7 Tips for Homeschooling Teens

High school boy studying with books on floor
Hero Images / Getty Images

Homeschooling teens is different than homeschooling younger students. They are becoming adults and crave more control and independence, yet they still need accountability. Following are some tips for homeschooling teens that have worked well for many parents.

1. Give them control of their environment.

It can be tempting to insist that students do all their work from a desk or from the dining room table or some other designated "school" spot. In most cases, though, it doesn’t matter where they work, as long as the work gets done.

Let your teen have some control over their learning environment. The couch, the dining room, their bedroom, or the porch swing – let them work wherever they’re comfortable as long as the work is completed and acceptable. (Sometimes a table is more conducive to neat written work.)

If they like to listen to music while they work, let them as long as it isn’t a distraction. That being said, do draw the line at watching TV while doing schoolwork. No one can really concentrate on school and watch TV at the same time.

2. Give them a voice in their curriculum.

If you haven’t already been doing it, the teen years are an excellent time to begin handing the curriculum choices over to your students. Take them with you to the curriculum fairs. Let them ask questions of the vendors. Have them read the reviews. Allow them to choose their topics of study.

Sure, you may need to have some guidelines in place, particularly if you don’t have an especially motivated student or one who has a certain college with specific requirements in mind, but there is usually some wiggle room even within those guidelines. For example, my youngest wanted to study astronomy for science this year instead of the typical biology.

Colleges often like to see subject diversity and student passion as much as they like to see specific courses and stellar standardized test scores. And college may not even be in your student’s future.

3. Allow them to manage their time.

Whether your teens will be entering college, the military, or the workforce after graduation, good time management is a skill they will need throughout life. High school is an excellent opportunity to learn those skills without such high stakes as might be encountered after graduation.

If they prefer it, you can still give your kids an assignment sheet each week. Just make sure they know that, for the most part, the order in which the assignments arranged are just a suggestion. As long as all of their work is completed by the end of the week, it shouldn't be a big deal how they choose to complete it.

4. Don’t expect them to start school at 8 a.m.

Studies have shown that a teenager’s circadian rhythm is different than a younger kid’s. Their bodies shift from needing to go to sleep around 8 or 9 p.m. to needing to go to sleep around 10 or 11 p.m. instead. This also means that their wake times need to shift.

One of the best benefits of homeschooling is being able to adjust schedules to meet uour families’ needs. Many families may choose not start school at 8 a.m. Perhaps starting at 11 a.m. is better for your family, allowing for more time to wake up and get situated in the morning. Perhaps they even choose to work on school at night, after the house is quiet and distractions are few. It's about finding the time that works best for them.

5. Don’t expect them to go it alone all of the time.

From the time they're young, families are working toward developing their student's ability to work independently. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should expect them to go it alone all the time as soon as they reach middle or high school. Most teens need the accountability of daily or weekly meetings to ensure that their work is being completed and that they’re understanding it.

Teens can also benefit from having you read ahead in their books so that you’re prepared to help if they run into difficulty. It’s frustrating for you and your teen when you have to spend half the day trying to catch up on an unfamiliar topic in order to help them with a difficult concept.

You may need to fill the role of tutor or editor. Perhaps your student may need the two of you to plan time each afternoon to review math. Perhaps you might need to serve as editor for writing assignments, marking misspelled words or grammar errors for corrections or making suggestions on how to improve their papers. It’s all part of the learning process.

6. Embrace their passions.

Use the high school years to allow teens to explore their passions and give them elective credit for doing so. As much as time and finances will allow, provide your teen with opportunities to explore their interests. Look for opportunities in the form of local sports and classes, homeschool groups and co-ops, online courses, dual enrollment, and non-credit continuing education classes.

Your kids may try an activity for a while and decide it’s not for them. In other cases, it could turn into a lifelong hobby or career. Either way, each experience allows for growth opportunity and a better self-awareness for your teen.

7. Help them find opportunities to serve in their community.

Help your teen discover volunteer opportunities that mesh with their interests and abilities. The teen years are a prime time for young people to begin becoming activity involved in their local community in meaningful ways. Consider:

  • Volunteering at a nursing home, kids’ program, homeless shelter, or animal shelter
  • Interning or volunteering opportunities at local business
  • Becoming involved in local or state politics
  • Using their talents to serve others (such as painting sets for a community theater, playing an instrument at your place of worship, or taking back-to-school photos for your homeschool group)

Teens may grumble about service opportunities at first, but most of them find that they enjoy helping others more than they thought they would. They enjoy giving back to their community.

These tips can help you prepare your teens for life after high school and help them discover who they are as individuals.