What can you do with these active, restless young people?
Middle School, or Junior High, is the pre-adolescent time of life most parents dread. Your child is not yet an adult, but he or she is far past young child stage. If you’re homeschooling, these middle school years can be some of the most challenging. You want him to keep learning, but you’re not quite sure how to cope with his changing moods. Successfully navigating these next few years will require more than sound curriculum choices. It will require flexibility and creativity on the part of you, the homeschool parent.
Here are some techniques and tactics for how to successfully homeschool through the middle school years:
1) Give your student plenty of room to spread out. Young people at this age are spreading their wings in many ways. Giving him a workspace where he can sprawl out on his back or on his stomach to work may be just what he needs to feel “free”. Resist the urge to nag about sitting up straight in a chair or about having books spread out all over the floor. After all, what does it really hurt if he is lying down to work? And as long as the books are picked up at the end of the school day, there’s no need to start a battle. Agree on a room or area of the house or garage that he can call his own–at least during school hours.
2) Allow her to listen to good music while she studies. Many of us concentrate best with background sounds of some kind. When I am writing or making lesson plans, I always have music or television on in the background. My mind just works best that way. Whether it’s classical, jazz, or rock, your student may actually need to have some extra input to really concentrate. For you parents who need absolute quiet when working, this advice is going to sound goofy. But remember, you’re trying to make an environment in which your student can work best, and a little music may be just what she needs.
3) Stock your homeschool library with lots of good books. My kids rolled their eyes as I would periodically pick up a “classic” at the bookstore. But in time, they picked those books up off the shelf and read every one of them! One of the best learning tools we found as we tackled those classics was to read along in the paper book while listening to the audio book. Many students will really enjoy following along in the text while listening, especially if they struggle with reading. They can start and stop the CD or tape when needed and make notes according to your assignment. You don’t even have to be there!
4) Give them anything that is hands-on, including computer-based learning. Learning with DIME blocks, Legos, electronic circuits, or a handheld device of any kind stimulates today’s teens and pre-teens. We live in an information and technology age, so let them use technology in their learning. Most jobs today require extensive knowledge of basic computer programs such as Word and Excel. Kids need to develop innate comfort with the computer to be ready for those positions when they look for their first job. Many homeschool families find online learning to be a great choice for their middle school and high school students.
5) Let them have a say in how the room or the school area is decorated. Within your budget, let your student arrange the furniture, paint, hang new curtains, put up posters, and generally add her unique touch to ‘her’ school area. This gives her ownership of the room, and it gives her some control over it. Teens love to have this type of independence, and you may even find that there is less complaining about doing school. Caution: If you give permission for them to do some decorating, you need to resist the urge to micromanage the process. Don’t give them control and then take it back again. Your student will feel resentful, and a great idea will turn into a conflict in a hurry. This is your chance to take a step back and practice letting go. Be willing to change things up a bit in your homeschool, and your children will appreciate you for it.
6) Use the middle school years to really build a solid relationship. These tween and teen years are the foundation for your adult relationship with your child. These are the years where you need to transition from director-dictator parent to partner-advisor parent. Instead of giving instruction and insisting on leading as the authority, you will need to exercise Godly wisdom in the transition to a partner and an advisor. Your job at this teen stage is to prepare your child to leave your home fully equipped for success in the adult world. You will be on your knees a lot during this time. Your middle schooler is growing and changing and is battered by hormones. Mom and Dad need to be the voice of reason. Don’t take things personally. Try and remember what it was like when you were a hormonal, drama-filled teen. Require respectful behavior, but allow some room for the hormonal derangement. To quote my mom, “This too shall pass.”
Now a word about birdies leaving the nest: Letting go is easier for some parents than it is for others. When my husband and I dropped our firstborn off at college, I was tearful realizing that my baby was now an adult in college. It was bittersweet to leave him 1,500 miles away from home—but it was mostly sweet. We had devoted our lives to raising and homeschooling him, so we had no regrets. We had trained him in all the skills needed to be an adult. He was ready, and we were ready to see what God had planned for him.
Other parents struggled with the separation. Some moms were angry– angry that their kids were happy to be going out on their own at college. Angry and sad because they no longer felt needed. Their job was done, and now what would they do? Moms, be on guard. Don’t wrap yourselves so tightly in your children’s lives that you cannot see them as separate from you, nor you from them. My wise aunt told me, “We must raise our kids to lose them.” Be joyful that they are growing up, not fearful or resentful. If you are joyful and encouraging, your children will want to include you in their adult lives. Clinging too tightly and being needy can cause kids to avoid contact altogether. My son is now 24 and lives six hours away, but he still comes to visit us, and we have a wonderful relationship. We treat him as a competent adult, and he fulfills that expectation.
Your student is maturing, growing, and changing, so be willing to be flexible in all areas of your relationship. Not permissive, flexible. Look for ways to praise, guide and validate your student as he matures. Look for areas where he can have control.
Finally, prepare yourself to joyfully set her free into God’s care as she starts her journey into adulthood. Take care to build good memories, and one day you can sit together and reminisce about what it was like when she was in the middle school years.
Lynn Schott is a 14-year homeschool veteran who taught her own three children from elementary school through high school graduation. She is passionately patriotic about our great country and is dedicated to teaching ‘founding principles and free markets to today’s students.’ She started Founders Academy online instructions after her last child graduated from her homeschool.
Founders Academy offers live, online semester and elective classes for a variety of ages.