The Surprising Secret to Mentoring Your Out of the Box Teen

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Homeschooling high school is not always easy, especially when you are teaching Out-of-the-Box Teens. How do we know what to expect from a teen who can’t seem to follow the norm? If you’ve ever struggled with your teens and their different approach to the world, it’s time to change your mindset. I can’t wait to share The Surprising Secret to Mentoring Your Out-of-the-Box Teen with you.

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This is our daughter Rebecca’s story.

See if you can find any of your Out-of-the-Box Teens in her story. Replace their interest for Rebecca’s and see if it fits!

Finding Your Out-of-the-Box Teen’s Niche

The Surprising Secret to Mentoring Out-of-the-Box Teens- Young girl at a sewing machine sewing lines on paper
Rebecca’s first time at a sewing machine while visiting Grandma

Rebecca was the sort of child who might try anything once.

If she didn’t like it, she wouldn’t do it again- and so went dance, gymnastics, and both coach pitch baseball, and soccer.

Then there was the summer she and her older brother went to stay for a week with their grandparents. She was 8.

Her grandmother had planned to make a doll nightgown with her while she was there.

Rebecca took to a sewing machine like a duck to water immediately.

She was a natural.

When her grandmother insisted pin tucks were too hard for her, she was upset. Rebecca is bold with a sewing machine- even with her first experience!

Sewing was the only thing Rebecca ever wanted to do again.

So, we obliged.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Find Ways to Explore a Niche

The Surprising Secret to Mentoring Out-of-the-Box Teens- a young girl smiling beside a finished pillow case dress
Rebecca made pillow case dresses for a ministry organization.

In those early days, Rebecca used my sewing machine and we did simple projects for her to gain skill.

We also paid for a few sessions at a local reuse sewing shop where a good friend volunteered.

The sewing sessions offered:

  • basic skill training
  • sewing for community service
  • creative sessions

This friend became a sewing mentor of Rebecca’s and encouraged her along the way.

She’s still one of Rebecca’s biggest cheerleaders.

The one thing the shop really didn’t fit the bill on was finishing work.

And, it was expensive.

It was time to move on.

Finding Opportunities as a Mentor for Your Out of the Box Teen

Since Rebecca’s skills and her ability to learn and practice on her own were quickly outgrowing available community offerings, we forged ahead on our own.

I put together resources for her and gave her some criteria for projects.

Resources were things like:

  • websites
  • books
  • materials
  • equipment

Criteria and parameters for learning were:

  • new projects must address a new skill she wanted to learn- and we kept track of those skills
  • finished products- not just ideas and half starts. Some of them had to be finished so she could begin building her portfolio of designs.
  • regular meetings with me- as her mentor and facilitator

We also kept our eyes open for other opportunities to engage with the community that did not require us to pay session fees for programming that was not challenging enough.

One such opportunity came along in the spring of her 8th grade year when she was 13.

She designed a gown for a refashion/upcycling contest using denim.

The dress was a draped design that started with an old pair of work jeans provided by her sewing mentor.

The result was a fun garment that incorporated denim, old prom gowns, dryer sheets, and even a discarded event tee shirt (one of the worst offenders in terms of textile waste!).

Was it worth the time and effort she put in for months that spring?

Let’s see what this one design led to:

  • participation in a fashion show
  • an award for most creative use of materials
  • an exclusive invitation to have her design in a curated show at the county library- one where her company was known adult designers and students in the fashion design program at our local university
  • her first gallery show opening as a designer
  • an interview with the local arts paper
  • a feature in the review of the curated textile show

That wasn’t all!

Down the road a few years, she visited this design again.

But, on with the story!

An Entrepreneur Is Born

Rebecca ran a sewing school in our home from age 13 until 18, teaching students to sew.

Once her skills were established, she was sought out for projects and by other moms because their kids wanted to learn to sew.

So, she started a sewing school.

At one point, she was teaching 10 kids in 4 sewing classes in our home.

She taught one sibling pair for over three years and it was fun to see them win awards for their own sewing.

One young boy took sewing lessons for his occupational therapy.

Side note: You never realize the clutter you have in your home until someone in a wheelchair needs to get around!

Was it worth the time she put in to planning and implementing sewing instruction?

Let’s see what she accomplished:

  • planning lessons for students
  • accommodating lessons for various skill sets
  • designing custom projects based on student interest
  • providing feedback to parents
  • managing a budget for materials
  • communicating with parents and students
  • a vision for a future business teaching children to sew in an online venue
  • savings to purchase new equipment of her own- like a new serger

Sewing instruction was her high school job.

Not only did she teach children at home, but she eventually taught adults in a high end sewing shop who bought the same serger she has. The shop owner loves to have Rebecca teach new customers!

These experiences were valuable in a million ways.

Mentoring High School Credits for Your Out of the Box Teen

The Surprising Secret to Mentoring Your Out-of-the-Box Teen- a high school girl posing in a steampunk dress she made.
Rebecca’s final senior project- a steampunk themed design made from reused materials that were assigned to her

When our students hit the high school level, we know the stakes are higher.

This is where we, as parents of out-of-the-box teens, start to get nervous.

Am I right?

How in the world do we take these awesome teens with amazing interests and talents and either force them into the conventional high school mode or manage to keep any sense of normal high school if they are doing their thing all the time?

If you are like me, in our minds, it’s one or the other.

But, it is possible to have a balance.

Let’s look at Rebecca’s story and see how we planned and put into action her high school years.

Our plan was to create a custom course of study for her to last throughout high school.

Then we added more traditional courses to the mix, so she could achieve her goals.

Here are a few highlights of the course names, other opportunities, and what I expected:

  • Sewing & Design– this course was on her schedule every year starting in 8th grade. She graduated with 5 credits of this course on her transcript.
  • Art– which complimented her design work. She could work in additional media to enhance her clothing and textile work.
  • Projects– within the courses included research on historical fashion and a project deadline several times a year
  • Outsourced Projects– such as contests and commission projects
  • Entrepreneurship– through managing her own sewing school business and taking an online community college course for dual enrollment. Note that this was a credit on her high school transcript only.

We met regularly for me to check on her progress in these areas.

She led the way and I helped to facilitate her work.

My main requirement was that she acquire new skills with each project and to practice new skills to make them better.

Pro Tip- Rebecca passed my sewing skills a long time ago. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t help her to grow in her own skills. The same is true for you and whatever skill area your teen has!

Preparing for Your Out of the Box Teen’s Next Steps

Keeping tabs on your teen’s post high school plans is part of the deal of mentoring high schoolers.

Do you have a college bound Out-of-the-Box Teen?

Or does your high schooler have different plans beyond high school?

Rebecca was a college bound designer.

Her plans for after high school dictated what we needed to include during her high school years.

She set her sights on an Ivy League design program.

That meant, among other things:

  • taking Calculus
  • creating a portfolio
  • scoring high on college entrance exams

This was no easy task.

Rebecca had drawn her line in the sand.

It was up to her to achieve her goal.

I was there to help her meet them, but she took the initiative.

She started high school taking pre-Algebra and found once she made it to higher level math, things got easier.

The result? She took Trigonometry and Calculus her senior year. Goal met!

We worked on a test practice plan and she worked hard.

The result? Goal met!

The portfolio was months in the making because of the criteria set by the university.

She had to come up with ten new pieces that were not in her regular repetoire of costume.

The result? Goal met!

A note about gathering reference for the college applications: both her sewing mentor and a mom of one of her students made two excellent references for Rebecca. Out-of-the-box experiences count!

Pulling Together an Out-of-the-Box Portfolio

A peek at her portfolio

Rebecca’s portfolio process was years in the making.

In the end, she followed the criteria required by the school and even met with a professor during the spring of her junior year.

She chose to include 15 items only five of which could be costume type designs.

Her college portfolio included the design from when she was 13. The historical nature and the progression of her design process was evident in her portfolio.

Rebecca needed to come up with 8 items that were primary fashion designs which was not her favorite type of design.

To solve this problem, she conducted research and ended up with a sample size of 200 families all related to sensory issues with kids and clothing.

The result was a clothing line that addressed each of the issues.

She provided the data in graphs and explained her research and then featured each item in her portfolio.

The results were glorious!

Don’t underestimate the power of thinking out-of-the box!

Watch Your Your Teen Thrive

The Surprising Secret to Mentoring Your Out-of-the-Box Teen- a close up of a dress bodice that has 30 pieces and was inspired by a yew tree
A final project for her draping class- this was a partner project and had a second piece to go with it.

To say that Rebecca found the perfect place for herself post high school would be an understatement.

All the careful study of places and programs led her to one university.

She put all her eggs into an Ivy League basket.

The Fiber Science and Apparel Design department at Cornell accepts 25 students total for three majors, including fashion design.

But, it’s one thing to get accepted and another to do well once you are there.

All the late mornings,

the creativity first and regular course work after,

the slow ambles through the woods,

the side tracking to rabbit hole topics and projects,

the set other work aside to do NaNoWriMo (and her first novel at 50K words in her senior year),

and every other thing we ever did that raised an eyebrow from observers

didn’t keep her from realizing her goal or taking it by storm when she arrived.

There could not be a better spot for her.

How about a glimpse of her time at Cornell:

  • successful design work
  • dean’s list
  • head turning design in her first runway show
  • more complex designs and more of them with a stunning recurring theme
  • art contest winner- with a cash prize and her art on the library elevator doors
  • hired by her CAD professor to design flyers for the department for a visiting speaker
  • secured a research assistant job in the world renowned costume and textile collection
  • caretaker of the department’s dye garden
  • attendance at nearly every networking opportunity
  • worked the summer before and during her freshman year for the university’s catering- where attendees recognized her from networking events and speaking engagements (but, she’s over the moon jazzed that she doesn’t have to do catering anymore! See note on research assistant work above!)
  • chosen as the designer for a grant to reforest hemlock trees using dogs- she was the designer on the team to create a dog vest that could scatter seeds while the dog romped
  • accepted to the honors program
  • successfully negotiated several independent studies
  • chosen to work in the hybrid body lab to create new knit structures
  • developed a thesis project to investigate professional clothing for adults with sensory processing disorder (SPD)
  • added an art minor
  • worked for the hybrid body lab designing compression sleeves for cancer patients
  • was one of 5 undergraduates chosen to present TEDx style about her research onprofessional clothing for adults with SPD
  • achieved her honors degree by successfully defending her thesis to her committee
  • finished her honors degree at the top of her class

Every year she chose to explore in new ways.

Her time there was not all roses and sunshine. It was hard work with some tough experiences to go along with it.

But, she prevailed!

And, as Rebecca would say, “unique opportunities in high school, lead to unique opportunities in college”.

A 17th century inspiration that came of the scrap bin of Rebecca’s university fashion studio

Our creative, sleepy morning girl, managed her 8am classes just fine.

Deep breath moms!

You can homeschool high school with peace and confidence!

A Challenge for You

My guess is most of you don’t have a budding fashion designer at your house (though I have heard from several of you that do!).

So, what does Rebecca’s story have to do with your teen?

Let’s think about it:

  • Do you see your Out-of-the-Box Teen in any part of Rebecca’s story?
  • Can you think of ways to incorporate low cost community opportunities into your high school curriculum?
  • Does your teen have a mentor? Is there someone you know who has expertise your teen can benefit from?
  • What are some options your teen is thinking about post high school? Do you know the criteria for that path?

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The secret to mentoring out-of-the-box teens is to lean in to their interests and help them develop lasting skills and expertise from their experiences.

Rather than fight the strong current, let go and run with it. See what comes of it!

I LOVE to teach parents about ways to design and implement a high school program that is perfectly customized for your teen!

You can do that in several ways:

Homeschooling High School by Design Membership

title of the membership in white on a light teal background

We have a thriving community of members who have the common goal of homeschooling out of the box teens with big plans.

Homeschooling High School by Design Membership is all about how to plan and implement that super personalized high school program your teen requires and then learning how to package that program to colleges, even competitive colleges!

Being a member comes with:

  • Dream Big & Take Action: Goal Conquering for Teens- the course on goal setting for teens
  • Homeschooling High School by Design- the course for planning your out of the box experiences with your teen
  • Homeschooling for College by Design- the course focused on all things college prep and application
  • An online Community- a place to gather on Facebook to ask questions and learn what others are doing
  • Two Live Calls a Month- this is the real deal! We meet for two hours at a time to discuss topics relevant to the courses and information not found in the courses that is exclusive to membership.

Learn more about Homeschooling High School by Design Membership. You will LOVE how membership can take your overwhelm over homeschooling high school and give you the confidence to move forward into the high school years with peace!

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  1. What a great article Heather! Lots of food for thought and a great guideline for moms with ‘out of the box’ teens. Thank you!

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