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Homeschooling Teens

There's a better way for teens to learn, and it's easier than you think.
Updated: December 1, 2022

Homeschooling Teens

The Whys, and the Must-Haves

The idea of homeschooling through high school can be scary. Parents tell me, "I could never homeschool my teen - I barely got through some of my own high school classes!" But homeschool advocates are discovering there's a better way for teens to learn, and homeschooling your high-schooler may be easier than you think.

Why Homeschool?
It's not uncommon for homeschooled teens to complete four years of traditional high-school studies in 24 months or less. How can that be? Teens who learn at home are able to focus their energy and resources on the task at hand. With no distractions, it's amazing how efficiently kids learn. This principle is illustrated by the requirements for schooled kids who are unable to attend classes due to illness. Most schools require 1-1/2 to 5 hours of at-home instruction for each week of missed classroom learning.

Cafi Cohen -- author of And What About College? How Homeschooling Leads to Admission to the Best Colleges and Universities -- spent two full days observing public school classes. During those days, she kept track of administrative time versus on-task time. On-task time is roughly defined as students really doing something - reading, writing, listening to lectures, etc. Cohen discovered that less than one hour out of each six-hour school day was spent on-task. The bulk of the day was spent on administrative duties: taking attendance, collecting homework and reports, making announcements, passing out supplies, preparing for activities, cleaning up, and discipline - perhaps the biggest time-waster of all.

Many teens are also overwhelmed by the prospect of spending an hour or more a day on the school bus getting to and from school, only to be faced with three or more hours of homework in the evening. In the teen group I facilitate, teens stress wasted time as a major reason for homeschooling along with problems in the school environment: peer pressure, negative influences (drugs and sex), bullying, and even personal safety.

Can Anyone Homeschool?
Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. Many states have no specific requirements regarding the educational background of parents who homeschool. Studies have shown that homeschooled students repeatedly outperform their schooled peers on standardized tests, regardless of a parent's level of formal education.

With a little planning, a little cooperation from your teen, (yes, sometimes they actually do cooperate!), and creative record keeping, you'll be packing your homeschooled kids off to college -- or wherever life's path will take them -- before you know it!

How Do I Start?
Investigate your homeschooling options, and then set up a workable plan with your teen. This should be an individualized program, based on your teen's strengths and weaknesses, passions, and learning style. Successful homeschoolers are those who break away from the "one-size-fits-all" curriculum, that most of us remember. Aim for a course of study that allows your kids the freedom to pursue their interests, cover the basics, and become a lifelong learner. The following books will show you exactly how to do this.

Must-Have Books for Homeschooling Teens

  • Homeschooling: The Teen Years -- Your Complete Guide to Successfully Homeschooling the 13- to 18-Year Old by Cafi Cohen. If you can buy only one homeschooling book, this is it.
  • Homeschoolers' College Admissions Handbook -- Preparing 12- to 18-Year-Olds for Success in the College of Their Choiceby Cafi Cohen . For kids with college in their future, Cohen provides valuable information and resources for both parents and teens.
  • The Teenage Liberation Handbook (a classic among homeschool families) and Real Lives: Eleven Teenagers Who Don't Go to School, both by Grace Llewellyn. These books will inspire and guide your teen with real stories about kids who learn in freedom.
  • The Big Book of Home Learning: Junior High Through College by Mary Pride. An enormous collection of resources and advice from a homechooling veteran.
  • The Homeschooling Book of Answers: The 88 Most Important Questions Answered by Homeschooling's Most Respected Voices by Linda Dobson. The best book for those new to homeschooling. Intelligent answers to just about every homeschooling question.
  • The Homeschooler's Guide to Portfolios and Transcripts by Loretta Heuer. Covers the most difficult aspect of homeschooling teens: maintaining accurate records.

    Teaching and Record Keeping

    What Subjects Do I Teach?
    Homeschooling: The Teen Years by Cafi Cohen outlines how to set up and follow a high school curriculum. If your child plans to attend college, Cohen advises you to begin your studies with the following subjects:

  • Four years of language arts (English)
  • Three years of math (usually through Geometry or Algebra II)
  • Two to three years of science
  • Three to four years of social studies (History and Geography)
  • Two years of foreign language
  • Two years of electives (Music and Drama, for example)

    If college is not in your teens' future, or at least not in the immediate future, he or she has more freedom choosing a course of study. The following books can help your teen decide the future path that is right for him:

  • The Question Is College: On Finding and Doing Work You Love, by Herbert Kohl, provides thoughtful guidance, concrete examples, and useful tools to plot a course toward achieving your goals.
  • The Uncollege Alternative by Danielle Wood explains how to create a profitable, exciting, and creative future without a college degree.
  • Success Without College by Linda Lee has suggestions for achieving personal and career goals by either delaying college plans or finding a direct route to the working world.
  • The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn highlights the learning styles and accomplishments of teens who are learning all the time -- but not in the traditional sense.

    Covering Difficult or Unfamiliar Subjects
    Covering difficult or unfamiliar subjects is not as hard as it seems. Parents can:

  • Purchase a curriculum from a homeschool curriculum provider.
  • Use a correspondence or online school.
  • Use educational video courses (check with your library).
  • Hire a tutor.
  • Take an online class.
  • Use educational computer software.
  • Take a class at a community college.
  • Learn the material along with your teen.

    Start your own class
    Homeschoolers are often able to team up with other parents and create the classes their kids need. My girls wanted a French class, but private sessions were too costly. Group lessons (10 or more kids) were reasonable. I contacted homeschool support groups in my area and sent email messages to local homeschooling families to see if anyone was interested. In two days, I had 15 respondents, and eventually a waiting list!

    You can often find resources right in your community — all you have to do is ask. Several parents of teens persuaded a retired chemistry teacher to teach their kids. Another group enlisted the help of a former English teacher, now a full-time mom, who set up a homeschool writing club in her home. And little persuasion was needed to convince an enthusiastic chess coach to start an official chess club for homeschoolers.

    Record Keeping
    It's wise to keep track of your teen's activities. Loretta Heuer's The Homeschooler's Guide to Portfolios and Transcripts will show you how. You may need to maintain accurate records to comply with your state's statutes, or to submit them if your child must reenter high school. Independent study programs also require record keeping. For college-bound kids, remember: The records you keep today will be used tomorrow to create a portfolio for college admissions.

    Record keeping can be as simple as a daily journal, or filling in each activity on a large calendar. The level of detail shown in your records will depend on both your teen's goals and your homeschooling style.

    Diplomas and College

    High School Diploma
    Do homeschoolers need a high school diploma? Sometimes. Do they need a diploma from an accredited school? According to Cafi Cohen, "The experience of thousands of families indicates that the answer is 'almost never.'"

    Cohen elaborates: "Every homeschooler can have a document verifying graduation from high school because -- as the principals and administrators of small private schools -- all homeschool parents can create their own diplomas." Are these diplomas recognized? "College admissions officers rely primarily on transcripts, test scores, and letters of recommendation. Most never ask about diplomas because typical applicants, high-school seniors, do not yet have them."

    What about job applications? Cohen advises parents: "Employers care mostly about experience. By granting your own diploma, your teenager can answer "yes" to the diploma question on most job applications. And, interestingly, employers never seem to phrase the question this way: 'Do you have a diploma from an accredited high school?'"

    The only exception may be the military. If you know your son or daughter plans to enlist in the Army, Navy, Marines, or Air Force, consider using an accredited diploma-granting independent-study program like Clonlara School or American School (1-800-228-5600). Check with your local recruiter about current regulations for homeschool students.

    GED High School Equivalency Diploma
    The initials GED stand for General Education Development. The GED test measures how well someone has mastered the skills and general knowledge that are acquired in a four-year high school education. GED online is a special website dedicated to helping students prepare online for the GED High School Equivalency Test. For homeschool students desiring a formal diploma, the GED is another option.

    If you're looking for a comprehensive guide covering just about every known approach to earning a college degree, Bear's Guide to Earning College Degrees Nontraditionally by John and Mariah Bear is for you. Read this book early - before you make your teen's college plans - it may change the way you homeschool!

    Homeschoolers are accepted and welcomed at most colleges. Admissions policies vary, so plan ahead to meet the requirements of colleges that interest you. Generally speaking, testing requirements (ACT/SAT I & SAT II) are the same for homeschoolers and schooled kids. Click here for detailed information on admissions testing.

    Most parents of teens who learn at home are motivated, resourceful, and determined to provide the best educational resources for their kids. When I ask parents of older homeschooled kids what they would change if they could do it over again, their replies are often the same: I would worry less, and enjoy my kids more. Sounds like good advice to me.

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