How to Start Homeschooling A Teenager

Yesterday’s post introduced the basics on how to start homeschooling your elementary student. Today’s post will build on that and let you know how homeschooling a teenager (in middle school or high school) is similar to, AND VERY DIFFERENT FROM, homeschooling your younger kids.

If this is your first year homeschooling, read yesterday’s post. It will give you the basics on state requirements, finding local homeschoolers, creating a mission statement, plus a few other steps that are true for all ages and stages. Now onto the specifics of homeschooling a teenager!

How to Start Homeschool A Teenager

Get your teen involved and onboard.

When you decide to homeschool your younger children, you and your spouse choose the goals and lead the way. When you decide to start homeschooling a teenager, it helps to get your child on board. If they don’t want to be homeschooled, and feel they don’t have any say in the matter, you will face a lot of resistance. If it’s your child that is asking to be homeschooled, let them help you with the planning stages of the process; learning about state regulations, crafting a mission statement, etc. You may also get their input on what kind of courses and curriculum they’re interested in. Pulling a teen out of school and forcing them to homeschool “Because I said so!” is not a good approach. Just start stabbing yourself in the eye with a hot poker now.

Pick curriculum with an eye to the future.

When your kids are young, you have more leeway with courses, but as your kids get older you need to consider preparing them for college, or another chosen profession. I generally have picked classes with an eye towards college, and then as my kids get older, decide if we need change course. I’d rather them be prepared to enter a four year college, and change their minds, then have them decide they want to attend college and realize we haven’t take enough of the right high school courses. It’s easy to figure out what courses colleges require with a simple Google search. Or visit the types of colleges your child may be interested in and check out their high school requirements. If your child plays sports, you’ll want to check out the NCAA’s homeschool requirements (which provide a pretty good outline for what high school courses to take in general). You can use the guidelines in yesterday’s post to help you find the right curriculum for your high schooler. The stakes feel higher when you’re homeschooling a teenager but it’s really hard to screw it up so much that your child is incapable of attending college, getting a job, or entering religious life, I promise. (That’s meant to be reassuring. It’s reassuring right??)

Transcripts don’t need to be scary.

Preparing for college also means better record keeping. You will need to create a transcript. If your state has required grades and porfolios all along, you can probably just keep doing what you’re used to, however if you’ve been lousy goose-y with the grades thus far, you’ll need to create a system for tracking grades. Thankfully, if you outsource you high school level coursework to online classes, schools, or even your local community college, they will typically track grades for you and if your child is fully enrolled, they will often offer transcripts as part of the deal.

If you teach the courses yourself, you will need to figure out what assignments will be graded, how often, and then compile those grades every quarter, semester, trimester-whatever. You can track grades in a paper grade-book, an online spreadsheet, or you can use an online learning management system (LMS) like Google Classroom to collect your teen’s assignments and record grades. (For more details on using Google Classroom, you can check out my ebook Using Google Classroom in Your Homeschool.)

It seems scary at the beginning, but if you set a regular time every week, and every marking period to check and record grades it’s no big deal. I outsourced grading for my oldest and then took the reins with my second during a pretty crazy year of surgery and moving. So long as you can keep track of your student’s assignments (SO much easier when you use an LMS), you can make transcripts. When grading is in your hands, you can also make allowances. Typically I believe in making my kids suffer the consequences of their bad decisions, but it’s also important for me that they learn the material. I will often send back incomplete, forgotten, or poor work and make them redo it rather than fail them. And if they’re really struggling, I have the option to slow the pace rather than keep moving forward and continuing to give low grades.

Here is a copy of what my transcripts look like (It’s based on NCAA guidelines). This is another area where is helps to reach out to your local, experienced homeschool moms. Ask how they keep grades, what high school programs they recommend, and ply them with wine to learn all their secrets. When you find other moms homeschooling teens, make an effort to keep in touch. It can get lonely homeschooling a teenager in the middle and high school years and it’s important now, more than ever, to have those supportive friendships.

Watch and learn.

Just like I think it’s helpful for first time homeschooling parents of younger students to purchase pre-made lesson plans their first year, I think it can also be helpful for those homeschooling high schoolers to enroll in online classes for the first year if they can afford to do so. You will see what your child is learning, how she manages her course load, how she interacts with the teacher and you’ll see how grades are kept. It begins to make sense as to how you could manage it all yourself if you wanted to.

Let someone else be the bad guy.

If your teens asked to be homeschooled and had a say in the planning process, they are more likely to complete their work in a timely manner. But they’re still teenagers and a little help and encouragement couldn’t help right? Some kids really need external motivation from someone other than mom or dad during the teenage years. Outsourcing work to online classes, tutors, or the community college gives your children the opportunity to learn from someone else and get feedback from a new teacher, while still allowing you as the parent to help guide the course of their education. You may be surprised to see how a once unmotivated child will rise to the challenge set by an online teacher. Don’t take it personally. If outside classes aren’t an option, you will need to figure out consequences for late or incomplete work that work for your teen and stick with them.

Most teens, when given space and a loving support system, will settle on a course of action. If you have a child who seems completely unmotivated, doesn’t do work, doesn’t have any plans for the future, and seems to fear no consequence you, or a teacher, throw at them, I recommend reading Failure to Launch. It’s written by a psychologist and it offers much better advice than I could in this specific area.

Help them get organized.

Homeschooling a teenager, especially during the high school years, can get expensive if you’re outsourcing a lot of the harder courses, and let’s be honest- we want to get our money’s worth. We can’t afford to spend hundreds, or thousands of dollars on classes that our children fail and need to repeat. That means it’s in everyone’s best interests for your teens to take ownership of their goals, their future, and take over much of their time management. You should not be hovering over your teenager in order for them to get work done. If you equip them with the skills to manage their classes, assignments, and outside activities NOW, then they’re going to do much better once they’re off at college or the seminary and you can’t remind them of every little thing. Prepare to be disappointed. Prepare to watch your kids fail (you may be the one who needs to give them a failing grade). But also prepare to watch your kids learn to find their own passions, strengths, and pick themselves up and start again when things get tough. Homeschooling younger kids is all on you. Homeschooling older kids is about you stepping away and letting your kids work for themselves (although you will probably need to drive them around a lot more to follow all those passions).

You can offer various types of assignment books or planners for them to try, or if you use an LMS you can sync it to an online calendar that can send them reminders. Using something like Google Calendar to track assignments, outside activities, work schedules, and even household tasks could prove to be a real asset. But every child is different, so you’ll need to be patient as your child figures out what system works best for them in organizing their school work. Offer them help when they ask and step back. Here is another area where your teen may take advice from an older student, friend, or trusted adult vs. you. (So annoying right??) Encourage them to ask others what works for them in order help your teen find what works for him.

Don’t be daunted by the thought of homeschooling your teen. It can be done, and in a way that doesn’t end in a lot of sulking or slammed doors. Any questions? Leave them below or check out the rest of my posts in this How To Homeschool Series.

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