Updated: Oct 27, 2021
When I scroll through Pinterest or Instagram, I love seeing all the beautiful homeschool posts filled with perfectly curated unit studies, complete with coordinating crafts and adorable activities. But with an 11 and 13 year old, that is no longer the world to which I belong. I don't know exactly when it happened, but gone are the days of cutesy crafts, silly songs, and snuggles on the couch to read our favorite picture books like Big Smelly Bear or Mouse Was Mad.
Where we are feels so appropriately named, as I often feel caught squarely in the middle- raising humans who are no longer babies, but not yet adults either. They still love dance parties, baby dolls, Nerf guns, goofy games, and themed snacks during read-aloud time, but they also want to be heard and taken seriously. They linger during adult conversations that wouldn't have interested them a year ago. They have their own thoughts and ideas, good ones I might add, and they long to be seen as grown-up while still clinging to childhood. Often times I find myself feeling like a new parent all over again, learning to navigate these uncharted waters. I scroll through social media, feeling a little lost at times... stuck in a world between the excitement and uncertainty of those early years and the panic and planning of high school transcripts. On the one hand, I am more confident than I've ever been as a homeschooling mom. I know my kids, and I know myself. I feel less pressure to perform by public school standards, but on the other hand, I also find myself mourning the loss of those early days. Sometimes I wish I could relive the sweetness of it all, and other times I wish I could go back and do them differently, with the calmness, assurance, and perspective I have now. I can't go backwards, though. All I can do is move forward and find joy in the current moment, and boy, is there so much joy!
If you are entering or living in this middle land with me, welcome. Welcome to the world between worlds. In the realm of social media this world sometimes feels invisible, but know that there are many of us here, working to parent and educate our children who are on the brink of becoming adults. The photos may not be as lovely, but the days we live can be just as meaningful as always. Read on to find out how you can make middle school meaningful for you and. your kid(s).
School doesn't need to start looking like "school".
I see this topic discussed in conversations and on forums all the time. In the early yeas, there seems to be a lot of debate about teaching styles and how relaxed the education should be. There are many advocates for unschooling, child-led learning, play based learning, etc in the younger years. But as the the kids get older, the number of parents who continue with with these approaches seems to be less and less. Parents hit middle school and seem to think they need to "get serious" and begin schooling in a more conventional way. I couldn't disagree more. While we should be expecting more and more from our children with each passing year, we don't need to fall into the trap of thinking the methods and approaches we used previously are no longer acceptable. We can still spend hours a day reading aloud. We can still allow our kids to choose the subjects that interest them. We can still abandon our plans for the day to go to the park or the museum. Learning can and should still be individualized and fun!
Learning can be conversational.
This point ties into the last one. Sometimes it's hard to see the progress our kids are making once we move past the concrete lessons of learning to read and write. But as our kids move into this new world of middle school, they are beginning to think more and more for themselves. They are deciding what they believe and why they believe it. Reading diverse literature, being aware of current events, and discussing them is the most effective way to build critical thinking, the most important skill your children will possess. This skill is not well developed, though, by traditional curriculum. It is going to look a lot like simply having a conversation and asking questions. I read somewhere a while back, “If kids can Google the answer to a question, it’s a wasted question.” For me, that’s not to say kids should never memorize facts, but critical thinking skills are much more important, yet often neglected because it can’t be graded by a Scantron machine.
Making current events an integral part of their education, reading diverse books, and asking our kids what they think about things is a key component to raising successful individuals, and many of these conversations can happen around the kitchen table. Having the working parent ask specific questions about their daily reading gives them the chance to have those ideas reinforced, or bringing it up in conversations with others by saying something like, “We were discussing “insert topic” the other day, and “my child” had some great thoughts on it…” then invite them to share those thoughts. These organic conversations validate their knowledge, give them a chance to think about things more, and boost their self-confidence as you see them as a person with valuable insight. Middle school is a great age to start letting your kids join in on adult conversations when you feel it’s appropriate. Documentaries also become easier to implement into your studies at this age, as your child’s attention span and abstract thinking increases, and again, watching documentaries on various topics and discussing them seems so simple, but they’re a really great tool for learning outside of a textbook.
You can be in two places at once.
Ok, physically this isn't possible, but mentally and emotionally it can happen, and for your middle schooler, it IS happening! This is probably the most important thing to remember when parenting and teaching your children who are in middle school. This is the time when kids still want to be kids, but they also feel that tug to grow up. Our job as parents is to give them the space to embrace both worlds. Being sensitive to your children's emotional needs during these years is going to be critical to forming a strong bond with them into adulthood. Be aware, your kids may be feeling the same sadness and anxiety about them growing up that you are! It's scary to think about walking out into the world on your own and leaving the comfort of all that's been familiar. Even if your child doesn't express it, they are likely feeling some sense of worry over this idea. Don't rush to make your homeschool environment feel more "grown-up" just because your child has hit middle school. During this transition period of life, it’s inevitable that your child will need days to regroup, restore their emotions, and reset their attitude and outlook. Give them the space to do that without fear that they will fall behind. The nice thing about your children growing up is that their attention span is growing as well. With their ability to sit for longer periods of time focusing on their schoolwork, your kid will likely be capable of getting more done in a day than they were able to do in their younger years. This means you absolutely have the time and ability to give them the mental and emotional space needed to grow into well-adjusted, self-assured adults. You absolutely have the time to do things specifically to maintain a strong bond between you, just when they need you the most.
Middle school is a new experience for kids AND parents. Sure it can be scary and unsettling at times, but it can also be a wonderful time where your relationship deepens in a whole new way. Give your child and yourself grace as you grow together in these new roles, and enjoy celebrating and cultivating your child’s growing interests and unique abilities that will lead them to a life of meaning and fulfillment in the years to come.