Making the transition from elementary to middle school can feel intimidating, but try to see it as a dress rehearsal: Here’s where you lay the groundwork for high school and your child’s learning future, whether that includes heading off to college, mastering a trade, or starting her own business. These are the years when you’ll try lots of different materials, projects, and methods—go in knowing that some of them won’t work. You will fail sometimes, and it will be okay. If there is one overriding message for your middle school years—for you and for your tween—it’s that messing up is just part of the process.
By middle school, your child probably has mastered his educational basics. He can read. He can add and subtract, multiply and divide. He knows some history and some science. He can write a paragraph on a given subject. If you look at lists of what a 6th grader or a 7th grader needs to know, you won’t find a lot of traditional skills listed. Instead, you’ll find an emphasis on analysis: The middle school years are when knowledge takes on meaning—messy, open-to-interpretation meaning—and encouraging your child to question, analyze, and critique the world around him is one of the most supportive things you can do as a homeschooling parent. Here’s what to consider as your child moves into middle school:
Look for outside classes. The tween years are an optimal time for kids to test-drive different kinds of teaching styles and evaluation methods. Different teachers with different expectations give your child the opportunity to discover her strengths and weaknesses in a safe space—and that self-knowledge will play an important role in her future learning.
Don’t drop physical education. Even more than little kids, tweens need active time. Between ages 9 and 16, kids develop their lifelong attitudes toward exercise: Kids who get regular exercise now are more likely to exercise as adults. Regular exercise also gives kids a healthy way to cope with the emotional overload of adolescence and can develop the parts of the brain that help them learn—and remember what they’ve learned—more effectively.
Hand over the reins. If you haven’t already started giving your homeschooler decision-making power about what and how he studies, now’s the time. If you’re committed to covering certain subjects every year, stick with your plan—but let your tween weigh in on how you cover those subjects, and give him space to decide what outside classes or other interests he pursues. While you’re at it, hand your tween her own calendar, and let her start to handle scheduling her activities and keeping up with homework and deadlines. Let her practice keeping (and keeping up with) notes and materials for her classes. Yes, your child may muck up an assignment or miss a meeting, but she’ll be learning how to organize and manage her time while the stakes are still low.
COURSE OF STUDY
Be ready to nitpick everything because that’s where your tween’s academic inclinations will point him. Middle school is all about taking things apart and looking at them from different perspectives. Don’t be surprised if your child is quick to latch onto other perspectives, especially those of his friends.
Language arts: Steer your student toward the nonfiction section of the library. Biographies make a great starting point—the Childhood of Famous Americans series or the DK Biography series include a wide range of historical figures. Encourage tweens to look beyond the story in fiction, considering topics like character, setting, plot, and theme.
Middle school writers should start to practice the art of revision. A good writing book, like The Elements of Style or How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, can help this process, or consider a writing curriculum like Cover Story [Editor's Note: There are a few traces of religion in Cover Story, most notably in the section on conducting interviews, in which the example interview is one with a missionary in Sudan, and an occasional Bible verse as an example of sentence construction. Religious references aren't the only examples, and there's no proselytizing or anything like that, but you should be aware.] , which guides kids through several different types of non-fiction writing, or Moving Beyond the Page, which is a practical option for kids and parents who want step-by-step guidance.
Learning how to find, use, and correctly cite sources is important now, too. (The Purdue Online Writing Lab has a handy online guide to help cite sources—from personal interviews to webpages— correctly.) Research papers that combine original thinking and opinions with thoroughly researched information from a variety of sources are a key achievement of middle school language arts.
Math and science: Your tween will make the leap from memorizing facts to analyzing data during middle school. Expect him to get familiar with scientific notation, charts, and graphs, as well as tools like calculators, protractors, and compasses. In math, you’ll be moving beyond the basics into algebra and geometry, including solving lots of word problems, getting a grip on the concept of negative numbers, and figuring out fractions, decimals, and percentages. Often, this is when parents start to feel insecure about our ability to teach math—if you’d like a program that does the teaching for you, consider Teaching Textbooks, which delivers lessons via DVD, or an outside math class. (But keep in mind: a smart math curriculum can also give you back the math confidence your own middle and high school math classes may have taken away.)
In science class, break out the microscope and telescope to explore the micro- and macrocosm. Explore technology and how things work. Pandia Press R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Level 2 may be the best traditional middle school science curriculum out there, or take a literature-based approach with The Story of Science series.
History and social studies: If you haven’t already made current events part of your routine, get plugged in now. CNN 10 (formerly CNN Student News) makes a good check-it-every-day resource for keeping up with world events, and you can find in-depth ideas for exploring current news topics via The New York Times Learning Network.
Your middle schooler is also ready to dig into meatier issues, including social justice, environmental ethics, historical conflicts, and more. Trying to see historical events from different perspectives is a mind-expanding experience.