Home Education Magazine
July-August 1999 - Columns
Older Kids Do-It-Yourself Group Activities for Teenagers - Cafi Cohen
Many homeschoolers find support for their interests in their communities. They join family and adult organizations like ski clubs, computer users groups, and Toastmasters. Other teens volunteer and work for pay. Some enjoy community youth-oriented groups like Scouts and 4-H. Our two teenagers were no exception.
Jeff lived and breathed Civil Air Patrol Squadron. He edited the newsletter, served as squadron commander, organized encampments, prepared classes, and much more. He also trained with a U.S. Diving Team, sponsored by our local parks and recreation department. Our daughter, Tamara, split her time between volunteering with local drama groups and singing in a very active church choir. Both kids joined 4-H and church youth group. They were on the go almost every day, sometimes spending more time away from home than if they attended school. We were lucky. We lived in cities that afforded our teenagers rich opportunities to explore their interests and meet people from a wide range of backgrounds.
Some homeschooling families have to work harder to help their teenagers find similar opportunities. Perhaps you live in a small town or rural area. Your teenager may want to make new friends. Or she may seek an outlet for a new interest. If so, consider organizing an activity with other homeschooled teenagers in your vicinity. Here are several tested do-it-yourself ideas.
When my preteens first began learning at home in the 1980's, we lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Through the existing citywide homeschool support group - and at the suggestion of my daughter - we began a monthly game day. There were twelve to fifteen kids, ages eleven to sixteen, involved. We rotated meetings at members' homes and - depending on the weather - the kids played either indoor games like Monopoly and Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit and Twister or outdoor games like flag football and volleyball. Games needed almost no supervision and very little planning or special equipment. Moms also enjoyed the chance to sit and chat. The host family usually provided light refreshments.
One homeschooling mother recently posted the following outline for a teen book club. "This year we started a book study with our teens. Each month they read a book about a specific missionary. We then met and discussed the book, the missionary, and the country they worked in. The kids each brought ten questions about the book, the country, and so on. They formed teams to answer the questions. We usually bring food from the country and have a potluck. We also try to do some related activity - such as volunteering for the Salvation Army after studying William and Katherine Booth. When studying a missionary from China, we brought in Chinese carry out for lunch."
Looking for ideas for reading selections for a book group? For an academically-minded group, consider the Great Books Foundation list (see Resources for address). If you would prefer a list of more current material, check out the appendix of Nancie Atwell's book, In The Middle: Writing, Reading, and Learning with Adolescents. Or better yet, begin with title suggestions from the members.
Teens like to "get out." Remember that libraries will often provide space for a book group. Other sources of free meeting space are book stores (new and used) and churches.
If you have ever joined an adult gourmet group, you know the basics - theme, time, place, cooking assignments. Any interested teen can organize a phone/e-mail list of teenagers, decide on a theme, find a site (usually a home), and set a meal date. Research recipes at the local library. Depending on the theme, participants either (1) cook at home and bring a meal contribution or (2) cook at the meal site. Either way, everybody eats! It need not even be a meal. Instead, build gatherings around appetizers or dessert. Here are some popular themes:
* Creative Pizza
* All Vegetarian
* Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate
* Finger Food
* Chinese Cooking
* Budget - Create a meal for less than 20 cents per person
* Soup and salad
Computers have made self-publishing easy and fun. Within your group of teenage homeschoolers, you undoubtedly have one or more computer gurus who know more than all the adults. You also probably have several writers and artists. Put those talents together at monthly meetings, inject a little organizational guidance, budget for copies and mailing, and you have the makings of a homeschool newsletter.
Consider this editorial newsletter structure. It solicits monthly contributions from all participant families in three areas.
* Two to three paragraphs describing family activities (think travel, work, projects, sports, recreation, academic achievements, illness)
* Answers to two survey questions ("What are your millenium expectations?" or "What do you think of the bombing of Kosovo?" or "What's the best movie you've ever seen?")
* One extra item (quotation, movie or book review, recipe, calendar items like birthdays, jokes, great buys, pictures)
Also consider paperless publishing - either a web page or an e-mail newsletter. Both are fun and easy.
The mother of a North Carolina homeschooling family runs an investment club. Here, she kindly contributes a brief outline of their operations (thanks, Ann!). "My investment club was extremely simple. We met for about an hour the first day - to set up. After that, I accepted buy and sell offers for an hour-and-a half each week, immediately following our weekly support group meeting."
"Each member received a packet containing a fake $1000 certificate, some papers that they could submit for buy or sell orders, and two pages of instructions. In the instructions, I explained exactly how the stock pages were set up in the local paper. We limited each participant to buying up to three kinds of stocks, with each buy or sell order costing five dollars. Transactions were also limited to stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange. We used the Tuesday morning local paper (Monday's closing price) as our price for each stock."
"Each week - with all the buy and sell orders - I computed a balance for each participant. I then printed out a spreadsheet - name, number of shares, name of company, price of stock for that day, total value of those stocks. As each week passed, I added more columns for the price of the shares that day, and their total value. This does not require fancy equipment. I did all the calculating on paper - the amount they made from selling & buying stock, subtracting five dollars for each transaction, plus their balance for the week. I did not provide any direction in how to investigate a company. I figured they could do that on their own, because I do not know much about it!"
While competition is not for everyone, some teenagers love it. Competition can be serious or just plain fun. On the serious side, consider building group competitions around practice items for college admissions tests (Scholastic Assessment Test, SAT, or American College Testing Program, ACT). Teams of two to four kids (competing against other teams, of course) can attack, say, five SAT practice questions in ten minutes. Get practice questions from the SAT registration materials (available free at any high school counseling office) or at the website listed in resources sidebar. Teens will learn a tremendous amount when forced to explain their reasoning and answers to their teammates. Working in teams keeps any single individual from "looking dumb".
Here are suggestions for silly, but enjoyable, teen competitions:
* Building domino cascades
* Estimating number of M&M's in a jar
* Redesigning of the worst freeway interchange in your area using construction paper, straws, and tape
* Building card houses
* Games like Pictionary
I teach handbells and recorders in a homeschool co-op. We borrow the bells from a church, which also donates practice space. Kids bought their own recorders (sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses - ranging from five dollars for a soprano to 250 dollars for a bass) and pay for their music (generally less than ten dollars per year). We rehearse one to two times weekly, depending on our performing schedule. Costs are very low. Almost anyone with a music background, including a teenager, can learn and teach recorder and handbells or choirchimes (a less expensive handbell substitute).
Other successful group music activities include choir, band, even orchestra. Begin a band by employing private high school music teachers, whose schedules can usually accommodate homeschool groups that meet twice weekly. Find a site (ask churches and other community meeting facilities), and split the teacher's fee among the participants.
If you have special expertise among your family, friends, or acquaintances - or among the homeschooling parents in your vicinity - use it!
Listen to this homeschooling mother's description of science classes she organizes for teenagers in her area. "I rotate biology, chemistry, physics and earth science each year. This year I had seventeen kids aged thirteen to eighteen. We did chemistry labs from Experiences in Chemistry (by Kathleen Julicher, from Castle Heights Press) and the Bob Jones University chemistry lab book." Typical labs?
* Molecular structure using molecule model kits
* Physical states (solid, liquid, gas), and physical changes (melting and boiling)
* Making soap
* Testing milk for antibiotics
* Testing soils for phosporous, potassium, and pH (with a kit)
* Extracting DNA from onions
This scientist-cum-homeschool-mom reports that she downloaded instructions from the Internet for this last activity (see sidebar). With an extraction buffer consisting principally of shampoo, DNA coagulates (and thus separates from everything else) in the presence of ice cold rubbing alcohol. It is an example of real life chemistry, with all of the ingredients available at the grocery store.
Hikes & Other Physical Activities
We all need more physical activity, and most teens enjoy jaunts to local scenic trails. Lace up sturdy shoes. Take along water, sun and insect protection, and a map - and enjoy. No pressure, lots of camaraderie.
Other weekly physical activity that teens enjoy include bowling and skating (either ice skating or roller skating) and volleyball. Again, no pressure, and fairly inexpensive.
Okay, you are sold. You are ready to organize or at least supervise a teen activity. But your teenager is reluctant. How to convince him and others to participate? Here are some winning strategies:
* Avoid the terms "support group" or even "homeschool group." Simply begin an investment club or musical group or a newsletter.
* Get ideas from your teenagers. One support leader said that she never initiates an activity unless The teenagers suggests it.
* Encourage one or more teens organize and lead, if possible.
* Restrict the activities to older kids and adults. Find alternates for younger children.
* Always include food. "Books and Brownies" sounds like more fun than "Book Discussion Group."
© 1999, Cafi Cohen
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