Homeschooling a teenager is a daunting prospect for many parents, but teaching your high schooler at home gives you an unparalleled opportunity to connect with your child through the teen years and set them up for future success. In this article, homeschooling mom of four Sophie Agbonkhese shares 5 important things to know before you embark on this journey together.
Homeschooling a teenager sounds a little scary: high school math, college prep, and reliving the drama of your high school years is certainly not for the faint of heart. But teaching your high schooler at home gives you an unparalleled opportunity to connect with your child through the teen years and set them up for future success.
If you’re about to embark on the journey of homeschooling a teen, here are five things to think about before you start.
1. You Don’t Have to Know All the Subjects
In the ten years since I started homeschooling, I’ve had the joy of counseling numerous other moms as they made the transition to home learning. While I maintain that homeschooling is definitely not for everyone, there are some barriers moms erect for themselves that I feel the need to tear down right away.
Say it with me: “I do not need to know every subject in order to homeschool high school successfully.”
Last week, I met with a friend whose 9-year-old son is not thriving in school. She feels compelled to teach him at home, but she came to our meeting prepared with a list of reasons why she’s not qualified to do so. At the top of her list? He needs a second language to get into university, and she doesn’t speak one.
I was thrilled to let her know this was the least of her concerns. No matter what prerequisites your child needs to get into their chosen college degree program, the onus is not on you to teach them everything they need to know.
You don’t need to have all the answers
In the latter years of your child’s homeschool journey, you become much more of a guide than a teacher. You are walking with them along a path, but nobody expects you to have all the answers.
Figure out what courses they need to take to finish high school, get into post-secondary schools (if that’s part of their plan), and explore their passions. Then help them navigate the myriad options available for each of those courses.
- Whole-subject online classes offered by individual education companies (check out this huge list of options from Techie Homeschool Mom)
- Smaller-scale courses offered on platforms such as Allschool and Outschool
- Co-op classes offered by your local homeschool group
- In-person classes offered by your local distributed learning schools
- Dual-credit classes taken through local or online colleges and universities
- Self-study curricula
There are more opportunities than ever for meeting your child’s educational needs, so you should never feel pressured to teach them something yourself that’s outside of your wheelhouse. However, if you love a subject and want to either teach it or learn more about it yourself, I highly recommend finding a curriculum you love (or creating one) and leading your child through it or completing it together.
2. You Need a Lot of Time…But Not as Much as You Might Think
Another common myth new homeschoolers must confront is that they need to spend the whole day learning. The traditional school system has conditioned us to believe that it takes seven hours a day to learn ‘enough’, but this isn’t true.
Much of the school day is wasted with logistical details, trying to get kids to settle down, changing classes, repeating instructions, and redoing work that students haven’t completed. With homeschooling we can skip a lot of that, making for a much more efficient school day.
On the other hand, by the time kids are in high school, they will be putting a lot more hours into their classes than they did in elementary and middle school.
A Personal Example
I saw this keenly this year. My eldest daughter, who just finished grade nine, spent the first half of last year at an art school and the second half back at home. When she returned to homeschooling, she had to get back into a groove and she also wanted to challenge herself to take some extra classes. She struggled to get into a good routine in February and March and, by April, she was pretty far behind.
For the next two months, she had to work consistently for six to eight hours a day in order to get everything done. Meanwhile, her younger siblings, who were completing grades two and seven respectively, spent one to three hours a day and had no problem finishing their work.
If my eldest had been in a good groove all year, I think she could have easily completed everything in four to six hours a day, which I think is a good target for high school. This does not include extracurricular activities, a part-time job, volunteer work, or a social life, but it does leave space in her life for all these things.
Expect Varying Degrees of Involvement
One thing that surprised me was how much of my time and attention my oldest daughter still needs from me now that she’s in secondary school. I only taught one of her classes this year—English—but she needed my help for many others. Whether that meant taking her to buy fabric for a sewing project or supplies for a science experiment, finding research books for her at the library and reading them myself so we could discuss them, or sitting beside her while she listened to math and science lessons so I could help her troubleshoot her assignments, I was much more involved with her schoolwork than I anticipated.
I suspect the amount of involvement will vary from child to child and from homeschool parent to homeschool parent. My daughter has very high social needs, so working on her own all day is painfully difficult for her. If, as her mom, teacher, and guide, I can ease that burden by sitting with her while she learns, I see that as my privilege. (On the other hand, when my second daughter completes all her work on her own and balks at my offers for help, I’m okay with that too!)
3. You Both Need Connections
People worry a lot about socialization in homeschool—much more than they ought to, I believe. If you live in an area where homeschooling is a viable option, there are usually ample opportunities to join like-minded communities.
There can be a tendency, though, to pull back from these communities as our kids get older and their commitments intensify. Many homeschooled teens I know dance 15 to 20 hours a week, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for field trips and co-ops. As their parents, we’re exhausted from driving them around, helping them complete their work, and cooking nineteen thousand meals a day. Social interaction is often the least of our priorities.
I would argue, however, that this is the time to lean into our friendships, both for our kids and ourselves.
Lean into friendships
Young people, particularly those who are homeschooled, need regular opportunities to get together with their friends. A major reason homeschooled teens give for wanting to go to regular school is not seeing enough of their friends. They crave the constant social engagement their conventionally schooled peers enjoy. (Whether that much engagement with other teens is as beneficial as they assume is a topic for another post).
But you can help them out by creating positive social experiences for them. Drive them to or host a weekly youth group. Set up a book club or a co-op class. Organize field trips. Invite their friends over. Get together with other families. Carpool. Whatever it takes, find ways to make your lives intersect regularly with a group of people that you love and respect.
Seek out support
If you don’t have friends like these in your life yet, seek out homeschool support groups. These are great places to connect with other homeschooling parents and find a few friends with whom to walk the long road of homeschooling. I met two of my best friends through a homeschool musical theater class and even though my family hasn’t been involved with the class for a number of years, the friendships have stood the test of time. I don’t know how I would parent teens (let alone homeschool them), without the perspective I get from a therapeutic walk with other ladies who are in the trenches with me.
4. You Need More Structure, but Also More Flexibility
During the teenage years, your child will develop her own time management skills and preferences. She might be an early bird who likes to rise with the sun and get all her work done early, or she might be a night owl who gets an energy burst after dinner.
Your role as her guide will be to help her figure out a routine that works with her natural rhythms, meshes with the family’s schedule, and allows her to complete everything she needs to get done.
To encourage independence, you’ll want to give her some say in what her schedule looks like. Be prepared to be flexible in the daily start time and the order in which she works through her assignments.
At the same time, your older child still needs you to provide structure and accountability. Time management and prioritization are still budding skills for them and without guidance, they can get behind in a hurry. Let your homeschooled teenager create the routine with you, but take a firm stance on making sure they stick to that routine.
5. Your Teen Can—and Should—Take a More Active Role in Decision-making
Letting your teen help make decisions about their learning path can make the time spent on education more productive and enjoyable for both of you. Listen carefully to your child’s goals and concerns and, as much as possible, give them a say in how their high school education will unfold. If they have a say in most of their own classes and electives, they’re more likely to be dedicated to those classes. The more dedicated they are, the easier your job becomes.
Communication is of the utmost importance when you’re homeschooling teens, especially if—like me—you have kids who like to be in control and know what’s going on at all times. For homeschool teens working at the high school level, it’s helpful to talk through the plan for the year together to ensure that they’re on track to meet their goals and that they’re happy with the classes and curricula they’ll be working on. Assess regularly, especially as you near the end of the first semester, to make sure everything is still going smoothly.
Part of the process of cultivating decision-making skills is to allow kids to face the natural consequences of their actions. Though it can be painful to watch your kid suffer through a hard time, learning to live with your choices is great for character development.
A Personal Example
Our family learned this the hard way last year. Each of my daughters made choices about the classes and extracurricular activities they wanted to take. Each choice had pros and cons. Saying yes to one activity often meant staying no to another. Overestimating the number of courses one can complete in five months led to stress and exhaustion. Quitting a program that wasn’t a great fit meant having to say tearful goodbyes to teachers they loved.
These life experiences are painful, but they are so very good for kids. This is real life. Homeschooling a teenager gives them a safe space to develop social skills, navigate family life, learn time management, design an individualized approach to learning, and practice decision making. The journey isn’t easy, but it’s so rewarding, and the experience will continue to pay dividends for your entire family for years to come.
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