What do unschooled teens do all day?

What do unschooled teens DO all day? Ideas and resources for interest-led learning for teenagers.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.

What do unschooled teens DO all day? Ideas and resources for interest-led learning for teenagers.

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.

Life skills

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.

What do unschooled teens DO all day? Ideas and resources for interest-led learning for teenagers.


Reading for fun. Reading about current events. Reading about history. Reading Hamilton: The Revolution. Need I say more?

Passion projects

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.

What do unschooled teens DO all day? Ideas and resources for interest-led learning for teenagers.

Take classes

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.

College prep

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.

Maya Frost’s book, The New Global Student, and Blake Boles’ books, College Without High School and Better Than College, have all been helpful for that.

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?

Originally posted on March 31, 2017

About Melissa Camara Wilkins

Melissa Camara Wilkins is a homeschooling mom of six in Southern California. She writes about being who you were made to be and letting go of the rest.


  1. This was so helpful! We lean heavily toward Unschooling, but are still in the little years (our daughter is in first grade and our three boys are not school age yet). I’ve always wondered how Unschooling would work out in the teen years, especially when it is so far from mainstream that many people question its validity and outcomes. This post assured me that there is so much to learn that is useful – vital even! Life skills and practical skills take time to observe and practice, and I’m a big fan of apprenticeship! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
    June’s latest post: 5 Online Sources for Big Savings on Clothes

  2. Kimberly says:

    How do you do transcripts and records in a way that will show potential colleges that they have the necessary skills and education? I would love to unschool once my kids are older and have the basics of the “3Rs” down, but I am concerned about how colleges will view it. Thank you for your time!

    • Look into the transcript book by Lee Binz. It’s fantastic. Also, as a mother of a 15 year old, I can say that I love teens, too. These are years to be treasured !!

      • Kimberly says:

        This one: Creating Transcripts for Your Unique Child: Help Your Homeschool Graduate Stand Out from the Crowd (The HomeScholar’s Coffee Break Book series 3)? Thanks!

    • Great suggestion, Lori! Thanks! Another thing we did was checked the admission requirements for the kinds of schools my kids might want to apply to. (For example, our local state universities, other schools that had programs relevant to my kids’ interests, etc.) That gave us a good idea of what kind of plans would be helpful going forward.
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: You’re Still Enough

  3. Such a helpful article! I know I don’t want to add a lot more book work to my son’s days but i felt like he needs to do something to occupy his days. Great suggestions. Pinned.

  4. Hi! This is an excellent article on teen unschooling! Thank you for sharing it. I wanted to share with you a link to a digital community for teen unschoolers that I created. It is a great resource for young unschoolers and people interested in unschooling to come together. Please share it with anyone you think would find it valuable. Thank you much!

  5. Janelle Sherod says:

    This is a great article and so encouraging for me! My oldest is 15 (we live in Southern CA too!) and he would really benefit from unschooling. I’ve always been more relaxed in our homeschool but when he got into high school, the pressure to check all the boxes took over. I’ve been reassessing what we needs to change. Thank you for your thoughts!

  6. Amanda says:

    I love this article! My question is, what do you do with a thirteen year old who only wants to be on her phone? Her areas of interest are taking photos, being on Instagram, watching vloggers, shopping, and that’s about it. She doesn’t seem to have any drive when it comes to learning something new. I’m so tired of her getting angry with me because she doesn’t want to empty the dishwasher. She will go anywhere, or do anything that costs money, and that’s something we don’t have a lot of. We struggle to keep her occupied.

    • Hi Amanda! I would consider revisiting boundaries on technology if the constant technological use feels unhealthy to you (though some unschoolers do not restrict tech and find that works for them.) In our homeschool, we practice more of a “freedom within boundaries” approach, which works well for us. So my kids have tons of freedom to choose what to learn, but certain things are restricted (not just for them, but for us as well), and that helps us all be our best selves.

      The challenge would be to figure out how to approach your daughter with the idea of changing/limiting. I’ve heard a lot of people who have had great success with Circle by Disney to help them monitoring their kids’ usage. You can set up certain parameters and then that’s their total allotment for the day. These posts might give you some helpful food for thought about the phases of learning and allowing your daughter to revisit them as an older child (very common!) in order to keep moving forward: http://simplehomeschool.net/core-phase/ and http://simplehomeschool.net/top-educational-goal-tweens/ and http://simplehomeschool.net/uninvolved-unschooler/ – just follow your gut for what is the next right step and you can’t go wrong!

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