structuring a thirteen year old’s academic education

Structuring a home education for a thirteen-year-old? Your thirteen-year-old and MY thirteen-year-old aren’t the same. In fact, I’ve had three thirteen-year-olds living in the same family and they aren’t the same either. So take my suggestions with a grain of salt, but gather ideas.

You can’t teach the same way to each child. They’re different. Your goal is to tailor an education for each of your kids differently.



Me and Hannah

I’d like to introduce a case study: 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, right? But her teenagerishness has accentuated this trait: she has 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 determined to think a certain way, even when I suggest that she follow her own path, be her own person, I am met with: “But I want to be just like everyone else“. (Then it’s not just the teenager’s eyes that are rolling anymore.)



Me and Hannah

She’s confident, she’s bold, she’s determined.

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 she might not even have 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, confident ways. She’s a natural leader.



Hannah being cute

She’s a performer.

She’s practiced 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 her voice is strikingly pretty.


May 2013 030

She’s not a conventional learner.

She does not want to have anything prescribed. Anything.

There was a point where I attempted radical unschooling, and it was because of her.  No more books, no formal math, no writing assignments.

This helped me see what an education really is, and what it isn’t.

I identified that a conventional model really wouldn’t fit her.



Zach and Hannah in Toys R Us

So how do I engage her learning?

With regular variation, listening and watching her closely.

I returned to a conventional homeschool approach to math education 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-ups to do, so I decided to persist with a sequential math program, Math-U-See.

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 real science there.


Hannah on the dock

She’d rather sit quietly on her bedroom floor and work through her grammar book or independently listen to a writing video for twenty minutes and write an essay on her own time.

She’s a reader.

She loves zipping through current teenage fiction, 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, at this point.

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 for her.

Strong readers typically make for strong spellers.

She shares in a Latin and French language exposure. She also has an American History reading and discussion with her younger siblings.

She writes book reviews, book reports, and persuasive essays.

And she completes memory assignments easily and quickly.

At thirteen, she is searching to understand herself and how she fits into this world.



“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.”

Mother Teresa

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