The secret to transitioning to high school isn't so secret: Just keep doing what you've been doing, and trust that you've gotten to know your kid's academic abilities.
You don't have to rush or totally shift gears to successfully homeschool first grade. Figure out how you want your homeschool to feel, and build your days from there.
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.
If you’re planning to return to work when your homeschooling days are done, now—right now—is the time to start getting ready for career reentry
It’s the thing we all dread: That moment in the future, in two years or ten years or twenty years, when we have to sit down in front of a computer and try to figure out how to fit a decade-plus of homeschooling into our resume.
Whatever your reasons for returning to the world of work, you couldn’t have picked a less hospitable time. Moms returning to the workforce have never had it easy—a Cornell University study found that just being a mom makes you half as likely to get called for an interview than your single peers. And now, with the economic downturn and high levels of unemployment, you’re going to be competing for jobs with other unemployed people who have more current experience than you do. How, then, can a mama with a hefty, homeschool-size gap in her resume, track down a gig in this competitive climate? The key is to start preparing for your job hunt right now, well before you’re actually in the market for a new job. Homeschooling has probably helped you hone and develop all kinds of new skills, but you will have to help companies understand your value—and to do that, you’ll need to speak a language that they understand. Here’s how to set the wheels in motion for your return to the working world.
Revisit your options. If you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, consider whether the work you left is the work you want to return to. The degree you earned two decades ago may no longer be the right fit, and making the switch to a career you’re genuinely excited about can be liberating. Not sure where your career passions lie? Think about what people always compliment you on, suggests Whitney Johnson, author of Dare, Dream, Do.
Plug back in to your field. Knowing the buzz on issues and current players in your field keeps you from seeming like an out-of-touch, out-of-the- game applicant. make a point to get back up to speed by subscribing to a major newspaper, such as The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, and any go-to journals in your field.
Reconnect to your professional network. Ideally, you’d still be in touch with old bosses and coworkers, but realistically, you’ve probably been too swamped to even think about people you once worked with. That’s okay. you can start rebuilding your network now by reaching out to old work connections (Linkedin is great for this) and considering who your new connections might be: the photographer who shoots your co-op yearbook? The marketing director at the animal shelter where you volunteer? Establish your new network, and make a point of reaching out to the people in it every few months. When you’re ready to start job-hunting, your network will already be in place.
Make the most of volunteer time. Volunteer work works for your resume. so be strategic with volunteer efforts, and look for opportunities that will grow your resume in the direction you want it to go—whether you’re writing a monthly newsletter, soliciting community donations, or planning a donor party, community service can boost your resume with current skills.
Q: I’d like to make community service a regular part of our homeschool, but I’m not sure where to start. My kids are 6 and 8 years old, and a lot of organizations seem to want volunteers who are at least 16. Do you have any suggestions for homeschoolers looking for volunteer opportunities?
A: Yes! Volunteering is a great family project, and it’s definitely worth the effort of seeking out opportunities for your kids to contribute to their community and the world around them.
With younger kids like yours, the volunteer driver will be you: You’ll choose activities you care about and bring your kids along for the ride, whether that means carrying trash bags at your local park’s annual clean-up days or decorating the box for your family’s food bank drive contribution. Let your kids know that their contribution makes a difference — say things like, “Isn’t it great to clean up the park? It’s a lot of work for one person, but it’s easier when we all do it together. We’re lucky to have such a fun park to play in. I’m glad we can take care of it.”
Some organizations welcome younger volunteers as long as their parent sticks around: Check with animal shelters, nursing and retirement homes, community gardens, and food banks, which are often family friendly volunteer zones. Or consider volunteer work you can do at home, such as making blankets for Project Linus or drawing pictures for Color a Smile.
It’s great when kids get the bigger picture at a younger age, but don’t be disappointed if your children don’t immediately appreciate the importance of volunteer work. For most kids, a developed sense of empathy and interest in the larger world around them don’t really start to kick in until they’re 10 years old or so. That’s when kids will really start to appreciate the positive impact they are having on their community as a reward on its own—until then, try to keep the projects fun and give your young volunteers plenty of positive reinforcement for their community service efforts.
Avast, landlubbers, and prepare for a jolly celebration of International Talk Like a Pirate day on September 19 with a booty of sea rover resources.
Younger readers will appreciate How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke. Older readers can check out Pirates! by Celia Rees, a pirate story with a feminist twist, or Pirate Latitudes, Michael Crichton’s take on pirate life. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is the classic pirate read aloud.
Captain Blood (1935) is the swashbuckling gold standard, the Errol Flynn flick that introduced many of the pirate conventions that have since become cliches. muppet treasure island (1996) is playful fun for family movie night. For a sci-fi take on pirate life, screen the under-appreciated Treasure Planet (2002).
Sid Meier’s Pirates! computer game lets you choose the time period and region you’ll be plundering—it’s an oldie but goodie for pirate-loving kids. Put your sailing skills to the test with the Pirate King’s Sailing Simulator.A combination of luck and strategy play makes the Pirate’s Cove board game fun for different ages.
Dig into the history of some of the sea’s most notorious pirates, including a few feared females. Turn a cardboard box into a replica of a pirate ship with MollyMoo’s simple tutorial. And don’t forget to brush up on your pirate terminology with this handy dictionary that’ll help you get your sea legs.