Whether you homeschool or not, middle school and the early years of high school are an important time for building independent learning into your student's skill-set. Some children "own" their work and charge forward with no problem. And then there's the other 90% of the population!
Here are some ideas for equipping students with independent learning skills:
There's a very good reason that most of our "how-to" posts here at 7 Sisters include that as a bullet point. God knows things about your child's abilities, struggles, and internal wiring that you simply do not. On your knees before your child's Father asking for His guidance is always the right place to begin.
Frame it for yourself, then for your child.
Here's a video journal I recorded when Jonah and I were wrestling mightily with independent learning in our homeschool. When you have a firm framework in your own mind, you are ready to move on in the process with grace and wisdom.
A critical part of becoming an independent learner is understanding the long-term goals and being involved in deciding how to go after them. Your child needs an adult conversation with you about the transition from Mom-directed education to student-owned life-long-learning. He will come to understand the framework (that we are ALL works in progress) so he will not be destroyed by his mis-steps, nor will he grow weary in plugging on.
It's a FREE download in the EBookstore...
CLICK HERE to get a copy of Scheduling Backwards to use with your student and to use for yourself!
When your child begins to think in terms of God's plan for his life, his education will make more sense to him, and the motivation will begin to come from his spirit rather than just his choice to obey his parent's direction.
Play with strategies.
Some kids do well with traditional planners, and some kids would rather have their teeth drilled. It's important to respect that what works for you may not be a great fit for your child. If the traditional planner approach flops for your kid, try some of these options -
* A master planner for the whole family with blocks in it that are set aside for "Mom-available to help" and "Independent schoolwork" but not with any specific assignments listed. This helps some kids determine what they can do un-aided and what needs help....a step in the independence process.
* A list of tasks that must be completed by a set day, but not a specific schedule. This may require mom to take a lot of deep breaths if student waits until the last minute to do the work. Let the grades speak for themselves; let the consequences be REAL.
* A pocket timer is a great tool for some students. If the timer hasn't gone off, then the "independent schoolwork time" is not over yet.
* Flexibility with "school time." If your child is a night-owl, perhaps doing schoolwork in the evening is actually a GOOD strategy. If it's not a good fit for you, have him do his independent work then, and save subjects where he needs your help for earlier in the day. There's not actually a right or wrong to the time at which academics are tackled. The goal is to learn, and being flexible about when and how is empowering to a student as he gradually gains independence.
Evaluate progress regularly.
The goal of independent learning is not going to be reached overnight. Or this week. Or this month, probably. It may not happen this year. It is a process. If you try things and they must be discarded as ineffective, guess what? It's working! You just ruled out one approach! At least once a month, or even once a week, have an adult conversation with your student. Together, evaluate what is effective and efficient in your homeschool and what is simply frustrating.
7 Sisters had such a great time at the Cincinnati Great Homeschool Convention. We met lots of friends and had the chance to share about homeschooling middle schoolers. We shared a little of our talk last week. Here is some more info:
Middle schoolers have two different personal tasks to explore:
Children at this age are busy learning to be competent and productive. They are particularly interested in finding out what they are “best” at and like to feel that they are generally successful in a number of things. A child who does not receive encouragement and reinforcement for a job well done will tend to feel inferior to his peers and may feel that he is unable to do anything well. (Excerpted from our Human Development from a Christian Worldview text.)
As they enter their teen years, children begin a new task: understanding and accepting their own uniqueness as well as their place in society. Both aspects of identity are vital in order for a teen to face life in a healthy manner. (Excerpted from our Human Development from a Christian Worldview text.)
God makes each middle schooler to have unique gifts and abilities. You, as parent, can help him/her try new things, go new places, and meet new people in order to begin to discover some of the gifts and abilities.
Some of the things our various kids have tried during middle school include:
Sports: soccer, baseball, hockey, dance
Music: choirs, orchestras, church praise teams, instrument and voice lessons
Art: various art and craft lessons
Drama: drama camp (click here for some FREE drama material from Sabrina)
Cinematography: local homeschool cinematography club
Church Service: volunteering in nursery, local missions trips
Homeschool Youth Group: new friend skills, service projects, adventures
Group and co-op classes: learning new skills like: "take one and pass the rest" Sometimes learning together made a tough subject more fun (like Marilyn's Middle School Essay)
Other new stuff: vacations that include historic sites, museums, nature hikes
All these helped the kids find and develop things they were good at and begin to enjoy (not just be embarrassed about) their own uniqueness.
What are some skills or talents your middle schooled homeschoolers are exploring and developing?
Don't be afraid of homeschooling middle school. These are some wonderful years and can be the best years yet!
All the Sisters at 7 Sisters have homeschooled our middle schoolers. We've had lots of ups and downs- it has been worth it all. Here are 5 tips we've learned for homeschooling middle school:
1. Prepare for high school
We used middle school to do some remedial work to bolster subjects that were weak. Some of our kids could also do a little academic stretching at this age (like writing official essays)... but we learned to...
2. Have fun
These are the last years before counting credits for transcripts, so we tried not to kill their love of learning
with overwork or busywork. Instead, we included rich experiences and adventure. We did lots of things with co-ops, group classes, choirs, sports, and with our families (or course).
3. Push social skills
Middle schoolers often feel clumsy- physically and socially. We tried to teach social graces and hygiene. We weaved these into group activities and spontaneous moments at home. Knowing that they could carry a conversation, read non-verbals, and not look and smell disgusting helped them feel comfortable around peers and adults. For the inexpensive and easy guide to social skills we Sisters have used click here
4. Fortify their spiritual foundations
American young people leave the church in young adulthood at the rate of 70% these days. Some people think that lack of actual Bible knowledge and spiritual foundations contribute to this. Middle school is an important time to fortify Bible and prayer basic skills. Some of our kids did this through Awana. We tried to integrate spiritual discussions into life, as well as encouraging personal devotions.
5. Explore interests and talents.
Some of our middle schoolers would feel stressed by not knowing what they wanted to do when they graduate from high school. We tried to encourage them that middle school is time to explore- not settle down. We tried to make opportunities to invest in interests and talents (and if they felt they didn't have any interests or talents- lots of different kinds of experiences helped them explore).
We loved our middle school years. Hope you have fun with yours, too!
Hope to see many of our friends at the Cincinnati Great Homeschool Convention this week. Drop by our table and say "Hi", ok? (And check out Sabrina's workshop on Drama, and Marilyn and me speaking on Middle School.)
Here's Sabrina's vlog on the importance of essay writing:
Let's chat about homeschooling middle school- that all-important transition to high school and the last few years of childhood.
All the Sisters homeschooled our kids through middle school and boy, did we have fun. In our co-op, we did wild project days (like Middle Ages-inspired jousting contests with wheelbarrows and pool noodles) and read great books together. Here are our goals for homeschooling middle school:
(btw- There is not just one way to homeschool and your goals may end up looking different from ours- that's great!)
Goals for Homeschooling Middle School
1) Prepare for more rigor in high school.
I used middle school to introduce longer papers with more details like citations, examples, and transitions. My kids who didn't just read for the joy of it, read more books- especially classics or Newbery Award winners.
2) Develop some strengths
Middle schoolers have the developmental need to be industrious. While some would prefer to simply be industrious at computer games or Wii, all need to explore new things. As they find a talent, they should find ways to develop it. My kids played sports, musical instruments, drew, memorized Scripture, wrote stories, re-enacted historical events, and more through middle school. It was a time to start trying on hats.
3) Earn confidence in social settings
I did this for my kids by teaching them how to start and continue conversations, how to exhibit lady-like and gentlemanly behaviors, looking for quiet kids and talking to them. This SERIOUSLY adds confidence.
4) Take lots of field trips with co-ops or friends
You won't have so much time for field trips in high school. Get it out of your system now and you'll really enjoy the few you can squeeze in during high school
5) Have lots of fun
These are the last truly carefree years. (Not that high school doesn't have fun- but the level of responsibility is so much higher then.) So have fun, lots of silly/zany fun!
Essay-writing should get a solid start in Middle School - Marilyn Groop's Middle School Essay Writing Guide can help. Download today and get a good jump on the important high school skill of essay-writing.
Download our Introductory High School Poetry Writing Guide for $6.99. It is a light-hearted approach to creative writing and totally appropriate for many middle schoolers. The goal of the guide is to get your homeschooler in touch with his creativity and gain confidence in his writing abilities.
Or download Introductory Guide to High School Short Story Writing: Family Narrative; it's also appropriate for many middle schoolers.
Co-ops for homeschoolers are wonderful at any age!
A co-op is simply a cooperative effort by two or more homeschool families who agree to meet together regularly to learn about stuff together. Some co-ops are formally structured, include many families, meet in a church for extra space, and last all school year long to completely cover certain subject areas. Others are very casual, involve only a couple of families, meet in homes, and add supplemental activities to subjects already being studied by each family independently. There are as many variations of co-ops as there are homeschooling families.When my oldest started high school, we joined a co-op with several of the other moms who now make up 7 Sisters, and studied a number of subjects together every Thursday, taking turns teaching based on our own areas of strength and interest. Those mini-class settings were really helpful in preparing my kids for learning under a teacher other than mom, someone who didn't have the same approach or the same weaknesses that I had.When my kids were in the elementary and middle school grades, my sister Allison and I had a weekly co-op for many years. Each summer we would decide what subjects we'd like to do together in the next year. These years of co-op were often delight-directed, and we had wonderful adventures learning things together with lots of hands-on activities and lots of bonding among the kids.Many homeschool families co-op for science and social studies in the elementary years. But there are lots of other really terrific things to do in a co-op that you might not have thought of before. Here are some of my favorite memories of co-op in our early years:- Packing a wagon to take on the Oregon trail. We researched the amount of space in the average wagon, the list of supplies most families tried to take, and we used representational items of similar size to try to pack our "wagon" (dimensions marked on the floor with masking tape) and still have room for people to ride as well. It was an adventure!- Book club with costumes and food and games from the book. Allison's two older kids were book-lovers from the womb while my oldest was a later reader. By planning activities based on a book we were able to encourage them all to really think about the material in the book. We also learned about other cultures as we ate food or celebrated holidays based on the reading we did from another time and place. Newberry Award winner Sarah, Plan and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan would be a great fit for this type of activity. Click here to view excerpts from the study guide in our EBookstore.- Making a movie. It required a lot more effort to make movies several years ago, and even so the effort was well worth it. Now that almost every home has an easy way to shoot video, this is a really easy, rewarding activity. Here's a video some of our kids made about Columbus and his journey to America.- Cooking class/basic nutrition. I liked letting the kids make a mess of my kitchen. Allison was not so much a fan of kids in the kitchen at her house. So we did some cooking together at my house, and all of us had fun!- Photography. With lots of kids around, there are plenty of models available. We played with light, perspective and location while the kids were still really young, and they came up with some very imaginative ways to visually capture ideas, feelings, and stories in portraits.- Producing a mini-drama. Dress-up meets story-telling and encourages public speaking skills! It's never too young to get them started on good communication skills that will serve them the rest of their lives...plus give them fantastic memories!- Art/music appreciation. Allison has a degree in Art History, and her love for art made the kids excited to learn about the different styles of paintings or sculpture we studied. We also had fun with an introduction to classical composers; there are lots of great book and CD collections available that facilitate this activity, and we found our kids really enjoyed listening and learning together.- Writing progressive stories. For the reluctant writers in the group, progressive stories are a great way to encourage and empower. Here's a vlog explaining how to do it if you haven't tried writing a progressive story before.- Creating a newspaper. Kids LOVE creating newspapers! Chronicle your homeschooling and family news. Creating a newspaper is a lot of work, however, so doing it with a co-op divides the labor and makes it less intimidating.
Homeschooling middle school is such a precious gift.
While there is no one right way to homeschool and everyone's goals are different (that's the joy of homeschooling), I'd like to share 10 goals that my Sisters and I have held for our middle schoolers:
1. Have fun!
These are the last 3 years before the kids have to mess with transcripts- so we live it up! Lots of good field trips, group learning, hands-on projects, silliness.
2. Love learning (well, most of it).
Mostly we tried not to overwhelm our kids with busywork and boring just-fill-time lessons. We looked for interesting activities and books so that the kids learn to love learning. Hopefully, then it will become a lifestyle.
3. Develop perseverance in smallish doses.
My kids never got out of bed in the morning asking if they could do math before breakfast or an extra lesson of grammar. However, they learned to persevere because we didn't waste time with mere busywork texts. We did what we needed to do and the kids learned to push through.
4. Get used to textbooks.
While we used texts for math and workbooks for vocab, spelling, and grammar, most of us did not use many textbooks during elementary school. However in 8th grade, some of us had our kids do a textbook science- just for the experience. (Some good ones include Apologia -for serious scientists, Pearson Concepts and Challenges -for struggling or recalcitrant learners.)
5. Have some great group experiences.
Our local homeschool support group starts its youth group in middle school. They have been doing field trips, group dynamics/games, service in these groups for over 20 years. This has been such a great gift for our kids. They get to form a like-minded peer group with other homeschooled middle schoolers. Other group experiences have included church youth groups, and various activities like choirs and drama camps.
6. Develop skills.
Our kids tried on a variety of hats during middle school. Over the years various kids have participated in team and individual sports, riding competitions, service opportunities, bands, choirs, dramas, art classes. They learned to write more maturely and have some fun doing it: essay writing for technical skill, short poetry and silly stories for creative thought processes. They developed additional life skills with more chores (don't ask about some of their bedrooms, though).
7. Begin some identity formation.
We helped our children begin to explore and discover the identity that He has created for them. We do this by immersing them in atmospheres we value (family time, church, homeschool community). We give them rich experiences in life. We modeled (we hope) the values that are important. We talk with them about things that are important and good. Some of us had the middle schooler journal often about what they were doing or thinking.
8. Give them opportunities to know the Lord.
MOST important to us was to lovingly provide our through living life together, through discussion, through reading, through music, through role models, through experiences, and through praying together.
7 Sisters has put together some of the homeschool guides we've done with our middle schoolers. Good info, no busywork. According to their ages and abilities, allow me to suggest:
Younger middle schoolers-
Older or more advance middle schoolers-
What are some of YOUR goals for homeschooling middle school?
Here's Sabrina talking about why essay writing is so important!
We've been discussing character-shaping curriculum this week. Today, I'd like to review a curriculum based on the blessed peacemakers that Jesus mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount. (This is not a sponsored post, we just like to share about curriculum that we like.)
The Young Peacemaker by Corlette Sande is a user-friendly conflict resolution curriculum that I used with a group of young homeschool high schoolers several years ago. I was impressed with Corlette's sensible and Christlike approach to handling conflict.
The curriculum includes light-hearted comic books that help to build skills in areas like diffusing conflicts, recognizing problem situations, and self-monitoring. There is a marvelous teacher's manual that has reproducibles (this is what I mostly used).
Some character-developing curricula are preachy. The Young Peacemaker is not preachy, but rather, it is fun, accessible and practical. The real-life skills it teaches are based on a biblical model of confession, forgiveness, communication, and character development.
While I used it with young high schoolers, homeschoolers in middle school would be the perfect audience.
What are your favorite character-developing curricula?
For young children: Good tools for developing good social skills and learning readiness from 7 Sisters:
A Developmental Approach to Teaching Kindergarten- A 21-page guide to slowing down and enjoying kindergarten while strengthening developmentally-appropriate skills. (This is how I homeschooled kindergarten with my children.) Download today for $3.99.
While it isn't QUITE character development, here's Sabrina's take on Ballroom Dance Lessons. (BTW- if you can count self-confidence as a character trait, ballroom dance builds character through building confidence.)
Homeschool is the perfect way to educate middle schoolers.
Middle school is a time of self-discovery and accomplishment. Human development-wise, middle schoolers are developing skills (industriousness) and are beginning to form their identities.
I was blessed to homeschool all my 5 kids through middle school (and beyond). They were wonderful years; let me tell you why:
1) They each had opportunities to develop industriousness
All 5 kids experimented with new skills and developed favorite talents. Each one tried different things: karate, guitar, baseball, soccer, flute, sketching, photography, etc.
One of the greatest blessings for my family came after it was necessary for me to begin working full-time. I was able to work evenings so that I could maintain my homeschooling. However, when my youngest wanted to try baseball and soccer, I had no ability to get him to all those suppertime practices. It touched me more than words could say that my homeschooling friends took him under their wings and ferried him to practices with their own sons. I will never forget the kindness of my friends and neither will he.
2) They each had an opportunity to develop deep, identity-forming friendships
These were the years that the kids' friendships began to change. In elementary years, their friendships were made by simply being around each other (proximal play, as it were). In middle school, my kids began to seek out friends for sleepovers, hang-arounds, and special events. They talked things over and came up with ideas. They listened to music together. They made silly-boy noises and sang silly songs while they rode together in the car. They became real friends.
The friends grew together to solidify their Christian faith, figure out clothing styles, enjoy music styles, and develop their own stories and inside jokes. (All of my grown kids are still friends with some of their best homeschool friends from middle school.)
(BTW- One of the blessings of homeschooling my kids in middle school was the absence of American culture's pressure on kids to be prematurely in romances and experimenting sexually. They just have time to be developmentally appropriate, silly, fun kids with good, good friends.)
Homeschooling middle school was the best- best experiences, best friends, best support (for me).
What are your homeschooling middle school experiences?
Today only: Social Skills for Children 1/2 price $1.99.
These are the 10 social skills I taught my middle schoolers to equip them for friendship success.
Quick easy ideas and exercises to practice- conversation skills, joining a group skills, reading non-verbals and more!
On Fridays we link up to Lisa-Jo at www.thegypsymama.com and "stop, drop and write" for five minutes. The idea is to refuse over-thinking and over-editing, and just write for the joy of it, using a prompt word she picks. My extra goal is that I try to connect her prompt word to our blog theme for the week. This week at 7 Sisters we've been looking at Middle School.
Lisa-Jo's prompt word is "REAL." Ready, set, go!
There are grammar issues to address, complex math problems to tackle, and (eeep!) puberty issues to discuss in "health class."
Emotions are a challenge (in your student and in you!). The sweet little child whose behavior you could accurately predict a couple of years ago is now a big guessing game. He is intimidated by things that were never a threat before. She is agonizing over choices that wouldn't have gotten a moment's thought in the past. They are increasingly complicated and less approachable than only a year ago.
What's a mama to do?
Middle school is a time that often attacks our confidence as homeschoolers (and as mothers, for that matter!). Our kids are clearly experiencing REAL struggles, REAL questions about themselves, their friends, and life, REAL fears that they sometimes cannot even articulate, and REAL physical challenges in a growing and changing body.
The best way to fight fire is with fire!
As the "REAL factor" increases in middle school, so must the understanding of our REAL, complete dependence on God. The control we may have felt over our homes and homeschools when the kids were younger was actually an illusion. Our family has always belonged to God, and that reality may be nudged under our noses a bit more aggressively when we find ourselves parenting a middle schooler, but it isn't a new reality.
We're all works in progress, right? This short video journal explores that very REAL idea:
God's got it well in hand. He understands our kids at all ages and stages. (He understands moms at all ages and stages, too!) His presence and his perfect plans are REAL.
And isn't that all that REALLY matters?
To better understand some of the changes in your middle school child, check out Human Development from a Christian Worldview in our EBookstore.
This week we've been offering a limited-time half-price of $3.50 on our Introductory Guide to Poetry Writing -- written for middle school and young high school students to make writing poetry REALly fun!
I asked my Sisters to remind me of their favorite homeschool curricula for the middle school years. Take a look and then let me know about YOUR favorites:
Language Arts- Vocabulary
Most of us tried lots of different publishers looking for the perfect vocabulary curriculum. By middle school, most of us had settled on Wordly Wise. It does a good mix of challenge, critical thinking, and memorization.
Language Arts- Grammar and Mechanics
Well, there's no consensus amongst us, so I'll tell you my favorite. In middle school, I always use A Beka. It does a marvelous job of skill review and explanation of new concepts. It is comprehensive, has color workbook format, and is good prep for high school. (Although we always skip the sentence diagrams.)
Language Arts- Creative Writing
We never found a writing curriculum that inspired creative thinking and fun while developing solid skills. So in our co-op, we devised our own. Now 7 Sisters is working on getting these writing guides to you. Right now, 7th or 8th grades will probably get a kick out of our Introductory High School Poetry Writing Guide (written for novice high schoolers and appropriate for middle school, too). (Oh, and only $3.50 this week- 1/2 price.)
Language Arts- Reading
Real books. Newbery Winners, old classics, fun new novels. In co-op, we did unit studies and made study guides. We've released the first one: Sarah Plain and Tall.
Also, for developing inferential skills and getting lots of classics read, we LOVE Edcon's Bring the Classics to Life. These workbooks abreviate a classic novel and build in skills in a quick, easy format.
We had 2 schools of thought on this:
Hands-on, in-depth, easy to use mathematics: Math-U-See. Wonderful stuff!
Humorous word problems, computerized instruction, scoring: Teaching Textbooks.
We had 2 schools of thought on this:
Unit studies like Konos done in co-ops.
Globe Fearon: Concepts and Challenges in Earth Science and Life Science. The 2-page lessons make learning quick and easy and helps kids ease into reading science texts.
Without a doubt: unit studies in co-op. (Sometimes we used Mystery of History with the kids because it has so many hands-on ideas.)
What are YOUR favorites?
(BTW- this is not a sponsored post. We are simply sharing ideas about homeschool curricula that we used and liked.)