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How to Get Your Homeschooled Teen Back on Track by January

Is your teen behind their homeschool schedule? Get ideas to get your student back on track with as little pain as possible!

I will bet you 20 cents that your high school student is behind their homeschool schedule right now.

I don’t mean behind grade level, like what may happen if your child has a learning disability or medical issue. I mean behind in their daily work, like they are supposed to be on lesson 60 of XYZ Curriculum and they are still working on lesson 50.

Is your teen behind their homeschool schedule? This is common when homeschooling high school. Get ideas to get your student back on track with as little pain as possible!

You know the chances are I would win the bet. Because I know teens; I’ve had five of them. And homeschooled teens are notorious for not staying on schedule. Either they need to review that math chapter they got the poor test grade for, or they took longer writing that paper than planned, or you couldn’t find the book they needed in the library and had to order it, or they needed extra time to study for that history test — just go ahead and admit that you know exactly what I mean. 🙂

And we could talk about the concept that in homeschool you’re never behind and the goal is mastery and it doesn’t matter how much you get done each day — and if that’s your thing, then you probably don’t need to read this post. No shame. But if you’re like me, and you believe in using only one year to complete the knowledge set for what is generally considered to be a one-year course, then your kid is most likely behind their homeschool schedule right now in at least one of them — just like mine. In that sense, my kids get behind ALL. THE. TIME.

But here’s the thing: in homeschool we have this wonderful scheduling safety net. It’s called Christmas break. LOL. We always know in the back of our minds that when our teen gets behind schedule, they will have the opportunity to catch up over Christmas.

Is this ideal? Of course not. Of course we wish our teens would be diligent and complete everything on time and never give us the hang-dog look that says they blew it AGAIN. But it is what it is, and we might as well just deal with reality, right?

So if you’re still like me, you’re expecting them to use Christmas break to catch up on their homeschool schedule at least a little bit, if not completely. They’re not gonna like it, but sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Why do I worry about this? Because I don’t want my teen to be doing school all summer. Because to be perfectly honest and self-centered about it, when my teen is doing school, then I am doing school. Not in actuality but emotionally. The weight of their work sits on my shoulders, too, until it is done. I’d rather have them work over Christmas break than be so behind come May that they have to work the entire summer to be finished in time to start the new school year. Been there done that a few times… *true confessions*

Actually, the frustration level of ME not really having a Christmas break, due to THEIR negligence in regards to their homeschool schedule, can be pretty high — am I right? Sigh. This is an emotion we just have to set aside and remember that as moms we are on duty 24/7. And in reality we wouldn’t want the alternative, which is to be free to do our own thing all the time but not have any kids at all. No, we want to serve our kids with our very lives — even if that means that school happens over Christmas.

But it doesn’t have to be all bad. I’ve already written a post about playing catch-up over winter break, which is about homeschoolers in general, and in which I gave some ideas for catching up to your homeschool schedule in a way so that the break still feels like one.

In today’s article I want to focus more on the homeschool high school years. Because teens are a different animal. LOL. How do we keep them motivated over Christmas, when the rest of the world is out of school, shopping, watching YouTube all day, etc.?

With teens, one of the best motivators is to include them in the decision-making process. Not the decision about whether they have to work over break, lol, but the decision(s) about how they’re going to do it. If they can feel like they chose most of it themselves, then they will have more of a sense of ownership, and the likelihood is better that they will actually accomplish what they’ve set out to do. Not guaranteed, but better. 🙂

How to get your teen caught up with their homeschool schedule:

1) Give them one day completely off. This could be the first day of what you had scheduled for Christmas break, or some random day if you never got around to putting Christmas break on the calendar (probably cuz you knew this was gonna happen…). One day is not gonna make a huge difference, and it will go a long way towards giving them a better attitude.

2) On the next day, set an appointment early in the day for you to meet with them individually. This may take up to an hour for each child. You need to a) find out exactly what the damage is, and b) make a plan for how to overcome it.

a) Find out exactly what the damage is. How far behind is your teen in each and every subject? Make a chart of where they should be, where they are, and how many lessons or days it will take to catch up. Do this for each subject or course in which they are behind schedule.

Also evaluate if there is a way to proceed without necessarily doing every little tiny bit of the work that is missing. Can you eliminate an assignment or two, or shorten the exam, or make something open book so they don’t have to take three days to study for it? This is NOT rewarding them for undisciplined behavior. This is meeting them halfway and building bridges.

Remember, the relationship is much more important than the work. Does that mean we let them get away with not doing it at all? Of course not — but we can compromise. Trust me, having done this many times over the years, it will relieve pressure all around.

b) Make a plan. This is a multi-step process. Use a paper calendar (you’ll know why later). Have your teen do all the writing. Ownership, y’all. 🙂

First, list which Christmas activities are must-do’s — the ones they don’t want to miss and the ones you don’t want them to miss, lol. Put them on the calendar, with the actual times they will occur.

Then, take one subject at a time and TOGETHER schedule it out over the break. This can be the little-at-a-time approach, so the teen is working a little bit every day but has a portion of every day free; or it can be the steamroll approach, when the teen is working full bore for several days and thereby earning full days off towards the latter part of the break. Which method do they prefer? Let them decide.

Plan some rewards into the schedule. Like, if they are on track at point A, they can take a whole day off. Of they get to choose a movie to watch. Or you will pick up a supply of their favorite snack which you don’t usually buy because it’s full of the bad stuff.

Once you have a workable plan set up, one that is agreed upon by both sides of this negotiation, hang it in a public place — like on the refrigerator.  Then mom can see what the kid is supposed to be doing, and the kid can’t claim he forgot it or lost it. (Trust me, I’ve learned all this the hard way…!)

3) Work the plan. This is obviously the hard part. It might be a good time to read up on how to motivate your homeschooled teen, lol.

*Maybe buy some little Christmas goodies without their knowledge, that you can slip to them every now and again while they are working hard.

*Maybe let them sleep in as long as they are consistently getting the plan accomplished. If they are not, maybe it’s time to set the alarm and get crackin’ earlier in the day.

*Maybe remove a privilege for awhile — electronics are always “good” things to take away, lol. They really don’t like that. Muahaha…

*There’s no maybe about these: HUGS. Smiles. Encouraging words. “I’m with you.” “Just think how great you’ll feel when you are caught back up!” “Hang in there!”

*Grade the work they finish RIGHT AWAY. That gives them the feeling of doing all this work for a purpose, not just to check the boxes.

*Don’t freak if something comes up that you didn’t anticipate. The holidays are like that!

So if you are a new high school mom and you’re feeling like a failure cuz your kid is behind their homeschool schedule and you’re both stressing out — DON’T. This is a very normal thing. Just sit down and make a plan for how to catch up over Christmas.

TBBH (to be brutally honest), the break will go a lot more smoothly, with fewer sibling issues and not as many “I’m bored”s, when the kids have something structured to do — even teens. They tend to get even more cranky than usual when all they have to do is sit around and do nothing. So don’t necessarily look at this as a bad thing, is all I’m saying… 🙂

And hopefully by the time Christmas break is over, your homeschooled teen will be back on top of their homeschool schedule again. Maybe not — lol — but at least they will be much closer than they were before. And when it comes to teens, we’ll call that a win! 🙂

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About the author

Ann Karako

Ann has been homeschooling for 18+ years and has graduated four children (one more to go). She believes that EVERY mom can CONFIDENTLY, COMPETENTLY -- and even CONTENTEDLY -- provide the COMPLETE high school education that her teen needs. Ann's website, AnnieandEverything.com, offers information, resources, and virtual hugs to help homeschool moms do just that. Ann has written Cure the Fear of Homeschooling High School: A Step-by-Step Manual for Research & Planning, and she founded the popular FB group called It's Not that Hard to Homeschool High School. She and her family, including two dogs and three cats, live in rural Missouri.

12 Comments

  • This is where I was the past 3 years. We were always playing catch-up and I was annoyed because, like you said, if they were doing school, I was doing school. One of his assignments for last year finally got finished in August!

    Thankfully, this is (mostly) in my rear view mirror. My senior is taking almost all community college classes. It is amazing how the work gets done on time for other people. Finally, a Christmas where I am not on his back to finish his work.

    Instead of sitting around doing nothing, though, I could have him clean his room! (A gal can dream can’t she?)

    Good tips for those going through this. And it will eventually be over!

    Sarah

  • I love how you say that when they’re schooling; we’re schooling. So true! Although this is only our first year tackling high school I’ve felt the pressure of being behind many times. It was especially bad when we moved overseas. Thanks for the suggestions!

  • You would totally owe me 20 cents. LOL! Believe me when I say that I don’t say that to brag because we certainly have our difficulties in homeschooling, but getting work done on time isn’t one of them. I have one very type A high schooler (at least she’s type A concerning school…keeping a clean room not so much) and two elementary aged type A boys. All three simply do not like having anything hanging over their heads. They say they can be more creative and enjoy life more to know that school and chores get done early and completely. (It must be genetic because their dad and I are the same way.) But again, trust me when I say that I’m not bragging. There are many days I wish that was our issue instead of some of the ones we actually deal with. With all of that said, I really appreciate the advice and have found lots of helpful things on your site. Thank you!!

  • Once again you speak to my mind and heart. I have to say yours is my favorite blog. Thank you for helping me naviagte this road!

  • I LOVE the “they’re schooling/we’re schooling!” I have 2 high schoolers, 1 middle & 1 in first grade. While the high schoolers are super independent with their classes-I feel I am checking in a lot…almost miss the days when we worked together more. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • I’m in the same boat with grades of children! I’m cleaning for Thanksgiving company wondering why my sophomore’s chores haven’t been done while she is taking a scheduled school day for catch-up. I am glad to hear I’m not the only one with a behind schedule child. We usually take the whole week off for Thanksgiving. That this can be normal is uplifting! I appreciate the timing and tips of this article! Thanks Annie!

  • Wonderful post! This will be a must for us this year because I just realized yesterday that my teen has done NO English for several weeks. She’s been writing an essay and thought that was all she had to do for this subject. Oh.my.

    I love how you gave a step by step very workable plan for catching up! Thank you, Ann!!

  • This is my 25th “Christmas break” since we started home education, and you gave me a couple new ideas in this article. Thanks, and Merry Christmas, Annie!

  • Okay. So it’s March. And they are behind. We have a full week of theater. We have a full week of basketball tournaments. And a week and a couple of short weeks of Bible Bowl tournaments between now and the end of June. Oh yeah and their brother graduates from college and May. Any suggestions?

    • This is life, lol. I would really suggest being willing to work into the summer — perhaps WELL into the summer. These activities are important to your family, and there is no need to curtail them. But some adapting has to happen; and in this case, I think you just have to prepare yourself for the idea that there won’t be much of a summer break, because you’ve been taking little breaks to do these things throughout the year. That’s the way I would handle it, if it were me. Hope this helps! 🙂

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I’m Ann (aka Annie), a veteran homeschool mom of five. I believe YOU can do this homeschool high school thing!
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