Teens Heard, Parents Heard

Compiled by Pamela Schmidt, Bluemont and Karen Phaup, Beaverdam


Self-described author, educator, adventurer and entrepreneur Blake Boles was the keynote speaker at the 2015 VaHomeschoolers Conference and Resource Fair. Exuding a quiet, and unimposing first impression, he received resounding positive accolades from both the teen attendants and their parents. Such global enthusiasm is rare in most any venue.
Blake Boles’ mild mannered, unobtrusive attitude belies the homeschool super-hero he has become to many self-directed learners and those who are seeking validation for thinking outside the box.
Many who attended his sessions this year left more motivated than ever with a desire to share their information with others. This post is a continuation of an article published in our most recent Voice magazine titled, “Teens Heard, Parents Heard.”  The teen impressions are below, immediately followed by some parents’ favorite moments.  
For more information, please visit Blake Boles’ website






Comments below are in response to attendance at How to Talk to Anyone, a teens-only session presented by Blake Boles.


“Blake Boles was captivating because he had that perfect mix of shyness and self-confidence that made you want to listen to what he had to say. Initially, he seemed nervous about speaking to over 50 expectant-looking teens, but he soon warmed up, and had the whole room following his words, movements, and love for acronyms. The scenarios he created for examples were all thought up on the fly with suggestions from the audience, and he turned them all into learning experiences.” ~ Matthew Scherger

Matthew will be a high school senior, piecing together his education at home, the local high school, and community college, while working to bring his college plans to fruition.


“‘How to Talk to Anyone’ was informative and all together fun. Blake let us be ourselves but taught us some basic and really easy tools to use when meeting someone for the first time. It wasn’t just a session. It was a hands-on workshop where we took what he was teaching us and put it to use.” ~ Marie Mae Greenfield

Marie Mae plans on going to Danville Community College for American Sign Language and writing courses.


“I quite liked the acronyms he used to help us get a sense of what to do. He had us practice a few of the things with other people. I thought it was very organized, and his presentation was amazing. He called for volunteers, and I don’t know about everyone else, but he got me to feel involved, like he was talking with us as well as at us. I would definitely like to see this session again next year; I think anyone could benefit from it.” ~ Katie Nuwayser

Katie is a high school junior and divides her her focus between independent studies and community college classes with an ultimate goal of being a fiction writer. She currently hones her craft writing several online fan fiction series and stories. She has been homeschooled since the second grade.



“The main thoughts for his sessions I have are less about the material, and more on his presentation. Blake did an excellent job with group management. He did not demand respect from the teens, but earned it. [He] never had to raise his voice once, which was very impressive. One thing that made the teen session stand out more to me, was that it was a workshop instead of a presentation. It was engaging for everyone and he made it educational and entertaining.”  ~ Tyler Phaup

Tyler, a homeschool graduate,  is directing his own higher education through online learning and seeking out community mentorships by working several jobs. This Spring his focus has been working as Staff and Development Manager for Challenge Discovery, the ropes course at The University of Richmond, teaching STEM classes at Engineering for Kids, and operating his own business On Target Archery.



“He took all of the random and sometimes silly suggestions seriously (pet dog being cyber-bullied) and played along. I always appreciate when adults understand that sometimes (frequently) teenagers fidget and talk, and they don’t call the teens out, but continue to speak —intentionally not commenting on the interruptions. I think it commands a level of respect without having to yell at their students or get angry about interruptions. I thought that this presentation was easy to understand and helpful, with easy to accomplish tasks and requirements.” ~ Grey Gondella

Grey will be spending her second semester of college in Thailand this fall, living and working with survivors of sex trafficking while earning credits through Portland State University and Carpe Diem Education.


“Blake taught me how to introduce myself and carry on conversations in a way that is friendly, professional, and easy. I’ve never been good with eye contact or carrying on light conversation, but Blake’s session has stuck with me surprisingly well. I even got a chance to use it at the conference!” ~ Kaila Nathaniel

Kaila Nathaniel has been accepted to multiple colleges, and will be attending Virginia Tech in the fall. Her current plan is to major in physics.


 “I learned what posture actually does. I had always thought that it was more about presenting an appearance but learned that it is also about being able to breathe and not run out of breath while talking.” ~ Jason Elms

Jason plans to spend a year at the Northern Virginia Community College after graduating this year, then pursue a liberal-arts degree, most likely in history.


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“Blake Bole’s energy is infectious. What a role model! Enthusiastic, empowering and filled with entrepreneurial spirit. If you have the will you have the way to self-educate at any level.”

Krystal D. McDonald, Chairman 2015 VaHomeschoolers Conference and Resource Fair



“My favorite part of his keynote was the concept of the Cage and the Key, something Blake learned as a teen while attending Deer Crossing Camp during the summer. This centered around attitude and as he said “It’s the self-directed learner’s most precious resource.” So for every cage, it’s important to find a key. I could so relate to that and I see how Tyler’s thinking already works in that way, whereas Ryan is more likely to give up if things get tough. So, I will be assisting Ryan to apply this technique in the future. Blake had a slide which displayed the cages and keys. Cages were thinking or saying “I can’t”, “I should”, “I don’t know”, “I wish”, “I hate” and “I have to”. Each of these short phrases have a corresponding key: So for the cage “I can’t”, the key is “I could if I”, for “I should”, the key is “I choose to”, the key for “I don’t know” is “I’ll find out”, if you’re trapped in the “I wish” cage, find the “I’ll make a plan” key, unlocking the cage “I hate” with the key “I prefer”, and instead of “I have to”, use the key “I get to”.”

“All of Blake’s sessions were inspirational for me, but what I considered to be most powerful wasn’t what was taking place up on the stage, but rather when Blake was among the conference attendees. His interactions with various teens came from a place of genuine interest and compassion. If he were talking with a teen, it didn’t matter what the noise level or how many other people were standing nearby in discussion, his attention was solely focused on that one person to which he was engaged in conversation. He was so respectful and I think the teens sensed his interest in what they had to say. He made it look so easy to establish a rapport with them.”

“Self-directed learning isn’t accomplished in a vacuum; it’s not a solo endeavor. By bringing Blake to our conference, it increased awareness for this alternative higher education option. But more importantly, in my mind, it allowed for our little VaHomeschoolers community to become closer and more supportive of each other as some of our young adults and teens begin to explore this as a viable option. It sparked an interest, lit a fire for some. For those already exposed to this concept, it provided reassurance and encouragement to continue down this path.”

“Another observation: Blake met the kids where they were. He accepted what they contributed unconditionally and I think that’s what created the atmosphere for sharing ideas, creating an open environment for learning, and a desire to pose questions to themselves and each other in order to expand on the possibilities for their futures.”

Karen Phaup, Beaverdam


“I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of Blake Boles before we lost Peter Gray as our keynote speaker. I have been reading Peter Gray’s articles for years and I was excited to hear him speak. When I heard the bad news that he couldn’t make it to the conference after all, I didn’t know I was in for a treat! It turns out Blake Boles is an unschooler and he focuses on teens and young adults. My kids, 13, 11 and 8 have always unschooled, so this was perfect timing for me. As my 13 year old daughter Rhiannon said, Blake Boles reinforces ideas we have, which is reassuring, as well as gives us new great ones. She attended his teens only session, which I thought was a wonderful opportunity for them. He seems to have a gift for talking to kids.

The keynote address, The Art of Self-Directed Learning, was reassuring, encouraging, exciting, and inspiring. I like how Blake said the parent role with our self-directed children is to say, “Let me show you your options.” That way we guide them rather than impose on them. After all, as C.S. Lewis said, tyranny for the good of the victims is the most oppressive. I laughed at the acronym he taught us, LMGTFY, meaning “let me google that for you.” I keep reading articles lately about how out of date school is in modern life, attempting to force-feed information when we’re already swimming in it and carry devices with which we can find answers to anything spontaneously. I think that goes for school-at-home as well. I was inspired by his stories of what self-directed learners have done, though I was so immersed in the talk I didn’t take good notes and can’t repeat the specifics.

Psychology of Self-Motivation was a little less exciting — more academic — than Blake’s keynote, but it was an interesting sort of visit to my past self. My bachelor’s degree is in psychology, so I’m familiar with Maslow’s triangle and the basics of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. But he applied it to our self-directed learning lives and it made so much sense. And again, I stopped taking notes when he mentioned that his slides would be available for download on his website, and I just listened.

Anyway, the session I was most eager to attend was the last, Better Than College. I already had been looking into alternatives. For one thing, as he very neatly detailed in his example of what else you could do with $20,000 for 9 months instead of spend a semester in college (including traveling, hosting an online portfolio of projects in your field of interest, and investing in a mutual fund that will bring you ahead of the game instead of leave you in debt afterwards) college costs have grown faster than anything else and so many graduates are in debt. Alternatives to college also make a lot of sense when you’ve already been unschooling all your lives as my kids have. It was interesting that he listed several occupations that do still need college educations (doctor, lawyer, academic) but suggests several poor reasons to make the choice as well: because it’s expected of you, you think it’s the only path, you want to get away from home.

But most practical, he provided us with a strategy. I think this inspired my daughter, who looked more awake during this session than she had all day. (It’s hard to perform at the talent show, sleep at home an hour away, and make it back to the conference at 8 a.m.!) And I said “us” because it’s not just young adults starting out who need to do this, but also anyone, like me, who is looking to start a new career after, for example, being a stay-at-home-mom for over a decade. The strategy steps are 1) give yourself assignments, 2) create value, 3) find support, and 4) create accountability. I do have a somewhat hard-to-read two pages of scribbled notes on all of this. And I’ve ordered his book.

This is different than what we grew up with in school, which is why it’s a little hard to trust the process, but self-directed learners are accomplishing innovative, creative, awesome things nowadays, and that’s important in our world today. I’m so excited to see the future.”

Michele Kendzie, Fredericksburg




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