The following is a post from contributing writer Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home.
Middle school is a time of great transition in our family’s home education program. We take a relaxed approach during the elementary years—not unschooling, but definitely far from school-at-home.
My youngest is in sixth grade now. I work with him on almost everything; we’re a team. On the other end of the spectrum, my daughter is in 10th grade and works completely independently. So, what happens in those four years to go from teacher-directed to student-ownership?
We make a deliberate move toward more and more independent work in middle school when three key components come into play: checklists, “buckling down,” and accountability.
I know that lots of parents start checklists earlier, but checklists don’t fit well with my relaxed elementary philosophy. Starting in sixth or seventh grade, I decide which subjects my student can do on his own and design an assignment sheet, detailing exact requirements. The checklist gives daily tasks initially, and I work up to a weekly list in eighth or ninth grade.
Requiring that a student divide up the weekly work himself helps him to learn time management and organizational skills. In my experience, checklists help a student take more ownership of his education—an important step toward independence.
As I’ve said, we are relaxed in K-5. But beginning in sixth or seventh grade, we add more and more academic work each year. For example, we take a relaxed approach to science in the elementary years, ranging from habitat lapbooks to nature drawings to kitchen science.
However, in middle school, we “buckle down” with more of a textbook approach. This year, for example, we are using Elemental Science’s Biology for the Logic Stage. (The link will take you to my review of this program.) Language arts, too, becomes more focused on precise writing. This is when I introduce writing the basic 5-paragraph essay, for example, rather than just journaling or notebooking.
Accountability to Others.
In middle school, our kids begin taking co-op classes that require homework, thus making them accountable to another teacher. This accountability factor is a key component in preparing for high school and college. Throughout K-5, the co-op classes were really just for enrichment—classes without letter grades or homework that is checked.
At sixth grade, my youngest is now taking pre-algebra. Each week he has homework and his teacher takes this seriously, checking the papers and making corrections. Next year, we’ll add in a language arts course in preparation for high school English, a science course, and algebra.
The classes (taught by homeschooling parents) are in a fairly traditional classroom setting with tests and homework and the whole shebang. Our co-op classes only meet once each week, so the kids are given a whole week’s worth of lessons (and thus 5 days’ worth of assignments) in one class.
Keep in mind as your are scheduling for middle school that this logically the time to prepare your student for the more rigorous academics one should expect in high school. I recommend building a good foundation of working independently but building up to it gradually. One of the key reasons that we chose to homeschool was so that our kids could have a l-o-n-g childhood without the stress that comes along with traditional brick-and-mortar schools.
Think of middle school as a bridge between the hopefully fun, relaxed learning your kids have in elementary school and the more academic focus of high school. Guide them, give them tools to be work diligently and independently, but let them have enough time and freedom to still nurture that little kid part of them.
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Thanks Sarah! Your strategy sounds very in line with my educational philosophy and with TWO middle schoolers in my household and now a 2nd grader needing much of my teaching focus, I’m working to develop teens that can work independently as well! I’d love to see a sample of your checklists (daily and weekly) that you use with your children. Is there someplace that you already have that posted?
Sarah at SmallWorld says
I love the various checklist options (and all kinds of fabulous stuff) at DonnaYoung.org. Sometimes I use those, but most often I do very simple lists. Our most effective system has just been a spiral notebook. I write the day’s or week’s assignments, and the child crosses them off (lightly, so I can remember what I assigned!) when done. That is really what has worked best with us! My high school daughter likes to make her own checklists. She divides up the work she has to do for that week, considers the outside activities she has to do, and makes her own checklist.
Elise Klepatz says
Good tips, Sarah. Even though we’re still in early elementary, I’m filing it away in the memory bank for when we reach that stage.