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Productive Middle School Years

  • October 1, 2016
  • By Donielle
  • 0 Comments

Think back to your middle school years.  Yeah, I do not want to dwell there too long either.  I was a sensitive kid, so everything every other insecure child spewed at me stung badly.  Fortunately, I was homeschooled, so the instances were rare.  But the middle school years are a tremendous

The middle school years are for reading great literature and discussing big ideas.

The middle school years are for reading great literature and discussing big ideas.

blessing to homeschooling parents.  They can be the most fun yet!

Think of it this way:  Your student has learned the basics.  They read, write and do math pretty decently.  Now you have the opportunity to help them hone their skills.  You have worked on challenging their reading level up until now.  Finally, you get to share some of the world’s classic literature together, since they have reached a new level of thinking skills.  Reading The Lord of the Rings series aloud together has been a middle school highlight.  You can finally dig into some really interesting discussions.  Now is the time to dabble in the study of informal Logic so you can laugh at advertisements together and pick apart candidates’ arguments.  It is a beautiful time to foster communication with your tween that will help smooth the way to the high school years.  Those years will get busy as kids become independent.  Right now they

Even though the work gets more difficult, resist the urge to turn your middleschooler's education over to virtual school.

Even though the work gets more difficult, resist the urge to turn your middleschooler’s education over to virtual school.

still think you are awesome and want to talk, especially about things that are “grown up”.  Now is the time to challenge them with big ideas.  Research shows that most student’s foundational values are established by age thirteen.  It is the window to share what is important to you, now that they can understand, and while it still matters to them.  Now is a great time to explore different types of writing: novel writing, journalism, poetry.

Now is NOT the time to turn their education over to virtual programs.  While there are great supplements offered and every situation is different, parents should be reading and discussing with kids on a daily basis.  These years are also for exploring gifts, talents, and skills that will narrow into hobbies, ministries, businesses, and careers in later years.

In order to make the best possible use of this dialectic learning stage and maintain our co-op format for our younger students, we created a format that we call “Colloquium” for our seventh and eighth graders.  Most sixth graders are still in the grammar stage.  For our co-op we use a format that meets, on average, three Mondays a week and takes the fourth Monday off to get other things done.  We began to use that fourth or last Monday as a

Acting out Shakespeare in the park

Acting out Shakespeare in the park

time to focus on the big kids.  Those of us without small children were the teachers on Colloquium Monday.  In Latin “colloquium” means conversation.  So our vision was to read these timeless classics and join the “Great Conversation” together.  The “Great Conversation” is what scholars often call the great works of western civilization.  This literature discusses the issues important to all eras and civilizations; issues like right and wrong, life and death, work, love, and man’s purpose, to name just a few.  Sound like heady issues for 12 year olds?  They are heady issues for anyone.  Big ideas are best communicated by narrative.  Jesus taught in parables.  Aesop’s fables have endured 1500 years and are still teaching lessons.  Let appropriate literature introduce those ideas.  Human trafficking becomes relatable for middleschoolers when they agonize with Nancy in Oliver Twist.  Then you have a basis from which to discuss poverty and human rights.

This is the time to teach children how to think.  Up until now we have given them answers to their questions.  Now our approach should be more socratic.  For example (actual conversation):

Middle schooler:  Mom, what should I wear tomorrow?

To build a secure bridge to adulthood, middle schoolers need big things to think about. If they are not fed noble and worthy things to ponder, they will adopt the trivial things that surround them as the objects of their daily thoughts and meditations.

To build a secure bridge to adulthood, middle schoolers need big things to think about. If they are not fed noble and worthy things to ponder, they will adopt the trivial things that surround them as the objects of their daily thoughts and meditations.

Mom: What do YOU think you should wear tomorrow?

Middle schooler:  Mom!  I don’t know!  That’s why asked you!

Mom: Well, what activities do you have tomorrow?

Middle schooler: Nothing.  Well, I have a violin lesson.

Mom: (expectant silence)

Middle schooler: Well?

Mom: Should you wear something appropriate for that activity and the weather?

Middle schooler:  (Leaves room.  Comes back seconds later).  Mom, really I have this shirt I want to wear and I don’t know what goes with it.

Mom: Well, that is a different question, isn’t it?  Let’s take a look in your dresser!

In these years our aim is also to prepare them for a challenging highschool curriculum.  Our Colloquium Mondays were spent discussing the literature we read.  Then, using our writing curriculum (more on that here), we wrote about our literature.  They were assigned a family discussion question each week, based on their reading assignment.  We discussed the answers in Colloquium as well as any history related issues that may be too intense for the younger crowd that we do history with.

We studied informal logic using The Art of Argument: An Introduction to the Informal Fallacies (there is a teacher’s edition and a DVD set if you need them).  There are several schools of thought on teaching Logic.  I respect the philosophy that a foundation should be laid with formal logic first.  But we have limited time for logic discussion and informal logic is more accessible to a seventh grader.  This series by Classical Academic

We want to be able to look back on the middle school years and say, "Wow! Look what you accomplished!"

We want to be able to look back on the middle school years and say, “Wow! Look what you accomplished!”

Press is colorful with funny skits and examples and my students loved this book!  They begged to do Logic first.

Finally, we finished off with a drawing lesson from Meet the Masters, http://meetthemasters.com/ to perfect those ever useful sketching skills.

So what were these terrific books we read?  Tune in, next week!

By Donielle, October 1, 2016
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