Category Archives: Homeschooling

A Mile in His Shoes

He tried to hide it, ducking his head quickly as I walked into the room, but I had already seen his face. He was crying, again, and didn’t want me to see. So I pretended for a moment that I hadn’t, moving through the room and tidying things here and there as I debated whether or not to say something. What could I say that hadn’t already been said many times before? What can a mother do when her child is struggling, and she doesn’t know how to make it better?

This boy, my youngest son, is very much like me. Of my two boys, he resembles me the most in terms of looks, and especially in terms of personality — strong-willed, independent, and often driven by an internal engine that doesn’t seem to have an “off” switch. The latter trait can be particularly frustrating for both of us, especially when we face obstacles outside of our immediate control that prevent us from moving forward — we’re not good at sitting still or waiting. So we have both become very good at work arounds, at figuring out how to get things done in spite of challenges or setbacks, to the point that sometimes other people (even the people closest to us) don’t have any idea how much we’re struggling because we seem to be doing fine.  This trait also makes it hard for us to ask for help, because we don’t want to slow down long enough to explain the situation and ask for it, and because we feel like we should be able to figure it out on our own.

Except sometimes we can’t, and by the time we realize that, we’re already overwhelmed and exhausted.

This is the point my son had reached when I walked in on him that day as he was working on a written report. I knew reading and writing were challenging for him, and since they never have been for me, it was hard to know exactly what to do, but I did my best to help him figure out a variety of work arounds, like listening to audio books instead of reading physical books, and typing instead of writing by hand. But sometimes audio versions aren’t available for the book you want to read (which was the case for this project), and sometimes you just need or want to be able to write things by hand. Both of these are very hard for my son, and he has explained to me multiple times that “the words move around on the page” whenever he tried to read, and that he has to focus so hard on spelling words correctly when he was writing, that he lost his train of thought on the bigger ideas he wanted to communicate. I could certainly see evidence of these difficulties in his school work — the simple words and sentences in his papers didn’t come close to matching the depth and complexity of the ideas and questions he could express verbally. This is a kid who barely broke a sweat developing and delivering an hour-long presentation on Hannibal and the Punic Wars when he was in fifth grade, but who cried in frustration as he attempted to hand-write a simple timeline for his presentation board. In short, the gulf between his written abilities and his verbal abilities was wide, and getting wider.

So, as I tidied his room that day, realizing that we were both feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by these issues, I decided it was time to find some help. None of the solutions we had tried seemed to be helping all that much, and it was time to find out why. At first he resisted the idea of visiting a learning specialist and having some testing done, but over the course of a few days and a few more frustrating sessions with his report, he finally relented. In retrospect, I’m really glad that I gave him this time to think it over and to let the decision be his — forcing him to go through an evaluation process would likely have been counterproductive, damaging his self-esteem and undermining his growing sense of independence. Finding the right kind of professional support was an important part of the process, too.  Unfortunately, all experts are not created equal, and I had to invest a lot of time in finding someone who could affirm my son’s creative and intellectual strengths, and who could gain his trust by treating him with respect and without condescension.

During my search for professional help, I was excited to find an online tool that gave me a chance to “walk a mile” in my son’s shoes, or, as their web site says, to “experience firsthand how frustrating it is when your hand won’t write what your brain is telling it to.”  I asked my son to watch as I tried a few of the exercises, typing, fixing, re-typing, fixing again… the timer ran out every time before I could finish. I couldn’t believe it. How could anyone ever get anything done this way? When my son confirmed that the simulation was almost exactly what it’s like for him, my heart overflowed with compassion and admiration.  And then we cried together, but this time out of relief instead of frustration.

So, as we begin this next part of the learning journey together and I reflect on our experiences thus far, I’m grateful that I allowed the extra time for my son to come to his own decision, and for me to find the best learning specialist for our needs.  Now that we have a better understanding of how his brain is wired, and why particular activities are harder for him, his whole demeanor has changed. He’s feeling empowered and optimistic, even though we’re still too early in the process to have seen much in the way of results yet. Sometimes just knowing that there’s a path forward, and having someone who is willing to walk it with you, makes traveling even the most challenging of terrain much more bearable.


Thanks for stopping by today! If you enjoyed reading this article, you can find more on this topic here.

Homeschooling with College in Mind

For many families who are homeschooling their kids through high school, the decision to pursue this path was made with a fair amount of hand wringing.  Most of us spent a significant amount of time researching information online, talking to other parents, and generally imagining every potential problem and worst-case scenario before deciding to take the leap (or not). “How can I make sure my son will learn everything he needs to?” “Will my daughter miss out on typical ‘rights of passage’ like prom?” And most of all, “What if she wants to go to college?”

For those of us who do decide to take the leap, we find out pretty quickly that there really isn’t much to fear – there are so many educational resources and social opportunities available, the real problem we face is the feeling of being overwhelmed as we go through the selection process. And the same holds true for college admissions for homeschoolers – not much to fear there, either. Success stories abound as parents of homeschooled kids who are already in college share their strategies and recommendations with those of us who aren’t quite there yet.

In all honesty, though, I’m still worried…

The responsibility of guiding my sons through childhood and into their first years of young adulthood weighs heavily on me. Both of my boys are already planning to go to college, and I don’t want them to just attend whichever “homeschool friendly” college will accept them. That feels too limiting. Instead, I want them to start with their goals, to consider all the possibilities, to choose a college based on the combination of factors makes a school the “best fit” for them academically, socially, and geographically. As homeschoolers, this means that if some of the colleges they target are not considered “homeschool friendly”, they will likely have to work harder than traditional students to prove to admissions officers that they’re academically prepared and capable.

So, what can I do to help them? And what can I do to help other homeschoolers, too?

These are the questions that propelled me to conduct a national research project, “From Home Education to Higher Education”, that I wrote about in more detail here. If you’ve read this blog before, you know that this research lead to a couple of articles here and here, and ultimately to a book, which will be published and available this summer. (Yes, I’m smiling ear-to-ear as I write this – I’m so excited!) What’s more, the interviews I conducted with admissions officers as I was researching my book lead to another idea and project: The Uncommon Applicant.

It all started quite unexpectedly. I was focused on interviewing college admissions officers with the goal of uncovering insights and recommendations I could share with people in my book, but I really ended up discovering so much more. Specifically, toward the end of many of the interviews, I kept hearing some version of the question, “Where can I find more homeschoolers?” Finally, a light bulb went on for me: not only are homeschoolers looking for more information about schools they are interested in, but admissions officers are also looking for more ways to connect with us, too! So, this is great news, but it also presents another issue:

As homeschoolers, how can we find out about schools that may be a perfect fit for our child’s educational and professional interests and goals, that are very interested in recruiting homeschoolers, that we may not be aware of?

As homeschooling parents, many of us are already really busy. With so many colleges and universities offering so many different types of programs, and with constantly-changing and sometimes hard-to-find admissions criteria, how can we cast a wide net and be sure we’re helping our students find the schools that may be the best fit for them? I realized that admissions officers and homeschooling families need a dedicated place to meet, to get to know each other, and to share questions and answers. So, I decided to create one.

The Uncommon Applicant will be a virtual college fair for non-traditional students like homeschoolers. It will be a place where colleges and universities who are interested in our students can set up virtual career booths, describing their programs, admissions criteria, and financial aid information that are of interest to non-traditional students like ours. Membership will be free to students and parents, who will be able to research and contact schools any time they want.

While this sounded like a great idea to me as I help prepare my boys for life after high school, I wanted to make sure that other homeschoolers were interested, too. It turns out, they are! Within just a few days of posting some basic information, we have over 100 homeschoolers who have already signed up for their free membership – and our web site isn’t even live yet.

So, for the next couple of months I’ll be hard at work getting everything set up so we can officially launch this summer. In the meantime, if you or someone you know has started their college planning and could benefit from a virtual career fair, you can learn more through the link below. As an added bonus, I created “5 College Application Tips for Homeschoolers” that all new members get for free.

Stay tuned for more information on our growing community, as well as the official launch of my new book!


BIG Day Today!

logo-imagesThis is a BIG day! I’ve been working for several months on a new service, and I’m announcing it today.
You may remember that I was asking homeschoolers lots of questions about their college admissions plans and concerns a few months ago. As part of some research I was doing for my book (due out this Fall!), I interviewed college admissions officers about homeschooled applicants, and one of the questions I heard again and again from them was this:
Where can I find more homeschoolers?
So, I looked into it. And I asked lots of homeschoolers where they prefer to be “found”. It turns out that there aren’t that many places, so I decided to create one:  THE UNCOMMON APPLICANT.
Development of the full web site is under way, and should be ready to launch this Spring. However, you don’t have to wait! You can be one of the first to meet college admissions officers who are interested in you by signing up for a free membership today. As a “thank you”, you’ll get a free download of our first report:
“Five College Application Tips for Homeschoolers”
All you need to do is head over to this link, where you can read a little more about The Uncommon Applicant, and sign up for your free membership and report:

See you there! (And feel free to share the link with others who may be interested.)

Homeschooling Through Chronic Illness


I was talking to a new homeschooling mom a couple of weeks ago, helping her work through that “What have I done?!” feeling that so many of us homeschoolers have when we first take the leap. I reassured her that almost all  homeschooling parents have experienced that “I just jumped off the cliff” kind of panic, especially at the beginning, and I also told her what I tell everyone who asks me about my choice to pull my kids out of school: It’s the best decision my husband and I ever made.

That’s not an overstatement. My boys are so much happier than they were before, and are truly thriving in a way that I’m certain they wouldn’t be if we’d kept them in traditional school. Other people notice and comment on it, too, even before they know that we’re homeschoolers. I regularly have new acquaintances, or neighbors I barely know, tell me about an interesting discussion they had with one of my boys, remarking on how well they hold a conversation, or how thoughtful and engaging they are. And it’s not just my kids — other homeschooling parents I know have similar stories. I honestly think this is one of the most underrated benefits of homeschooling – kids get to be who they are, and get to relate to other people as they are, without any of the power dynamics and judgments that so many kids experience with adults when they’re in school.

So, I’m a big fan of homeschooling, and will enthusiastically talk to anyone who’s interested about the benefits of this lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. In fact, some days it’s really, really hard. And truth be told, there have been several occasions when I seriously considered sending the boys back to school.

You see, along with the normal responsibilities and challenges that come along with being a homeschooling parent, a few years ago another issue was added to the list: I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. This condition makes me feel like I have a bad flu for days, sometimes weeks, at a time, and when my symptoms are at their worst I run a high fever, my joints ache so much I can barely move, I pass out when I take a shower or stand up for too long, and food… well, even the idea of food makes me nauseous. On these days, helping my older son work through algebra problems, or teaching my younger son how to diagram sentences, are tasks that are nowhere close to doable. In fact, simple conversation is barely possible because I’m totally exhausted and easily annoyed. It’s during these times when the normal challenges of interacting with and guiding two highly-sensitive and energetic boys entirely overwhelm me and make me want to throw in the towel.

I adore my boys, and most days I welcome their higher-than-average levels of emotion and desire for interaction. The difficult part of having highly sensitive kids, however, is that their emotional antennas are so attuned – they  pick up on everything, and their highly-active imaginations envision every worst-case scenario. They just need so much reassurance, interaction, and physical touch, it can be exhausting even when my batteries are fully charged. So, on the days when I’m feeling terrible, there’s no missing the worry on their faces the tremble in their voices, and I do my best to put on a happy face (or the happiest one I can muster) and spend precious energy soothing them and trying to calm their fears, insisting again and again that I’m okay, when all I really want to do is yell, “Go away!”

But I can’t, because that would devastate them.

Adding to the difficulty is that I can’t take them to regular music lessons or sports practices — driving is not an option. This means that we’re sometimes stuck in the house together for days at a time, me laying on the couch or in bed feeling like a rusted out old clunker ready for the junk yard, them with minds like race cars revving, ready to go. It’s not a good dynamic.

As the boys have gotten older, though, and as I’ve become more adept at managing my condition, we’ve learned to surf through these difficult days a little more smoothly. We keep our schedule as flexible as possible, not getting too caught up in deadlines or plans we can’t adjust if necessary. They’ve become more independent in some of their work, and focus on the things they can do without my help when they need to. And it’s important to note that there have also been some “up sides” – they’ve learned how to do lots of household chores like cooking dinner, washing dishes, doing laundry, and taking care of the dogs (our version of home economics, I guess).

So, when I’m talking to people about our homeschooling experiences, I’m still honestly able to say that it’s the best decision we ever made. I make sure to let them know that there will be tough days, too, though, and there will definitely be times of doubt, significant doubt, even if they’re not dealing with a chronic illness. Everyone gets the flu or a bad cold sometimes, and there will undoubtedly be other family events that will disrupt things, so it’s okay to just “surf” during these times. You can trust that you’ll get back to a normal routine eventually and, if you’re lucky, maybe your teenager will even be able to bring you dinner!


If you enjoyed this article, check out more on the same topic at this month’s

GHF Blog Hop.




On Goals and Purpose



One of the great benefits of being a writer and a homeschooling mom is that I have a lot of control over our family’s schedule. This means the boys and I get to take a bunch of time off around the holidays every year to enjoy some time together while we recharge our batteries and prepare for the year to come. And, as we headed back to work and back to school a couple of weeks ago, we decided it would be a good idea to spend some time thinking and talking about our goals and plans for 2017.

It turns out that Hunter S. Thompson was able to provide some helpful ideas that guided us through our discussions. Early in January I re-read the widely-shared letter that he wrote to his friend, Hume Logan, in 1958, and found that Thompson’s wise advice about choosing goals that “conform to the individual” rather than making “the individual conform to the goal” was a useful guidepost, one I thought would be especially relevant for my high schooler. With college (probably) on the horizon for him within the next few years, I’ve noticed that it’s easy to get caught up in the same sort of high-stress planning and goal setting that traditional high school students face when thinking about college: Which classes? How many science labs? How many AP classes? SAT or ACT? What type of extra-curriculars? The hoops are many, and these questions swirl and swirl each time we consider and reconsider, each time getting lost in trying to “conform to the goal.”

Here’s the thing about my family, though: we don’t like to conform.

We have tried, many times, relearning each time that trying to meet others’ expectations makes us stressed and unhappy. And yet, as my boys’ primary teacher and (now) college advisor, I still unexpectedly fall into the trap of trying to follow a narrow set of standard timelines, courses, sequences, and testing schedules, all with the hope that people we don’t even know will someday approve of and validate my boys and their accomplishments, allowing them to pass through to the next set of hoops. But here’s the problem with this kind of thinking: it emphasizes the ideas that what others think is more important than being self-reliant and exercising your own judgment, that being “good” and following all the rules is more important than being independent and authentic. Most of all, it sends the message that personal goals should come from some external source rather than from your own understanding of your unique set of abilities, desires, and goals.

In our culture, it’s easy to grow up believing that there are certain standards we need to measure up to if we want to prove that we are “worthy” or “valuable”, whether these are grades, test scores, athletic accomplishments, acceptance to prestigious universities… the list goes on and on. These standards usually prioritize certain types of intelligence (logical, linguistic, and physical) and ignore other types (artistic, intrapersonal, and existential). As a result, our individual values tend to be based on these external standards, and we get caught in a narrow definition of what success looks like, often at the expense of ignoring what is inherently and authentically true and valuable within each of us, what Thomas Merton would call the “secret beauty of their hearts.” It’s heartbreaking, really. How many people today, right this moment, are suffering because they chose a path that was deemed “acceptable”? How many will never find their true purpose?

If I were to write a job description for myself, at the top of the list of responsibilities would be this: helping my boys recognize and express their “secret beauty” by identifying their particular abilities and desires, all while being guided by compassion, curiosity, and a search for meaning (instead of approval).  Or maybe, more simply and as Hunter S. advised, encouraging them not to “dedicate their lives to reach a pre-defined goal”, but rather to “choose a way of life they know they will enjoy”.  But this leads to an important question:  Am I qualified to do this job?

As the product of twelve years of public education, plus six more years of higher education beyond that, maybe not. It certainly isn’t easy for me. Checklists and schedules, indeed all things measurable, make sense to me, and I find that going back to them when I’m feeling uncertain helps relieve the anxiety that comes with navigating ambiguity (which I’ve written about here). However, when I’m able to remind myself that I’m trying to give my boys a compass, not a map, my job becomes clearer. And, at the very least, I’m willing to be a student right along with them since these are lessons that I’m learning and trying to apply in my own life, too. So, my primary qualification might be that I’ve made the mistake of “conforming to the goal” (and have written about here), and trust that there’s a better way.

As for the specifics of our plans and goals for 2017, I’ll share more about those in an upcoming post, along with some other guideposts we’re using to help us navigate through this year. And a bonus — I’ve finished the final edits on my book about college admissions for homeschoolers, so look for more information on publication dates, plus some excerpts, coming soon!


“Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.

The goal is absolutely secondary; it is the functioning toward the goal which is important.”

-Hunter S. Thompson



Education Revolution Podcast PhotoIf you’re like me, the turmoil this week resulting from the recent presidential election has been a little more than distracting. It’s taken me a couple of days, but I’m ready get back to work trying to make a difference for future generations.

So, the timing of the launch of the new Education Revolution Podcast is perfect, and I’m honored to have been one of the first to be interviewed by Jerry Mintz, Executive Director of the Alternative Education Resource Organization.

This first episode includes some insights provided by the Dean of Admissions at Marlboro College, an inside peak at a democratic school from its new principal, and me sharing my top three recommendations for homeschoolers and other non-traditional students who are applying to college.

Here’s the introduction and links to the podcast. Let me know what you think!

Welcome to the first episode of the education revolution podcast. In this episode, Jerry interviews three experts on college admissions about the admission process for alternative students and talks with them about how those students do in college.

You can listen to the podcast here, or subscribe on soundcloud here.

The Podcast can also be found on iTunes, and since most podcast apps pull from the iTunes database most of the popular podcast apps on Android and ios such as Podcast Addict (Android), Pocket Casts (both), and Overcast (ios) will have it. Just search “Education Revolution” and it should pop up. This will allow you to download and take episodes with you wherever you go.

College Admissions for Homeschoolers: Three More Inevitable Questions

Photo Credit: CollegeDegrees360/CC BY 2.0

“Being homeschooled isn’t enough to make you interesting anymore.”

This is what one college admissions officer shared with me during a recent phone interview, an interview I’d requested as part of my research for my first book about college admissions for homeschoolers. It certainly wasn’t a perspective I had expected to hear, but as a homeschooling mom of two boys (one of whom will likely be applying to college in a couple of years), it’s an insight into the college admissions process that I’m happy to know about…  Read More

(From my recent article published by The Gifted Homeschoolers Forum)

Searching for Shakespeare

youdo-you-2Of all the challenges we face in life, finding our community, our “tribe” is one of the most universal and complicated. This has been a particular problem for me through the years, especially when I was younger and my family moved a lot. It’s been an issue for both of my boys, too, in spite of the fact that we’ve lived in the same town since they were quite young. And even when they were still in public school, finding friends that they really clicked with was always hard. As a mom who wants all good things for her kids, I’ve been somewhat distressed about my sons’ lack of friendships for quite some time, but I finally figured out a solution.

I decided it isn’t a problem.

I know – this goes against the common wisdom that kids need to spend much of their time with other kids and to have lots of friends their own age. We’re used to being uncommon, though. As secular homeschoolers we’re already a minority within a minority, and if you factor in that my boys are not like most other boys, especially my younger son with his emotional and intellectual intensity, not to mention his tendencies toward introversion, the pool of kids who are wired like him is pretty small. In other words, the likelihood that he’s going to find other kids his age who want to sip some tea (ginger peach, please) and discuss Hannibal’s strategic errors during the Punic Wars, or the imagery of Hamlet, is so unlikely, we’ve stopped “searching for Shakespeare”.

To be clear, he does spend time with other kids – he sings and plays guitar in a band, and is heavily involved in the local children’s theater community. It’s just that the other boys he meets are more into heavy metal than opera, and prefer to talk Minecraft over Rumi. So, his connections with them are pleasant and friendly, based on a shared interest, but they’re not what you’d call real friendships. Last year he decided he wanted to try to be better friends with some of the other boys in his theater group, and he started spending more time playing Minecraft so he would have something to talk to them about. It didn’t work. For him it was like wearing a coat that just didn’t fit, and he came home exhausted and discouraged. That’s about the time my husband and I began telling him, “You do you.”

I’m not sure where “You do you” came from, but it certainly sounds like something Shakespeare might have said, doesn’t it? It’s become a kind of mantra in our house now, too – my husband and I say it regularly to both of our boys as we remind them not to spend time trying be like everyone else; we want them to focus on figuring out who they authentically are and what they genuinely love, even if this means they might not fit in. In our opinion, as long as our boys are doing this, there really is no problem.

This isn’t to say that community isn’t important, though. We all need a place to belong, a place where we can be heard, understood, and engage in conversations about Hannibal or Rumi, or whatever our interests are. So, if any of this sounds familiar, if your kids are struggling to find their intellectual peers, too, let me share a few strategies that seem to be working for us: reframing the goal, letting go of the rules, and casting a wider net.

In an era where more “likes” and more Facebook friends are at the top of most people’s list of goals, it’s important to remember that quality trumps quantity. One genuine connection still counts as community, so finding someone who shares our particular intellectual passion is the primary goal for members of our family. And these connections don’t have to be with people of the same age, either. That’s a rule we’ve decided to let go of. My sons’ intellectual peers are often adults, usually family members like aunts, uncles, and grandparents, but sometimes tutors or family friends as well. As they develop and their interests change, my job is to cast a wider net to find others who share their passions and can help continue to engage and challenge them intellectually. We’ve already reached this point with my fifteen-year-old son, who loves building things. We talked the local maker space into letting him become a member even though he’s well below their minimum age, and found a community of wooden boat builders who have embraced him thoroughly. I would guess the average age of the people he’s spending time with at the workshop is at least mid-60s, but that has hardly mattered at all to him, or to them.

I’ll confess that there are often times when one or both of my boys are alone with their interests, and these are the times my husband and I try to fill the gap as much as possible with lots of listening, thoughtful questioning, and encouragement. The good news is that these times often involve lots of tea drinking, interesting field trips, and watching of TED talks. I now know more than I ever could have imagined about war elephants crossing the Alps, and have renewed my acquaintance with Rumi. So, not only isn’t it a problem, it has turned out to be a joy.


This post is part of a GHF blog hop. If you liked this topic, you can find related posts here:




Coming Out of Hibernation

fall-kidsFall is in the air here in Oregon, reminding me that it’s time to come back online and resume a more normal schedule. School buses are once again motoring around the neighborhoods, the first leaves are starting to fall, and the night air is crisp and filled with the smell of wood smoke. It’s been a busy, interesting, unusual summer, one that I’m sad to see end in spite of my excitement about what the next few months hold. I’ve had a kind of hibernation period for the past few months, allowing me time to withdraw from the world temporarily and work on a new and somewhat scary project… my first book!

For those who have followed me for a while, you already know that over the past couple of years one of my main focuses has been researching and writing about college admissions for homeschoolers. As a former university program director and admissions committee member, and now a homeschooling mom of two boys, this focus is a natural marriage of my two great passions: kids and education. After writing a series of articles on this topic last year, a publisher approached me and asked if I would be interested in writing a book about college admissions for homeschoolers, and there was no way I could say no! So, with a November deadline for submitting my first draft, I’ve spent much of the summer in front of my computer in a continuous cycle of researching, writing, and editing.

The good news is, I’m almost done! The even-better news is, I’ve had a fabulous time and have learned so much that I just can’t wait to share with you. So, I’m going to begin sharing bits and pieces of advice, insights, and just generally cool information over the next few weeks — stay tuned! The first article I’ll be sharing is about the top questions admissions officers ask themselves when reviewing a homeschooler’s application, and I think you might be surprised about at least one or two of them.

But first, a question…

As part of my book research, I’ve been asking college admissions officers about their schools’ policies and procedures for homeschooled applicants. At the end of the interviews, I ask, “What would YOU like to know about? What would help you do your job better/more easily?” Again and again admissions officers are asking:

“Where can I find more homeschoolers? How can I connect with them?”

So, I thought I’d send this question out to you home educators, college counselors, and admissions officers alike:

What is the best way for colleges who are very interested in homeschooled students to connect with us? Some online location? A homeschooling conference? Other?

Please share your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, insights — anything that can help us strengthen this bridge between our students and the colleges and universities who welcome them.  This will likely be the topic for a future article, so anything you share will help benefit others!

Happy Fall!!

Coming of Age: Helping Teens Unlock Their Potential

Sam WeldingAmidst all of the joys and rewards of homeschooling older kids, there are some challenges, too, one of which has been at the forefront for my family lately. No, it’s not higher math and science that we’re struggling with, nor is it teenage angst and mood swings, either. For these we have found classes or tutors, read books, or sympathized with other parents. This particular challenge exists solely, and squarely, in that time-limited space where teens attempt to merge with the adult world.

This challenge is lack of opportunity.

For over a year now my fourteen-year-old son, Sam, has been wanting to spread his wings – he wants to build things, he wants to earn money, he wants to be useful. He wants these things so badly, he’s been like a tiger in a cage, pacing and anxious and, yes, even depressed sometimes. But where are opportunities like this available to a boy his age? He can’t legally work, and he doesn’t have the knowledge or skills he needs to design and build the things he envisions making (he outgrew Legos and got bored with models years ago). He wants to do real things, not kid things, and this is the problem — most adults expect kids his age to be in school all day and, even worse, assume these young adults are incapable of providing much value when they do have free time.

As my husband and I have been wrestling with this issue, I was beginning to think that somehow we were missing something. What are other teens doing? Are we the only ones with a child who wants real experiences?

So, it was with great relief, and more than a few enthusiastic shouts of “Yes!”, that I recently read Marie Goodwin’s post, “A Peculiar Problem of Homeschooling Teens”. She describes this situation (and some of its causes) perfectly, calling this the “mentor seeking” phase, when a young person “begins to find focus in their understanding of the world, is seeking a higher purpose to learning, and is no longer interested in play-based activities. They actively wish to find mentors outside the family for their particular learning aspirations.” Perfectly described. Mentoring, apprenticeships, and jobs – these are what developing adults, and not just the homeschooled ones, truly want and need.

Before compulsory schooling, it used to be that boys the ages of both of my sons (12 and 14) would apprentice with a master of a trade, learning the skills and gaining the knowledge they would need as an adult. Girls would also spend more time with the women in their family, learning the domestic skills they would need to manage families and houses of their own. While this model of gender separation is certainly outdated, the apprentice model is one we need to consider resurrecting. Learning while spending time with adults is a natural way to learn and grow – it’s how children have mostly been raised for thousands of years.

And yet…

For some reason we’ve decided that a system that locks our young adults away every day is the best model. Even among those of us who have rejected this form of education, many of us still assume that standard curriculum and kids’ activities should be enough until college or adulthood. What so many of us fail to understand is that our teens need more, that much of the angst and rebellion assumed to be natural and unavoidable part of adolescence is not just hormones – it’s the result of limited freedom, of underestimated potential, of separation from what’s meaningful and important in the world.

We can do better.

While I see some hopeful signs that more internships and apprenticeships are becoming available for teenagers (there are one or two small programs in my city), for my sons I’m realizing that my focus will need to shift from directly facilitating their learning to facilitating connections and opportunities. And I’m happy to report that we’ve had some successes. Both of my sons love music and have found a community, comprised of both adults and kids, at our local School of Rock. Their music teachers are really more like coaches, and they set high expectations for the boys (which they’re happy to rise to!) Also, there’s a fairly new maker space in our city that is almost exclusively for adults, but with some discussions and an interview, they agreed to make an exception for my fourteen-year-old. He’s been learning to cut and weld metal there, and will be taking a wood working class next week. Finally, we also found a programming tutor who’s just the right combination of instructor and mentor.

I know there are other families out there who are also struggling with this issue, even if they haven’t realized that this is the issue yet. If yours is one of them, I encourage you to seek out and develop options for your kids. And don’t be afraid to be creative. Just because a special program or position doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to create an opportunity. Sure, you can expect to be met with some confusion and resistance, and you’ll certainly need to do some explaining, but it will be truly worth it knowing that you’re not only supporting the growth and development of your child, but you’re also planting seeds of opportunity for others, too.