll get off the soapbox.)
Life skills are the heartbeat of our homeschool, and I’m thankful my kids have the opportunity. My kids are 15, 14, 12, and 9. All four can do laundry from start to finish. Three out of four can cook a complete meal. They can all do the dishes, unload the dishwasher, and even deep clean the kitchen.
They can sew a button, make their bed, and manage money. These skills are so vital to teach your kids.
I recommend a schedule something like this:
Preschool-1st graders should focus on self-care. Brush your teeth, button your pants, pick out appropriate clothes, etc.
2nd-6th graders should work on the care of their space. Make your bed, tidy your room, empty the dishwasher, etc.
Middle schoolers need to start working on food prep, cooking, managing finances, and doing large jobs like mowing the lawn.
High schoolers should go deep with cooking for the whole family, creating and staying within a budget, going on a grocery shopping trip, etc.
Fine Arts Electives
Fine arts electives are my favorite and that shows when you look at the ones my family frequents. Fine arts includes all kinds of music from piano to choir. It includes theater, drawing, painting, etc. You might also lump things like graphic design into this category, too.
Physical Education Electives
Physical education electives would obviously be PE classes, health and wellness, and fitness classes (pilates, aerobics, spinning). It would also be any kind of sport: gymnastics, soccer, basketball, swimming, horseback riding, etc.
Discipline or Core Electives
Discipline or core electives are things related to an academic subject but studied on a topic not typically required in your core classes. This might include a personal finance class, microbiology, computer classes, foreign languages, a deep dive into Civil War history, etc. Typically you see these electives in high school where the state requires specific things, but the student wishes to go outside of those things.
This area also includes Bible classes. My kids take Bible classes from elementary on, which includes in-depth study, memorization, and discussion. In high school, we make sure to count these classes as an elective that will go on their transcript.
Homeschool Electives Need a Plan
The worst thing you can do is go at this without a plan. Haven’t you heard? Those who fail to plan, plan to fail! You aren’t going to be the exception to the rule.
Let me tell you a story. Many years ago my kids were invited to audition for a very prestigious community choir. It’s challenging to get into this choir, so it was an “honor” just to be considered. They were accepted and we began attending rehearsals.
Within a few weeks, just the thought of “choir” made everyone stressed. Everything about the choir put stress on our family, from location to practice time to performance attire.
One day we were frantically rushing out the door to said choir when I grumbled a bit about it. One of my kids quickly answered my grumble with a rather convicting statement. “You know, we don’t even like this choir at all.”
His statement was really meant to help a tense situation, but it immediately poured salt into a wound I hadn’t acknowledged was there. The choir was a thorn in everyone’s side. It was a cog in the wheel. Choir was making everyone unhappy.
I realized I had made the #1 mistake parents make when it comes to homeschool electives or extra-curricular activities. An opportunity was presented and I ran with it. I didn’t take the time to pray about it. And I didn’t take the time to plan it into our schedule.
All I did was make sure those afternoons were free and then I assumed the rest would fall into place. HUGE mistake!
Just because your schedule isn’t blocked off for something doesn’t mean your schedule is free. That year I vowed always to make sure electives and activities were planned into our school day in a very intentional way.
If you need some help planning, check out our Homeschool Planning Bootcamp. In just 5 days, I teach you a simple way to plan your whole homeschool year… for good. No late-night lesson planning or erasing endless boxes because you didn’t get to the lesson.
In this post, I’ll cover the basics for creating a plan for homeschool electives with a three-step system you can do in just minutes!
First, you need to consider your long-range plan. I ask myself what I want my kids to be like when they graduate.
Consider life skills, talents, and spiritual goals. Write this plan down in four categories: early elementary, late elementary, middle school, and high school. For this part, focus on your big reason why. What is your purpose for the things you are choosing? How will they lay the groundwork for where you want to see your kids when they graduate?
Next, it’s time to work on the annual plan. List the specific classes you will teach this year along with the electives. Note the curriculum you plan to use or note necessary information. For example, I’ve listed the name of our piano teacher.
Now make a list of all the extras. These are things like sports, music lessons, and anything else your child does on a regular basis. Be sure to record the number of hours spent on each one. This will help you plan your schedule and it will help you see what extras can be made into electives.
Finally, all of these will all come together in your daily plan. Block out time for things that take you away from home or occur on a regular schedule. Then list the particular subjects your child will complete each day to make sure everything fits nicely together.
Note how some days have a heavier academic load and a lighter electives load. Other days are the opposite.
Homeschool Electives Need A Record
We put a lot of time into electives. They should count! But they won’t unless you record them. If your child is involved in a regular activity, consider keeping a journal and having them record the days/times they participate. They can also record special awards or accomplishments. You could also keep one giant notebook for multiple electives and just divide it by section.
We like to keep everything we do for one year wrapped up into one 3-ring binder (notebook). So we use “field study write-ups” to record the big things like week-long camps, competitions, or special trainings. We use a simple time log to record the rest.
This form can be found in our Back to School pack at the bottom of this post.
Homeschool Electives for Elementary
Elementary electives are generally disguised as “extra-curricular activities.” Families often do music lessons, sports, or similar opportunities. This is GREAT! Just be sure you keep your purpose in focus. At this age, it’s less about perfecting a skill and more about dabbling in things your children might want to pursue when they get older.
Try to expose them to all of the fine arts (music, art, drama) through homeschool classes, museums, and shows. You never know how God has gifted them! Exposing elementary kids to sports tends to be easier, as there are so many teams to choose from.
Just remember to keep your purpose in focus. I always remind myself that Michael Jordan didn’t even start playing basketball until he was in junior high. Forcing a four-year-old to play soccer against his desires won’t create a prodigy.
Use the elementary years to dabble and explore. Take field trips. Participate in one-day classes. Work hard on life skills. You’ll be thankful you took this approach.
Homeschool Electives for Middle School
In the middle school years, electives become more purposeful. This is a good time to put some serious money and effort into something your child is passionate about. They need the opportunity to explore these things in-depth to determine if it’s a good fit for a career, more of a hobby, or something they really don’t care to put the effort into.
Whatever your young person is into, be their advocate. Find opportunities to help them get more of it. Look for ways for them to sharpen their skills and deepen their knowledge. This means allowing them to QUIT the things that don’t really interest them. Obviously, we want them to honor their word and keep a commitment, but if the season is finished and they don’t want to play anymore, don’t make them.
I like the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” I think about this when I see parents forcing kids to play piano or sports. You can literally drag their bodies to the bench, but you cannot make them learn it in a way that will spark the kind of passion they need to truly pursue it.
High School Electives for Homeschool
In high school, electives have a dual purpose. First, we have to meet those pesky state requirements. Be sure you find out what yours are and follow those guidelines. Most states require very little, thankfully.
Typically it’s a PE credit, maybe something in the arts, and a computer science credit. You may also need to meet the suggested college electives if your child is interested in college. Remember, while you have to meet requirements, you can still think outside the box.
For example, a physical education class doesn’t have to be the way the school system does it. Your child could take a swimming class at the YMCA or a spinning class at the gym. My daughter rides horses. You could also do health, wellness, or any traditional sport.
Fine arts doesn’t have to be an instrument, it can be an appreciation class where you learn about different periods and styles of music for a few weeks, then art, then drama. Why not mix it up if the arts aren’t your thing?
Computer requirements tend to be pretty easy. There are keyboarding classes, coding classes, and everything in between.
Once you get the required things out of the way, you will still probably have some credits to fill. This is your chance to have a LOT of fun. But I would strongly suggest you steer your fun in the direction of your child’s interests, particularly regarding a career.
Spend time thinking about what they want to do when they graduate and let them explore it now. Or have them take a class to help prepare them for it. I know a young man who spends every afternoon in the woodshed with his dad making cabinets. His elective? Woodworking. This is the perfect way to help your child dabble in a possible career choice so they don’t waste 50K on a degree that they still don’t know what to do with.
Homeschool Electives Tips, Tricks, & Curriculum Ideas
For more homeschool electives ideas and practical tips, watch this video. We’ve created it to give you a short glimpse into some of our favorites.