If you began homeschooling in the early elementary years, chances are good that you found your groove. When you see middle school up ahead, it’s easy to start getting nervous. With these suggestions, you can continue homeschooling your middle schooler like a pro.
#1 Encourage independent learning
When I think of teaching medical middle school students, the first thing that occurs to me is to encourage independent learning. Before my oldest child reached middle school, we did the majority of our schooling together as a family. Once he was a seventh grader, (and yes I know that sixth-grade and even fifth-grade can be considered middle school), I knew he would enjoy having more independent work time. Even if he hadn’t enjoyed it, I knew it was important for him to learn to do work on his own. I wanted him to learn time management skills. I wanted him to have the freedom to choose when to do his work. I wanted him to have quiet time to do his own reading and writing, with me there as an advisor.
All of my middle schoolers since then have greatly valued their independent learning time. In fact, they’ve valued it so much that they have often tried to reduce their family learning time, something I have resisted. We do want our middle schoolers to learn to be independent in their studying, but we also want them connected to the family. This is the case even if they are asking for complete independence. Most 11 to 14-year-olds aren’t quite ready to be completely on their own. And the connection that we experience in reading and learning together is one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling. So I have not wanted to give that up for my middle school students.
To encourage independence, consider giving your students a planner. Apologia makes student planners that I enjoy using. But I have also enjoyed using the record keeping forms that I have created myself. Get your record keeping forms here. I have also used Trello as a digital alternative to student planners and liked it. Regardless of what you use as a student planner, your middle school student needs to know your expectations of him or her. This will allow your child to work confidently without you.
Middle school is also an excellent time to consider enrolling your child in an outside course, whether that is an online course like the Mr. D math courses my kids have taken, or a class in your local learning center. Middle school is a good time to let your child experience the expectations of another teacher. As much as possible, encourage your child to be responsible for submitting homework on time.
#2 Teach Study Skills
My second suggestion for homeschooling middle schoolers is related to the first and that is to teach your child study skills. I mentioned in a previous podcast episode that Apologia’s science curriculum has been enormously beneficial to my kids in teaching them study skills. An outside course or even a course that you teach that involves taking quizzes or tests can be a great introduction to learning to study. If you are interested in course on study skills, your local co-op may offer a class that could be beneficial. There are also resources that you can use at home for this purpose.
The middle school years offer you the opportunity to see your child’s approach to dealing with long-term to-do’s. Does your child put off studying and assignments until the last minute? Come alongside your middle schooler and offer your support. I have also mentioned my experience in suggesting to my middle schooler to give me a list of assignments and chores that he had to do on a given day. I then helped him create a reasonable schedule for his day. I also helped to keep my child on track by timing each subject. Offer as much support as needed but no more. Praise your students for becoming more independent and more responsible. You may wish to set shorter deadlines than your student has for a class so that you can review the work and make sure your child isn’t procrastinating. The Everything Guide to Study Skills and the Middle School Student’s Guide to Ruling the World are study skills curricula worth checking out.
#3 Teach Social Skills
If you are having your child participate in church activities or outside classes for the first time, middle school is an excellent time to focus on teaching social skills. We all remember middle school, don’t we? It seems to be the beginning of the worst behavior in young people. Your child may encounter some of this bad behavior and will need your help in learning how to rrespond. It is not unusual for a middle school child to be reluctant to engage in a number of social activities. This is a time when appearance begins to become more of a focus. Children are often harshly judged for not conforming to the rules of the group. I discussed social skills training in an episode I did on video game alternatives. In it, I provided you with a link to excellent, free curriculum for teaching social skills.
If your child is reluctant to engage with others socially, find out why. Your child may have a very good reason for being reluctant. You may be able to find alternative social outlets for your child or you may be able to help your child feel comfortable in social settings he or she is already in. That may involve you chaperoning or your child inviting a trusted friend to attend.
In addition, it’s important that we don’t shame our child. But we do want to point out behaviors we see that won’t be accepted by peers. It’s much better that we point out these behaviors than a mean-spirited middle schooler.
Middle school is an important time to talk about social media. Even if your child doesn’t have a cell phone or popular social media accounts, talk about the positive and negative aspects of using social media. It’s important not to take a one-sided stance. People continue to use social media because it’s rewarding. Remind them not only of the risks, but explain how to manage those risks. Every social media platform allows blocking, for example. Be sure to communicate that if your child has a problem with social media, even if they haven’t obeyed you, that you will help them without condemnation. Children at this age can have difficulty seeing solutions to their problems and may feel hopeless.
#4 Teach About Puberty
My next suggestion is to talk to your child about puberty. If you haven’t already done so, it’s important to talk with your child about proper hygiene. You may need to come up with a way to remind your child to wear deodorant. Shower frequency may need to be increased. It may also be a time when your child wants to adopt a new look. As long as the look your child likes will not get your child a lot of negative attention or doesn’t conflict with your family’s rules, consider it. Some children who already feel uncomfortable socially want to adopt a style that is very different. The reason for this is so your child has a handy explanation for why he is being mistreated. In other words, your middle schooler can tell himself that he isn’t being rejected because he is overweight or has acne, but because he has a blue mohawk. It’s an attempt at preserving self-esteem, but it is not a good pattern to establish for adulthood.
In addition to talking about menstruation and sexual development, you also want to talk with your child about the hormonal changes he or she may experience. I did an episode on homeschooling through hormones. If you see some behavior or emotion that you believe is tied to hormones, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your child. Even if you’ve had a conversation about hormones in the past, your child has likely forgotten and may be wondering if something is really wrong with her. Hormones can be so confusing even to us moms.
Middle school is a time to affirm your child’s development. Talk about positive changes you see. Remind them that acne is a universal plague. Share your own middle school awkward memories. Chat about your views on dating and relationships. Avoid coming across as legalistic. Emphasize that you want your child to build friendships with people of the opposite sex as friendship is a good foundation.
#5 Teach Apologetics
As your middle schooler begins to develop a mind of her own, she may have more pointed questions about faith. This is particularly the case when your middle schooler is an advanced for gifted learner. The worst thing we can do in this situation is to panic. I once had a friend who was an atheist tell me that he was thankful I was willing to answer his challenging questions about my faith. He told me that he had relatives who weren’t even willing to discuss it with him. I responded that I could answer his questions because I was so confident in my faith. If we become anxious and defensive when our child begins to ask challenging questions, they may come away with the same reaction my friend had. I think this is a time in your child’s life when it’s important to involve other Christians in your child’s faith education. That can be done through classes on apologetics or worldview. It can also be done through your church with a pastor, youth leader, or other mentor. Someone you engage to help you with your child should be very confident in his faith and accustomed to young people’s challenges. TrueU is an excellent video series from Focus on the Family designed for college-bound students that you could also go through with your middle schoolers. It addresses the questions your middle schooler is likely to have.
We always want to be praying for our children but when our children reach middle school, we have to step up our efforts in praying for their hearts. We also want to model Christ’s love for them as they entered this new season.
#6 Earn Your Child’s Buy-in to Homeschooling
Middle school is a time when children who have been homeschooled may begin to talk about going to a traditional school. If that is an issue in your home, listen to the episode I did on what to do if your child wants to go to school. My personal opinion is that middle school is not the best time for a homeschooled child to go to a traditional school. You shouldn’t be surprised that is my opinion, given so many of the changes that a child is going through and the behavioral problems that are characteristic of this age group. That being said, I have known students who have previously attended school who went back in the middle school years and there was no problem.
Whether or not your child is interested in going to school, the middle school years are important years to earn your child’s interest in homeschooling. When our kids were younger they believed us without question that homeschooling was the best option for them. Now that they have been developing their own opinions, they may question whether homeschooling is really the best choice. You may want to revisit with them why you chose to homeschool in the first place. Consider taking them with you to listen to speakers at a conference who are explaining why homeschooling is such a fantastic option.
But beyond explaining our reasons to homeschool, we have to make homeschooling appealing for our young people. This means that we help our kids discover what their talents are, what their interests are, and at the same time engage them in being willing to take some risks. Middle schoolers are socially risk averse. They do not want to do things that could make them look foolish. To combat your child’s reluctance, do what you have to do to reward your child for trying a new social event, class, or activity. I have offered a child money (and I’m not ashamed of it), the chance to engage in a preferred activity, and the option to bring a friend in order to get him to try something. Your children are highly unlikely to say that we were right in encouraging them to try something new, but they will be learning an important lesson that they can take with them into life. I think it’s a good idea to talk about our expectations and the way we talk about future events and activities as well. I explain to my kids that I have no idea whether something is going to be lame or not. But I explain that either way it will be an experience we can talk about and learn from.
Just because our students are getting older, we don’t want school to be all work and no play. We want to make sure middle schoolers have plenty of time to do the things they enjoy doing. We want to continue to have a balanced approach to education, including things like field trips and hands-on activities. Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers has a list of hands-on activities to do with your middle schooler. I also like to remind my middle schoolers of the advantages of homeschooling when they sleep in or do something fun with our family that their traditional school counterparts could not do.
Finally, it’s important to remember that middle schoolers are still children. They still need affection, attention, and lots of love and affirmation. I believe when you encourage independent learning, teach study skills, teach social skills, teach about puberty, teach apologetics, earn your child’s homeschool buy-in, and cover everything in prayer, we can love homeschooling middle school students.