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Homeschooling Teens: One Mom’s Transition

Nothing could have prepared me for the day that my little elementary homeschool grew up.

Looking back, it feels like it happened overnight, but that isn’t really true. Changes began when my oldest entered middle school and they continued throughout that first year. There was a whole new level of resistance to schoolwork, complaining and dismay about field trips, and whining about crafts and hands-on activities.

What on earth happened?

Where, oh where, did my happy homeschool go?  Oh, where, oh where could it be?

Turns out that I was going to find that happy homeschool again, but it was going to be a bumpy ride.

One mom's journey from homeschooling little ones as they grew up and the first one became a teen. She shares her widsom about handing that transition.

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Homeschooling Teens: My Backstory

First, a little background.  I was a public school teacher for 5 years before I became a homeschooling mom.

Teaching in a 7th-grade classroom remains one of the most fantastic and emotionally draining memories of my teaching career.  Seventh-grade students are closing the door on their childhood and opening the door to their adulthood.

Every day I engaged their curious minds while laughing at their emerging sense humor and playful antics.  I also monitored their changing emotions, social drama, and parental discord.  As much as I loved it, it took an emotional toll on me and I opted for teaching sixth grade when the opportunity presented itself.

One year.  That is all I lasted as a seventh-grade teacher.

Yet as a homeschool mom, I have to teach seventh grade FOUR TIMES.  I have to survive this radical year of change, growth, hormones, moods and general craziness several. more. times.

And the first time is always the hardest.

That’s the difficult part for Kayleigh, my oldest daughter.  She is the ground breaker, the guinea pig, and the one who teaches me about what is to come.  In 6th grade, she began to close the door on her childhood and I had no idea how much this would impact our homeschool.

NO IDEA.

I spent her seventh-grade year learning and adjusting on the fly while responding in healthy and not so healthy ways as she and I muddled through this transition period.

Now I am here in the midst of a fantastic eighth-grade year looking back on the things I learned.

Homeschooling Teens: Mommy Sadness

I was not prepared for was the emotional loss and sadness I felt when our homeschool began to change.  The elementary school in our home looked like artsy fun, field trips, cuddling with books on the sofa, and days filled with creative, fun play on the floor.

Suddenly, in the midst of this enchanting homeschool environment, a teenage voice began to speak:

  • Do I HAVE to go there?  When will we get home?  [about our field trip]
  • Can’t I just read this on my own?  [instead of sitting here with you all]
  • Do I HAVE to do this?  [the fun artsy craft learning activity mommy planned]
  • Can’t I just write a paragraph instead of participating?  [in our fun homeschool groups]
  • Do I HAVE to do ALL of this?  [about most anything]

I was crushed.  I was not prepared for this change.  This attitude.  This loss of love for our current homeschool style.

The activities that used to make school “fun” were suddenly uninteresting and my child’s glaring looks made that perfectly clear.

She was redefining her meaning of “fun”.

For seven years our homeschool was a precious place of family-style learning.  Now, one member wanted out.  And I felt crushed.  And lost.  And sad.

It took awhile to acknowledge my grief and give myself time to process it.  But I did it.  Eventually.

Turns out that by accepting how I was feeling, I was able to get a handle on my own reactions.  It was in this space that I learned my next lesson…

Homeschooling Teens: Don’t Take it Personal

This is hard because it feels so personal.  I put a lot of effort into planning field trips, days with friends, and hands-on learning fun.  Her complaints and resistance felt like an attack on my efforts.

Didn’t she appreciate all that I was doing to make school “fun”?  

The temptation to lash out at her or make her feel guilty was strong.  And I admit that I didn’t handle it well at first.

  • You’d really rather write a paragraph instead of doing this craft with us?  [said with snark]
  • Kids in school would love the chance to go to the art museum instead of sitting in a classroom.  [snark again]
  • Fine. Just go read the book on your own later. You don’t have to sit here with us. [snark with a side of attitude]

She didn’t fall for the guilt or attitude I was dishing out.  She would complete her tasks and then head outside to do gymnastics while we did our crafts or read our books.  She was forging her own path and I wasn’t helping.  In fact, my behavior was destructive to our relationship.

Could we find our new groove?  What would school look like during the middle years in our house?  How would I continue to meet her needs and the needs of three elementary school kids in the house?

I had a lot more questions than I had answers but I wasn’t about to give up.

Homeschooling Teens:  Try Something New

I had to try something.  Anything.  So I tried everything.  I grasped for new routines, beneficial changes, and creative ideas to help her find joy in learning again.  Slowly, our new groove began to emerge from the mess.

And this is where it gets a little different for each homeschool family.  Every child is different.  Every mom is different.  There is no one solution for this transition, but there are a few things that worked for us:

1.  I backed off the requirements of our elementary school.  If she didn’t want to do crafts, then she didn’t have to.  I stopped guilting her about this and instead, I helped her plan what she could do while we were doing crafts with friends.

I continually reminded myself that her elementary school experience was complete.  There will always be new activities on Pinterest to try with the kids.  Now, I will attempt them with my younger three kids.  It was time for her to move on.  I had to let it go.

2.  I found things we could still do together.  We started to listen to books on audible after dinner as a whole family. We don’t do it all of the time, but we will make it through a few titles this year.  I discovered CNN Student news and decided that our day would begin together with the news.

We will read and enjoy Shakespeare together in every spring.  Shakespeare is a topic that spans the ages in this house.  Finally, I invested in games for the whole family and I make time to play them.  Codenames is the most recent game playing hit in this house!

2.  I stopped surprising her.  If we were going to go on a surprise field trip or adventure, I talked to her about it ahead of time.  Did she want to come?  Did she want to be home at a certain time? If she didn’t want to join us, what could she do instead?

3.  I began to prioritize her goals.  She was completely committed to becoming a competitive gymnast and wanted to finish school as soon as possible each day so she could practice.  She also wanted time to make videos for her gymnastics Instagram account and YouTube channel.

I learned to treat her goals as important as my goals for her.  I talked with her about our school week ahead of time and planned ample time to for her to practice her skills and make videos.  This helped tremendously.  It was also a huge adjustment as we often did things last minute and now I had to rethink my plans a bit.

4.  We talked about her boredom at home.  This was a huge issue.  She used to spend hours playing pretend with her siblings, but that time was ending.  Sure, she still dipped back into that arena from time to time, but it wasn’t consistent.  She wasn’t an avid reader and showed no signs of wanting to be one (sigh) so piles of books weren’t the solution for her.  We began to brainstorm ways to fill her time.

This year (8th grade) she is on a competitive gymnastics team (9 hours a week at the gym), takes two classes outside of the house, babysits once a week, and volunteers as an aide once a week (for two 10-week sessions of classes).  Just this week she began a “real” job once a week in addition to all of this.  I have learned that busy is better in her case.  She is her momma, so this isn’t shocking.

5.  I helped her design her own educational path.  She didn’t have to do the same things my younger three were doing anymore.  She doesn’t join in our Morning Basket time.  She didn’t study the orchestra with us this year.  (Yes, I had to remind myself more than once that it was OK because she already did that in first grade.)  She doesn’t even always attend Poetry Teatime.

It’s true.  After three years of a weekly Poetry Teatime, she requested a break from it.  She still grabs the yummy snacks, but then she wanders into a different room to do her own thing.  And I don’t guilt her one single bit about it.

6.  I became more of a partner and less of a teacher.  This transition was tough and she was caught between pushing me away and clinging to my help.  I had to give her space and assistance all at the same time.  It’s a tough gig to balance, but I haven’t given up.  Admittedly, some days are smoother than others.

Sometimes I sit with her and help her read a difficult chapter.  I help her find the answers when she asks (mostly). We set up her agenda and organize assignments together.  I look for misplaced lab reports without shaming her.

And I push her a bit when the time is right.  Push her to confidently tackle things on her own.  Cheer her on as she does.  Loudly.

7.  I let her go.  And I let her go again.  And then, I cry.  And I let her go again.  This was so hard for me.   We have studied science and history as a family every single year since we began homeschooling.  We read the same books, took the same field trips, and laughed at the same topics.  And now one student isn’t with us.  Right now.  She isn’t studying World War II with us.

And this huge change is so hard.  I regularly feel a pang in my heart about the division of schooling in our house.  I have to tell myself, “It’s OK.  She did the elementary school thing.  This is good.  Look at her go!  She is rocking 8th grade!

She is so much happier this year.  She is just blossoming so I know it is good.

But you might have to excuse me while I wipe my eyes. again.  Truth be told, I have already done so twice while writing this.  I’m the blubbering mess of a homeschool mom who is doing the right thing but feeling my heart ache as my baby teaches me about this growing up and letting go thing.

She is halfway through a fantastic eighth-grade year and high school is on the horizon.  I can look back fondly on my old blog, which serves as a record of her elementary school years, and I can confidently say, “It was good.”

The elementary school years were good.

And now that we have transitioned to our new routines for her teen years, I can look around confidently, usually with tears in my eyes, and say, “It is still good!

Homeschooling my teenager....it is still good.

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Homeschooling teens is a huge transition from homeschooling little ones. This is one mom's journey and the lessons she learned.

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19 Comments

  • Reply Sandra February 22, 2017 at 11:13 pm

    Such a lovely piece of writing Mary and so honest. I sympathise with the grieving for the homeschool that was. My youngest is in what will probably be her final year of full-time homeschool. I suspect next year will be only partly homeschooled. I’m missing the fun years of homeschooling littles and preparing myself for the end of homeschooling completely . While I love watching my kids move on to the next stage of their lives I know I will miss homeschooling. It’s been such a big part of my life for the past 20 years.

    • Reply notbefore7@gmail.com February 25, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      It is a hard, but good transition.

  • Reply Dachelle @ HideTheChocolate February 22, 2017 at 11:40 pm

    I can’t even. This is so honest and real for me. With the oldest going to college next semester and the next one going into seventh grade, I just want to cuddle with the baby and beg her not to grow up. It’s so hard. I want them to become independent beautiful people, but I also want them to stay my sweet little babies who say “Hey, Mommy, you know what? I love you.”

  • Reply Jenny White February 23, 2017 at 12:44 am

    Oh, Mary! I SO needed this. I am facing the same thing with my 6th grader. Just this semester, I have noticed him pushing back, wondering “do I have to do this?” I am trying to figure out how to adjust and compensate and plan and bring in new things for him. He stretches the rubber band as far as it can go and bounces back, and it is hard to know what to do when the tension builds and things start to stretch. You have given e something good to think on. I’ll definitely be re-reading this.

  • Reply MOM February 23, 2017 at 11:48 am

    You have me wiping tears too. Love you all. You’re doing and have done a great job

  • Reply Julie February 23, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    SO VERY well written, and I know many homeschool moms will be blessed/will benefit from your shared wisdom. I think I could have used this article about 10 years ago…somehow I’ve muddled through this transition 5 times, and am on the verge with #6. It doesn’t get easier, but I sure am more prepared. You’re doing a great job!!

    • Reply notbefore7@gmail.com February 25, 2017 at 10:13 pm

      Oh friend. thank you so much. You were such an example of homeschooling and motherhood to me. Miss you 🙂

  • Reply Crystal February 24, 2017 at 8:33 am

    Great advice! I am starting to see the hints of this coming (currently she is 12) so it is perfect timing. Thank you.

    • Reply notbefore7@gmail.com February 25, 2017 at 10:13 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks Crystal.

  • Reply Julia February 26, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I have been through it 7 times, and now my 8th, a son aged 12, does not want to be along in art, or hikes! The older ones all just went with our trips but now with a bigger age gap, I am noticing his reluctance to join and just cooperate with the program! Not tea time however! He still drinks his tea and will read aloud two or three poems with a lowered voice – lol! I guess it hasn’t worn off yet after a year of doing it as it is a magical time and my 14 and 16 yr old sons never want to miss it either.

    • Reply notbefore7@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 5:44 pm

      They are all different. I am wondering how things will be next year with my second child who is so different from her sister. Guess it’s a little adjusting each time. Maybe this next child will stick with tea time!

  • Reply Michelle Myers February 27, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Mary, I teared up twice reading this. My oldest is 8 yo but I see the growing independence in her. Thank you for the reminder that the present is a precious gift and that the future is a beautiful and blossoming journey.

    • Reply notbefore7@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 5:45 pm

      Well said – right now is a gift and the future is a beautiful journey! Love that.

  • Reply Atiyya March 10, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    Hi Mary,
    Thank you so much for this post. I was not prepared for my daughter saying she wanted to give school a try – the separation anxiety was crushing. But love what you said about helping them re-define their educational pathway.

    Lovely clean writing here,
    Best wishes
    Atiyya

    • Reply notbefore7@gmail.com March 16, 2017 at 3:58 pm

      Thanks for coming by Atiyya! Having your daughter try school this year had to be a HUGE change in your life. Good for you for supporting her decision. I hope all goes well for both of you! Looking forward to getting to know you more!

  • Reply Dacey March 21, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    So needed this! Well said for the parent who feels alone during this transition!

    • Reply notbefore7@gmail.com April 2, 2017 at 6:21 pm

      It can feel so lonely. I understand that completely.

  • Reply Gay Taunton July 10, 2017 at 2:57 am

    We are painfully completing 7th grade here. Thank you from the bottom of my heart as my daughter is walking that same path. Her social life and creating slime have consumed her 7th grade year along with relationship struggles between us. I am relieved to have some proven tools and confidence that success can happen in 8th grade.

    • Reply notbefore7@gmail.com July 16, 2017 at 10:56 pm

      7th grade is such. a. hard. year. Glad to have more teen homeschool mommas in my circles.

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