Some of My Favorite Middle School Curricula

As I was writing my book about homeschooling middle schoolers, I went back and forth about whether to recommend specific programs. In the end, I decided not to. That stuff changes so fast. I’m familiar with so many curriculum options, but compiling a single list seemed to be too much in a book where I didn’t want the focus to be taken over by long lists of stuff. So in the end, while there are a few resources named here and there, I kept the focus on other things, like how to get organized, how to support and challenge your kids, and how to understand middle schoolers.

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t name a few curricula that I really like here! This isn’t a comprehensive list. And these aren’t all programs that I actually ended up using. Sometimes you may love something, but realize it’s not right for your homeschool for all kinds of reasons.

Prufrock Press’s Exploring America Series
This program really takes a deep dive into individual decades of American history, examining social, cultural, and political factors through primary source documents. The format of the books is a little frustrating sometimes and some of the questions can get repetitive for students, especially in an one on one homeschool situation. But the structure and the material make it absolutely worth it. Not only does it ask your student to read a ton of great material, from speeches and newspaper articles to short stories. But it also exposes them to TV clips, paintings, photographs, and popular music. I don’t know of any other program that gets kids really thinking about what popular music lyrics say about a time period. This is a great program for later in middle school or for gifted students interested in history.

Jacob’s Algebra
Jacob’s Algebra is so flexible and well-presented. The introductions in each section are actually engaging reading about the math followed by excellent examples. Each section contains one short spiral review, two practice sets of material, and one brain teaser or tricky problem. The teacher’s guide is a little difficult to use and finding answers in the back can be a bit annoying. However, it also contains even more great, engaging introductions to the material and ways to approach it. It even includes some demonstrations and interesting hands on math lab type work. The book is challenging enough for students who love math, but simple enough for average students. The way the material is presented may hook kids who aren’t usually math lovers.

Brave Writer’s Faltering Ownership and Boomerang
You guys know I’m a sucker for all things Brave Writer. Faltering Ownership is a series of projects for a full year. It has some really neat ones, such as creating a cover for a book, and includes a great build up for a first research paper with lots of celebrations of your student’s hard work. The Boomerang is Brave Writer’s literature and dictation supplement. The book lists for the Boomerang really range from upper level children’s books, to young adult novels, to classic literature, which is perfect for older middle schoolers. Together, these make a very full language arts program for middle school.

Twisting Arms
This is a great short program just focused on writing persuasive papers. It has some good lead up activities, like examining advertising and political art, as well as thinking about the ways that words persuade people. Then the process of writing a thesis based essay is broken down extremely well into small steps. This program is too short for a full year, but it makes a good quarter-long project, or semester-long if you really stretch it out.

Middle School Chemistry from ACS
This program is free, which is why you definitely need to check it out if you’re at all interested in doing a serious chemistry unit in middle school. The materials, including real chemistry glass and chemicals that you’ll need to purchase from scientific supply stores, will set you back at a little, but it will be worth it. The basis of the program is learning through hands on experiments and demonstrations. There’s a strong focus on beginning serious lab work skills. This is a real science program at its best for middle schoolers.

Build Your Library’s 7th and 8th Grade Programs
The book lists for BYL’s 7th and 8th grade programs blew me away when I first saw them. This two year geography focus, which incorporates some really great texts about geography and world religions, is wide ranging and thought-provoking. The literature takes kids from modern children’s classics like Habibi and Walk Two Moons, to grown up ones like Fahreneheit 451 and To Kill a Mockingbird. With a math program and a science of your choice, the program is otherwise comprehensive.

Figuratively Speaking
I’m not usually a huge fan of workbooks, but sometimes they really get the job done. This one is a good example. It’s easy peasy to implement and do and covers literary elements from alliteration to theme in a handful of quick lessons. Most chapters take between half an hour to an hour and include some workbook style work followed by trying out the literary element in a creative writing assignment. If you poke around online, you can find plans to pair each chapter with one or two classic short stories that are easily found free online to turn it into a full year literature program that’s just as strong as programs that cost dramatically more.

MEP Math’s Middle School Series
This program is so great for middle school students who aren’t ready to go into a traditional pre-algebra program yet and need more practice. If you’ve seen the MEP lower grade programs and didn’t like them, the pared down layout and extra practice problems on the MEP grade 7-9 program may really surprise you. These can also be excellent for practicing specific topics that a student may have missed out on or just need more support with during middle school.

Dino 101 through Coursera
If your middle schooler is going to try just one MOOC (massive open online course) then you might want to make it this one from the University of Alberta. The videos are great. The information is engaging and super clear. There are some cool interactives. The quizzes are easy but meaningful. There’s no other work necessary to complete the course. While the information is very accessible and focused on dinosaurs, it introduces tons of great concepts that are fundamental to biology like adaptations and evolution. Throw in just a couple of great dinosaur and evolution books or videos and a trip to a natural history museum or an actual dig site if you have one nearby, and you’ll have a really solid semester of science with very little planning, which is kind of the unicorn of homeschool science, right? Something meaty, fun, and yet easy to plan and not messy.

 

Deep Breath

I discovered at least three kinda not awesome typos in my book. Cue the panic attack.

Homeschoolers are brutal too. I know y’all are going to tear into me! I swear I read through it multiple times and had my husband, who just happens to copy edit as part of his job, do a serious once through. I know I need to let it go, but it’s hard!

Someone I know shared this classic Onion article the other day. As I found my typos, I had a few of those thoughts. Oh no. That’s it. I’m discovered for the fraud I am. Someone is going to leave a one star review and I’m going to cry. And I might. I know we all have these feelings sometimes. Mine are not necessarily that bad most of the time, but sometimes when it hits you, it really hits hard. Deep breath.

Last week, I took BalletBoy for his first appointment with a physical therapist who specializes in dancers. She was wonderful and clearly knew her craft. It was a pleasure to watch her interact with BalletBoy and assess what would help him. I thought: here is a wonderful expert. We have to pay out of pocket for her, but she will be worth this hefty fee.

Then I thought, I need to remind myself sometimes that I am also an expert in the things I know about and have studied for years. My knowledge is also worth something.

I’m headed off to the SEA Homeschool Conference this week, with some family stopovers along the way before I arrive. I’m psyching myself up for networking and believing in my own worth, even with typos and any underlying worries.

Deep breath.

And when I get back, I’ll make an edition that fixes all the typos!

I Wrote a Book!!!

I know I’m being a little giddy. Three exclamation marks? Uncalled for! And yet… I’m just really excited and proud.

I wrote a book! You can buy it!

The first thing you should know about this book is that it’s not short. It’s nearly 300 pages. There is a whole chapter about how middle school came to be and what’s wrong with middle schools today. There’s another about what’s going on inside young adolescents’ brains and bodies, as well as how to parent them through it all. There are chapters about understanding different homeschool philosophies, keeping your homeschool organized (and why to bother doing that), how to really engage with the world around you through field trips and travel, and how to cover all your basic homeschool subjects.

My favorite chapter is about “best practices” for teaching middle school, where I talk about a few things that I first posted about on this very blog, like doing a short story every month, and using books that are short but meaty to generate discussion without bogging kids down. It’s also about other practices that I think are good for kids, like sometimes spending your whole math time on a single math problem or letting kids spend time on passion projects.

At times I really struggled writing this because I think that a book that says “here’s THE way to homeschool” probably sells better than a book that says, “there is no single path.” However, I firmly believe that. You have to know yourself and your philosophy, your kid and their needs, and then be flexible in making it all meet up. This book is meant to be helpful to a lot of different people, from people brand new to homeschooling to people who have been at it for a little while. It’s meant to be for people who are approaching things from a more strict mindset or philosophy to people who are just doing whatever works.

Above all, I want this book to be a manifesto on why you can and should homeschool the middle grades. I know it’s a time when many people leave homeschooling. I know people are intimidated by this age group. They can be stubborn, moody, and spaced out. Middle schools these days try to make teaching the middle grades seem like rocket science when it’s absolutely not. You can do this. It’s totally within your reach.

Homeschoolers Deserve Professional Development

One of the things I’ve found over the years is that homeschooling can be a lonely endeavor. We get isolated with our own kids in our own homes. There’s no water cooler! And no one pays for us to go to seminars or get new professional development certifications.

However, this is a job and a calling. I know nearly all homeschool parents take homeschooling seriously, but I think that means that most of us stress out about curriculum or whether our kids are really okay. We don’t often take care of ourselves by challenging our own ideas about education and teaching.

It’s understandable. We’re in the trenches all the time. And unlike classroom teachers, we don’t really get a break in the summer. However, it’s worth it to spend time reading about education, questioning what we’re doing, and improving our methods and systems. It’s especially important because our students grow and change every year.

One way to do this is to read about homeschooling or education. I try to read at least one or two books about education every year and I usually find it really useful. Another way is to attend a homeschool conference that’s worth your time. The SEA Conference is just such a conference. If you’re able to get there, the speakers will be great. I’m excited about speaking, but also about peeking in to hear from others.

No matter how you give yourself some professional development, remember that you’re worth spending that time on and that your homeschool will be invigorated by you being challenged in your own thinking and practices sometimes.

Cover and Title Reveal

Okay, it took awhile, but I have a title for my forthcoming book. I hope it sums up the middle school years. They go from tweens to teens. They rarely have smooth sailing throughout. They also tend to have big leaps in critical thinking and creativity that are very much worth celebrating.

More importantly, I also have a cover! This cover is really brought to you by Mushroom, who refused to take credit for it, but who did most of the heavy design lifting by altering the images and doing the basic layout. I swooped in and finessed some things, but I’m mostly just bursting with pride for him. I have no idea how to do half the things he did with the software he was showing me. This is middle school, guys! It’s kids who suddenly know more than you about something that isn’t just dinosaur names or video games, but something super useful!

Expect to see it on Amazon as both a paperback and an ebook in the next two weeks!

Our Beloved Co-op

Our tiny co-op had its final meeting last week and I’m still a little weepy when I think about it. It was time to end. Several kids are headed to school. My kids are starting high school, which brings with it some specific challenges in terms of getting in academics. But this co-op has been in existence for an amazing nine years, which is a really long time for a small, family based co-op.

We ended with an overnight camping trip that the kids planned. The kids planning it was pretty essential. Since its inception, this has been a child-led co-op in various ways, becoming more and more child-led as they grew and matured.

I keep meaning to write a more detailed post about our co-op. I don’t think this is that post. But it’s been a really amazing ride over the years. When we started, the kids picked the topics and the parents taught the lessons. We rotated houses week by week. We made decisions based on consensus, a habit I picked up working in Quaker schools. They learned about things like dinosaurs and history. When they were really little, we used to operated the “Co-op Time Machine,” a pillow fort in the basement that traveled in time to visit the Big Bang, among other things.

At some point, we transitioned to asking the kids to plan the units and decide exactly what they wanted to do. They put on a play, made a movie, staged a fundraiser, wrote their own roleplaying game, and many other projects.

Over the years, there have been all kinds of co-op experiments. The kids played with “co-op money” one fall, playing an elaborate game of trading goods and services. The kid who sold muffins every morning was the winner, I think. There was a co-op yearbook several years, as well as a co-op newspaper created by BalletBoy that ran several editions for a couple of years. Kids came and went over the years, though a few families remained the same.

Co-op has been a hugely stable force in our lives for so many years that it’s staggering. Most schooled kids don’t get this type of stability in their peer group. I feel so lucky to have gotten this experience for them.

As we left the campsite for the final meeting, it was us and the other original family who had been there since the beginning. That’s it,  I realized. There’d be no more co-op. In the fall, the kids opted to do a STEM-centered day of classes once a week.

I feel like nowadays, if a co-op doesn’t have a slate of classes, a rented space, and an official nonprofit designation it’s not a co-op at all. However, this little, free endeavor has been perfect for us. It took the parents sharing a powerful vision for the kids. It wasn’t without its rocky moments and the kids are hardly perfect to each other. Many of the projects fizzled into nothing much. However, this is what homeschooling can, especially for the K-8 years. Cheap and child-driven. Filled with play and friendships.

Looking Forward to SEA

The next few weeks are busy, busy for me here at the Rowhouse. The kids are finishing up their school year, wrapping up Algebra I and some literature and various other things we’ve done this year. I officially “graduated” them with a special meal and a gift of decent school style backpacks. They’re the same Jansport model that I still have from my own youth. Mine made it through high school, college, and then as I traveled extremely light across Asia in my early 20’s. That’s a good backpack and hopefully theirs will see some good adventures too. First up, we’re taking a short “8th grade trip” to New York to see a Broadway show and hit some spots the kids have never visited.

I’m also chatting with clients for Simplify, which is fun and exciting, to hear about other people’s homeschools and challenges and help them out. I’m trying to finish up my book about homeschooling middle school so that it should be out within the next month or so. It’s getting some final revisions and a solid round of copy editing by a professional. I still have to choose a title, which is a little nerve wracking. Your Complete Middle School Homeschool Survival Guide? Surviving Homeschooling the Middle School Years? Something more clever and cute? Eye-rolls and Deep Thinking: Homeschooling the Middle School Years. I’ll figure it out soon!

Finally, I’m putting the final touches on my talks for the SEA Homeschool Conference in Atlanta. I’m so excited to see some of you there! It’s going to be lots of fun. I’m especially looking forward to talking about middle school. It’s like crystalizing my book into presentation form and it’s helping me discern the most important points.

If you’re on the fence about going to the SEA Conference, there are some amazing speakers there and some great looking presentations. If you live anywhere around Atlanta, you can also get a single day pass now, which seems like a great option if you’re just hoping for a small dose of homeschool inspiration. I know I often resist these sorts of events, but when I go to them, I really do come home fired up about new things and more reflective about our practices. Homeschool parents deserve professional development too!