structuring a thirteen year old’s academic education

Who is my thirteen year old?

She’s a funny one. In a sassy, irreverent, sometimes offending kind of way. Thanks for the treats, she says to me. So good to move to a different town so you can bribe me with food to make me feel better. She knows me well.

She is a quote collector. She has her bedroom wall plastered with her favourite lyrics and poems. Perhaps partly because this temporary home has 1970s paneling. But she also loves lyrics and quotes.

She’s a thinker. She wants to know why something is the way it is because she knows it, not because I told her so–no matter how many well-informed arguments I present her. She’s the kind of kid that when you tell her why, she has a few ready arguments why you are wrong. Sounds like a typical teenager, but I purport her teenagerishness has accentuated this trait. She’s always been an independent thinker.

You’ll tell me this is a great characteristic. And I know, I know, I follow your logic. But when she’s hell bent thinking a certain way, then even when I suggest that she follow her own path, be her own person, I will be met with, “But I want to be just like everyone else“. Then it’s not just the teenager’s eyes that are rolling any more.

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She’s confident, she’s bold, she’s determined. Not desiring our assistance in the meantime. She was a lead performer in a music school play last summer and didn’t welcome our assistance in practicing her lines. No thanks, she’ll do it herself. She had a lot of lines, and some of the words I wasn’t convinced she understood. When she had to play her General Grant role, guess what she did? Performed right on the mark. Sometimes even I wonder why God gave her parents–did she really need them? I’ve heard many times how people appreciate her leadership abilities, and her warm and confident ways. She’s a natural leader.

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She’s a performer. She’s recently been practicing for the role of Prospera in The Tempest. She’s eager to audition for a role in this summer’s Mary Poppins local offering. She’s been writing plays, building stage sets and choreographing since she was three. She had a day to practice for a narrator role in a Christmas play, and was flawless. She doesn’t like to publicly perform her renditions of Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran as she strums along on her guitar–but she’s strikingly pretty, unique with her own vocal lilt.

As you can imagine, she’s not a conventional learner. Not wanting to have anything prescribed. There was a point where I attempted radical unschooling, and it was her that I was primarily considering.  No more books, no more formal math, no writing assignments. It was in my days of discovering what an education really is, and what it isn’t, that I realized a conventional model really wouldn’t fit her.

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So how do we do it? With regular variation, listening and watching closely.

I let go of the unschooling math notion, because I didn’t want to skirt math literacy. If you want to buy things, you’ll have to learn math, and if she ever pursued post-secondary, she’d have a lot of catch-up to do, so I decided to persist with a sequential math program, Math-U-See. It has not been her source of amusement, but she’s gone from being a thoroughly disinterested practicer of math to a proficient, independent thinker. That took perseverance, persistence and patience–all the big three parenting Ps, for me and her.

She’d rather choose to read than perform experiments. It’s her favourite mode of learning, independent reading. She’s dabbled in forensic science, chemistry, and anatomy. Her most recent favourite is Grey’s Anatomy, but having a background in nursing myself, I can most assuredly say, not a lot of reality science there.

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She’d rather sit quietly on her bedroom floor and work through her grammar book, or independently listen to a writing teaching video for twenty minutes and write an essay on her own time. She’s a reader. She loves zipping through current teenage offerings, but she also zips through my required reading lists, presently the Anne of Avonlea series and loads of Sonlight American History offerings. She’s read more than I have in my lifetime, really.

She and I do a Charlotte Mason dictation exercise once a week–there she becomes acquainted with literary passages, and learns more challenging spelling words. I have an SAT spelling book on its way. Strong readers typically make for strong spellers.

She shares Latin and French language exposure and American History with her younger siblings. She writes book reviews, book reports and persuasive essays. And she completes memory assignments–I recently found her handwriting on our public library’s blackboard wall…a snippet of a Mother Teresa poem she recently memorized.

Curiously, at this point in her development, searching to understand herself and how she fits into this world, the poem fits well as an encouragement and an admonishment in how to live. For her, and for you, I share these wise words…

“People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered; forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior  motives; be kind anyway.

if you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend your years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;

give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;

it was never between you and them anyway.”

I want to know what you think. Let me know.

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