For so many homeschoolers, starting their first child in middle school (grades 6-8) is a huge step. If your middle schooler is your oldest child, you probably envision a much more mature, ready-to-work-on-his-own kind of child. The age range for middle school is 11-14. My first advice (as an “old” homeschool mom) to parents of new middle school kids is to think back. What do you remember about being 11-14? Really think. Give it a day or two. Odds are that you remember VERY little about school (unless it was traumatic). More likely you remember movies, crushes, perhaps a first kiss. While the world is different for our kids, our kids are wired the same way we were. As you plan the middle school years, try to keep this in mind. Try to remember your 12-year-old-self singing into the hairbrush and trying to pick the exact right shirt to wear to the dentist!
If you have been homeschooling all along or since early grade school, you are most likely desperate for a break. You DO NOT want to have to supervise your child’s every move. That jump to middle school can feel like a lifeline. The reality is, most middle school kids will still need quite a bit of guidance and instruction to get their work done. Middle school is all about teaching your kids to work, self-correct and learn independently. The bad news is that you actually have to be hands-on for a few more years. I promise, it’s worth the effort! Use the three tips below to steer your way through homeschooling middle school.
1. Know your kid. Every sixth grader is different. Some are more than ready to take charge of a weekly list of assignments. Others are still losing their socks on their way to the kitchen. Be honest about your child’s level of maturity. There is no good or bad here. Set up your school days based on your child’s lowest levels. It’s far easier to bump them up than it is to back up.
2. As a parent, you know that homeschooling (particularly if you are homeschooling more than one child) takes a lot out of you. Middle school is NOT the time to slack off on checking work daily and taking the time to go back and reinforce lessons when need be. These are the years to catch bad habits, lack of knowledge and to address study skills. You’ll be glad you put forth the effort in the end.
3. Build in fun/down time. Kids in this age group are just starting to find what really interests them. Allow time for them to develop these interests. Additionally, these kids are growing fast. Make sure they are getting enough sleep – a well-rested middle schooler is so much easier to deal with. Leave a few days loose on your calendar to do fun things (visit a museum, have a cooking class, go to the zoo to take pictures, whatever). You’ll know when you need those days and you’ll be happy you scheduled them!
Simply being old enough to attend middle school is not a magic moment that makes your child ready to manage his own education or life. Plan your middle school program to gradually teach your child to take charge. This is a learned process and YOU have to teach it. While it’s a nice daydream, middle school kids do not suddenly posses the vision or skills to work on their own or to prioritize what is important to their future.
These are the years where you transition from being your child’s teacher to becoming his facilitator. It’s not a quick process. It’s not a pretty process. Hang in there. Take time to have fun along the way. You’ll go back and forth figuring out when to intervene and when to let your child take the reins. It’s a long process. In the end, you’ll be glad you stuck with it and your child will be too.