Home-schooling Adolescents? Your Kids Cannot Do It Themselves

Who packs lunch?

Some parents believe that kids should do things themselves. Let’s take packing a lunch. Parents think that this is a responsibility that their middle school child should be able to tackle and that their child will, without being supervised, pack a balanced and sufficient lunch. Quite simply, many kids can do this, but many cannot (or will not, at least the balanced and nutritious part). If your child cannot, it is not okay to say, “Well then, she will be hungry this afternoon,” or to allow your child to eat a lunch of Saltines. That is not parenting. Your 12-year-old child is still learning what is “normal” and still needs to be taken care of. When you do send them off for the day without enough food, they learn that is it normal to feel desperate and hungry and they don’t learn how to take care of themselves.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that parents should pack a lunch for their kid. Kids can pack it and the parents can check it. Kids and parents can do it together. Parents can tell the kid that lunch must contain five different items and the kid can pick out what they are. If you are into rewards or punishments, something desirable can be retained until the task is complete. There are any number of ways that a parent can help a child get together a nutritious lunch. Helping a child see that taking care of herself will ultimately make her a stronger, healthier person is not a realization that a child will have on their own one day, without a lot of guidance and training.

Adolescents Need Help Gathering Ideas

Parents (and more than a few educators and policymakers who advocate pure constructivist learning) who think that their children will simply discover the ideas necessary to live in a complicated and diverse world without a considerable amount of work usually find pretty quickly that a whole lot of guidance and teaching has to accompany their natural curiosity. Little children in small, culturally homogeneous towns in Vermont do not simply “discover” that it is useful to speak Spanish, let alone Mandarin. Curiosity will lead some children to understand that global warming is a reality, but not others. There are so many glorious, terrifying, and life-changing ideas out there. We have to do our best to determine which ones are important to us and make sure that our kids get at least a little exposure to them. I am not saying you have to be a “professional” teacher. I am saying that your child will have a fuller, richer understanding of the world if you actively work to create the world that she explores, and do not “allow” her to do her “discovering” by herself (or at least not all of it).

There is perhaps no place where this is more important (or in which there are more opportunities for it to happen) than in the home-schooling family. Of course you follow her interests and allow her to develop her passions. Of course you use teachable moments to extend her knowledge. Furthermore, you create a regular habit of exploring new ideas together. Every week you show her a video or an article about something she never would have thought of by herself. This has to be a regular practice in the life of a home-schooling family and is a great way for families with kids in traditional school settings to connect after a long day.

How do you do this when you are busy with so many other things? Find organized and thoughtfully prepared classes created by organized and thoughtful human beings. There are a lot of great platforms to do this and a lot of places to get help. Moodle, WizIQ, and your local public library are all resources. I run a small on-line home-school for middle school students called SHINE (www.s-h-i-n-e.org) and there are many other curricula to purchase, such as Oak Meadow. However, home-schooling is really hard work, no matter what resources you’re able to identify. It is joyful, important, and rewarding work, especially because there is a joyful, important and rewarding world at stake.


I am a teacher, hiker, mother, dancer and home-maker. I have taught pre-school through SAT prep. I am exploring ways to create on-line learning communities for home-schooled middle school and high school students. In particular, I am starting a low-residency on-line middle school. I would like to help young people explore important ideas while enjoying their lives! You can learn more about my programs at www.onlineclassesforgroovykids.org.

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