Interest-Led Learning for Teenagers: An Interview with Me!

Some of the questions you asked were geared towards me rather than my teens so I thought I’d interview myself using those questions as a basis!

Describe how your school has changed over the past few years?

Well, a few years ago we started experimenting with unschooling.  Unschooling had always appealed, but attached to the concept of this is the idea of being completely hands off, unparenting if you like.  I read a few books and was slightly horrified by what I read.  Then I found Stories of an Unschooling Family.  This blog helped me to sort through my feeling towards unschooling.  One thing I read as part of Sue’s newsletter was the idea that interest-led learning was basically the same as unschooling.  A light bulb went off in my head that day.  We had been project based learning for a while, with each child choosing to study whatever they were interested in within the confounds of the historical period we were currently studying.  I could see interest led learning becoming an off shoot of that.

The teens and I began to chat about the future of their home school, and the direction they would like to take it in.  They jumped at the chance to have more autonomy and, apart from an hour a day with me and the littles for read aloud and a bit of history, the older ones are masters of their own day.

Has this been a welcome change?

Yes, very much so.  There is purpose to everything they do.  I am almost never required to remind, cajole or nag them to do their work.  As a family we have always had a timetable/routine/rhythm to our day and this has continued on the request of the children.  We try to have four sections in the morning which covers maths, morning meeting, their second subject (Thomas-Chemistry, Lillie-Art and Charlotte English Literature) and their third subject (currently Thomas- Chemistry again, Lillie and Charlotte English Language).  Next year we have again chosen three subjects, one of which will be maths, so their routine won’t change much.  We try to keep afternoons free for hobbies and exploration of interests not linked with exams, and their evenings are free for all the clubs they attend.  It feels like we have the right balance of academia, fun and working towards their futures.

You have individual conferences with your teens each week.  Are these helpful?

So helpful!  It is a time I can meet the needs of the individual child.  Thomas and I set very rigid goals for him to reach in terms of his exam subjects.  He rises well to the challenge.  We always go over what he has done the week before which gives him the all important accountability.  And he talks to me about anything he is concerned, worried or irritated about.

With Lillie I do not set such rigid goals.  She does not like the pressure this brings.  Instead we discuss her goals for the coming week and she can then go into the week knowing what she will be working on, without the pressure of specific goals.  She is always productive and so I am happy to be led by her preferences.

Charlotte is another matter all together.  As I have said before, she is my intelligent, deep thinker who sometimes finds life confusing and is often bewildered by the strength of her emotions and reactions to things.  In terms of her work, we rarely touch on it.  She is a naturally academic, hard worker and thoroughly enjoys all her learning.  One day in the future I will start to set her goals because I would really like her to finish some of the books she has begun, which if she never finishes any of them she will never realise her dream to become a published author.  Right now though, I am content to help her understand the world around her and chat about whatever it is she needs to talk about.

What are your long-term goals for their future?

Right from the very start of our home school journey I have wanted them to be masters of their own lives.  I want them to pursue their dreams with alacrity and happy enthusiasm; to confidently face the world and its obstacles knowing they have a safe place to come home to, a place they are loved and accepted for being just who there.

My goal for them is to live a rewarding and fulfilling life of their own choosing, and whatever path they choose to work hard and to work honestly.

What stops your teens just sitting around watching tv or being on their computers all day?

I do!  Yes, we don’t have a very unschooling approach when it comes to screen time.  It’s the area of parenting I feel the most like I’ve somehow failed the children.  And is probably the only area where I have failed to be strict enough on at the beginning (think phones) and decrease the rules as the children have got older.  Instead I have given them more freedom than they were able to cope with and I’ve had to pull back and decrease their freedoms.

We have made some big changes over the past six months and I am very happy with how things are right now.  Gary and I are much stricter on screen times and especially phone times.  The teens are much happier, less anxious and far, far more productive now the lure of the screens has been removed.

Are you happy with the choices they have made for their future?  What would you do if you disagreed with their choices?

I can’t imagine there is much I would disapprove of, to be honest.  For me, anything which would go against the essence of what the Bible teaches, such as crime or gross  immodesty (if you know what I mean), I would be most likely struggle to accept.

Also apathy would bother me.  I am a bit like Charlotte in that I care deeply about all the things I choose to have in my life.  I feel blessed to have children who are not in the least bit apathetic.  Their enthusiasm for life is contagious.  I would definitely start to worry if, for some reason, they stopped caring about their life.  Life is far too short for lethargic indifference.

That said, I have to admit to a slight concern when Thomas announced he wanted to enter the music business rather than engineering.  Engineering seemed such a safe choice compared with the notoriously difficult to get into music industry.  But, at the end of the day, I trust Thomas.  He is incredibly hard working, full of joy and is very serious about his future career.  If anyone can make it, he can.  I believe in him, and ultimately I would rather support that joy than diminish it with thoughts of the pessimistic persuasion.  It took me a while to get to this point, but now I am able to support him completely and, along with Gary, I am his biggest cheer leader.

If I found myself seriously disagreeing with the route a teen had chosen I would obviously voice my concerns.  I believe I have that right, but no more.  Apart from telling them how I felt I would consider it my problem, not their’s.  It is their life and I do not want to live it for them.  I am far happier being there for them if something goes wrong than insisting they do it my way and watching all the life sucked out of them, unhappy in their choice of career or unenthusiastic for what life has to offer.

Do you find parenting a teenager hard?  What specifically makes this age harder than previous ages?

I found parenting my three older ones very easy, and eminently more simple, when they were younger.  Once the hormones hit at about 11 my three gorgeous happy-go-lucky children turned into occasional monsters.  Thomas struggled for two years to control the aggression he felt towards all and sundry.  There were hours coming alongside him, talking with him, trying to figure out ways to help him control the testosterone which fueled his apparent anger.  By thirteen he was back to the gorgeous boy we all knew and loved.  We had survived it, and grown closer for it.  Thomas has no recollection at all of those 24 months.  He found them so hard I think he has maybe blocked it out of his mind.  These days he is an utter joy.

Lillie is a very emotionally stable young lady.  She struggles maybe for a couple of days a month and she knows exactly what helps – a bath, a book and a decent cuppa coffee 🙂  We give her leeway on those days and do not expect much work out of her.  The rest of the month she is a little angel 🙂

Charlotte has a very hard time with hormones and we are still working hard to help her to stabilise them.  The poor girl swings from high to low at least twice a month.  We can see the pattern but it still does not help much.  She is a very out-going teen but more and more we can see she has introvert tendencies, especially when she is feeling low.  In fact, being on her own helps her get her head together.  She is good at giving herself a good talking to when she is out walking on her own!  

What has helped most in combating the effects of hormones?

With Thomas we were firm but loving.  I did a whole heap of listening and talking with him during those two years.  He was often to be found lying on the floor by my computer talking as if his life depended on it.  Exercise was, and still is, a great hormone leveler, and I am certain spending some time away from home on his bike or skateboard alone was very helpful.  We did not ever let him stay in his room alone and sulking.  I remember my brother spending hours in his room, which he had painted black to reflect his mood, all alone.  I am certain it did him no good, and I was determined never to let that become the norm with Thomas.  The one thing he says now is that he is grateful we never lowered the bar of our expectations of him.  Habits are formed very quickly and by not allowing certain behaviours we were able to stop a habit in its infancy.

Lillie requires lots of love, tenderness and mollycoddling when she is struggling  🙂  Charlotte requires the same, alongside alot of conversation, crying, hugs, more crying and more hugs.  She hates feeling like she does and we are both grateful it is only for a few days a month, and very thankful she rebounds back fairly quickly to her normal vivacious self.  By cutting out sugar in my diet, I am hoping her sugar intake will decrease naturally, which I know is meant to help.  She has also started taking Oil of Evening Primrose each day.  My mum is a fabulous listener and she adores everything about Charlotte.  The relationship between the two of them is an extremely important one and I thank God we live so close to her that Charlotte can literally pop next door any time she needs Granny.

Throughout it all I remind myself, Gary and anyone else who will listen that relationship is over-and-above-everything the most important thing.  Rudeness, cruelty, bickering, yelling and slamming doors is absolutely not allowed, ever.  This doesn’t mean it never happens, it just never goes on without consequence.  Thankfully it is a rarity.  We always try to let everyone express their problems, needs and worries in a non-judgmental atmosphere, with the knowledge that our family’s motto is that ‘a compromise can always be found which meets everyone’s needs.’  This is important because it shows are teens we are willing to change things in order to help if necessary.

Is there anything you would change about your home school journey so far?

No.  I have enjoyed every minute of the privilege of homeschooling my children.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to be such a large part of their lives, and very happy that we are all so close.  I wouldn’t change a thing! 

7 comments

  1. I think the component we were missing most when I kept trying and failing to fall into a true unschooling mode of education with my boys was that my kids were very reluctant to take over the reigns. I still follow their interests whenever I can and see us leaning more towards unschooling in the teen years.

  2. Claire, thank you for mentioning my blog! I’ve been enjoying your interview series very much. I always love hearing children’s thoughts, ideas and opinions. They always have so many interesting things to say. I’m glad you interviewed yourself too!

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