(Excerpts from the new book “Blazing New Homeschool Trails: Educating and Launching Teens with Developmental Disabilities” by Natalie Vecchione and Cindy LaJoy and shared with permission from authors.)
As a mom of a now young adult with a developmental disability, I understand the journey of how difficult it can be to start planning the future for a teen who is not headed towards post-homeschooling academia. With a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), our son would have struggled in college or technical school. Homeschooling taught our family that our son learned best in a 1:1 setting. Once we realized our son’s gifts and skills in woodworking and carpentry, we first considered the more conventional ways for him to learn this as a trade. He tried trade school, working in commercial workshops, and even having placements through Vocational Rehabilitation. On paper, these looked like optimal opportunities for learning. However, none of those options was a good fit for our son.
Vocational programs and trade school environments generally are a hard fit for our teens and young adults with brain-based diagnoses (such as FASD). Overstimulating environments, being easily influenced by smoking, vaping, or any other substances on the site, and being unable to keep up at the class pace were all contributing factors to being a poor fit. We tried several different options before realizing that the best way that our son would learn his trade was through an old-fashioned apprenticeship. I’d like to share why we chose an apprenticeship and how we did it since neither my husband nor I are carpenters or woodworkers.
The Path to Apprenticeship
By definition, an apprenticeship is “an arrangement in which someone learns an art, trade or job under another”. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) The history of apprenticeship dates back to ancient times when young people would work with a master craftsman in exchange for room and board and formal training in their craft. The more formal system of apprenticeships developed in Europe during the Middle Ages and soon was under the supervision of craft guilds, trade unions, or town governments. In early America, apprenticeships were common during the colonial era and developed into a necessary part of craft and trade industries.** (Britannica.com)
As the United States developed into a modernized and industrialized nation, the nature of apprenticeships changed from less of a learning experience to more of a work experience. Today, teens as young as 16 may begin formal apprenticeships as part of their education, and homeschooling made that a great option for our son. However, since many trades require a high school diploma, most teens and young adults start their apprenticeships after graduation and/or through trade schools.
The Perfect Partnership
Our son was blessed to have two apprenticeship teachers while homeschooling. How did we find these wonderful apprenticeship teachers? I researched, cold-called, and emailed about 50 local woodworkers and carpenters in our area. I put together an introductory email explaining a little bit about our family, homeschooling, and our son’s journey. Out of those fifty contacted woodworkers and carpenters, four replied, and through God’s orchestration, we were blessed with our son’s current apprenticeship teacher.
Our son graduated from homeschool last year, but he continues to apprentice with his current apprenticeship teacher, whom he has been with for over two years. That’s the beauty of apprenticeship and homeschooling – learning doesn’t stop even when the homeschooling journey is complete. Our son’s apprenticeship teachers understood about teaching with fewer steps, concrete examples, and learning at our son’s own pace. In fact, his apprenticeship teacher taught our son in a way that he thrived and which still surprises us! Through a 1:1 apprenticeship, our son developed a bond with his teacher, which built his confidence and nurtured his strengths.
The Perks of Apprenticeship Training
There are SO many benefits in having your older teen / young adult, who learns differently, in experiencing an apprenticeship during their homeschool years including, but not limited to, the following:
- Experiential learning in an environment that can accommodate your teen’s needs
- Learning “old school” tips and strategies in a trade or skill
- Having the opportunity to ask questions and learn at the student’s pace
- Having the opportunity to build social skills and connection with the apprenticeship teacher
- Creating a flexible schedule that works with your family’s homeschool routines
- Providing the apprenticeship teacher with the opportunity to learn about your child’s needs or diagnosis
- Working on long-term projects
- Out-of-the-box opportunities for experiential learning
Finally, a good apprenticeship teacher can be a blessing for your teen because they can be not only a mentor but an example of someone who will embrace your student for the amazing person that God created him or her to be!
(Excerpts from the book “Blazing New Homeschool Trails” © 2021 by Natalie Vecchione and Cindy LaJoy)