The middle school years can be both challenging and rewarding. Parenting teenagers as they stretch for independence that they aren’t quite ready for can be difficult enough. Homeschooling them may seem an overwhelming challenge. An excellent method I have found to connect with them and to help them connect with their education is through career conferencing.
What is career conferencing
If you went to public school, you probably remember those career aptitude tests they had you take in in the school cafeteria. Mine said I should consider being a gas attendant or a neurosurgeon. No one ever sat down and talked to me about my future pumping gas, but I had plenty of conversations about remaining on a college track and the options open to me.
Career conferencing with your homeschooled middle schooler is similar. Except you don’t need a test to determine what your child’s interests are. Mostly, you just ask them. (Novel approach, I know). In this conference, you are going to explore career options for their professed interests and outline an educational path that leads to that career.
Tools required for a productive career conference
Really, you just need four things:
- Your middle schooler
- A computer (tablet or other internet connected device)
- A binder to start collecting information and keep your educational plan in
- An open mind
That last one is vital. My eldest wanted to be a veterinarian. My brain screamed out, “You are never getting through the chemistry!” The rest of me helped her develop her plan for how to get there. She never even ended up going to college, but she is a certified farrier. As she likes to point out, a good farrier knows more about the horse from the knee down than any vet. Her education path opened doors she hadn’t considered and helped give her the tools to open her own business in a field she loves.
First, you are just going to ask your child what he or she would like to do for a career. My son told me, “Be a YouTube millionaire!” Now, my brain protested veterinarian based on my knowledge of my daughter’s weaknesses. This one required me to set aside a fair degree of realism coupled with my own experience trying to eek out even a small corner of the internet for my own writing. “Not gonna happen” is really all I wanted to say in response. However, remember number 4 above? Yeah, I took my own advice and we went with it.
What if they don’t know what they want to do
They may not quite be ready. That’s OK. The next part is really only useful if it comes from them. After all, you are attempting to connect them with their passions and show them the steps they can take now to make these dreams a reality. If they aren’t ready, have them brainstorm careers that interest them and suit their natural talents and interests. Plan a year of career exploration and come back to this later.
Find out the degree or certification requirements of their chosen career
OK, so how does one become a YouTube millionaire? I have no idea. Yet as we perused the university’s website for degree options, we found three that seemed relevant: film studies, communications and new media. He read the descriptions and got pretty excited, both about the courses themselves and the potential career opportunities. He was able to go to the university and talk to advisers, as well, and that proved invaluable. He came home excited about college and career options and eager to make sure that what we were doing at home would be accepted by the university for his chosen majors.
Remember to let them do this even if it takes longer. They are exploring while you offer assistance when they have questions. Navigating a university website for information is an important life skill. Resist the information to show them. Sit back and let them explore.
Study the options carefully and write down the majors that seem the most helpful. Most university websites will have a link somewhere with their admission requirements. They may differ from degree to degree and between universities, but the core requirements are usually the same. Print off the requirements and add them to your binder. You are going to work from this to design a curriculum together that meets their needs. As they move from middle school to high school, you can use this to design an entire high school curriculum.
If they do not need a degree, explore certification options and find out what they can do to prepare for required courses or testing.
Put together your education plan.
How flexible you are with this will depend on finances and your own confidence to step away from packaged curriculum. I try to stay away from textbooks as much as possible and mostly design my own curriculum, so this really helped me determine a focus that would be both interesting and relevant for my son. If you look at what a college requires, it will look something like “English credits – 4, Math credits – 4, Foreign Language credits -3.” In other words, it will look like just about every packaged curriculum out there.
There is some good in just helping your young adult see how his or her work now impacts future decisions, but I wanted to do a little more than that. Wherever possible, include their career interests in your planning. Look at the math required in the field, discover its history, read fiction and nonfiction books that are related, have your student interview people in the field and help them follow the advice they get. Focus as much as you can, but continue to connect their interests to other subjects and skills. Education is not just about career preparation, but it shouldn’t be wholly irrelevant, either.
Don’t forget to include internships and volunteer opportunities as part of your education plan.
As much as is possible, let your child take the lead.
I wanted to experiment with having my son design his own high school curriculum. We had our first conference when he was in the eighth grade. Part of his eighth grade year was spent figuring out what high school was going to look like. He talked to other homeschoolers, read reviews and decided to switch to Saxon algebra because he felt like he was weak in math and it would be the most beneficial to helping him with the ACT. He decided one of his English credits would be in film studies. He asked if he could make a YouTube channel that would count for something and I told him it essentially depended on the work he put into it. So, now as a freshman in high school, he is planning out a channel talking about politics which incorporates research, history and current events as well as the video recording and editing process.
Find ways to support their goals.
If there are tools your child needs to start exploring their chosen field now, start acquiring them as you can afford it. I still do not see “YouTube millionaire” as a viable career option. I am also not about shutting down the dreams of middle school students (or high school students). They have the rest of their lives to figure out reality. Right now, he’s passionate, curious and diligent and that’s enough for me. We are slowly setting up a recording studio for him. So far, he has a nice microphone, an audio interface and a laptop. Next up is a green screen and better lighting.
Career conferencing is one step toward giving your middle schooler control over their future. It is an opportunity to connect their passions with their education and to clearly lay out how what they are working on now is relevant to the things they want in life. It gives them ownership and direction, and like any good education, you never know for sure where it will lead because every step opens even more doors.
How have you started discussing career options with your kids?
Dana Hanley blogs at Roscommon Acres, her little slice of sanity amidst the chaos of raising six children on a hobby farm. Seriously, it’s this or therapy. You can also connect with her on facebook.