Homeschooling a Teen with a Child-led Approach

I began homeschooling my first child or made the decision to homeschool, the year before he would have entered kindergarten.  His birthday is in November and so he was almost 5 at the “start of the school year”.  My son, Harrison,  is 14 now and our homeschooling journey has evolved over the years. It has always been child-led but moved from more of a “relaxed homeschool” approach to unschooling, yet, I never liked the term “unschooling“. And have always known I would do what works best for my child and initially told everyone that I would continue to homeschool as long as it was still working.

Many who begin homeschooling in the elementary years wonder about homeschooling high school.  What will that look like?  Will I be able to homeschool high school classes like Algebra and Chemistry?  

And those taking their child out of school in the teen years, have a transition to make both for themselves and their child and may have similar questions as well as many others.

I know there is information on homeschooling high school and following the typical school class schedule for each grade. I wanted to share the perspective of someone who has always used a child-led approach.  My son plans to go to college.  He has an interest in pursuing computer science and has developing interest in the creative side of design, video, photography as well as the technical aspects of computers.

Over the years, Harrison has pursued various interests including drama classes, and play performances including musical theater performance classes; piano lessons; participated in a science fair and Science Olympiad; PE classes at several locations; soccer class;  Pokemon club and tournaments (you can win college scholarship money through Pokemon Tournaments!); photography classes; gavel (public speaking); story writing including participating in NaNoWriMo Junior  (National Novel Writing Month).  

Some of the activities were suggested by me, like his first drama class at Children’s Theater of Charlotte when he was 5-6. I asked him and he agreed to it.  He continued with classes there and then we went to see some new friends who were performing plays at their end of year classes with Bee Creative and when he watched the plays performed by these young kids up on a stage, he said, “I want to do that.”

He participated in several different homeschool P.E. programs over the years encouraged by me as a form of exercise and he enjoyed them until he was about 11. That year, we enrolled in PE at a new location and it was not a good fit for him.  Many of the kids were much bigger than he was and the class was more informal and they started off the first class with a pick-up basketball game without any instruction on basketball first.  That was his last year of PE.  In hindsight, I saw that as the boys got older, the became more competitive in sports and he was small for his age and not competitive in sports.  Now he and I enjoy exercising together at the YMCA.  He prefers that or just taking a walk rather than participating in sports.  He has also learned to swim, something that did not come easy for him after years of being fearful of doing so but was motivated by advancing in rank in Boy Scouts.  He had joined Boy Scouts, initially Cub Scouts, because he was invited to a meeting and decided he wanted to participate.

This year, we joined MASC (Matthews Area Secular Co-op) a support group with a weekly co-op that is just for teens.

Being a part of this group was a change for our family because it is only for teens (12-18) and I have two younger children who can not be a part of most of the activities and previously we had been in a homeschool support group for our entire family.  Yet, it has been a great fit for my oldest son and so we have made it work with our schedule.

In the fall, he took only 3 classes which meant he was there from 1-3 pm each Monday.  He was also taking a drama performance class in Concord on Mondays at 4 pm.  He did not continue the drama class in the spring and so he was able to add an additional class that meets twice each Monday at 3 pm.

He chooses to be a part of the Gavel Club (Toastmasters Speaking) because he was part of a junior gavel class a few years ago and enjoyed it.  He does well speaking in front of a group of people and we have emphasized the benefit of taking Gavel and now continuing with it to complete the entire process.  I think it helped to first take this class at a younger age- or have the opportunity to do group speaking before he entered the teen years-  He was 9-10 when he took Junior Gavel.  I wouldn’t have encouraged him to take Gavel again had he not enjoyed it the last time.  Sure public speaking is important for many career paths, yet, if he is not enjoying the learning process, then I don’t think it is benefiting him.

My son has always had interests and has been eager to pursue those interests.  He enjoys really spending a lot of time every day when he is interested in something and our homeschooling path has allowed him to do just that.  When he was younger, he became interested in electricity after an electrician did some work on our new-to-us house.  We were able to go to the library to the non-fiction section and read all about electricity as well as answer endless questions and follow the electrical wires in and around our neighborhood.

When he was eight, we bought a new van, used but from a Toyota Dealer.  This sparked an interest in cars and over the next few years, he got many books from the library on cars, subscribed to Motor Trend Magazine for 3 years and read “The History of the Toyota Motor Corporation”.  

One thing, I have found along our journey over the years, is that his learning can not be easily put into “subjects” but each interest he has had has incorporated a variety of “school subjects”.  You can see that some of his interests have stemmed from our family life and activities his father or I have been involved in.  Children not only learn from our example but they often find interests in things we are interested in.

Granted, children also can have interests very unique to them– I see that clearly in my younger children.

We may not sit down each day and have “school time”, yet learning is happening all the time in our home.  We have books all over our house, many bookcases in nearly every room and my husband and I are often reading something, in a book, magazine, online or another source.  And my husband and I  enjoy learning and have interests we pursue.  My oldest two children have developed an interest in reading and so my 3-year-old is surrounded by people reading and surrounded by books and even though he is very active and would not sit still for a story until very recently (until he was 3+), he now enjoys the ritual of reading books before bed and has just begun to pick up a book at other times and ask me to read it, usually when we are sitting and when he is more tired and likely to sit still.

With our chosen homeschooling lifestyle, my children have the time to pursue things they are interested in and are able to delve into a subject as deeply as they like and for as long as they enjoy.  I don’t think my oldest has ever told me that he is bored but my ten years old says that all the time.  She needs more help and encouragement to pursue her interests.  She is the child who tends to resist anything I suggest.  I have learned, and am continuing to learn, that her needs are different than my oldest child and her way of learning is different.  I have checked out many books over the years at the library and would let me children choose books as well.  Sometimes something I checked out would spark an interest for them and sometimes not.  I had no expectation of the books I choose or tried not to.

I have always wanted to give them opportunities and expose them to new things and encourage learning new things but not force or require them to learn at certain times or in a certain way.   It took me time to really trust in this process and it is something that I still question or struggle with at times.

I see our homeschool experience as an ongoing journey.  I had to“unschool myself” after 13 years of public school and 4 years of college and continue with this process.  I did well in school but also know that my focus was not on “learning” but on getting “good grades”.  My children are unique individuals and I see my role as nurturing their inherent love of learning, curiosity and creativity.  I know how school can affect a child’s love of learning and I did not want that to happen to my children.  I can remember after I graduated college that it took me a long time to be able to enjoy reading a book- even just a fiction book for fun.  And when I was young, I loved reading.

I also know that every family needs to do what works best for them.  I share my experiences to let others see an example of child-led learning.  I believe that each family’s experience of homeschool, no matter how it is labeled, is unique like each child.  I am only here to share so that it might help or inspire someone else to better help their child in a way that works for them.