How do you unschool TEENS? Tell us about unschooling your middle school/high school child (that’s ages 11-18 for those of us that don’t want to waste time doing the math to figure out what “grade” our kids are in!)
My two teens are 16 and 17. The one distinct difference for me in this unschooling process is since they have reached working age is that they are hardly around anymore. They both put many hours pursuing their passions when not working. Working is equated to having the means to afford their passions. My role in life has been a facilitator, domestic engineer, taxi driver, confidant, councilor, and prayer warrior. I just don’t physically see them as much. We work times in, when we can, to touch base. I don’t do anything to “unschool” them. We live and learn as individuals but rely on each other for support and love. I work as an at home daycare provider and I clean businesses to make extra cash. I am also working on changing my perspective and avenues for God’s path for me.
My 17 year old daughter is very busy between many time sapping activities. She works about 25 hours a week at our local McDonalds. Second, she dances/teaches classical ballet for a non-profit ballet school and company for about 8 hours a week plus daily work outs at home. Third, she is a communications college student CLEPing her way using College Plus as her “umbrella” to coach her through the process and accumulate the credit hours. She is also pursuing her driver’s license when she turns 18. Somehow, she still finds time socially as well.
My 16 year old son is very busy as well. He works over 30 hours a week at our local pizza restaurant. He is pursuing his drivers license by attending the required by state driving school. He plays guitar for hours. He plays many types of guitar from electric to acoustic and bass. He also loves skateboarding. His last passion is an entrepreneur’s dream to own a personal business associated to blending his passions so he has been voraciously reading this year the Uncle Eric series, other economic/business resources and researching what steps he should take to launch his ideas. He does play video games with friends but he is not passionate about it. He enjoys them when he chooses to unwind but recently revealed to me he doesn’t like how they make him feel any longer. They are not relaxing enough. His games cause him to get too tense. He also tries to squeeze time to see all his friends.
“Working is equated to having the means to afford their passions. My role in life has been a facilitator, domestic engineer, taxi driver, confidant, councilor, and prayer warrior.”
YES!!! Me, too! I so rarely hear the word “facilitator,” but it’s what I do. Vs. teach. And my teen son is working to be able to afford a computer. Something has kicked in. Thank You, Jesus!!!
Mine are 16, 14, and 12. With the younger two I am spending a lot of time being their counselor/coach as they figure out relationships, how the changes in their bodies are affecting them, work through their feelings, etc. Nowadays it is more “stop in and check” rather than having littles around me all the time. I have a lot more time to myself because mine are all introverts but I also spend a lot more time helping them work through their feelings, talking through philosophical questions, historic questions, talking about things instead of telling them things.
The youngest (boy) has always been kind of younger and has always had younger friends. Right now he is going through a maturity growth spurt where he is suddenly struggling gaining maturity and insight at an alarming rate, he is struggling with the whole “changing at a different rate from friends and not sure what to do about it” phase so we spend a lot of time talking through that. He is hovering between child and teen and trying to figure it all out. Spends a lot of his day playing video games with friends (mostly Roblox, Garry’s Mod, Minecraft, and other old favorites though currently Borderlands 2, Realm of the Mad God, etc.) He spends time skyping while he does. He also spends a lot of his time right now watching old favorite tv shows- went through a Sesame Street spurt yesterday, Mythbusters, MLP plus lots of Disney Channel stuff. He still builds a lot- has out his old toys right now, Matchbox racing has been the current thing, also builds with Lego, Snap Circuits, etc. And when it is warm out spends a lot of his time at my dad’s at the pond. Definitely in the “nostalgic” stage. He often comes and checks on us where we are – “you need a hug” and comes in for a brief chat before returning to what he is doing, very similar to how we interact with all three and have as they started needing us less.
Es, my 14 year old, spends much of her time drawing, reading, watching anime, plus watching old favorite tv shows. My relationship with her is at the “come see what I am drawing- I am really proud of this one” stage. We also spend a lot of time talking about relationships as she observes them around us, in books, anime, and what healthy relationships look like.
She is super introverted and it has only been in the last few months that she has started really coming out of her room to talk to us instead of us having to go check on her. Now I often read in the living room and she will come out and chat with me for a few minutes. She has always been my deep thinker so it is exciting to get a taste of all the stuff she has going on in her head- we talk everything from politics to cultural behaviors/sociology, psychology, thought processes, to history and books and movies and video games. Lots of analyzing behaviors with that one. She also is working on learning all the different things she needs to make a video game. Drawing, designing, story telling, programming, playing a lot of games and analyzing them, the works.
Rachel, 16, is the most extroverted and also the one who has looked forward to moving out since she was 6. She is independent, self-assured, knows her mind, knows her passions. With her we have hit a place where she needs us even less and it is more helping her work towards her goals for the future, listening as she talks out or shows us something cool she has done. She has applied for her first job (going to apply for others if it falls through but wants to try it one at a time which is fine.) She is also an artist and works hard, drawing daily.
I started a couple of years ago, talking with dd13 about her career goals and helped her form a backwards plan to see what she should be doing now to prepare for it. In her case her dream job required 7-10yrs of college and isn’t likely to be done without very heavy loans. She doesn’t want debt (yay!) and has decided to look at a technical field in order to support herself and then fund her dream.
How that looks today: We talk a lot about what she’s currently interested in (Minecraft, Halo, programming, drawing, big cats, archery, horses) and seeing if there are ways I can help match those current interests with her long-term goals. She has great freedom with her daily schedule but is still required to be a contributing part of the family. She chooses to have some tasks that have a set time (sweeping in the am) and being my “go to girl” when I need her to pop off from her activity to do a 30sec job. She has some late mornings and fewer late nights, does some math, spelling and handwriting (but those are her choice-align with her goals), draws, reads, takes care of our 5 furry animals and big fish tank.
Yeah, I think talking about goals (when they aren’t busy) is key. Being a sounding board, helping sort out interests, sort out where they want to be 5 years from now, 10 years from now. For instance, 16 year old’s goal is to be able to move out and live in Texas when she turns 18. Fine. Now lets talk about what needs to happen for that to happen and work towards that. Fourteen year old really wants to make a video game, so she talks to my husband about the aspects he can help her with, talks to me about things I can help with, and works towards those things. The boy, at this point his big goal is getting to the point where he is comfortable leaving the house without me or my husband or another adult (doesn’t like going uptown with his sisters). And we are working on that.
So my girlies are 16 and nearly 15. We started unschooling at the beginning of their teen years. One of the things I’ve learned in the process is to listen and support without judgement. The world will shoot down their dreams readily enough without my help. So if my daughter says she wants to be President I ask her how I can help her reach that goal rather than telling her all the reasons I don’t think she’ll ever reach it (or why she shouldn’t want to!).
But I also try to drive home to them that this is a life stage of trying on dreams and goals, passions and interests they way they try on clothes. It’s ok to explore an interest intensely for a time and then decide that it’s not for them or not right now. They can have a goal and choose to cast it aside without meeting it – that doesn’t make them a “quitter.”~Mariellen M.
My 14 yo has spent the past year shifting gears from a focus on dance to more involvement in theatre. Now she is extending that to a desire to become involved with Cosplay. So she is researching characters and costumes. She has a desire to one day work for Disney at one of the theme parks as a Princess or other character. This really fits her well as it incorporates her love of acting, singing, dancing, costuming, makeup artistry and period and character hairstyles. We will see.
She is also looking into a Makeup Artistry school in Toronto for her future as well. She would love to work movies, theatre, professional dance companies… So, she researches all these things, is back to sewing to increase her skills for costumes, she takes voice lessons, she participates in the local community theatre, she is now learning more dance via online videos since there is not dance place here that meets her needs. She may take a theatre class at the local hs next year and may audition for a dance choir there as well, as we have no community choirs.
She has gathered some books in her room so she can have a good basic understanding of chemistry, biology, physics to be prepared for what may be needed if she goes to Makeup Artistry school. She chose a book All The Math You Will Ever Need to have the basic math she will need as well. Those she will look through as she wishes throughout the next 2-3 years. She has a Dance Anatomy book recommended to her by a professional dancer that she utilizes for better understanding her body and mechanics for dance. She is currently seeing a chiropractor and he is really good at giving her basic anatomy lessons that she will be able to utilize as well.
My 13 yo is a gymnast and and artist and these are her main focus right now. She spends 9 hours in the gym each week out of competition season. She is back into drawing a lot and spends many hours on Minecraft, both in building and creating as well as in Admin duties. My 14 yo recently joined in on the Minecraft fun so they and their 25 yo sister spend time together there. Leah is not sure what she wants to do in the future, so she focuses on what she wants and needs in the present which keeps her mainly focused on bettering her body and skills for gymnastics, spending time with friends on and off line, and trying out different art mediums. She is expanding her skills in the kitchen a bit, and looking into what is the best nutrition for an athlete. She is finding she needs to focus on some healthy protein options as she is the one in the family who likes meat the least, yet moves the most.
My teens are 17 and 13. I adore having teens. They’re so funny… adults one minute, little kids the next. I’m really enjoying this time with them.
My 17 year old has always wanted to work with small engines, and he’s doing just that. A lot of it has been self-taught, but he recently signed up for a two-year long small engine repair program online. He just recently took (and passed) his first formal test. His current plan is to buy and fix broken weed wackers, lawn mowers, etc from Craigslist, fix them up, then sell them. He’s the more extroverted of my teens, so he’s always around, talking, sharing with me, bouncing things off of me.
My 13 year old is, like me, a big introvert. He spends his days in his room on his computer. He wants to design video games when he’s older, is an excellent guitar player, and is about the most mature and laid-back 13 year old you’d ever hope to meet. Because his default is to spend his day alone (except he’s not really alone… he plays lots of cooperative games with his friends online), I have to make a concerted effort to be sure I’m checking in with him and staying connected.
They have such different personalities and interests, and I’m so glad that unschooling gives them both the opportunity to do exactly what they love.
My oldest is 13 and her siblings are much younger than her. So I think that makes her both very responsible and yet still young at heart. She has to share a lot with them (room, computer, space) and so I try to make sure to give her lots lots of “me” time where she feels comfortable to ask questions and talk about things away from the younger two. We watch a lot of tv and movies together and discuss things. The other night it was Footloose and talking about how the character of Ariel really turned her off b/c of how she threw herself at guys and had no respect for herself.
Anyways, she is an artist and a gamer. She loves to work with technology and so I try to save up for courses and materials she wants to pursue her art. We talk about what she thinks she will be doing in 2, 5, 10 years. She really wants to work with animals when we get back to the states and she also wants to be more physical – she loves dancing and is looking into that or maybe martial arts.
She does want to go to college – as soon as she is ready. She sees me taking online classes and she doesn’t know if she wants a 4-year degree as much as she wants to pursue art, graphic design, and/or a vet tech certificate. So we look at tech and design colleges and she reads veterinarian books (very heavy reads).
She also recently expressed the desire to go out with a friend alone and so we worked through meeting her friend in a designated place, taking the subway, asking and paying for things in Korean/won, being aware of her surroundings, etc. She has gone out twice with her friend and both times made sure to call to check in and be home at the designated time (she actually came home before the time we agreed on).
One of the things dd13 is worried about with college is math – so we try to find websites and videos to learn bits and pieces here and there. She was working on Kahn for a while but got bored so we found another free site that is more like games. I keep track of all her reading, projects, etc. and keep a middle school transcript – for our own records and in case she wants to take college courses soon.~Aadel B.
My teens are 15g and 14b. Both assure me they can learn what they need to know, if they ever need it. One is quiet, shy and the other always looking for a crowd to hang out with. Both know what they like/don’t like and are not easily swayed. I believe that confidence comes from the freedom found in unschooling.
Opposite of Aadel, my dd at home is my youngest so she seems to want to be more grown-up than her siblings at the same age – she’s been like this her whole life, trying to keep up with them even though they are 4 and 6 years older than her.
This has been a fun year because it’s been easy to see her transitioning into a young adult and focusing her interests into a future. My job is to remind her to eat breakfast (ADHD, she gets involved in her book or project and forgets to eat, then ends up with low blood sugar ), drive her where she needs to go (she’s 16, no license yet), take her to Hobby Lobby, Home Depot, Barnes & Noble when she needs supplies, and gently nudge her into staying on schedule with the video project she’s working on with other hsers (they have to have it done by March 11th).
High school was a little different with my dd(20) because she is a completely different child. While she doesn’t have a formal diagnosis, she is likely on the spectrum, something I didn’t notice until recently when someone forwarded me an article about girls with HFA.
She HAD to have structure in her days or her anxiety would eat her up. For most of her life, she planned to be a basketball coach and a math teacher, and she expected me to schedule traditional courses to prepare her for college. From age 13 on I gradually turned over more and more control to her, so that by the time she was in her last year of high school she told me what she wanted to study, helped pick out the materials, and she did all the scheduling and everything else on her own. From daily written schedule, to weekly, to monthly, to her doing it herself. I also drove her to basketball practice and games, listened to her rant when needed, washed uniforms, and was her biggest cheerleader in the stands.
She’s a sophomore in college and STILL doesn’t choose her classes without conferencing with me first. BUT, she is getting better at being independent.
Ds(22) didn’t start unschooling until he was 17, so with him it was a lot of trial and error since he was used to the little bit of structure I’d given him since he was 9. I definitely consider his last two years of high school more about learning to say yes and rebuilding our damaged relationship (not just because of school, but because of years of depression on my part following his diabetes dx and some other things) than anything else.
BUT, now that he’s 22 I can actually see the fruit of those years even though it wasn’t apparent at the time. He’s very much an autodidact now, unafraid to try new things, and always reading and learning through books, the internet, and his video games. Even better, he shares what he’s doing with my 16yo.
A lot of these are about independence (and rightly so!) but from the perspective of a teen who unschooled themselves, I’d just like to add that parents should be very aware of ways they can help their kid out, especially when it comes to stuff like transcripts and diplomas for older teens. I was told to take care of that myself, since I was in charge of my own education, and despite asking this group for tips I still haven’t gotten around to doing it – it’s hard and unpleasant and my brain has been 100% focused on taking care of myself mentally and physically the past few years, getting myself closer to the life I want. A diploma and transcripts are just not a priority for me, although they weigh on my mind occasionally. That’s one area I wanted my parents to help out with, and I’m sure a lot of other unschooled teens would agree, especially those who aren’t sure if they want to go to college or not but want to be prepared in case they do end up going. Even teens who KNOW what they need to do and how to do it sometimes need help actually doing it. The teen years are a quest for independence, yes, but it’s good to keep in mind that teenagers are still young and usually feel stuck somewhere in between child and adult, and knowing they can rely on their parents to take care of stressful “school stuff” for them can be very comforting.
~Heather G. (an older teen, unshcooling herself)
For us, unschooling our teens hasn’t brought about any scary, huge changes. We began to have deeper talks about goals–both short term and long term–talks about if they want to pursue driving, college, jobs, all stuff of life that naturally became options as they grew old enough.
In regards to those talks, while I do bring them up on my own from time to time, it’s important to not to force the discussion–try again another time if a chat isn’t forthcoming.
One thing we don’t do that many mainstream parents of young adults find shocking, is we don’t insist they have a job and we don’t insist they keep a job that is not working out. Our girlie got a job that she realized wasn’t for her after one shift–she talked with us and she decided to quit that job the next day. Our kiddos don’t pay rent, they don’t have to buy food. They do pitch in a little each month on the family cell phone plan by choice, because in doing so, we get better plan we all like and enjoy–one with benefits they couldn’t afford on their own.
Yes, they’re growing up–rather beautifully and brilliantly, I might add –but we’re still their number one supporters and we always have their backs, they’ve only to ask for help and it will be there every time.
I know it sounds like I’m being overly simple, but it *is* rather simple. Once you’re living the unschooling life, it’s just that–LIFE.
Heather G., My kids are gradually dealing with questions like that and we spend a lot of time talking about them, coming up with solutions, discussing other possibilities. I can’t even imagine them trying to go it alone. It really helps to have a facilitator/mentor and general help as you need it.
Heather G., what you shared is exactly why parents need to be present and available to their children when unschooling. It should not be hands off. It should be as much or little as the child needs at any given time and situation.
Many people that I have met seem to be comfortable with unschooling the elementary and middle school years and then freak out over math especially during the high school years. There is no reason for this . Here’s my story . Katy is a math phobic. No doubt about it. During her high school years, I did not force math on her even though her goals include college. So she rarely did “formal” math. Occasionally, she picked up her Everyday Math For Dummies book because she would get worried , but those few moments were always short lasting . She did learn math in other ways, though. She managed her bank account, her allowance, and her babysitting money. She paid her taxes and filed them herself when she had an income from her internship. She grocery shopped for me when I was too sick. She cothey and baked. She did a lot of things. She recently took the Compass test for community college. As I assumes she would, she made a 99 in language arts. I will not embarrass her by posting her math score. It was low, but that is FINE !! She will take remedial math at the college, and, if I know my baby girl, she will learn and do fine. Though she may shed a few tears along the way, but she will be doing this because she wants to do it. Not because we say she has to. She plans to major in mass communications and minor in dramatic arts . Not a very math heavy field anyway . Anyway, my point is that teens can be unschoolers, also, and still go to college because they can master any subject that still needs mastering in college . And if she had chosen a non college route her current math level would have been fine . ~Lisa W.
Some people (and I am one of them) are late bloomers in math. My brain was not wired for Algebra until I was 30. I took it in high school. Again in college. Could not grasp it but so wanted to. Felt so dumb. Accused of not trying hard enough… Over the years I would get it out and try again. At 30, it all made sense. I was so relieved. My oldest dd is the same way. We are good with math but Algebra was just out of our reach. I think my 14 yo is the same way. So, we do not “do” Algebra (would not be if still homeschooling traditionally) but read the why behind it, so that understanding of it is there whether we can do it or not. Now at soon to be 50, I would like to pull out a few problems and see if I can still do it. Won’t be losing sleep if I can’t though. ~Pam C.
I barely scraped by in algebra during high school. Geometry was easy, but ugh algebra. Like Katy, I am strong in language arts. When I took the SAT my verbal score far outscored my math score, so I took remedial algebra in college. It clicked for me . I made a 98 ! I still don’t care for algebra. I have swept all knowledge of the subject from my brain, I am pretty sure Lol. I adore general mathematics and geometry, though . Chris, on the other hand, excels in algebra. He made an 88 in math on his Compass, but he still chose to take remedial algebra just to make sure he was solid in his skills. His goal is to be theoretical physicist, so he needs lots of math . ~Lisa W.