The Teen Years: Finding a Balance Between Exam Led Learning and Delight Led Learning

At what age does the future of one’s children suddenly seem to matter more?  At what age does home school becomes something a little more serious, and a little less fun?  And when this does happen, how do you stop yourself panicking at the enormity of it all?

teen years

It hit me sometime last year and over the past six months or so I have been praying about the future.  For us, the academic year following the 16th birthday of a child is the year they can choose to go to college or sixth form or indeed stay at home for their 16-18 education.

Examination Goals

Here in the UK pupils traditionally take on average between 6 to 8 GCSE/IGCSEs during the year they turn 16, sometimes more.  These are used as a stepping stone to take A Levels, BTECs, Diplomas or to get a job.  The law has just changed here in the UK and states that every child is to remain in some sort of official learning until they turn 18.

It was always mine and Gary’s goal to see them through their IGCSEs, with each child taking at least six IGCSEs.  We will be requiring them to take Maths, English and Biology, leaving the rest of the subjects up to them.  If, like T, they wanted to sit more, then we would fully support that.

T took his first one in January just past, and is half way through the work required to take his Maths.  L and C (especially C) are biting at the bit to have a go too!

Gearing Learning Towards Exam Taking

T would like to take 8 IGCSEs.  His current choices are: Physics, Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry, Biology, Psychology, English and Religious Studies.  Come September, he will have only two more years left at our little home school (sniff).  He hopes to go to a sixth form collage, where he’d like to take A levels in Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Further Maths.

Our goal with regards to his IGCSEs is to take three next year and four the year after.

L13 will be taking five IGCSEs after which she hopes to study full-time for a Level 2 Art and Design diploma (the equivalent of four GCSEs).  The ones she has chosen are English, Maths, Biology, RS and English Literature.  Her goal is to study Art and Design to a higher level.  She is fairly certain, having discovered a flair for all things arty farty, that this is the area she wishes to pursue in the future.  She has three more years left at our home school.

C13 will be taking six IGCSEs at the moment.  This may well go up to seven if we find somewhere she can take a music GCSE.  The IGCSE subjects will be English, English Literature, Maths, Biology, Religious Studies and History.  Her goal is to take possible A levels at the local sixth form in Music, Drama, Media Studies and Religion & Philosophy.  She also has three years left in our home school.

They will use their morning times to study for their IGCSEs.  I will still be having morning meeting for an hour, but the rest of the time will be independent learning for my older three.

Delight-Led Learning

We LOVE project Based learning in this household, and in order for the projects to lead to the kind of in-depth learning I desire, I need to put my money where my mouth is, or at least my schedule where my intentions are.  To this end I will be leaving the afternoons completely free for project based work.  I want the children to have extended time exploring their gifts in a way which does not involve jumping through anyone’s hoops (including mine).

I am creating Pinterest boards for each child to use as a spring-board if they wish.  Apart from those I am backing off.  The children’s afternoons (apart from Monday) will be all about them individually rather than as a threesome or fivesome.  Gary and I will be providing financially for these projects in the best way we can.  I want the children to know their gifts are as important, if not more so, than their exams.  The exams (IGCSEs) will give them choice but really that is all.  They are but a stepping stone, a tiny part of the big picture.

T14 will continue with teaching himself guitar.  He would like to become proficient in lead, classical, rhythm and, once he has built his bass guitar, bass.  He will be using some of the time to build his bass as mentioned, as well as explore the local area on his mountain bike.  Once the large outdoor building is finished at the bottom of our garden, he will inherit Gary’s work shed as his own work shed, so who knows what he will find to tinker with in there 🙂  He will also be doing some research into the sixth form colleges he would like to attend and what sort of grades he needs for his IGCSEs to be accepted.

L13 will be working towards putting together an art portfolio, and so will spend the majority of her time teaching herself various different art forms using different media.  Being of an artistic temperament myself I can see us doing lots of artsy stuff together.  I am really looking forward to watching as she develops as an artist.  We may very well decide upon one piece of work together which she works on until completion.  Whatever the case, she has been really enjoying researching all that is out there.  I think it has really opened up her eyes to the variety of arts which she can learn if she wishes.

C13 is all about the music, writing and performance based arts.  She will continue with her music theory and her singing lessons (she is learning how to sing harmony right now).  The goal will be to reach Grade 5 within the next three years.  If/when she finishes her music theory she will begin piano lessons and again attempt to reach Grade 5 within the next three years.  We will be looking out for drama opportunities as well as performance opportunities – for example she attends a children’s choir who put on three live performances each year, and she will be part of Gary’s worship band when he plays at the adults with learning difficulties group.  Gary is the musical one in our family so he will probably be overseeing her work.

I am hoping this will give us all a perfect balance between exam led learning and delight led learning, and give the children the very best possible start to their adult life.

How will you be approaching these teen years?


  1. Sounds like you have a plan in place for the next few years. I’m looking forward to see how it will unfold. I’ve learned a lot from reading what you do in the last few months and I’m hoping to keep learning 😉

    Around here exams are a requirement, and the ones at the end of elementary and the ones for the first two years of secondary school are mandatory. My oldest will have his first exams at the end of this school year (elementary school). Three days of exams and I’m hoping he’ll do well (he knows his stuff, but he hates testing, not a good combination when exams are required LOL). After that he has three years to take the exams equivalent to the first two years of secondary school. Those we can spread out over the three years, so that’ll give some more time to focus in depth on each exam. It’ll be stressfull, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m already going crazy figuring things out for the next few years and that’s only the beginning LOL

    For our youngest we’ll be putting in a request for making the exams not mandatory. He has a learning disability and exams will be very hard for him. Especially three days of them at the end of elementary. He will be taking exams in secondary school, but we’ll have more freedom if we can get him approved. Fingers crossed I guess.

    1. It seems sad that children have exams whilst they are at elementary school age. It is the same over here only we don’t have to put them in for them if we don’t want to. So we didn’t. We don’t actually have to do GCSEs but I don’t want the children to ever feel at a disadvantage because they were home schooled so we have decided they will do them. I’m hoping it will give them choice if nothing else. I hope all goes well for your son at the end of this year 🙂

  2. Your family’s plans sound like a perfect balance. I especially love the free afternoons for their own passions and the different directions they’re planning to take. They are so blessed to have such supportive parents.

    We’re starting to think GCSEs too. At the moment Cordie’s planning to do maths, English language, English literature, French, Spanish and the three sciences. The rest of the time she’s busy with Scouts, karate, Stagecoach, gymnastics and guitar (she’s hoping to do grade 6 this year). No idea about the other child yet! But he’s only in year 6 still – plenty of time. 🙂

    I’m looking forward to following along with your older ones’ continuing adventures.

    1. Hearing about stage coach makes my heart yearn just a little. My C would love to have the opportunity to do things like that but we just don’t have the money 🙁
      It sounds like Cordie has some great plans and please do congratulate her on getting to her Grade 6! Wow!

  3. Thanks for the explanation of the GSCEs in this post. I’ve looked them up before, but occasionally get a little confused not being from the UK 🙂

    You have such a great plan laid out for the children that lets them prepare for the future, but also develop their interests. It’s sad they only have a few years left in your homeschool. T is my daughter’s age and I’m lamenting that she only has 4 years left at home – I guess I’ll be happy with my two extra years!

    I can’t wait to read your weekly posts about how this works on a regular basis!

  4. I like your plan. One of ours would be in year 11 and is taking IGCSEs this year. He is young in his year and was keen to take them in one go so this summer will be busy. We have also been tackling the process of securing a sixth form place, probably at a school rather than sixth form college.
    In retrospect, it would have been better to have taken, at least maths early to give time for further maths.
    Last year, particularly, he was able to spend time on delight led learning which tied in very well with the subject in which he is most interested.

    1. There are so many ways of doing this, aren’t there? We are also looking at various day release courses for them to do a level 2 qualification at the same time as their IGCSEs. We’ll see. I’m not sure if I’m scared or excited!

  5. I am not sure I understand all of the different tests and levels and such as it seems a bit different than the American way but I do know that you have well equipped your children for anything they wish to pursue. Mine have been slow to mature, but we felt it was important tp give them that time. Sam wants to pursue the Japanese language. Katie ia applying to a college to pursue art. I am meeting witj an educational consultant for James who wants to enroll in a Technical college homeschool program. Quentin is still firm that he wants to be an actor and go to college.

  6. I love your blog so much Claire. I am at the point of freaking out a bit. Keilee doesn’t quite know what her plans are. Actually she has too many plans. She stresses much over the ACT that she is required to take here. I love the way you homeschool. It is a beautiful journey to watch.

  7. I agree with Ticia, your system is very different from the States, but I love seeing how you are preparing your children for their exams. I think we do too much testing in our public schools. By the time I ended my public school career teaching second grade, we spent so much time preparing for state tests, we had to eliminate such things as art and music. It really is a shame. I am so very thankful the Lord has allowed us to home school.

    1. Oh yes, me too! I have to say though, that this year the feeling in our school is changing. It has become less laid back and more future focused. I’m not sure I like it but I also realise I probably can’t do anything about it either 🙁

  8. It’s helpful hearing how you’re planning to do things, Claire, and I like your idea of making separate Pinterest boards for your teens 🙂 Our son is going to be 15 this year, and he is currently studying 5 IGCEs. The system is all a bit new to me, as my husband and I did the Scottish exams, but they are not suitable for home ed. Hope you enjoy your week off!

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