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.
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!
In my last post, I talked about what the kids learned and worked on. However, as I wrote, I realized that some of the most important learning was my own, adjusting to having older kids who are nearly in middle school, kids who have a much more tween like attitude.
I think probably the most momentous thing to happen in school this year was Mushroom, in angry tears saying, “I wish you weren’t my teacher!”
He’s changed his mind. He’ll probably change it again at some point. However, it was the first time anything like that ever escaped his lips. In a way it’s sort of funny and sweet. He’s growing up and it’s not as easy to satisfy him. He questions a lot more and is more likely to argue. BalletBoy is working his way toward being a champion arguer. But while I value that all these things are good in one way as the boys gain independence, I can’t deny that they’ve been difficult for all of us to figure out how to navigate.
I got some good advice and have figured out a few things for dealing with this pre-teen stuff. I’m sure I’ll look back on this in a few years and think how naive I was, but here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Mushroom and BalletBoy are probably going to be on the short side. They’re definitely not puny, but they’re among the shorter kids in their age group. However, they’ve shot up in the last year. Enough that Mushroom said to me the other night, “How did I get so big? Just look at me!” They’re clearly working on some more growth soon. Their eating habits have gone back to being more like toddlers too. Some days they pick at everything. But often they devour a whole burrito in one gulp. We had mostly done away with a lot of the casual snacks in our lives over the last few years. We just didn’t need as many as when they were little, but now the snacks are back. I’m learning that they help. Being a grouch? Hey, would you like a granola bar? How about a banana? Yogurt tube?
Appreciate their contradictions.
And I thought nine was full of contradictions. Ten is a whole other level. They are just too big for my lap now, yet they still climb in when they’re sad, sometimes nearly knocking over the chair. Then other times they nearly smack my hand away if I pat their shoulders or back. They insist they can walk a mile away alone one day, then feel incapable and nervous about asking the librarian for a book the next day. They make these great insights during discussions one day, then struggle to remember something incredibly simple the next. Rather than get whiplash, I’m trying to appreciate the little kid moments when they still really need me or play pretend with each other as well as the grown up kid moments when they teach me something I don’t know or want to talk about the meaning of life. Speaking of which…
Engage in deep questions.
I’m learning that this age is completely about big questions. A few years ago, big questions were things about how things work like why is the sky blue. Now the big questions are things like why do bad things happen to good people, is there really a God, and how do we stop wars. Mushroom asked if we could study religions for school, which turned into one of our bigger projects. The logic chapters in Jousting Armadillos also helped fill this need. I’m figuring out how much we need to be engaging with deeper thinking and real questions. Next year, I’m planning to use Philosophy for Kids with them, which I think will help fill this need. I think to keep them engaged in school, learning has to be full of these big questions, even in skill subjects like writing and math.
Give them a break.
And now we come to that contradiction. I think that while we’re doing schoolwork that’s hopefully more and more challenging and thought-provoking, I’m learning that they’re just as likely to get overwhelmed by too much work, either at home or in extracurriculars. Also, many times this year I’ve had the experience of watching one of them do something difficult like a tricky algebra problem or a long dictation, and then turning around and getting something really basic wrong like forgetting how to divide or misspelling “because.” It feels like we’re back to that uneven development that was so characteristic of when they were little. One day they could read the little reader, the next day they genuinely could not. And now I see it again sometimes. I’m learning to cut them some slack.
Look for meaningful experiences.
When Mushroom and BalletBoy were little, a trip to a museum or coloring a picture might be meaningful experiences for learning and life. They were fulfilling things in terms of learning and experiencing the world. Drawing and museum trips may still be useful and part of what we do, but they’re no longer fulfilling in the same way. Just like how the kids are asking deep questions, they’re also really looking for meaningful experiences. I think being in real competitions, such as soccer games or Destination Imagination tournaments, feels like a meaningful experience for them. Performing on stage feels meaningful. Taking risks feels meaningful. Creating their own projects such as the video game machine Mushroom built with his Raspberry Pi or the short story BalletBoy is working on can feel like meaningful work.
They’re clearly seeking out experiences with more depth that feel like they make a difference. I want to begin to tie this in with service learning at least sometimes. And to find ways to let helping around the house, which they do unevenly, be something that feels meaningful. This is definitely something I’m hoping to think more about as they get older. At their age, I began cooking dinner most nights and doing a lot of the household shopping. I know that having what I understood was an important role in the house grounded me in many ways through those years. There’s no way they’re going to have a similar experience, but I also want to look for ways that meaningful experiences and meaningful work can be a part of the picture for them.