Planning Junior High Homeschool

My son has finally reached junior high school or 7th grade. I won’t dwell on how quickly this happened. 😮

{Note: Every state seems to have different terms for these middle years. In Georgia, they call 6th-8th grade “middle school,” but for simplicity’s sake, I consider 6th grade part of elementary school and 7th & 8th grade “junior high school.”}

I spent the better part of last year thinking about his junior high level work….That is, 7th and 8th grade. It’s my goal to prepare him for high school level work by the end of 8th grade. It’s a little bit easier, I think, to plan for the next two years instead of one. And, yet, it’s harder to plan for this level too. I fell somewhere between a “relaxed” and “structured” homeschooler for elementary school, starting off very relaxed but then increasing the “structure” a little bit each year, and now we are much more serious and structured because he is college bound. (At least, that’s what he’s telling us. 😉 )

So what are my goals for junior high? This is what I hope to achieve so that we’ll be on track for high school. (Find more details about the curricula we’re using here.)

Writing — A solid grasp of outlining, summarizing, and writing a formal essay.

Literature — The basics of literary analysis, literary terms, and a good dose of excellent, young adult literature. I’ve created my own literature unit (with some help from online teacher resources), and I’m very excited about it.

Vocabulary — We’re going to learn word roots and the history of the English language.

Math — Complete Pre-Algebra so that he’ll be ready for Algebra by the 9th grade.

Science — Complete Earth Science for Middle Schoolers curriculum and as much of a Physical Science curriculum as possible. Basically I want him ready for a high school biology course in 9th grade.

History — I don’t have a specific goal for history. We are surveying both World Civilizations and U.S. history, and we’ll just continue with this throughout junior high and high school. The older he gets, I’ll weave in more research and writing projects related to history. As we study World Civilizations, we will be learning more in depth information about the major world religions as well.

Foreign Language — Both the boys have convinced me that they want to study Chinese. (We tried both Chinese and Spanish.) We’ll continue on with this as time permits.

Critical Thinking — I have added some resources that will teach my son the basics of philosophy and critical thinking. There is no set goal here either. We’ll continue this throughout junior and high school as time permits.

Art — I want to continue with some basics of drawing and art history, but this won’t be a high priority. We’ll do it whenever we need a break from our other work. We’ve already learned a lot by taking this relaxed approach to art education.

Music — Last but certainly not least, classical music training is my eldest son’s top priority. This makes it imperative that I find the best resources for his academic work that will be efficient and engaging as well as less time consuming….

So, the academic priorities will be writing, literature, math and science for this next 7th grade year. Everything else will be subject to the time we have.

Note: I owe some credit to the following publications, which helped me the most in making this basic plan for junior high school:
Homeschool High School Requirements — The free printable that you can access on that page was very helpful in trying to figure out where my starting point needs to be for high school.
The Well-Trained Mind, 4th Edition — I don’t consider us classical homeschoolers, and I’m glad I didn’t have this book during my son’s elementary years. However, in planning junior high school, I found some helpful advice and inspiration. My final plans veer far away from this approach, but it continues to give me a compass whenever I need it.

What are your plans for this new school year?

How did we get to the 4th grade? And my new definition of child-led learning.

I can’t believe I’m here: homeschooling fourth grade. Although I’ve always planned to homeschool for the long-term, I’m not sure that when I started this blog I thought I would see the words “fourth grade” on it. At that point, anything beyond 1st grade seemed so far in the future. For that matter, “age 10” seemed light years away, but here we are. It comes fast.

It’s not just fun science experiments and readalouds anymore, although we still do those things too. But I’m at a point where our homeschool looks much less child-led even though in so many ways, it is. (I think this post will explain how, but in a big general sense, our whole lives are centered around our boys’ interests and unique abilities.) I also want to make sure my kids get a solid education, and I’ve decided that unschooling is not for us (I never thought it was). It’s all very hard to balance.

There are only so many hours in the week, so only part of our time is spent doing exactly what my boys want to do, but I do try to make sure they know we can stop and focus on a project, if they have an idea they want to pursue. Their biggest interests, however, have weaved themselves into our daily lives, so I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough to make room for new stuff, but I think if there’s something they really want to do, it’ll happen.

The other part of our homeschool life is like “I see you’re interested in this, so I’m going to make sure you have a solid foundation in these things that will help you with that,” and then sometimes our homeschool looks like “I feel this is an important thing for you to learn. How can I teach it so that you will enjoy it? Or at least do it without crying?”

I have been getting some e-mails from moms thinking about homeschooling or just beginning to homeschool. (Thank you! I love hearing from you.) One thing I’ve tried to impart is that when you homeschool, you can spread out the learning over years. That is, unless you are planning to put your child into a more traditional school setting in the near future, there is no timeline for when you need to teach X, Y and Z: those specific subjects and details you might see listed in a “What Your 2nd Grader Needs to Know” book.

I’m not saying to not teach anything. (Or, if you’re unschooling, to not follow your child’s interests and help facilitate the learning.) What I’m saying is that you can focus on the things that comes easier to your child, and you can wait on the things that might torture him. This is because as your child gets older, he will 1) be more mature and easier to reason with, 2) may be more ready to learn the material without difficulty, and 3) may be able to tell you why the material is so difficult and perhaps help find a new way of approaching it. This is, in my opinion, part of the reason why schools fail. They do not (and cannot) tailor education to the needs of the individual child, and I do believe every child (in an ideal world) should have an individualized education.

I have followed this approach for the most part because in the beginning I made the mistake of trying to teach reading too early, and then there have been things I’d really love to incorporate into our homeschooling day, but as I enthusiastically began my lesson the boys began to look as lively as the dried up, wilted tomato plants in my garden right now, and I realized that they would learn nothing, if I proceeded. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. There is no point in teaching something when a child has absolute no interest in it. A child at the very least needs to understand the reason why it’s a good idea to learn it. Otherwise, I don’t think they will retain much of the information, so I’ve concluded that it’s a waste of my time and theirs to try to teach it.

Now that my son is ten-years-old, I’m going to dust off some of those “I’d really love for you to learn this” subjects, and we’re going to start anew. The challenge I have with him is writing. He can write, but he doesn’t like it, and he thinks he can’t spell, so I’m going to be experimenting with a number of ideas I have to get him more comfortable with writing and spelling this year. I will tell you some of those ideas in an upcoming post, but I’m also going to be willing to ditch any of them, if they just don’t work. And I don’t mean I’m going to let him not work. There is a difference in my opinion between how a child acts when he’s just being stubborn and when the task is seriously going to wreck his self-esteem. I’m going to have to figure out what will work for him even if he doesn’t love it, but I’m not going to torture him either. I would love for him to love writing, but if he doesn’t love it, I want him to at least feel confident that he can do it. We will move forward slow but steady.

I spent a couple of days after we returned from Chicago to think about my priorities for this year, and how we’ll spend our time to get the work done. It’s a constant work in progress to find the right balance in our days. But I’ll tell you what I’ve come up with in my next post…that is, the compass I’ll use to get me started. We may change course throughout the year, but it’s always good to have a compass in case we get totally lost. 🙂

Are you starting a new challenge this year? Please tell me about it.