7 Tips for Homeschooling Teens

High school boy studying with books on floor
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Homeschooling teens is different than homeschooling younger students. They are becoming adults and crave more control and independence, yet they still need accountability. 

I have graduated one student and I'm currently schooling two high school students. Following are some tips for homeschooling teens that have worked well in my home.

1. Give them control of their environment.

When my kids were younger, they used to do the majority of their schoolwork at the dining room table.

Now that they’re teens, I have only one who still chooses to work there. My son likes to do all of his written work and math at the table, but he prefers to read in his bedroom where he can sprawl across the bed or kick back in his comfy desk chair.

My daughter, on the other hand, prefers to do all of her work in her bedroom. It doesn’t matter to me where they work, as long as the work gets done. My daughter also likes to listen to music while she works. Her brother, like me, needs quiet to concentrate.

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. I do draw the line at watching TV while doing schoolwork.

I contend that 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.

Because they prefer it, I give my kids an assignment sheet each week. However, 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, I don’t particularly care how they choose to complete it.

My daughter often transfers the assignments from the sheet I provide to her planner, shuffling them around based on her preferences.

For example, sometimes she might choose to double up on assignments one day of the week to clear the following day for more free time or she may choose to work in blocks, doing a few days’ science lessons in one day and a few days in history another.

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 our schedules to meet our families’ needs. That’s why we don’t start school at 8 a.m. As a matter of fact, starting at 11 a.m. is a really good day for us.

My teens typically don’t begin the bulk of their schoolwork until after lunch.

It's not unusual for them to work on school at 11 or 12 at night, after the house is quiet and distractions are few.

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

From the time they're young, we’re working toward developing our student's ability to work independently. That doesn’t mean, however, that we 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. I plan time each afternoon for helping my teens with their arch nemesis, math. I have also served 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.

I am a huge fan of using 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 the kids I know 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.