7th grade

Homeschool Transitions: Making the Shift to Middle School

Homeschool Transitions: Making the Shift to Middle School

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.

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 is all about taking things apart and looking at them from different perspectives.

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.


Best of HSL: Our Favorite Advice for Homeschooling the Middle Grades

Best of HSL: Our Favorite Advice for Homeschooling the Middle Grades

Between 5th grade and high school, your child will discover her passions and her own voice.

Provide plenty of physical outlets for your child’s energy. Organized teams, private lessons, or even a new bike can help set tweens on a healthy route toward adulthood.

Give your child plenty of freedom now so that he can learn to use it responsibly. Now is a good time to make mistakes.

Give your child lots of opportunities to express himself. Write papers, make movies, create petitions.

Set deadlines and goal without serious consequences. These are the years to teach your child how to follow through on a project or assignment, but you don’t want to create homeschool stress by setting the stakes too high.

Some days, your child will act like a toddler. Some days, he will act like he’s in college. This is normal.

Your child is navigating big emotional changes. Try not to take it personally.

Schedule plenty of time for hanging out with friends. Kids this age care about social relationships more than almost anything else.

Let your child set up and decorate her learning space however she wants.

Plan lots of hands-on projects and activities.

Take dance breaks.

Travel whenever you can, wherever you can.

Make rules together. Talk about them. Enforce them. 

Try lots of different activities. See which ones stick. 

Keep reading together.

Make time for volunteer work.

Be as patient with yourself as you are with your child — and vice versa.

Explore other options, like charter schools or private school, to see what they offer. You can borrow some of their good ideas.

Take more field trips. By high school, scheduling will be a challenge.

Focus on teaching your child how to learn, not on teaching her a set of facts to memorize.

You will have bad days. Move past them.

Take some personality tests — such as the Myers-Briggs test or an emotional intelligence test — together, and compare your results. Use the opportunity to get to know each other and the best ways to work together.

Keep a reading log. Looking back at it will remind you that you really are doing a good job.

Resist the urge to compare your kid’s progress to anyone else’s.

Listen to your child’s favorite music in the car.

Take the day off sometimes, just because you can. 

Hug your child every chance you get. These years will fly by. 􏰅

 

This list is adapted from a feature in the summer 2015 issue of HSL.


What You Should Read in Middle School

what you should read in middle school

In the summer issue of home/school/life, we’re helping you navigate the transition from elementary to middle school in your homeschool. An important piece of the puzzle: Your middle grades reading list. These titles tap into tweens’ developing social and emotional lives

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It’s heartbreaking to read, but that’s kind of the point of this book about life for one Jewish girl in hiding during the Holocaust.

 

Flowers for Algernon
By Daniel Keyes
 

Some of the situations in this book may be a little mature for younger middle schoolers, but its themes of identity and intelligence will captivate tween readers.

 

What cost does utopia have? How important is freedom? Tweens are ready to tackle those ambiguous questions right along with young Jonah in this deceptively simple novel.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird
By Harper Lee
 

For many tweens, Harper Lee’s American classic is the first novel that really makes them sit up and pay attention to what literature can do. Scout, Boo Radley, and Atticus Finch are characters who stay with you.

 

The Catcher in the Rye
By J.D. Salinger
 

People have called Holden Caulfield, the book’s not-a-hero-protagonist annoying, boring, spoiled, and hard to identify with. That unlikability is part of what makes this a classic.

 

The Outsiders
By S. E. Hinton
 

Tweens trying to sort out where they belong will identify with reluctant hoodlum Ponyboy in this story about two rival gangs in the 1960s Midwest.

 

Holes
By Louis Sachar
 

Coincidence or fate, revenge or redemption, justice or generosity — Sachar tackles these big topics with good-spirited humor and a rollicking good story.

 

Golding’s novel might poke fun at some of the traditional fairy-tale elements in epic adventures, but the story of Buttercup and her Westley is an unabashed literary delight. (Golding was inserting wry narrator notes long before the trend took off in children’s literature.)

 

Lots of children’s books talk about the history of Native Americans, but Alexie’s novel is one of the few that digs into what it’s like to grow up on a modern-day Indian reservation. There’s tough stuff in this book, but that’s part of what makes it so worthwhile.

 

Bridge to Terabithia
By Katherine Paterson
 

This book, about two lonely kids who find friendship while creating an imaginary world, will break your heart in the best possible way.

 

Coraline
By Neil Gaiman
 

Like a more confusing, much darker version of Alice in Wonderland, Coraline is a fascinating look at the costs of getting what we want.

 

A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet)
By Madeleine L'Engle
 

You don’t have to be a science-fiction fan to get completely caught up in this story of Meg’s search for her father, and even non-science-minded kids will appreciate the intelligent writing.


At Home with the Editors: Amy’s Homeschool (7th grade)

At Home with the Editors: Inside Amy's 7th Grade Homeschool

Shelli and I both passionately believe that our magazine should be inclusive of lots of different homeschool motivations and methods. We continue to strive to bring you a variety of resources that will inspire you as you consider what is best for your family. Because we know most homeschoolers enjoy sharing the resources and insights they have learned through homeschooling, we thought we would start a series on our blog about our own homeschools. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better!

Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 7th grader. (You can see what 1st grade looked like for us here.)

Seventh grade is very different from 1st grade. In some ways, it’s easier — after years of learning together, I know my daughter’s strengths well. I know how she learns best. I know what’s likely to frustrate her. In some ways, though, it’s harder. This is new territory for us. I’ve never homeschooled a college-bound (at least that’s her plan right now) teenager, and I spent a lot of last summer worried that I was going to mess up something important. Honestly, I still worry about that. But ultimately, this is my daughter’s education, not mine, and letting my worries get in the way of her learning — well, that’s pretty silly. So we’re sticking with what works.

And what works for us is a pretty collaborative process. Every summer, my daughter and I have a little “planning retreat.” (Ice cream and My Little Pony movies are usually involved.) We talk about what she’d like to focus on in the coming year — usually her list is way too long, and we have to pare it down. I also bring a couple of lists — usually one of books I’d like her to take a look at and one of those “What your X-grader should know” lists so that she can see what other kids at her grade level are working on. (Next year, I’ll add a list of college entrance requirements because we’ll be doing short- and long-term planning for high school.) Together, we come up with a plan for the coming year. Here’s what we ended up doing for 7th grade:

Latin

My daughter started Latin in 3rd grade, and at this point, we have a good rhythm down. We use Ecce Romani as our Latin textbook. It’s unorthodox, but we’ve been using the first two books since 3rd grade — every year, we just start over at the beginning and work our way through again, getting a little further each time. We’ve gotten to the point where we just breeze through the first book, but I feel like it ends up being a good review and a confidence-booster. Ecce Romani has you working on translations from the very first chapter, which I know goes against the methodology of some Latin purists. For us, it works. We start each chapter by making cards for all the new vocabulary words and doing an oral translation of the new passage. The next day, we do a review of all the vocabulary cards in our stack, and my daughter copies out the Latin passage in her notebook, leaving space under each line for the translation, which she does the following day. We spend the rest of the week (and the following week, if we need it) doing the exercises in the book for that particular passage, and finish up with another oral reading and translation of the passage.

 

Literature/Grammar

We don’t do grammar as a separate subject anymore because, honestly, I think studying Latin is one of the best ways to learn English grammar.

This year, my daughter wanted to focus on poetry for literature. She’s been writing a lot of poetry and was curious about what made something a great poem rather than just a good poem. I rooted out my old high school copy of Perrine’s Sound and Sense, which I remembered helping make that difference click for me, and we’ve been working through it together. I think the book might be just a little advanced for her, so we’re just taking our time with it, and if something feels frustrating or too difficult, we’re comfortable just moving on to the next topic. She keeps a notebook where she copies down poetry she particularly likes and occasionally answers some of the questions in Perrine. (I don’t assign her questions to answer or anything — she just sometimes likes to answer them in writing.)

She’s an avid reader, and at this point, I let her read what she likes and don’t worry about it. (If we were doing more traditional literature this year, I’d probably assign her a few specific books to read. I let her assign me books, too.) In the past I’ve done things like reading bingo cards or scavenger hunts with book recommendations, but she doesn’t really need me pushing reading these days. I do still keep a notebook for her with a running reading list, and she’ll jot down titles and authors in it as she finishes them.

I also cruelly force my children to memorize and recite poetry every week or so, so my daughter has been choosing a lot of pieces from Perrine and from The Rattle Bag (edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes and probably my all-time favorite poetry anthology) for her recitations this year.

At Home with the Editors: Inside Amy's 1st grade

History

My daughter’s want-to-study list started with the history of fashion this year, so we kind of cobbled together some resources for that, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 100 Dresses (a gorgeous compilation), What People Wore When (a bit dry but informative), lots of Dover fashion coloring books, and some intrepid Google-fu. We’ve had some great conversations about how fashion may have shaped women’s roles at different points in time. She keeps a notebook, where she sketches dresses and makes notes about the time period or construction details. If she’s inspired, my daughter sometimes tries to make a historically accurate-ish dress for her American Girl doll. She’s a decent sewist, but we often work off an existing pattern. Probably our most fun project this year thus far was making gigantic hoop skirts.

This is the last year my kids will be doing the four-year history cycle together. (Next year, my daughter and I will do state history, then start back over with the ancient world for 9th grade.) So we’re all studying medieval/Renaissance history this year. My daughter still likes to sit in on Story of the World readalouds with her little brother. I’m always impressed by how much she remembers! We use Medieval Europe: A Short Sourcebook by C. Warren Hollister as a spine of sorts. I like this book because it includes primary sources but makes them easier to swallow with detailed introductions that give lots of context. (We’ll do medieval history again in high school, and we may well use this book for that, too.) We’ve done history different ways — this year, we take turns “leading the discussion.” One week, I’ll read ahead and do a mini-lecture before we dive into conversation; the next week, she’ll do the reading and the mini-lecture. She keeps a notebook where she takes notes, jots down questions and rabbit trails she wants to come back to, and copies maps. (She loves drawing maps. This is not something she inherited from me.)

 

Math

I did something a little controversial with math and let my daughter take two years off from studying it. I know! But she just hated it so much — it stressed her out way more than any kid should have to be stressed out. So I told her we didn’t have to do any more math until she wanted to. She didn’t live in a math vacuum — she still halved recipes and figured out if she had enough money for new headphones and a Totoro plushie — but we didn’t do any structured math. This year, she said she wanted to try math again, so we eased in with Life of Fred Fractions, and it’s going great. She’s had no problem working on the assignments, and when she has run into problems she couldn’t easily solve, she’s been relaxed enough to try different approaches to solving them. I don’t know that I would say everyone should skip two years of math, but for us, it worked out better than I might have hoped. (I wondered, and you might, too, how skipping math would affect her test scores: It didn't. She scored well in math both of our math-free years. I'm not sure what that says about learning math, math standardized testing, or anything else, but I thought it was worth sharing!)

 

Science

We had a pretty intense chemistry class last year, so this year, we opted for fun science, and we’ve been making our way through Janice VanCleave’s Science Around the Year. My daughter is probably at the tippy-top of the age range I’d recommend this book for, but she’s really enjoyed it. It’s not the most challenging of our classes, but she’s getting good practice writing lab reports, and it’s a lot of fun. She also keeps a daily nature journal (she is our resident cloud-noticer!) and usually participates when we do activities from The Nature Connection workbook.

 

Etc.

My daughter does handwork pretty much every day — she’s a good knitter and enjoys sewing. She’s pretty self-directed with these things now, so I just let her take the reins. (She likes to watch Mythbusters while she’s working.) She likes to cook, and she’s trying to make all the recipes in Nigella’s How to Eat. She enjoys drawing — I’ve mentioned it before, but she has loved the Manga for Beginners series this year.

She also is part of a Destination Imagination team that meets every week (and which I love because all the other parents involved with the team are so fun to hang out with), and she takes a creative writing class at our homeschool group.

One thing that’s important to me is that my daughter not feel like learning happens in some kind of discrete compartment — I want her to feel like it’s just part of life, like making dinner or watching anime. I try to model this by making learning part of my own everyday life (maybe that’s easier when you edit a magazine that forces you to brush up on Napoleon or learn about the history of NASA), but I also try not to get too attached to getting things done at a certain pace (or even at all). I want my daughter to feel like her education is hers to direct, and I’m there to offer support, input, and direction when she needs it. We have monthly check-ins, where we sit down over tea to make sure things are going the way she wants them to and make any changes she thinks we need to make. (This year has gone pretty smoothly, which may be because we’ve started to figure out generally what works or which may just be because of luck.) One thing that’s been a big change this year is her schedule — my daughter has turned into a night owl, so she often doesn’t emerge from her bedroom until almost lunchtime. That’s fine with me, so we adjust accordingly. Like everyone, I worry “Am I doing too much? Am I doing enough?,” but my daughter genuinely likes learning, so I figure I’m at least doing something right.