2013 Middle School Tentative Plans

Middle school. For me it was where I began to like school. It was my seventh grade Science teacher, Ms. Wilson, that I remember first inspiring me. Before this time, I struggled to make C’s. I don’t know what happened in seventh grade. Maybe it was that great teacher. Maybe it was just age. But I became a learner. I learned how to memorize lots of information for a test, how to get all of the work done, and how not to lose the work that I had done. And I learned that I liked being successful in school. It was a big turn around for me.

Because of that time, middle school is my favorite age to work with in school.  Of course my kids don’t learn like I learned. They are much more natural, hands on, curious learners. I also don’t have the same goals for them as I had for myself. I want them to be life long lovers of real learning. To meet this goal, I need to find the balance between what they need to know and what they are passionate about learning. This year my “middle schoolers” will be in seventh and fifth grades by age, but are likely not exactly there. That’s one of the joys of homeschooling. It is perfectly fine if they are ahead in some areas and behind in others. In fact, I don’t actually use grade level assignments unless we are participating in a program that requires it. Then we go by age.

How do I know that they are learning what they need to know?  Two ways.  First, every couple years we use a standardized test or graded assessment to see where they are. Second, I keep in mind what I need them to be able to do by about grades one, five, nine, and upon graduation. It is just a broad idea list, but so far it has worked well and saves my sanity.

So here is the tentative plan for my middle school kids this year. Like I’ve said before, things change once we get started and find out what is working or not, but this will be our starting place.

  • Participate in Bible devotions with the family.
  • I plan to get back to a slightly more structured Charlotte Mason approach this year. We will be studying the Middle Ages using Story of the World and supplemental books from the library. We will also be working on our map skills as we identify the areas that we encounter in our studies and in our books.
  • My older boy will be reading Apologia’s General Science.  He loves science, but the book’s reading level is a bit high for him, so I imagine that I will be reading some of it to him. We may take two years to read it.
  • My younger girl will continue with her science kits, microscope, outdoor nature discoveries, and great library books about such things. I may help her start a nature study sketch book if she is interested.  We will all definitely keep watching Bill Nye, Magic School Bus, Nova, and other science programs.
  • Everybody in the family will do daily reading. I have been trying to get them to record their books, but I am seeing that it is taking the fun out of reading itself, so I may scrap that idea and just let them read. I also plan to read aloud to them some novels. I have not chosen them yet.
  • I want to give cursive handwriting a try again this year. My daughter has taught herself for the most part, but she is very artsy and I believe when enjoy learning to make her words more beautiful. There is talk of buying a quill pen and ink to make this fun.  My son has writing issues, and we have not had good success in the area of writing in the past, but I am hoping that another year of maturity and fine motor skill development will have helped. I have seen big progress in his printing this year. We will also continue to encourage plenty of typing practice through e-mails, chatting online with family members, and composing stories. I have not yet decided whether I will purchase a good cursive handwriting copywork book or use another option.
  • Copywork of some kind is a must. We use it to learn proper punctuation, spelling, and sentence and paragraph formation. Again, because of writing issues, this will be minimal, but a little writing done well will get the job done.
  • And then there is Math. I am still completely undecided about math this year. I know we need to make big changes. We were using Saxon, which I love, but the kids are very overwhelmed and frustrated with math. The further and deeper we get, the more they hate it. I am considering Math U See, but I need more time to make that decision. For now, they are doing review work in their summer workbooks.
  • I want to add in more formally a study of composers, artists, and poetry. I plan to read to them from Short Lessons in Art History, Meet the great Composers (with a CD), and have some poetry parties with crafts included.

What Does Delight Directed Learning Look Like? (Part 2)

In my last post I wrote about delight directed learning in high school. Today I want to write about the middle school years. I am especially fond of this age, and, in fact, used to teach fifth grade. I would have to say, however, that my home education does not look much at all like my classroom teaching did. Maybe that’s because I’ve grown and learned new things. Maybe it’s out of necessity as I try to keep up with three different groups of learners in the same day. And maybe still it’s that I’ve learned that I can relax and that the kids do still learn what they need to learn.

Okay, so what does delight directed learning look like for my middle school aged children? It looks somewhat different for each of them, but has the same goal in mind. That goal is for them to love learning and to become independent learners. We spend more organized learning time than in the high school years, but much of their learning is still driven by their own interests.

Our scheduled learning time happens a few times a week usually and varies in content. It gives me an opportunity to expose them to things I think they need to know. This time rarely lasts more than two hours on any given day. Sometimes we read from Story of the World while the kids play with play dough or string beads or cut up paper. As long as their hands are busy, they can sit and stay tuned in. When we are finished reading for about thirty minutes to an hour, I have them draw and shortly write about four different topics that they remember hearing from the story.  Of course I may find other books to read to them like Magic School Bus or Magic Tree house or Sarah, Plain and Tall or… You get the idea. But the routine is the same. I read while they fidget, then they draw and tell about it.

After our reading time, they each have some individual lessons like copywork and math. They really don’t like this time, so I keep it short. Short, efficient lessons get the job done. My goal is to develop a love of learning in them.

Now for the fun, delight directed stuff!  I have set up our house, and continue to adjust it in order to have the best learning environment. I will share some of the things I see as important.

Books:  There should be good books available at all times. We visit our library at least every two weeks and each child checks out a minimum of 5 books. I also scavenge the children and older children’s sections for read aloud books. We have learned an incredible amount of history, science, poetry, literature, and even math from these books. As soon as we get home from the library I display several of the books across a cedar chest in the living room. When a child is bored, I will often suggest that they see if there are any books left on the chest that they have not read. Some of my kids are late readers. My first two read by the time they were 5, but the next two where about eight by the time they got to reading on their own. That’s just how they worked. Until they are ready, and even later than that, I read to them often.

Science:  There should be science experiment tools readily available to children that will use them responsibly. I keep two boxes full of microscopes, slides, scales, dyes, models, etc in a bottom cabinet. Once in a while I take something out to get them started, but most of the time they go to it pretty regularly and take out more than they need. This of course means that a second child will see it out and start using it as well. My job is to answer questions and ask more to get them to further investigate.

Art Supplies:  There should be a variety of art supplies easily available for when they wish to use them. We have paints, crayons, markers, different kinds of paper, beads, sequins, cans, boxes, how to books and more. It’s  messy, but worth it.

Good Work Display Area:  There should be a place for children to display their good work. I tied up two strings along a wall and put clothes pins on it. Paper art and writing samples go on this string. We also hang on it our reading lists for the 100 Books Club we are working on. My daughter occasionally has art shows for her canvas paintings and the like. We all vote and the winning piece of art hangs in our hallway until next time. My son’s art comes in the form of Lego or knex creations that live on the mantle for a while.

Building Supplies:  There should also be building supplies like legos, knex, dominoes, jenga blocks, etc. My son has especially learned a great deal from knex. He has learned about gears, motors, and all sorts of physics concepts through making roller coasters, robots, cars, and all the stuff boys love.

Computers:  Computers should be available for learning games and looking up information. We love games like JumpStart, Reader Rabbit, Math Missions, and Number Heroes. The internet is a tricky thing for kids. We as parents have to watch carefully what they do with it, but when used correctly it can be a great tool. When they are younger and ask a question, I stop what I am doing and look it up for them. Pretty soon though, they are asking to look up answers to their own questions. I highly recommend filters and monitoring when using the internet, but don’t forget the usefulness of it either.

Musical Instruments: Musical instruments should be available to those children that will treat them responsibly. Dad is a musician in our family, so this one is easy for us. So far, no child except my high schooler plays an instrument, but they do enjoy listening to music and hearing Dad tell the background stories to the composers and their pieces.  We don’t know what God will gift them with, so we set up the opportunity and wait to see if they respond. I say more about this in my high school post (Part 1).

Cooking Opportunities:  There should be plenty of opportunities to cook. Of course this means a lot of supervision, but there is much to be learned in the kitchen from measuring to chemical reactions to health to list making for shopping trips to following directions to responsibility to….

Games:  There should be plenty of board games available and opportunities to play them with a parent. Our favorite learning games are Monopoly, Life, Manhattan, Magic Labyrinth, Ticket to Ride, Chess, Checkers, Trivial Pursuit Junior, Cranium, The Cat in the Hat, and Scrabble. I also love to use puzzles. The kids learn to count money, make careful decisions, new facts, visual memory, reading, getting along, taking turns, and being good sports (this is big).

Classes Outside of the Home:  This can take many forms. For us, in this stage of life, it is dancing. It is an opportunity for the kids to feel some pressure and learn how to cope with it, learn physical awareness and skill, and act with grace whether things are going well or not. This is what my house has to offer. No one day uses all of these resources. Each day is it’s own, and depending on the outside activities and energy level of each of us, I may guide them in teacher led activities or let them run with their own. My general rule of thumb at this age is this: I have work planned. If they come to me with a plan of their own, and I can see the value in it, I will let them run with it instead. One example: For about 3 weeks my son was so involved in learning about gears, motors, and robots that I knew nothing outside of that mattered. I could have made him sit down and “learn” with me first, but instead I let him pursue his passion and watched him learn great things. When he finished, I was free to either guide him into a new idea or go back to our standard work.

Many good days are spent playing make believe as well. They might have a newspaper for which they write stories. They might have a Harry Potter fan club and read the books together. They might have a trading store or a a game tournament. They might spend hours watching science videos and then trying out the experiments.  There are really so many ways to learn!