Homeschooling the Teen Years – Be Prepared for Changes

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Recently I was reflecting on my twins and their homeschooling journey, and as I was thinking about the last few years, I was somewhat surprised at how much they have changed. I thought about how at thirteen my son was the astronomy/math guy who spent hours studying these topics and spent his first big summer camp studying astronomy in the mountains of Arizona. I thought about my daughter who was in a school of the arts for classical voice and was spending hours a day practicing singing and was entering national voice competitions. I remember looking at these two and thinking about how great it was that they had already figured out their future and that they were on the right path for these futures.

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And then the twins started to grow up. They started dealing with puberty, hormones, and other issues which changed them. They began exploring different areas of interest (as all teens should) and began questioning who they are and what they want out of life. The twins began that long journey from young teenhood to adulthood (a journey they are still on) and everything that I thought was planned out and in stone changed. Their interests, passions, challenges, and strengths altered. Their college plans began to look different. Their future I envisioned suddenly started to become hard to imagine, and I realized that their future was not something we could predict or see.

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This hazy future, one that I cannot know, is not a bad thing. It is a joy to see the twins grow and change. It is exciting to think that their future is their own and it is an unknown. It is wonderful to know that they have been given time to explore their many interests through homeschool and that they can continue to grow and change for many years to come.

I write this post as a reminder to my future self (as I will be going through this same journey soon with my youngest son) and to other homeschooling parents. It is so easy for us to craft our child’s education to their interests and passions because we do homeschool. It is exciting to know that we are able to give our children opportunities that their peers may not have in traditional schools. The ability to be able to create their path and to be able to work on just one interest is a very attractive option but sometimes it does get in the way of a person’s growth. Remember this as you go through the teen years. Be flexible, allow your child to explore freely, and be supportive. They will get where they are going in the end even if the journey does not look the way we imagined.

The Norton Simon Museum – Pasadena, Ca

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The kids and I spent the some time recently at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. This is a wonderful, smaller museum that has many great works of art to see. It is also incredibly affordable for families as all children under 18 get in free every day. Adults pay $12.00 each, seniors are $9.00 each, and parking is free.

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The permanent collection at the museum includes an impressive collection of Impressionist pieces by such artists as Degas, Monet, and Renoir works of art that younger children will most likely recognize and enjoy seeing. There is also art work by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Picasso, and many others.

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When we visited there was two special exhibitions which we were excited to have the chance to see. The first was A Revolution of the Palette: The First Synthetic Blues and their Impact on French Artists and my youngest was especially taken with this exhibit because of his interest in color. Here is a short podcast on the exhibit for anyone interested in it.

The other temporary exhibit was Fragonard’s Enterprise: The Artist and the Literature of TravelJean-Honoré Fragonard  toured through Italy with his first patron and was tasked with making copies of the art work they visited. Fragonard did this through sketching, and these impressive sketches were on display. The twins were most interested in this exhibit and spent a good deal of time studying them all.

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Here is the podcast on this exhibit:

At the end of this exhibit the museum had a place where visitors could sit and sketch pieces of art. This was a great idea that my kids loved. The museum provided paper, pencils, and clipboards to work on. The kids spent a very long time working on their art. How nice it is to just sit, study a piece of work, and draw what you see. It was very calming and reminded me that we need to do this more often.

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When you finish sketching you can keep your work or hang it up for others to see. Autry decided to hang her’s up while the boys both wanted to keep theirs.

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After exploring inside the museum we went to the sculpture garden outside. Due to the heat we did not stay long. Hopefully we will get back soon to explore it some more as it was very beautiful. We also need to come back to view all the other art we missed including a very impressive asian art collection.

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So if you are in the Los Angeles area and you want to visit an affordable museum then I highly recommend the Norton Simon. It surpassed our expectations and was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

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The Great Travel Plan

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Getting some inspiration from a Rick Steve guidebook.

When I first started homeschooling I had a rough plan of what the teenage years would look like. It’s funny to think about that because when you are a young parent, and you think about the teenage years, you really have no idea what it is going to be like. I did however have one goal for the late teen years that I still have today and that is to travel with the kids extensively. I wanted them to experience the world and to build up some memories with them before they leave home.

I have tried to implement this plan numerous times over the past few years, but I haven’t been successful. There are many reasons for this, but the primary reason was that we needed to stay where we were for health reasons. This is something I did not plan for when my kids were young, but it was something that we had to deal with. Today though we are finally in a place where we can leave our area, pack up everything, and start transitioning to a nomadic lifestyle.

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We have started the overwhelming process of packing up our belongings.

What does this transition look like? First we are boxing up all our belongings and putting much of it in storage. This is a huge job and sometimes, as I am filling box after box, I do question whether this is the right choice. At the end of the day I always feel that it is and so I awake the next day and carry on with the filling of boxes. We are hoping to be done with this stage around the end of August, and then we will be moving out of our apartment and the city we have lived in for most of my children’s childhood.

Where are we going? Well we definitely need a place to live while we save up money and plan our adventures. Luckily for us that the grandparents live in a big house with lots of extra room. It works out nicely because we will have our own space separate from everyone else which is a must for everyone’s sanity. Also they live up in the mountains in a wonderfully peaceful setting which is good for us.

So what comes next? First off we have to save some money. Being a single parent family means we live on a very tight budget. Moving out of our apartment frees up a large chunk of money that we will now be able to save. Our end goal is getting to Europe and that is costly, so it is necessary to save up for a while. The kids also have online classes they are tied to, so we can’t just immediately go trouncing around the world.

In the meantime we are doing two things. We are planning many little trips to take. California and America are great places to explore, so we are going to do just that. Also the kids and I are planning our European trip which is fun and exciting. My youngest is very involved in this process due to the fact that he has more free time than the twins and because he has some anxiety about traveling. By giving him some of the planning responsibility I am hoping to ease his anxiety. It is also a great long-term homeschooling project. He will be learning about finances and creating a budget, how to make an itinerary, and how to research along with a host of other skills.

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The boy reading Paris for Kids in hopes of getting some ideas.

Our Great Travel Plan, as I like to call it, will take time. Time to save up money and time to plan properly. It is not something we thought to do on the spur of the moment, nor is it a plan that we are naively entering.  I have been thinking about doing this since the twins were babies, waiting for the right moment in our lives to implement it. It is exciting and scary, but I am so thankful that we have the kind of lifestyle that allows this. The kids are not tied to any school because we homeschool, and I have an opportunity to provide them with one last adventure as a family before they go off and begin their lives. This is the time, this is the moment. The Great Travel Plan has begun.

Twice Exceptional Students and Homeschooling

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Someone asked me the other day about home schooling a 2E kid. What does it look like, how do your days flow, what kind of work does your child do? I shared with them what homeschooling looks like at my house with my youngest, and I thought I would share here too for anyone wanting to learn more about homeschooling these very unique kids.

First off, let me say that this is only one view of homeschooling the twice exceptional. There are many other ways to do it, and what works for one family will not always work for another. Also children and teenagers who are identified as twice exceptional vary in so many ways and struggle with different disabilities that techniques and routines that I use may not work for other families. Having said that I will share what works for us. At our house the key to homeschooling a 2E kid is flexibility, compassion, following passions (whatever they may be), and having support.

Flexibility – Flexibility is key to a smooth homeschooling journey for a 2E student. You need to be flexible in your routine, flexible with your curriculum choices, and flexible with your approach. What works one year may not work the next. What is scheduled in a curriculum may not be the schedule you follow. What you have planned for the day may not be what you get done. If you start your journey with flexibility in mind then you are able to bend easier without getting frustrated and overwhelmed. Changing your expectations goes hand in hand with this. Don’t expect school to look like the perfect vision you have in your mind, don’t expect it to look like other homeschooler’s school, and don’t expect it to look like a sibling’s school. It will be different than others, different from day to day, different than what is planned. And that is ok, and it is normal when schooling a twice-exceptional student. In our homeschool we may go weeks with the same schedule, and then hit a brick wall and need to take a break and reassess. Flexibility is the key to getting through times like this.

Compassion – Being a twice exceptional student can be hard. Some subjects come so easy to them, while other subjects are a constant struggle in frustration. These students may be working on work that is many years ahead of them and then they may struggle with work that is many years below them. My student’s strengths lie in writing, art, animation, and game making. He struggles with math. It is painful for him (and me!) to work through a math lesson that we have covered many times before, but that he still struggles with.  Compassion is the key to dealing with this frustration, this struggle. And compassion should be shown not just to the student, but towards yourself.

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Italian Scooby Doo books – One of my son’s passions that have lead to many interesting educational activities.

Passions – Twice exceptional children are going to have passions, and most of these kids will feel very strongly about what it is they love. I have found that discovering your student’s interests and supporting these pursuits should be an important part of your homeschool. While you may feel drawn to the idea of your homeschool reflecting a traditional school in the subjects you need to teach and the skills your student needs to learn, it would probably be helpful if you leave that idea behind. Instead balance the skills and subjects that you believe are essential to your child’s education with the areas your child wants to study. For 2E kids passions often lead to work that is very meaningful and spending time on these pursuits will be rewarding to both of you. Our days consist of an hour or so of essential school work that I want to get done, and the rest of the time is his own in which he works on what he feels is important. In our house that means writing for hours a day, working on animation projects, reading books of his choice. For other kids it means working on math for hours a day or on a specific science project. Passions will vary from student to student but having time for them will benefit them all.

Support – Homeschool a 2E kid is very rewarding, but it is also frustrating and demanding at times. Give yourself a pat on the back, on hard days allow yourself to put the work away and call it a day, and if you are ever feeling overwhelmed talk to friends, call on a relative, lean on a support group (whether in person or online). There will be days, weeks, or months were you struggle and you need some help. If you are really struggling don’t be afraid to see a professional whether it be your pediatrician, your neuropsych, or another person that can give you advice and/or a fresh perspective. Also if you think your child may have a learning disability please have them professionally assessed. Many times people in the homeschooling community can be weary of getting a professional opinion, but it really is helpful to have. Ask around the homeschool community if you want someone who is familiar with homeschooling and supports that choice, as it can make a difference. Either way, arm yourself with a support group for yourself and for your child.

Where to find help/support online –

The Well Trained Mind forums has a Learning Challenges board that is a great community of parents that support one another in regards to many issues facing 2E kids. I highly recommend starting there if you need some advice.

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum has a Twice-Exceptional section that is very helpful.

SEA Homeschoolers has many parents with 2E kids if you are looking for a general homeschooling support group.

Also I found a wonderful gifted/2E support group in my area with meetups and park days through Meetup. It was really great to meet families in person that struggled with some of the same issues, and it was wonderful to meet friends that understood my kids. I highly suggest looking for a group in your area, and if there is not one, consider starting your own.

Slow start, strong finish

This picture is from September 2009. It is one of the first pictures I ever uploaded onto TAD Town. It is a picture of my oldest working on his math which at the time was basic fractions. He was 10 years old and in fifth grade. In sixth grade he would complete pre-algebra, seventh algebra, eighth geometry, ninth algebra 2, and tenth pre-calculus. That is a good, strong math progression and yet in fifth he was just happily doing his fractions in chalk in our backyard.

Autry working in her sketchbook.

My daughter is working through several AP classes this year, and she is a very strong student especially in writing. We did not use a formal writing curriculum for years, and overall started very slow in this area. She would write what she wanted when she wanted. When she was younger this was mostly in the form of a journal entry or short stories that she would write. We worked on a few formal programs starting in seventh and eighth and completed Writing with Skill in ninth. By tenth she was writing numerous essays for her AP classes, and this year she is writing essays daily. She has become an extremely strong, creative, and capable writer who enjoys the process.

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My point with these two examples is to show that starting slow can work. I touched on this idea previously in this post, but I wanted to discuss it once more as I see more and more homeschooling parents scheduling massive amounts of work for their young children. It is my belief that this is not necessary at all, and in some ways I find it to be counterintuitive. If you have high goals for your child once they are in high school and college that does not mean you have to start worrying about those goals when they are elementary or middle school aged. This only creates stress for the parent and takes away from the joys of childhood and self discovery for the child.

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This is not to say that we did no formal schooling when they were younger because we did. What I am trying to convey is that one can be formal in their studies but do so in a very relaxed and informal way. Academics took no longer than two hours all through the elementary ages for my kids. Middle school became a little more intense, and the kids probably averaged about three hours a day on academics. We never did academics five days a week, and I always made sure they had plenty of free time to discover their own passions and to just be a kid. Whether they were playing outside for hours a day, listening to audiobooks for days on end, or messing around on their computer, the kids had plenty of free time to do what they wanted.

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Slow to start has been very successful for us. The twins now spend hours upon hours a day working because they want to. They have very specific goals that they want to attain, and they feel up to the challenge. They are not burned out from long school days and hours upon hours of school work from when they were younger. Nor have they missed out on any essential skills necessary for the work they do today. Instead they were able to learn these skills very quickly at an older age rather than trying to grasp them when they were younger and not prepared physically or emotionally.

Slow start, strong finish.

2015-16 School Plans for the 2E Boy – A Work In Progress

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I have always loved to spend the summer planning out our fall schedule. I would spend my days scouring the internet, looking at reviews, reading forums, and drooling over curriculum sites. It was always so much fun to try to get the perfect school year planned out.

Then my kids got older. The twins’ school is almost completely online, so there is not much for me to do there (although I am putting together a physics course for the coming year that has been a blast to plan). All that remains is my youngest who is a wildly creative, gifted student who is also twice exceptional. I have to take this into consideration when planning his school year.

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I have a few subjects planned that I am almost positive they will work for the year. For language arts he will be using Brave Writer primarily. We have been working with Brave Writer for years now, and it is the one curriculum I can count on to work with my youngest. The lessons are short, creative, and often open-ended. He learns copywork, dictation, writing skills, grammar skills, and vocabulary all while reading great books and working on creative writing projects. For my son it works, and because not much else does, we will stay with it. I also love the Brave Writer lifestyle which is a nice benefit since I am sure the boy will be using it right through high school.

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For math I have a few plans as he needs to be able to switch between programs when he gets stuck in one. And he will get stuck, or more likely bored, with a few throughout the year. Right now the boy is working through Prodigy which is an online adventure game with plenty of math built in. The boy has been working through it for a few weeks now, and it does not seem that his interest is waning yet. I will let him stay with it as long as he wants, but I also have plans for when he burns out. Right now that includes the next level of MathWorks which we used last year somewhat successfully. I also have some generic math workbooks for him to use when we need a change.

History and science are a little more tricky to plan for. The boy is not very fond of history, and I have had trouble finding him a curriculum or class that interests him. In the past we seem to have had the most luck with learning history through movies or documentaries or with online sources. For the coming year I actually have nothing planned as of yet. I am scourging online sites, bookstores, videos, and reviews. I am just not seeing anything he will be able to work with. For now I am leaving this blank and am hoping that before we start up for the year I have something.

For science what I need is short, interesting, and interactive lessons on a topic he enjoys. He would like to study animals  or birds or astronomy. I would like him to work through a complete middle school course from beginning to end if possible. Unfortunately we have not found anything that meets all of our needs yet. Hopefully I will have some sort of plan before our year starts.

He will also be starting German next year in an online class. His siblings have had the same teacher for the last two years, and the boy had one short class with him last winter. The teacher is very funny and the work is fun and low-key. Perfect for a kid who is somewhat shy and unsure of online classes. It will be nice for him to have a first experience with a teacher he is familiar with.

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One of the boy’s digital drawings. Drawing is a new passion of his.

Other subjects the boy will be working on next year include programming, animation, drawing, creative writing, voice acting, and composing. Most of this will be explored through self-study using online resources. For voice acting we are hoping to find a class in Los Angeles that would be fun for him. We may start back up with piano to help his composing skills.

In all honesty most of his time will probably be spent working on his passions, followed by his language arts and German. My goal is we will hit math everyday, although sometimes that is very hard for him. And I am hoping that we spend a couple days a week on science and history. We will see how it works out.

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If I have learned anything over the last few years it is never to expect any schedule to go smoothly with my 2E kid. I don’t mind though, actually I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our Homeschool Journey – Part 1

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The twins are about to turn sixteen, and my youngest will be twelve next week. It is crazy to think about how old we are all getting and also how long we have been homeschooling. There has been a few bumps along the way in this journey, but it is something that I would never change. Homeschooling has brought all of us closer and has created a family lifestyle that I appreciate so much. Homeschooling has also helped shape the kids, and I have to say that I love the young adults they have morphed into. Truly, homeschooling has been a blessing to us in almost every way.

Looking back on this adventure I am not sure I could have predicted where we would have ended up. Of course we are not done with this journey yet, but I still could not have imagined the place we are today all those many years ago. When we first started out on this path the twins were 4 and my youngest was a baby. The twins had spent a year in preschool and although it was a wonderful preschool, I knew it was not the place for my quirky kids. I had already decided I was going to homeschool when they were elementary age but our preschool experience pushed me to get started even sooner.

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The kids in our early days of homeschooling. Often they were outside playing or inside playing. In between all that playtime we did school. By nighttime they were all tuckered out, and I would have some down time just for me.

So how did we start and what did those first few years look like? I started with researching on the internet, and I stumbled upon a wonderful site called Tanglewood Education. This small site was run by a mom who was homeschooling her children, and she had put together a year 1 curriculum. I was intrigued by the year 1 package because there were no textbooks (especially no Abeka books that were constantly being recommended to me), and it seemed to be made up of mostly classic books that I would love to share with the kids. Little did I know that my kids would go crazy for the books. This was the start of our homeschool journey.

Actually, no…Although I do think that was the official start, our journey really started when they were toddlers. I had so many board books and picture books in our house, and the twins loved them. They would actually choose books over toys most of the time, and I found myself reading to them for hours a day. In addition to that they had outdoor time and free play time that consisted of Thomas the Train toys or Legos. The rest of our days were spent cooking, playing in the sand, and exploring the world. The twins were learning everyday when they were little, and it was a joyous process to experience.

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Some of the books that were in our Tanglewood package.

Then came our Tanglewood box in the mail and the joy of learning and the joy of homeschooling become known to all of us. In the box was Story of the World and First Language Lessons by Susan Wise Bauer, a few I Wonder Why science books, some beginner readers and a handful of classic books for the kids and I to read together. It was a small little box, there were no extras in there like you might find today in many curriculum sets. It was perfect for our first year though. A nice, gentle beginning to our homeschool journey which I am grateful for. The pace was set for us, the tone of our homeschool was established.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

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It’s that time of year when the school year is ending, and the kid’s birthdays are coming near. The time of year when I get all philosophical and introspective.

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I start looking at photos and reminiscing about the old days. The days that seem so fleeting, years that went by all too quick.

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Like all parents, I ask myself how did this happen? How is it possible that I now have a house full of teens? How is it possible that they all look so old?

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At the same time though I am looking forward. Looking to the future and all that it will bring. Kids in college, kids moving out of the home, more time for myself, maybe even a second career? And it is exciting to think about these things that will come and about all the memories we have yet to make.

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So I am allowing myself a few days of reflection which I often take at this time of year. A few days to be sad about time slipping by so fast and excited about time that has yet to come. I sit here and look forward while also looking back. It’s not a bad place to be.

Introducing SEA Homeschoolers – We’re Secular, Eclectic, Academic

And we would like you to come join us. Are you a Secular homeschooler looking for a place where you belong? Do you feel that academics are important, and that it is important to use different materials and approaches that match your child. Do you fall somewhere between an unschooler and a classical homeschooler? If so you may consider joining us over at Facebook. We are a group of homeschooling parents who have come together to support each other and our children.

We have only been up and running for a few weeks, but we already have over 450 members. The group is a very positive place to ask questions and get support. For more information on the group please see Blair Lee’s post here. If we sound like a good match, we would love to have you join us.

Also starting up now is our own teen book club. Does your teen enjoying reading? Would he or she like to be part of an online homeschool community? If so please consider joining SEA Homeschoolers. We are hoping to create a vibrant online community for our kids. A place were they can share their opinions and make life-long friends.

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Our first book will be Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick. If you would like more information on the book check out this review on Common Sense Media. For more info on the bookclub please send an email to seahomeschool@gmail.com. Click here to find us on Facebook.