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 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.
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.
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.