Thursday, December 5

Program Ideas for 14-17 year old self-directed learners?

Earlier this year, I wrote a post called My Current High School Independent Learning Crisis because that's what happens occasionally when loving, highly-involved parents have kids .  We're even more susceptible when we've accepted 100% responsibility for not just the basic necessity offerings, but also the responsibility for our kids' entire set of life and educational needs.  We are simply going to freak out every once in a while! Or every few months!  That was April; this is November.

Seriously, I'm kind of joking and kind of not.  The teen/high school years are a time of so much change not only in said kid's body and mind but also in terms of ME and my relationship with him.  I am learning how to parent all over; navigating the treacherous seas of guidance, navigation and letting go (while wanting both to do so AND to hold on for dear life).  I'm never really sure how much is too much or too little of each at any given time.  It's an ongoing frenzied, emotional dance of sorts.

SO, today I woke up realizing that:

1) As far as we've gone from the norm of education, we could afford to amp it up a notch further.  It might be time to get rid of the remaining threads of school-at-home and step one step further outside of the box.

2) Metaphorically, he's about where I was in my second year of University.  I realized then that I was taking content based classes but didn't know what I wanted to say once I had the skills I was being taught.  That's when I left and probably why I never went back.  And that's why I'm preparing myself to "toss" him out into the right real world situation (if I can find the right one).  Toss, you say?  Isn't it his job to rebel/leave; isn't that the way he will define himself.  Yes, and "at some point".  Right now, I'm a scaffolder.  I see it as my job to understand (with his help wherever possible) what he needs and help him get there.  I haven't yet pushed him in the proverbial pool to learn to swim but if I though it was the right thing, I might.

3) I care more about him caring about something than I do about the content in his knowledge base or even (and this might be new for me) his skill-set.  The reality is that once he knows why he wants to write, do math, explore science, then it will be easy for him to apply.  The missing link at almost 15 is self-awareness, self-advocacy and love/passion.

SO, given that he's far younger than I was at this stage of development...and I because I do still have the responsibility of scaffolding support, I'm looking for possible opportunities to expose him to the following:

1) communities of young people who are coming together to change the world in some positive way (even if that means starting with themselves).  The bottom line here is intentionality.
2) programs which support that change and last between 1 and 6 months (ie. not a full-time-give-us-your-kid-til-college kind of program)
3) leaders and leadership skills training for 14-17 year olds (ish)

Here are some of the possibilities that come to mind off the top of my head.  Do you have personal experience with any of these or have other suggestions?

Outward Bound  is more than just an outdoor camp. It is more than a wilderness adventure. Outward Bound has been changing lives through challenge and discovery for more than 50 years by using the wilderness as a classroom to provide unparalleled opportunities for discovery, personal growth, self-reliance, teamwork and compassion.  (NOTE: OB has been around for ages. I have no personal or anecdotal insight.  Expensive?)

National Teen Leadership Program is committed to create positive environments that empower, inspire and educate all teens to discover and maximize their unique leadership potential and embrace the diversity and equal value of everyone.  The focus during the 3 day summer program (in Sacramento or Southern California) is on the positive and on channeling the energy and enthusiasm already inherent in our youth to help them acquire focus and a vision for their future. The program challenges and empowers today’s youth by providing them with the skills and motivation necessary to positively impact their own lives and the lives of those in their communities.

Anake Outdoor School features 9 months of in-depth training in nature awareness and wilderness survival skills.  Participants develop a deep and intimate relationship with the natural world grounded in a powerful, community-oriented philosophy of learning. Your year is informed by the legacy of indigenous cultures from around the world. Each experience is crafted around a cutting-edge understanding of our natural heritage as human beings.

Unschool Adventures with Blake Boles offers a month long writing retreat.  (NOTE: I have a young friend who just returned from this years retreat.  She said it was life-changing in terms of the friends she made.)

The Woolman Semester School (Nevada City, CA) is a progressive academic school for young people who want to make a difference in the world.  Students in their junior, senior, or gap year come for a "semester away" to take charge of their education and study the issues that matter most to them.  Woolman students earn transferable high school credits while taking an active role in their learning experience through community work, organic gardening and cooking, permaculture, art, wilderness exploration, service work, and by doing advocacy and activism work with real issues of peace, justice and sustainability in the world.

Conserve School (Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin) inspires young people, primarily high school juniors, to environmental stewardship through academics and engagement with the forests, lakes, and wildlife of Lowenwood.  Each Conserve School semester immerses students in environmental history, nature literature, and the science of conservation. Innovative hands-on courses capture students’ imaginations while making the most of Conserve School’s 1200-acre wilderness campus. The school’s strikingly beautiful Northwoods location sets the stage for an exceptional educational experience; at Conserve School, forests, lakes, and wildlife become students’ inspiration, their course materials, and their laboratory. At the same time, Conserve School’s program advances students’ skills in standard high school subjects.

Sea Education Association is an internationally recognized leader in undergraduate ocean education which also offers Seascape a 3-week summer high school level oceanography program. For 40 years and more than one million nautical miles, we have educated students about the world’s oceans through our fully accredited study abroad program, SEA Semester. SEA is based on Cape Cod in the oceanographic research community of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. (NOTE: The High School program sails from SF on the same tall ship a friend, Christa C. sailed in the Gyre, with shore studies on Catalina Island.)

The Experiment in International Living has been offering extraordinary immersive cross-cultural summer exchanges, fun and thought-provoking adventures, and experiential learning programs since 1932. Today, The Experiment offers three-, four-, and five-week summer programs for high school students in more than 20 countries around the world.

Summer Programs

SPARC is a how-to-be-awesome camp for extremely bright high school students, focussing on math, psychology, programming, statistics, and general personal effectiveness. CFAR (the parent organization, normally charges $4k for 4 days of training, but SPARC is free for high-school-aged students, so it's a great opportunity for any interested young people. SPARC has typically only admitted folks scoring in the top 50 in the US on mathematics competitions, but is now open to admitting a more diverse group, provided the applicants are sufficiently awesome. 

Thanks for your ideas!  -Lisa



PS.  Please note that there are so many amazing opportunities for self-directed learners 18+ but that's another story.  Look for an upcoming piece highlighting:

Watson University
The Millenial Train Project
The Thiel Fellowship


  1. Thanks for sharing about Conserve School. In addition to being an amazing opportunity for young adults it is incredibly affordable. Thanks to the generosity of Conserve School's founder and its friends almost all costs are covered by scholarship for all students. ~Stefan Anderson, Head of Conserve School

    1. Thanks for the comment. We recently met with Connor who attended last year and he shared his excitement about the program with a group of us.