3 Things middle schoolers need to learn

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.

3. Self-Motivation
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.

13 replies
  1. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    1. Who is Jay?
    2. I think Sarah and I are on the same page regarding our purpose for homeschooling: much more to do with life than academics/knowledge. Ten years from now, available material for learning will be much different.

    So Trilby was right. It’s about parenting.

    And for me, it’s about not wasting time pursuing other people’s idea is education when you can achieve similar goals but in your own way and your own time, while other things are accomplished.

  2. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    “a good time to teach strong personal habits and finding motivation to do the things that aren’t all fun”

    sounds like traditional school to me

  3. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    Ps. The paper plates thing is totally something my dad would do! Haha

    We kind of got rid of our plates. We have 3 medium sized plates. No plates no dirty dishes. No fights. No wasted time cleaning while I can do other things that are more important for me.

    Most of the time I think we’re so astute for this solution. Then adults come over to our home and then I feel embarrassed like I’m a college student with mismatched stuff from the thrift store. I try to get over it but it still gets me.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I did the limited plates thing for a while. It drove me crazy.

      I’ve recently had to outsource cleaning (well 2x weekly). It’s amazing the mess that be made with 2 small children who are home most of the time! That’s when I think school is a good idea- for the clean house since everyone is gone most of the time! :)

      • Karelys
        Karelys says:

        I haven’t figured out how to keep the house clean for more than a few hours to be honest. I try to not cook often. I mean, I do, but the type of cookies that dirties many pans I do once or twice a week and we eat combinations of the foods in different ways.

        I think what I want is someone to deep clean my house like once a week and I’ll spruce up in between. But then I think I don’t want to because the person will look in my drawers and really get to know me so intimately and I don’t want that. I don’t want to take the plunge.

        A lot of random stuff we do works because the kids are little. When they’re older well have to figure out different strategies for life.

        For right now this works.

  4. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    Thank God we aren’t who we were in Jr High! I reminded myself that a lot during those years…doubted the homeschooling and had fun too. What I realized is-we didn’t do nearly enough science and they both still made it through college just fine.

    I did cheat and put one of my sons in a college Spanish class (he has a good memory) at the community college. It was great for his confidence-the other kids accepted him pimples and all :)

  5. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    I think a big part of teens getting the reputation for being cranky and difficult is the result of being continually sleep-deprived through their middle and high school years. What’s the point of trying to learn anything when they are continually fatigued? Letting my homeschooled daughters get the rest their bodies and minds need isn’t just a homeschooling perk; it’s a necessity for them and a gift to myself.

    On the purpose of the middle school years, one pf our daughters chose to skip “8th” grade so she could pursue more advanced math and science and graduate high school at 17. She’s now a chemistry major at our university, doing vey well, I think at least in part to the fact that I let our girls make decisions for themselves on what they focus on during the pre-high school years. By the time they get to the more rigorous, precollege and college level work, they aren’t burned out, but they are still passionate about the things they made choices on. It might not work for everyone, but it works for us.

  6. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    4. How to be a friend.

    Late elementary/middle school is the time when kids start to see that there are problems in their lives, relationships, etc, and it’s hard to learn how to support someone who is not always easy and fun to be around.

    Middle schoolers need to navigate through the adolescent social milestones (fights, middle school crushes, BFFLs, etc.) that will ultimately allow them to navigate the complex social world of adults (and develop deep relationships).

    I know that homeschoolers are often applauded for their ability to interact well with people of all ages, and I completely agree (based on my experience), but there’s no doubt that up until a certain age they are acting like a child in an adult’s world. Then they have to transition to acting like an adult, and that’s a learned behavior.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      Exactly, middle school–where kids are surrounded by other hormonally crazed role models–is not the place to learn to be an adult in an adult world.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


        I agree! If the progress of humanity depended on middle school interactions then we are all f***ed.

  7. Julie
    Julie says:

    I was able work up the courage to take my daughter out of school because it was junior high, which is a wasteland academically. At least that is what friends with kids who had been through it told me. So I figured I couldn’t really screw it up if we kept on top of math.

    We tried a lot of different things. We tried me teaching her which was a fail big time. We tried her working independently, asking for help when she needed it and that worked a lot better. And “help” meant finding materials for the most part. Or it meant her finding materials and us paying for it.

    By the time she got to high school she knew exactly what she wanted to do and how she wanted to learn. And high school (some at home, some at the high school and some at the university) is going very well.

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