Middle school provides three years of transition before high school. Your child will experience decided changes physically, emotionally and mentally. In classical education the middle school years are when kids enter the “logical” stage. Around sixth grade (will vary from child to child) your child will begin to move from needing to learn and memorize materials to being able to question and reason through problems on his own. As a parent you’ll notice that your middle school child is more than happy to apply these new found skills in the form of questioning your decisions and requests. While you want to nurture and help your child develop these critical thinking skills you will also want to pay close attention to how your child is using basic skills – reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, and responsibility.
- Reading – As your child tackles increasingly difficult books, keep tabs on his reading speed and his comprehension. You don’t have to follow him around with a timer nor do you have to drill him on each chapter he reads. Instead, gauge how long it is taking to read a book on average. If he resists reading or complains that it’s too hard, especially if this has always been an issue, it might be worth a visit to a developmental opthamologist. Watch your child while he’s reading. Does he hold the book very close to his face? Does he have to keep restarting the same page? Is he closing one eye while he reads? The opthamologist can perform a few simple tests to determine if your child needs vision therapy. The therapy is short term and trains kids to properly track words with both eyes. Post therapy results can be dramatic.
- Writing – If you haven’t already, middle school is the time to teach your child to type. There are a wide range of typing programs available online and on disc. My own kids hated learning to type. But, we had an understanding that they could quit the typing lessons when they could consistently type 40 words per minute. Now that they’re in college, they often thank me for teaching them to type. It saves them a lot of time. Middle school is also a good time to help your child master research writing and basic essays.
- ‘Rithmetic – It’s easy to keep plowing ahead with math. When you hit middle school, things begin to feel more urgent than ever – no one wants their child to be behind. However, if your child is still struggling with basic math facts and concepts, you are not helping him by moving ahead. If you have younger children, enlist your middle school child to help teach the younger siblings. Often, having to figure out how to explain and teach a concept will cause things to click with your child. If math has been or is a source of friction between you and your child, consider making math a subject your partner teaches in the evening or hire a high school student to come once or twice a week as a tutor. Only when his basics are solid should you move on to pre-algebra or algebra.
- Responsibility – Over these three years, gradually increase your child’s level of responsibility around the house and over his school work. Give him some freedom to choose which subjects he’s working on and when he’s working on them. For some kids, a weekly or daily check list is a tremendous help. You can also schedule schoolwork using a program like Evernote or Homeschool Tracker. This is a learning process. It will take a while for your child to stop relying on you to tell him what to do next and how to do it.
If you use the time your child is in middle school to reinforce his basic skills, address any problems early on and to start teaching him how to be an independent learner, he will be ready to tackle the challenges of high school and college with confidence.