Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins
Teenagers are awesome.
The teenagers I know have interesting ideas, share perspectives I haven’t thought of, and are still open to learning even as they’re showing me new ways of looking at things.
At the same time, being the parent of homeschooled teens has opened up a whole new list of fears and expectations and things to worry about (hooray?):
Does interest-led learning work for teens? What will they do all day? What SHOULD they do all day? Are they doing enough? What IS enough, anyway?
This is Their Apprenticeship for Life
Years ago, an educator pointed out to me that historically, teenagers were often apprentices. They would work closely with a more-experienced person, learning skills and practices and basically how to be a functional-and-fabulous member of society.
I think that idea still makes a lot of sense. My teens aren’t going to be apprentice blacksmiths, but they are apprentice adults. They’re learning who they are and how to be themselves. This is their apprenticeship.
If I remember that—that the goal for my teens isn’t to learn a certain set of facts, or to work through a certain set of books or classes or projects, it’s to be an apprentice adult—then helping them figure out what to do with their days gets a lot simpler.
We can think about what they need to do in terms of skills and practices, rather than tasks.
What Unschooled Teenagers Do All Day
So what do they actually DO? I only have two teens so far, but here’s some of what their days are made of.
If they’re going to be adults (and I’m pretty sure they are), they’re going to need a certain set of life skills. So far, that includes cooking, laundry, money management, house cleaning, entertaining toddlers, and using patience while helping younger siblings, among other things.
Still to come: everything car-and-transportation-related, bill paying, and making phone calls to set up appointments. (Not sure what life skills to teach next? Just think of whatever you didn’t know when you were first living on your own, and teach them that.)
Investigating interesting topics
We’re always on the lookout for creative skills that could be useful as our kids become young adults. Our teens have spent time learning about stuff like blogging, photography, graphic design, and app design, for example.
Canva offers a series of introduction-to-design tutorials. Craftsy, Udemy, and Skillshare classes are all helpful—but so are the smaller-scale e-courses offered by some of our favorite bloggers in everything from hand-lettering to personal branding to herbal remedies.
Reading for fun. Reading about current events. Reading about history. Reading Hamilton: The Revolution. Need I say more?
Passion projects—learning about or creating something just for the love of it—have always been an important part of our homeschool experience, but teenagers have the skills and attention span to really get into their projects in a way that younger kids can’t always do.
The process of getting curious about something, investigating it, setting goals, creating a project, and sharing that project with others translates into tons of real-world usefulness.
Our teens spend hours every week doing things they love: writing novels, learning to sing Broadway musical numbers, inventing recipes, creating costumes based on their favorite books and movies, learning about and building flying drones, creating videos and stop-motion animation, and drawing comics, just to name a few.
My teens are always looking for ways to earn a few dollars to support those passion projects! They do odd jobs, yard work, childcare, and sell things they make. I bet virtual assistant work could be a great fit for a tech-savvy homeschooled teen, too.
We take advantage of all kinds of classes, if they teach what our kids want to learn. Online MOOCs, community college classes, and smaller, informal gatherings are all part of the mix at different times.
Since they’ve never taken standardized tests before, my kids have been learning how to take tests like the SAT. (Khan Academy’s free, customized SAT prep program gets a thumbs-up from us.)
They’ve also been investigating college options, and thinking a lot about what kinds of after-high-school experiences will be right for them.
If you have teens, what do they do all day? If you don’t have teens yet, what do you hope your kids will learn as they become apprentice adults?