Can You Homeschool a Teenager?

Yes you can!

You sure can, just like any other child. In my experience, I will also say that for reasons I will share with you, it’s actually easier than when they are younger. Homeschooling your teenager can be one of the most rewarding things you will experience, and the bonus, you get to hang out with them and chat with them about those big questions when they come up.

Of course everyone from the cashier at the supermarket to your mother in law will have ideas, or even questions for you. So here are some of my answers.

You’ve homeschooled up until now, maybe they might want to go to High School.

Yes they might, that’s true, and I have always kept the option open. Interestingly, none of mine have wanted to. We have got close a few times. With my first I had the end of primary school years jitters, and thought maybe we should look at high school for her. It was more me than her I admit, and we went through some of the motions, but never really found the right school. For us that’s probably because there isn’t one. So, on we went.

You’ve got them this far, there is no reason why you can’t keep going. I guess again we have been conditioned to think that there is something major and magical about going from primary to high school. Really, it’s a lot of the same thing, just with older kids.

What about friends?

The same goes for the primary years. Make connections with any groups in your area and keep them up. Yes it can mean driving your teen an hour away to stay at a friends place, but we find it’s worth it if the connection is a strong one. When the magic happens, and they are ready to start meeting friends under their own steam, they learn fantastic skills as they go. Catching public transport to get from A to B is a wonderful way to begin delving into the adult world. Getting the skills to do so is liberating for both parents and their children.

Listed on the Home Education Networks website is a list of events and camps

Where we live in Australia, we are fortunate to have access to this amazing organisation. I’m sure there will be something near where you live too, but if there isn’t, feel free to start something.

Attending regular homeschool camps has been a wonderful way for all of us to meet and hang out with like minded people.

The children love going to camps because they are FUN! The best part often for them is the concentrated friend time. Yes they don’t see their friends every day, but on camps, they form bonds that I feel will last a lifetime. Another bonus is we usually go to camps in beautiful places and enjoy lots of outside time, camp fires and long walks.

Ivy and friends on a camp.

What about chemistry?

I have seriously been asked this. Like we all learned chemistry at high school. I guess what people mean is, ‘how are you going to teach them something you don’t know that much about?’ Yes, It’s a genuine concern, but remember back to deschooling, we are not replicating school and we are not teachers.

In the case where your budding Einstein, or chef or whatever, surpasses your own knowledge on the subject, what can you do?

This is the time for them to learn the lifelong skill of self education.

For kids who have grown up school free, they begin to exercise this muscle at a younger age. You simply find what ever information you can on the subject by means of library books, webinars, Youtube, people you know and people you don’t know yet. This is self directed, don’t do it for them, just assist. You may need to drive them places or help them learn how to search a database online.

When my eldest became interested in photography around age 12, she got every technical photography book the library had and scoured them. She taught herself as much as she could by trying things. She also devoured books on interiors and arty layouts, taking in the details. It’s how she learns. At almost 17 photography is something she loves, explores and comes back to regularly. Will she be a photographer? That’s not the point. She wanted to learn, she did, and she can take that where she likes now.

What about University?

This is a big one. For most of us, the holy grail of schooling was our year 11 and 12 years. VCE we call it here in Victoria. It felt like our whole life, our whole schooling career, was a lead up to this two years. ( Or one as it was back in 1988 when I did it). Heaven help you if you mess it up, your life will be ruined, etc. etc. I have also heard parents speak of VCE as a must, and that their children will have no options if they don’t do it. Not even close to how I see it.

My answer to people who have asked is that the paths to university are many.

That is of course if that is where you want to go. What is different about your home educated teen is that they have the flexibility to delve into their interests a lot more than schooled teens do. This can mean that they are ready to pursue a particular path earlier than after their 18th birthday or completing VCE. Sixteen is a pretty magical age for homeschooled teens, as it means they can access tafe courses and most adult education courses. University courses or single subjects can be taken through Open Universities at ANY age. Yes, ANY age. Whenever the person is ready to take on the academic work, then go for it.

My sixteen year old is currently studying her first University single unit. We approached a uni that she was interested in attending and this is what they recommended. Do at least two university single units then use that to apply. For the locals, this was a Monash Arts degree. She is really enjoying the online method and is learning lots and feeling challenged! Also, she gets to delve into university level study, with just one unit, and not the full four. So far it’s been a great introduction.

The Home Education Network has put out this wonderful ebook that contains all the information you need for Uni and Careers

But are they missing out? They wont learn what school kids learn.

Ask anyone who has met a real live home educated teenager what they are like. These kids are capable and mature beyond their schooled mates. They are comfortable with adults, and aren’t scared to hold a conversation. In general they are more mature and have more real skills. Being at home gives them the chance to experience real life situations and negotiate them for themselves, rather than have them simulated in school. Take cooking for example. My kids are involved in food preparation from a young age. They are encouraged to get their own snacks, make a sandwich, whatever they need, whenever they feel comfortable. One of my kids really loves baking, so she often whips up a batch of muffins or a raw slice. My son loves cooking meat and savoury dishes, and is mastering the art of the roast chicken, tonight he is throwing in a lamb rack. He’s eleven. Time in the kitchen for trial and error is paramount. Cooking is part of life. They learn to do it. No ‘teaching’ involved. They will learn different things to what kids at school are learning, that’s for sure.

What if I can’t teach them something they need to learn?

Get a tutor. Universities have online job boards and you can advertise there, often for free, for a tutor. We found our maths tutor this way. I am not a maths person (hey the system failed me) so I hired a tutor for a once a week session. She loves maths and it shows. The kids enjoy seeing her and doing maths with her. Compared to school fees, uniforms etc. it doesn’t break the bank.

How will they get a part time job?

The same way any other kid does. If they don’t have someone who can be a referee for them, organise some volunteer work. Where we live you need to be 15 or 16 to volunteer but organisations vary greatly. If your child loves animals, ask at a shelter, if they love children try babysitting. My children have had no trouble finding part time jobs so far.

Doesn’t it drive you nuts having them around all the time?

No, it doesn’t. The older they get the more self directed they become. Not to say there aren’t challenges, but I enjoy having them around. Other homeschooling parents I talk to feel the same way. It’s not that we have an extra special reserve of patience that other parents don’t have, it’s that they have everything they need and that enables them to be happy mostly. If the older kids are cranky or not themselves for some reason, it’s often just some space they need, or a big change of scenery. Going off to stay with a friend for a few days can be great therapy. Maybe it’s more sleep or more exercise they need, or more space, and that can be worked out.

Getting some regular time out for yourself is important. It’s not like having toddlers, so you can just head out for a walk or a coffee or whatever recharges you, and leave them in peace for a while.

Self direction is key

Give them credit for knowing what they are interested in and assist them to explore those interests. Musical theatre and dance are high on the agenda for one of my kids, art and photography for another. Allow them the space to take these things where they want them to go. One of my biggest goals is for them to become who they truly are. I do believe for that to happen, they need time to day dream and play, (yes even the big kids!) and to picture their life ahead, without feeling stressed about grades. Picturing the life they want to lead really helps them to move forward and grab the opportunities as they come up. They can show real clarity when choosing their future direction, or simply the thing they want to do next, if you give them the power to do it, and help to make it happen.

Of course it’s not all sunshine and roses

As with all things in life, nothing is perfect. There are eye rolls and tantrums (theirs and mine), there are grumpy moods and all the normal things that go with being a person. What I do believe though is that it’s worth it. One thing I am working on all the time is knowing when to step in and when to step back, and that is a skill well learned. Sometimes they just need a bit of space to process something that’s going on for them. I love that I’m around if they do want to talk. One of the best pieces of advice I had from an experienced mother of three daughters was ‘don’t take it personally’. ‘It’ being pretty much everything your teenager can dish out. When I manage this, things go way better.

You get to watch them spread their wings

You can read first hand about April’s adventures here.

Recently my oldest went on a little work experience trip / adventure. I called in a favor from an old friend, who runs a beautiful boutique chocolate company in New Zealand. April went on her first solo flight across the ditch and stayed with Lucy and her cat in Christchurch for 2 weeks. In that time she experienced the life of running a start up company and did jobs ranging from photographing products for their online shop to smashing up chocolate and recipe testing. She tacked on a few days in lovely Wanaka with a homeschooling family we know there and flew home from Queenstown. Her first solo mission, and she loved it. I truly see huge value in these experiences, way more so than setting at a desk with a text book in front of you. I realise schools offer cool experiences too, but this one was tailor made for what this girl wanted to experience, it wasn’t expensive, and she gave some value too to her hosts.

I encourage you to take this on together.

See it as an opportunity for them to design their own future, to spend time doing things that really interest them, and to grow into who they really are. You don’t need to spend a fortune on ‘curriculum’, just work it out together and give it a go. Things change along the way, and that’s ok too.

Any questions please ask in the comments

Rachel Parkinson

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