Homeschooling through middle school is a challenge for a number of reasons. In addition to academics, it’s a time to start examining your child’s extracurricular activities or lack thereof. It is also a great time for you to revisit the reasons you are homeschooling. You might find yourself paring down your child’s activities as academics require more time.
If your child is involved in multiple activities it might be time to talk about narrowing the field. If your child has yet to find something they love, you might want to pick two or three things and give them a fair trial. In thinking about this subject, five things immediately popped into my head as things I wish I had known when my older children were starting middle school.
*What are you hoping your child will get out of each extracurricular activity? Does this goal mesh with your overall homeschooling goals?
In general, it’s a good idea to know the amount of time each activity will require (driving time, practices, events, fundraisers) and how much a parental commitment (time/financial) is involved. If you have more than one child, can you handle multiple activities or are you prepared to steer everyone in the same direction? Careful thought can save you a lot of headaches!
*Are you seeking a competitive or social environment? Is working through your local school system an option?
Sports, dance and music all offer chances for both types of experiences it’s simply a matter of locating the right group. Many school districts are open to homeschoolers participating in activities like band, choir, and sports. If you’re able to get started in middle school, your child can receive instruction and learn the skills he needs should he wish to move onto high school activities.
If you are looking outside of the school system, look for homeschool groups who have their own teams, bands/ensembles. Also check local churches, especially for music. 4H is a great option for kids who can’t quite figure out what they like to do. (And, no, you do not have to raise chickens.) Sixth grade is a great time to join Scouts. You do not have to have participated in Cub Scouts or Brownies.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, consider starting something yourself. One mom in my town had two children who were competitive swimmers. She was looking for a twice a month social activity where the kids could simply have fun. Thus was born Game Fridays at her local library. Through word of mouth and some internet connections, homeschoolers from all over would gather every other Friday afternoon for board games. Lasting friendships were made and a need was met.
*Already looking to college?
Good for you! Try to be realistic as you aim for college goals – especially with middle schoolers. Look at scholarship possibilities as a bonus, not a given no matter how talented your child is. Encourage your child within reason. If she’s been playing the piano for seven years and still hates it, consider looking into something else. The same holds true for sports. If you always wanted to be a gymnast, despite the fact that you’re 5’11”, don’t push your child to fill your dream especially if she’s likely to become too tall for the sport. Keep in mind that colleges really like homeschooled kids for their independence, ability to find and process information and for their lack of “cookie-cutter-ness.” Don’t try to squeeze your child into every activity you imagine should be on a college application. Instead, focus on one or two and use your ability as a homeschooler to adjust schedules and allow your child to shine.
Sports, music and dance are all terrific activities but they aren’t for everyone. Use middle school to test out different activities and see where it leads you. Learn coding. Try out multiple media in art – local craft stores, art museums and even local art groups are an excellent way to try new things. Study carpentry or car repair. Take some cooking classes. Train as a family for a fun run that benefits a charity. Study digital photography and combine it with a love of: nature, architecture, portraiture, or sports. Pursue a love of magic – there’s lots to learn there. Make a quilt. The possibilities are endless and nothing is too crazy! This approach is fun, can be family-centered and, if you keep an open mind, you are likely to hit on something that sparks a passion in your child.
If your child commits to something, stick it out. If your child in involved in a group activity, do not use that activity as a threat. It’s not fair to the other members of the group if you make your child miss practices or events. Find another consequence. If you find an activity to be overwhelming and your child absolutely loves it, see if you can connect with other parents and share the driving, volunteer duties, etc. before dropping out. Keep your original goals in mind. Review and revise them as you journey through middle school. Be willing to change when it’s warranted.
Yes, I’ve just given you one more thing to think about for middle school. However, if you approach extracirriculars as a chance to learn something new, meet potentially interesting friends and help your child find something she loves, it’ll be a lot more fun.