This is a guest post from Sarah Faulkner. She is a homeschooling mom in Washington state. She has five kids, ages 13, 11, 9, 5, and 2.
About every 45 days or so I go into a nice little panic that I am homeschooling wrong and am totally screwing over my kids. I know this is irrational, and that there isn’t a single “right” way to homeschool, but none of that logic matters in the moment.
This last round ended with the question, “What is the purpose of middle school?” Most of school in those years seems like a timeless waste, just repeating the elementary years. I thought how maybe I should just start high school. But relax, I am not one to push my kids academically, no matter how good it would make me feel to say, “My 13 year old is starting high school.” I am a firm believer in letting my kids progress naturally, regardless of my control(ish) nature.
So what do I do with the kids while they are this age? I have noticed many parents lose their commitment to homeschooling during this age and send their kids to school. I don’t want that. I realize it is really just three years of hormone hell, and how you handle these three years will set up the teen years. I really want to enjoy my teenagers. I can only do that if I have teens who can handle the freedom.
So here is what I’m choosing to focus on during these middle school years.
1. Self-Control and Hormone Management
I want to teach the kids how to handle their hormones and learn self-control when they don’t want to have it. This starts simply with, “Go to your room when you are upset.” We created a rule that no matter what, if you are upset, you can tell me you need to go, and when you come out we will finish talking. I would much rather deal with a calm person than an upset one. Since we have been doing this I notice the kids are able to get control faster, and see the difference between feelings and reality.
2. Mental Organization
This includes the ability to take notes, organize notes, and understand how to study out of a text book. These skills will help them to learn how to quickly scan a document, a situation, or a conversation, and move on.
I really think you just can’t always wait for motivation to show up. For example, my kids will never be motivated to clean the kitchen. I tried one time: I didn’t clean and I just left them alone. No one cleaned. They just got more creative about what can be used for a plate. After the creativeness died, my husband (who missed the point) bought paper plates.
I have tried to create motivation with rules like, “No electronics until chores are done.” Sometimes that just doesn’t work, like when they have a good book. When that happens, I give the best motivation I have: “If you can’t handle the responsibility of work as you get older, then you can’t handle the privileges of getting older, like staying up later than the two year old”.
My reason for homeschooling wasn’t founded in academics. It wasn’t founded in character, either. There is no way the 6th-8th grades are going to focus on my goals. My kids are cranky and hormonal. I need to help them adjust. There isn’t much to learn academically until high school, so this is a good time to teach strong personal habits and finding motivation to do the things that aren’t all fun.