Many homeschool parents feel anxious about middle school. Often this comes from their memories about that time in their own lives. Before we started homeschooling, my husband and I were considering homeschooling only the middle school years, just because we remembered it being so difficult.
Middle school is, to be polite, an awkward time full of changing bodies and changing attitudes. Homeschool parents can find themselves suddenly staring across the breakfast table at strangers. Delightfully compliant children can suddenly act out like surly teens with attitude.
Thankfully, we are homeschoolers. We can shape and mold out children through this process, even during bursts of hormonally-charged awkwardness. Since they are with us, we can be sure they learn appropriate behavior in the safety of our home. In the meantime, I have some suggestions for homeschool parents on how they can gain a healthy perspective about middle school education and prepare their children for their high school years.
The Goal for Middle
The goal of middle school is to prepare your children for high school. Middle school is called Junior High School in some areas. It is usually grade 7 and 8, although it sometimes includes grade 6 or grade 9.
During those grades, your job is to prepare your children for high school. That's all - just one small task. To accomplish that task, there are two purposes for children, and two purposes for parents. I know that some mothers and fathers like more information, so I'll give some additional simple steps to consider, in case you are ready for something beyond just the basics.
Middle School's Purpose for Parents
The first purpose for parents is to spend the time learning how to homeschool high school. Take classes about homeschooling high school. Homeschool conventions and online classes are a good place to start. Read books on how to homeschool high school. Each author and presenter will have a unique perspective, and each parent can decide what is helpful for their family. I have a DVD called “Preparing to Homeschool High School” which I often suggest as an introduction. There are many good online plans describing college preparation.
The second purpose for homeschool parents is to practice your record keeping skills. Practice keeping records as if your child was in high school. Practice making a high school transcript. Practice writing a course description. Practice will show what facts are needed. Begin a transcript to learn if homeschoolers must keep attendance records in your state. If you want to make sure that you have the information that you need for course descriptions, then spend 6th, 7th and 8th grade practicing those record keeping skills. This will prevent panic when facing high school. For more information on record keeping, you might want to get my book “Setting the Record Straight.” It describes record keeping, transcripts, and course descriptions for homeschool parents.
Middle School's Purpose for Students
Middle school is a pause between elementary school and high school. The pause was developed because children learn at different rates – not just homeschoolers, but ALL kids! So the pause is used to give slow or reluctant learners a time to catch up before high school. At the same time, it gives fast and academically capable children a chance to continue learning at their level.
The first purpose for children in junior high is to give students in need some remedial help. Students below grade level in math can spend the time focusing on math. They can use the time to get up to grade level again. These children aren’t behind. They are using the time given to them for this very purpose.
The second purpose is for children who are ahead of grade level to actually move ahead straight into high school level work. Children doing high school level work, competently using high school level material with good understanding, can obtain high school credits on their transcript. Algebra 1, biology, and perhaps foreign language are common high school level classes that may be taught in junior high.
Remedial, Ready or Right
Some children are right on grade level. Not all children are remedial or ready for advanced classes. They don’t all have to be doing remedial work or high school work; you can do remedial work in certain areas and moving ahead into high school work in other areas.
Many students are right in the middle! You job is to teach your children at their level in each subject, all the time. Your child might be on grade level for everything but math, or excels in foreign language but suffers in math, and other subjects are right on target. The joy of homeschooling is being able to provide for your child’s academic needs in EVERY subject. They aren’t grouped into broad age-based classrooms, but are being taught precisely at their level.
The good news about junior high is that it’s absolutely impossible for you to be behind. If your child is below grade level and they’re in 7th and 8th grade, then the purpose of 7th and 8th grade is to get them up to grade level again. You haven’t done anything wrong and you’re just exactly where you should be.
Beyond the Basics – Seven Simple Steps
If you tend to get stressed for too much information, read no further! But if you are a parent that likes to plan ahead, I have some additional suggestions.
1. Make a plan.
Planning parents will find it helpful to plan your middle school and high school courses. A rough draft with a five or six year plan can eliminate some of the “Oh, no! High school!” panic that I sometimes see in parents. . Develop a plan that will include English, Math, Science, and Social Studies each year. Consider beginning a foreign language in middle school, so you can ease into it, allowing for plenty of time to get the 2-3 years of foreign language that many colleges require.
2. Cover the Basics.
They will need to know how to read fluently and write understandably. They will need to understand key math concepts, so they can build on those skills in high school. Encourage the love of learning with Delight-Directed activities when possible. Reading, writing, math, and attitude are the four cornerstones of study skills.
3. Develop study skills.
Teach your children to complete assignments when directed. Teach them to take a test calmly, without anxiety, for optimal performance when tests are required. Provide assignments so students can complete work on their own while learning time management. Provide assignments one day at a time at first. Later give assignments one whole week at a time. Much later in high school, your children will be ready for long term assignments, perhaps one month at a time.
4. Encourage Organization.
Provide an organized study space, with necessary tools at hand. Have a place to keep papers – perhaps a notebook for each subject. Encourage your children to work with a schedule or assignment list. Encourage them to use a calendar for assignments. When they have a regular time, place, and procedure for studying they are more likely to take those habits with them after high school. Explain how to manage their assignments. If often works to do the “Worst First.” They can do the most difficult or least enjoyable subjects first. It also helps to break big projects into smaller steps estimate time for each step.
5. Practice Time Management.
Help children to understand time commitments to make sure expectations are reasonable while they balance school and friends. During their studies, encourage them to take regular breaks. I suggest about 30-50 minutes of study, with at least 10 minute breaks. This is even more important for active learners, young men, and athletes. Regular exercise breaks, especially something strenuous, can really help teenagers manage hormones. Remind children that daily study is most effective. Avoid cramming for tests or writing papers, as can sometimes happen in co-op and classroom settings.
6. Research College Financing.
College financing can be confusing, so spend some time investigating options well in advance. Although earlier is easier, it’s not too late to begin saving for college. Do research on College 529 Plan. Learn about the different investment plans that are available, and try to start setting money aside now. Estimate the financial aid that you might receive from colleges. To do that, use the FAFSA forecaster at www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov. FinAid has a good article on the basics of saving for College. FinAid: Saving for College.
7. Do Not Panic.
Focus on learning and you can’t go wrong. When you genuinely care about the education of your children, you are taking the necessary steps for high school. Homeschooling with a variety of different methods can be successful. You don’t have to change your method of homeschooling when you are thinking about high school or college. Instead, focus on having your children learn on purpose each day. When your children are in middle school, you can’t be “behind.” Just do your best to educate your children and you won’t go wrong!
Copyright Lee Binz, 2011
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Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee's 5 part mini-course, "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School." You can find her at http://www.TheHomeScholar.com
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