Quick question: Who would like to go back and relive their middle school years? No one? I think once was hard enough! We describe them with words like awkward, confusing, sometimes even painful. But you know what? Also amazing. Really. I don’t think of my own middle school years as amazing—but when I look back at my three (now grown) sons, and the hundreds of middle school students I was privileged to teach, I clearly saw God at work in these young people. In the middle of the mess, there were also victories.
So parents of middle schoolers, take hope. You and your children can survive these years of changes and growth without losing your sanity. As my church moms love to declare, God’s got this! Prayer, perspective, a support group, and maybe some deep breathing techniques will be foundational as you learn how to guide your homeschooler through middle school.
What is middle school?
Public and private schools in the U.S. vary somewhat in which grades are part of middle school. The majority of middle schools currently teach students in sixth–eighth grade. For most kids, this is ages 11 to 13 or 14. No doubt you already realize that these are the ages of dramatic emotional and physical changes for your child. Girls and boys usually begin the roller coaster ride to adolescence around sixth grade. But each individual seems to move at a different speed toward the expected milestones. The ups and downs of your pre-teen/teenager are part of what makes teaching middle schoolers sort of squirrely.
I taught middle school students for seventeen years in a smallish Christian school. When I told people what I did, a common response was, “God bless you!” as if I was doing some herculean task that no one else dared. Maybe some days felt like mythological battles, but I loved my job. Mostly I found that middle schoolers are great—until they aren’t. They are wonderful to work with—and then they suddenly turn against you, and themselves, and can’t even tell you why.
The middle school years definitely matter. They are the preparation for and transition to high school. Students will take on more demanding work; they will need to grow in responsibility, independence, accountability, organization, and discipline. It’s exhausting just to think about it. All the while, their bodies, hormones, and emotions are performing olympic-level gymnastics.
Millions of students have been homeschoolers for middle school. Do you and your child want to homeschool through this season? Should you? It is obviously a demanding path, but it can be an undeniably rewarding experience for your family.
Should I homeschool my middle schooler?
Since middle school is so important academically, maybe it’s not surprising that lots of families are switching things up when their children reach middle school. While teaching in a Christian school, I had numerous kids transfer in each year during sixth, seventh, and eighth grades—both from public schools and from homeschooling. And some of the students I had left my school for a public school.
Other families I knew in my school and community began homeschooling during middle school. At first I thought middle school was an odd time to begin homeschooling. But over the years I began to understand why it could be the perfect choice for a family to make.
Reasons to Homeschool During Middle School
Reasons families decide to homeschool in middle school include concerns for safety (physical and emotional), health, and academics. Perhaps a middle school’s location or reputation makes it feel less safe. Maybe previous experience with bullying or peer pressure lead to a search for alternative education. Maybe your student or an immediate family member has a compromising health issue and could benefit from homeschooling for safety and reassurance.
Benefits to Homeschooling During Middle School
The flexibility to design a curriculum to meet your students right where they are and to prepare them for high school and beyond is maybe the most appealing feature of homeschooling. Rather than placing your child in a class full of widely-differing needs, you can pinpoint their individual strengths, weaknesses, and needs. You know your children (or, *bonus*, can get to know them) and can customize to their academic, emotional, and spiritual needs like no school could, ever. Easy? No way. Worth it? Absolutely.
Transitioning to Middle School from Elementary School
So first things first, before you get ready for high school you’ll have to get into the middle school groove. Like everything else about these years, it’s full of changes. For homeschooling or traditional school, the elementary vibe is much more teacher-oriented. Students have one teacher for most subjectsand tend to be more dependent on the teacher presenting information to be learned. Middle school is going to ask your child to become more independent, looking more to textbooks and curriculum to learn while a teacher or parent facilitates and oversees their progress.
Don’t think that more independent learning means students can (or will) do it all without you. You will need to check in on them—a lot. Your child will learn independence and accountabilitybut will need your help to get there. Check in on work progress and grades regularly—and this may look different depending on the subject, your student’s needs, or your personal availability. It may be weekly but daily or even multiple times a day is more likely. Yay for flexible schedules, because when tweens or teens need more sleep, which the studies say they do, or snack breaks because they are never full, you can plan for that.
Changes can also be happening in lessons, subjects, and daily routines. Let your students be involved in designing their curriculum based on their interests. One mom called it “collaborating with my kids,” which I love. Help your children feel personally invested in their school work, having some control over the content, and they may be more motivated to dig in into it.
Keeping Middle Schoolers Engaged Like Kids
No matter how old they get, one thing that doesn’t change is students want to have fun learning. Also, middle schoolers are still kids, though they want to be “cooler” about it. I haven’t taught a middle or high school student that didn’t get excited when we planned a field trip, or when I pulled out the Play-Doh. You can still drop in some kid-style activities to energize a lesson plan. Create opportunities for students to move while they are learning. They also need group work and social activities. You may feel like a part-time cruise director, but enrichment can pay off in engagement.
Middle School Social and Emotional Challenges
Oh yes, there are pitfalls and challenges to the middle school years. Not all the changes to a sixth grader are emotional, and they definitely aren’t all pretty. As mentioned above, adolescence is on its way or has arrived. Tears, outbursts, confusion, eye rolling, and more can be expected, for both you and your child.
Maybe not so expected will be the (brief) glimpses of the sweet child who used to snuggle up for reading, a meaningful conversation following a book (or a breakdown), or an insight into a spiritual truth that you wouldn’t miss for the world. So hold your nose and buckle up!
The middle school years will be a time when you can guide your child through valuable lessons about how God made them (biology) and why (theology). You can support them to become more independent, responsible, accountable students. You can teach and model understanding and kindness toward others. But perhaps one of the most important and hardest lessons to learn is that you are allowed to fail and allow your children to fail, and I don’t just mean a quiz. You and your students can mess up, learn from mistakes, and begin again.
Because you are your children’s teacher, you will be able to work with them personally to teach biblical principles about life and character in a way no other teacher could.
Building Godly Friendships in Middle School
Friendship can be hard, sometimes painful, for children. I don’t recall any lessons when I was in school about making friends or positive relationships. I wish I had! But we really need a biblical perspective for good relationships, which my public school couldn’t use back in the day. God makes it clear that He designed humans to live in relationships, first with Him and then with others. Healthy friendships will grow out of a child’s relationship with Christ as they learn that they are loved, accepted, and valued unconditionally by their Savior. Parents can then teach their students what God says about being a friend and making wise relationship choices. It might be a great subject for Bible class or morning devotions.
Taking Responsibility in Middle School
One of the struggles I saw for many young homeschoolers when they began coming to school was they could not get all their stuff together, literally. School supplies, books, or assignments were always in their locker or another class or in Mom’s car. They struggled to become organized and keep track of their belongings and their calendar. Away from home, Mom couldn’t help them.
Not that other kids this age don’t have similar issues. It’s a skill set middle schoolers must acquire. If they aren’t at home, Mom can’t bail them out, and that can be a good thing. So if your child is homeschooling, avoid the temptation to help too much with responsibilities they can and should be taking on.
You may need to pull back on your mama instincts (it’s so much easier if I just do it!), and instead help by teaching skills your student needs like how to organize for the day and how to track due dates with an agenda/assignment book. At times you have to let them fail and face the consequences.
We have a friend with five kids in school ranging from kindergarten to high school. She made a hard rule that she would not bring items accidentally left at home to school—not lunches, books, PE clothes, or athletic gear. Her boys missed deadlines, but also sports practices and games, which they really felt. I saw two results. Her kids became more responsible—not perfectly though. They also became more empathetic with other students in a jam, helping them in different ways and lending them shorts or shin guards. It was a win for the kids and their wise mom.
Taking responsibility for your actions is not merely a life skill. It’s also a character trait. The middle school years can be the perfect time to foster responsibility in your child.
Forming Good Habits in Middle School
If you can guide your children now to form strong work habits, they will be better prepared to bring order to an expanding world of assignments and activity.
You can help your students build a system for getting middle school done. They need physical organization in their learning space and supplies. If they will do a lot of work online, they could benefit from instruction on organizing files. Google for Education has developed some great resources for learning and using digital tools called Applied Digital Skills.
The school day routine, even for homeschoolers, could look very different than it did for elementary students. They will need a routine that includes time scheduled for lessons and /instruction, time to work on assignments or projects beyond the actual lesson time (homework, for lack of a better term), plus time for extracurriculars and chores.
Students will also need to learn strategies for working effectively on their own, like how to break a long-term assignment into manageable pieces so they can complete it on time (and not all at once at the eleventh hour). Students should learn to use an assignment planner or agenda so all of you can see the work that needs to be done.
Middle schoolers will need instruction on how to take good notes for lesson presentations and reading materials. (I like using graphic organizers and the “Cornell Notes” approach as starting points.) Students can also develop their own list of resources to check when they are stuck on a challenging task. Think of it as a “lifeline.” Do they review their notes, check online sources, or phone a friend? These are things to do before they simply ask you to give them the answer.
Changing Bodies in Middle School
Moms, seek help. Seriously. I joke that nothing improved my prayer life like having kids, but it’s true that I would not want to go through their pre-teen years without the Lord. To get through all the confusion and angst of their puberty, you will want to have a foundation of a strong personal walk with God. Enrich yourself by spending time reading your Bible and talking to God daily in prayer. You’ll be so much more prepared to parent and teach your child when your own spiritual reserves are full.
Get help from other moms at church or in your homeschool co-op group. Enjoy the benefits of their experience and encouragement. Find resources that help you understand what is happening to adolescent bodies, brains, and souls—so you can help them understand in turn. Talk, listen, give grace, and encourage your child. Giving them information helps them know that their experience is normal, that they are not alone, and that this season is not forever.
Middle School Subjects
As your middle schooler is preparing for high school, homeschooling offers flexibility to sharpen their academic skills and make sure they are on track for their grade level. Maybe they need more time to master certain math concepts, improve their writing skills, or grow their reading comprehension. You’ll be able to spend more time where your student needs it, as well as move ahead in their stronger subjects or give more time to interest-led subjects. It’s great to have choices!
So what will your middle schooler be learning? Basically, middle school reviews most subjects learned in elementary, adding extra layers of information and detail that are appropriate for maturing comprehension levels. More complex math concepts will be introduced, and students will be expected to read more on their own. They’ll also write more with discussion or /essay answers on tests and expanded writing assignments.
BJU Press offers a comprehensive curriculum for all middle school grades as either parent-led courses or video streaming online courses presented by expert teachers. I have used and loved many of their curriculums as a teacher, and I can 100% recommend their products, both for their solid biblical worldview and their academic excellence.
You can learn more about BJU Press courses for middle school by clicking the links below.
Independent Middle School Learning Options
Parent-Led Middle School Learning Options
Preparing for High School
You will invest two or three years to have your child ready and confident to enter high school. If your family is going to put the blood, sweat, and tears into homeschooling (more tears than blood, hopefully), you want to know if it will be worth it. More and more families have taken on middle school homeschooling successfully and have found it to be a perfect fit.
Maybe this is your first time around with a middle school child—God bless you and your student! These were the times when I looked at my husband and said things like, “Whose idea was this, anyway?” Just parenting a middle schooler can be demanding, stressful, and exhausting.
But like colicky babies and the terrible two’s, this too shall pass. And really, you will look back and be glad you didn’t miss it, at least parts of it because there will be amazing moments when you get to see your child shine. There are blessings in every season with your child, and the loving God who put your family together has glorious purposes built into the middle school years.
• • • • •Mabe is a retired homeschooler and high school language arts and technology teacher. Her favorite subjects are Bible and literature. After over twenty years in education, she hopes to adventure with her husband to as many of South Carolina’s waterfalls as possible.