Guest Post: How an OTA Personal Development Class  Kick-Started Homeschooling Freshman Year

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Guest post by Sarah Snyder,

Frantically planning my son’s freshman year, I carefully selected his core classes. My brain focused on credits, transcripts, NCAA accreditation…yet something was missing. As I browsed the upcoming classes offered by, one jumped out at me- a personal development class based on the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. I read the book a few years ago and wish I had a group to discuss it with at the time. Because my kids have enjoyed the classes they have enrolled in at Open Tent Academy, I signed Zach, soon to be a freshman, up right away for this one.

Only two weeks into the Outliers class, his positive response was much different than I expected. Very into motivational quotes and personal development books myself, my three kids have been subjected to self-help audiobooks and podcasts since they were old enough to talk. I read them books about grit and we even did a study on the 7 Habits for Kids by Steven Covey. Sometimes, for topics like this, kids need a professional and not a parent. Quickly thinking it over, I can identify 7 key reasons a personal development class like Outliers from Open Tent Academy is key for homeschooled high schoolers.

No surprise to any parent of a teenager, teenagers truly believe they know it all. Messages about personal development from their parents often are received with eye rolls instead of eye-opening “aha” moments. However, if the content is delivered from a trusted adult and has peer involvement, teens may fully buy in. Although he is still at the beginning stages of “Outliers”, he is required to participate and share amongst peers in the class, with the teacher’s guidance and specific questions ensuring understanding and application of the material.

As we try to check the boxes for content in core classes in high school, we tend to neglect the “why” and the necessary focus on encouraging curiosity. Although an A in geometry will look fantastic on Zach’s transcript, developing impactful habits related to personal development will launch him into a more successful and happier life.

“Level Up” is a saying we live by in our house, and I don’t mean moving up from freshman year to sophomore year. If we truly want to raise our kids to be the best humans they can be, shouldn’t we be putting personal development and focus on gratitude at the core and building their learning around that? I feel like that is what the class at Open Tent Academy is doing for Zach. It’s opening his eyes to not just what the successful people have done that he reads about in history class, but exactly how they accomplished their goals and how he can too.

Why wait? My generation waited until their 30s or 40s to self-reflect and initiate personal development. If we have the tools available, why not start now? Enrolling them in a class like the one Zach is taking will spark some ideas and inspiration they previously were lacking.

Communication with teens is HARD! Back to that geometry class- it’s not exactly an interesting topic for the car-ride….what formulas did you learn today? Asking questions like that is like asking for them to put their head in their phone. Proactively, Zach has brought up topics he has read about in the book “Outliers” and discussed in the class. He asked what I thought about the 10,000 hour concept and truly waited and listened, valuing my opinion.

Scrolling through my kids’ social media feeds (I do screen them as much as I can), I’m constantly reminding them that if something in their feed doesn’t motivate or inspire them, they should unfollow the person / company. Because of the huge role social media plays in their lives, I’m always looking for positive people or themes for them to follow-I’m hoping that taking this class opens up some new, inspirational people Zach wants to follow.
Finally, continuing on with the role model concept- the more positive role models a child has, the better. I don’t think anyone can argue against that. Personal development books, especially ones part of a class with discussion, are like a professional sports team of role models all ready to go.

Each week, the live, online component of the Outliers course is Monday morning at 8:00 am Central time. Truly, can you think of a better way to energize yourself than 90 minutes of motivational discussion? During the rest of the week, Zach can log in to the Canvas learning system and view all of his coursework. I’m excited to see how Zach progresses in the Outliers class this semester and he is already signed up for another Open Tent Academy similar class, “Ten Terrific Ted Talks”, next semester. Although he is taking a separate language arts / composition class, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the assigned writing assignments and quizzes related to the book. He has yet to complain about any of them and they are a nice mix of free-writing and formal writing. In this family, personal development courses will be a core part of the curriculum moving forward!

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