Episode 74: When Your Homeschooled Teen Cannot Learn Independently

Sometimes homeschooling high school doesn't look the way we thought it would, because our teen cannot work on their own. They can't learn independently, and mom has to be with them all day for any schoolwork to get done.

This is a frustrating and overwhelming situation. In this episode we discuss some ways to adapt our thinking and our processes to create a better atmosphere and relieve much of the burden for everyone. There is hope!


When your teen cannot work independently, homeschooling them becomes exhausting and overwhelming. Here are some ideas to relieve the pressure.

This episode is sponsored by CTC Math.

Have you tried CTC Math yet with your child? Here is a testimonial from another happy homeschool mom.

Amber said, “I’m absolutely thrilled with CTC Math. It’s a rare find that I’ve used with my children for more than six years now. I have six children using CTC Math and each child has found it easy to navigate and very applicable. I love seeing them enjoy this math program and grow in their mathematical journey. Thank you so much for all that you are doing and for providing quality math lessons for my children.”

If you’re looking for a great online math program, visit ctcmath.com!

Episode 74: When Your Teen Cannot Work Independently

You can also listen at these outlets/apps — be sure to follow and leave a review!

Related Resources:

10 Reasons Why You Will Love Homeschooling High School

Homeschooling Teens Who Are Easily Distracted

150+ Educational Shows to Watch on Netflix – at Homeschool Hideout

When You Fear that Your Homeschooled Teen is BEHIND – article with video

Should Your Teen Go to College? (how to tell if it’s a good fit) – Part 1

How to Tell if College is the Best Option for Your Teen – Part 2

30+ Ridiculously Easy Meals for Busy Families on a Budget

ChemExplained.com – Foundational Chemistry course

College Prep Science – Life Prep science courses


Ann Karako: Hi, I'm Ann Karako, and you're listening to episode 74 of the “It's Not that Hard to Homeschool High School Podcast”.


Welcome to another episode of It's Not that Hard to Homeschool High School, the podcast for real people so that you can confidently, competently, and yes, even contentedly provide the high school education that is best for your teen and your family. I'm your host Ann Karako from notthathardtohomeschool.com.


Hello, and welcome back. Today is a beautiful day in my neck of the woods. I just got back from a walk, it's sunny and warm. I honestly think two weeks ago, when I was recording the previous episode, there was snow on the ground, so I am really happy today. Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.

There are some moms, though, who can't get outside to take a walk during the day because their teen does not know how to work independently, and they end up sitting with their teen or nudging their teen all day long. That's going to be our topic for today.

I get all the great questions out of my Facebook group, and this was another one. Actually, it was brought on by me sharing one of my articles from the blog. I think it was the one about reasons to love homeschooling high school. One of them was that you would get more time, because you don't have to be so hands-on with your teens, because they will generally know how to work much more independently during the high school years.

This mom responded and said, “Sorry, not the case for me. My kid has a learning disability, cannot work independently. I am basically by their side all day long, and it is wearing me out.” Can you relate to this? My heart goes out to those moms who were looking forward to high school being a time where they could get a little more time to themselves, and they're finding that that's not the case for them.

While I did not experience that myself, I do have some thoughts that might help. I am not in any way or stretch of the imagination an educational expert who understands how to deal with learning disabilities of any sort, so we're not going to be discussing them today; but when your teen doesn't know how to work independently or can't work independently, there are still some ways to think about it and perhaps some things to try. Let's look at it from that standpoint. Hopefully, by the end of this, I can give you a little bit of hope.

I will not be talking about the teen who won't work independently, who refuses to, because they're being stubborn or they have a bad attitude. They're capable of it, but they've got a bad attitude and won't. That's probably a topic for another podcast and maybe I'll put that down on the list, but for now, we will be dealing with kids whose heart is in the right spot, but they just need a lot of help all day long. Let's go from there.

Use baby steps to keep trying with independent learning

The first thing I want to say is that independent learning is indeed a process, and sometimes it can be a very long process. I want to say, “Don't give up; maybe it's just not happening at the time that you thought it would happen.” I do understand how frustrating that could be. Maybe, though, you need to break it down into smaller steps and have a different timeline than you anticipated, but it could still maybe happen eventually.

Break it down into incredibly small baby steps. For example, instead of expecting them to do an entire lesson on their own in every subject, first of all, let's narrow it down to one subject only, and the rest of the time you'll be right there with them.

For one subject, they're going to try to do something on their own. Have it be the subject that they are capable of handling the easiest and then break it down even further to — no, let's not ask them initially to do the entire lesson by themselves — let's ask them to do just the first part of it.

Maybe they're just going to read whatever the lesson is or watch the video by themselves and see what they can understand by themselves. Maybe a next step would be, okay, now you're going to read or watch, or however you're taking the content in, and try to do one problem or question on your own. Just answer one of them all by yourself and see how you do.

And then perhaps you can gradually add more parts of that lesson into their keeping, their responsibility. You're there maybe supervising, but you're not there to give immediate help.

Sometimes this does call for a little bit of tough love. Like, “I believe you can answer this question without me,” so maybe you set a timer and say, “For 15 minutes, I want you to try to do it on your own. When you have an answer, let me know. We can stop the timer as soon as you have an answer and keep moving forward.”

Expect, if they're not used to this, that they might be afraid of getting a wrong answer; and that's where you come in and are reassuring even if the answer is wrong, but that you point out the positive things about it and the fact that they tried — always a good thing. Be always reassuring them that this is a process and nobody's expecting them to get any of this overnight.

In short, just turn the task of learning how to learn into something that is going to take much longer than you anticipated, but that's okay because each kid is an individual. Expect very slow growth, but still expect it. Just push them a little bit farther down the road each time, just a little bit, not a lot.

One technique that I like to use for teens is called the Pomodoro. You might have heard about this. I do have a blog post about it and I will link to that in the show notes, and you remember how to get to the show notes: You go to NotThatHardtoHomeschool.com and you click on podcast in the top menu, and then you look for episode 74 and click on that. Underneath the podcast player, you will find Related Resources. That's where I'll link to a bunch of stuff that is related to the content we're doing today.

One of them is my article about how to use Pomodoros. Basically, a Pomodoro is a name for scheduling time in 25-minute increments. You set a timer, literally, for 25 minutes and people will work diligently for 25 minutes, and then the next five minutes is a break, and then the timer gets set for 25 more minutes again working diligently.

Sometimes it really helps kids to know that there's going to be a break. Sometimes that's all that it takes for them to be willing to work on their own, is to know that they won't be at it for hours, but that they can have a break after 25 minutes.

Another option is to do it for 50 minutes and then take a 10-minute break.

I use this for myself a lot. When I'm trying to get something done, I set myself a 25-minute timer and say, “I can do anything for 25 minutes. I'm going to concentrate on this for 25 minutes.” A lot of the times, I get done what I needed to get done in a lot shorter timeframe than I thought I would, because I was focused on it. Any means that you can use to help your kid focus on the work — other than yourself — is going to be perhaps helpful, and the Pomodoro might be one of those.

The summary of point number one is just that independent learning might not be impossible. It might be something that takes longer than you think it's going to and it might be something that you need to do in very tiny little baby steps, or you might need to look for some other techniques than what you're doing now to help your teen grow in this area. I understand that there are some learning disabilities that make even this much impossible. Let's talk about that next.

Sponsorship Announcement:

Hey, I just want to interrupt to say that this episode is sponsored by CTC Math. Have you tried CTC Math yet with your child? Here is a testimonial from another happy homeschool mom.

Amber said, “I'm absolutely thrilled with CTC Math. It's a rare find that I've used with my children for more than six years now. I have six children using CTC Math and each child has found it easy to navigate and very applicable. I love seeing them enjoy this math program and grow in their mathematical journey. Thank you so much for all that you are doing and for providing quality math lessons for my children.”

If you're looking for a great online math program, visit ctcmath.com. That's ctcmath.com.

Might I add, Amber can do that with six kids because CTC Math is so reasonably priced. Especially for homeschoolers — we get 50% off — and especially when you get their family plan. The amount that she is paying for six children's math is basically unbelievable. It's a wonderful, wonderfully low price, so you'll have to check it out for yourself at ctcmath.com.

Change your expectations of what high school looks like

Sometimes even with all of your best effort, even with slowing the timeline on independent learning way down, sometimes our team literally just can't do it on their own. They have learning disabilities or some other situation that even if they try their hardest, they just can't. They need you and you're like, “Man, I really want some of my day back.” Well, here are some ways to do that.

The big thing I want to say is that sometimes we need to change our expectations of what high school “should” look like. I hate the “should” word, but people use it all over the place and we get this idea of what high school is supposed to look like, but guess what? High school doesn't look like that for all the kids in the public school system either. There are plenty of kids who graduate in the public school system without doing all the work that the average kids do. They get their course of study adapted to who they are and what their abilities are, and they still graduate high school.

I want you to recognize that maybe you need to expand your thought process a little bit. You may have wanted to do a traditional high school plan, but you might need to just realize that that's not going to be possible for this particular kid. What can you do to build them up and provide yourself a little bit of more free time? Because that's part of your self-care; we'll talk about that a little bit later, too.

The thing is when they are constantly bogged down with schoolwork, even if you're there with them the whole time, that's got to be really rough on their psyche, on their self-respect. It's got to be very draining, very discouraging, very demoralizing. Isn't there a way that you could adapt your requirements perhaps off of the traditional plan onto something that is more suited to them?

Remember, the only thing that needs to happen in high school is that you need to follow your state's homeschool law. For the majority of states out there, which is the majority of people listening to this podcast, your state homeschool law has very little to say about anything that must be accomplished before graduation or in order to graduate. For most people out there, you can decide everything about your graduation requirements, or you can decide most things about your graduation requirements.

Very few states, even the ones that do have more stringent requirements, very few of them actually talk about, “Oh, you must have Algebra 1 and Geometry and Algebra 2 in order to graduate.” That would be very difficult for a large section of their kids to be able to graduate in that state. Unless they're adapting the coursework to the student.

What can you do to loosen up on your own requirements for graduation so that your kid feels more empowered and more capable and the atmosphere is much less stressful overall?

You can give credits for activities such as cooking, cleaning, crafts, a job. Take away some of their academic credits that you're expecting them to do and give them credit for these activities instead.

Game schooling is a thing. There are groups out there about game schooling. Can you play games with your kid or have them play games that would actually teach them things and then give credit for those?

What about movies? Lots of documentaries out there. Surely your kid does not need you to sit by them every time they watch a documentary. That could become a large part of your homeschooling mode of education — watching things.

A friend of mine, although I don't know how appropriate it is for high school, but a friend of mine, Tiffany, at Homeschool Hideout, she's got a freebie of educational shows on Netflix. Might be worth it to go to HomeschoolHideout.com and look for that freebie. I will link to her website in the show notes, but you just found out how to get there so you wouldn't need the show notes for that.

What about reading? Do they like to read or can you read aloud a little it? Then maybe get them excited in a story and then say, “Okay, you need to read the next two or three chapters on your own.”

Even if it's not high school-level reading material, does that matter? No, it does not. If you are designing this curriculum or these requirements for your kid, and if you have the freedom to graduate your kid with any requirements at all that are within your state homeschool law, then it doesn't need to be high school level stuff.

What about verbal discussion? How good are they at actually explaining things verbally rather than writing down? Do you remember The Blind Side where the way that football player got through high school was by his teachers talking him through tests? They would ask him the test questions and he would verbally answer and he did much better that way.

That still keeps you by your kid's aside, but it's a way to loosen the environment a little bit — and you can do that while you're in the car. It doesn't take that long. It's not the same as you sitting next to them as they painstakingly write a sentence and it takes them 20 minutes to do so.

You can create your own curriculum and it could be on a level that they need and can do well with. You do not have to use curriculum choices that everybody else is choosing. A high school level math course might not be what they can do. Find them what is at the level that they can do. If you can't find that, then build your own.

I'm thinking about history and science here specifically. Maybe there's a lower level, although sometimes that makes them feel bad because they're doing a fifth-grade science. Then you create a curriculum and say, “Hey, I designed this just for you,” and they don't have to know what level the books are, or the movies are that it's involved with, or the activities that you find on the internet or whatever.

Now, that does bring into play the idea of, “Well, what about going to college?” I think we need to understand that when our kid has a learning disability of this magnitude that they cannot work independently at high school level, then they're probably not a good fit for college, and that's okay. There's so much else they can do.

That can be one of the credits that you give them or half a credit as a semester long exploration on, “Okay, what do we want to do after high school?” Totally creditworthy to do that.

I do have a video. Actually, it's a blog article with an embedded video about what to do when your kid high student is behind. There is no such word as behind. When you are giving them what they need on their level, then they're not behind, except in the sense that it's true that they are behind on meeting requirements to go to college. Colleges have requirements of so many credits in high school level math, so many credits in high school level science. If your kid is not doing high school-level work, then they are going to be behind in meeting those college requirements.

If your kid is not planning on going to college and in this case, it might not be a good fit for them. (Did I mention I have a couple of articles about when or not college is a good fit? I'll link to those.) If we decide it's not a good fit for them, then being behind in meeting college requirements — who cares? It doesn't matter. Even then they could still go to community college after high school and make up for lost time. There's that too.

Don't make high school about sitting with your teen all day every day. Shorten the assignments for them. Take several days on one lesson. Outsource to providers that are going to walk them through things at their level.

I know of two high school level science curriculum providers that provide a less intense science course than a traditional college-prep science course. ChemExplained has what's called a Foundational Level of chemistry, and College Prep Science has what they call Life Prep biology and Life Prep chemistry, and maybe even Life Prep physics, I don't remember. These are more for the kids who are not headed to college, but they need or want the credit in the high school level courses, so those are possibilities as well.

Make sure you are taking care of yourself

I'm already at 18 minutes and I wanted to talk about self-care because you are spending all day with your kid. Let me just say you need perhaps more self-care because you're feeling so overwhelmed. Hopefully what we've already talked about will help loosen that overwhelm. If not, please be sure you are taking care of yourself.

Please set a definite time hours for school and then cut them off when they're done, no matter what your kid's gotten done. Honest and true, you can do that. You need to save your own sanity so that you can have what you need, the emotional strength that you need to be able to help your kid day after day after day. Set school hours. Let's not worry about what actually gets done. Cut those hours off so that you have time off every day.

Take frequent breaks throughout the day, like we talked about the Pomodoros. Be sure you're stopping in between subjects for a while, or even halfway through a lesson, take a break. Don't do school on weekends. Don't say, “Oh, we got so behind this week that we're going to do school over the weekend.” Take the weekends off.

Get out of the house when you can. Sometimes it's fun to just go to the coffee shop and work instead, but also just get out of the house instead of spending all day sitting at the table.

Also plan easy meals so that you don't have to worry so much about getting ready for dinner, that's not another thing on your plate. I've got a resource called 30+ Ridiculously Easy Meals for Busy Families on a Budget. I will link to that in the show notes as well.


I've gone longer than I wanted to. Because I'd like to respect your time, and now the cat is scratching at the door, you might have heard that, so I'll let you go now. I just want to encourage you with this: homeschooling high school may not always be easy, but it doesn't have to be that hard. Think about how you're doing things. Think about if any of these suggestions I've given you today can help you when your kid is not able to learn independently all by themself at a high school level.

Hopefully, you'll feel like this is a breath of fresh air. You don't have to do it the way other people do it, you can do it your way and in ways that fit your family. All the experts out there want you to believe there's this list of things you absolutely have to do. It's not the truth. Do what suits your kid and your family, and you — you are a vital part of this equation. If you are overwhelmed, you need to make a change — and I give you permission to do so.

Next time we're going to talk about expectations. It's going to be a good one. I'll see you then.

It's Not That Hard to Homeschool

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