Monday, November 10, 2014

Middle School Monday: Learning Independence

Middle School Monday

Welcome to Middle School Monday!

The middle school years are kind of known as being the preparation for high school years, but sometimes that's a bumpy road with a lot of detours! I remember when I was in my last year of elementary school, the teacher tried to prepare us for an increased amount of homework that we should expect in junior high school. And then in junior high, the teachers were constantly trying to scare prepare us for the more demanding classes and the substantial amount of homework we would get in high school. Guess what - in high school, we were often told how much harder the work would be and how much more responsibility we'd have to take for it in college. It seemed like the only real preparation we got, though, was that we were constantly told it would be harder and there would be more homework. We weren't really taught any skills or strategies to help us cope with that, though.

So here we are homeschooling our kids, and still we realize that middle school is a valuable time of preparing kids for taking it to the next level - more demanding schoolwork, taking courses that meet the standards for high school credits and graduation and college entrance, and accepting more responsibility for managing their schoolwork and their time. I've previously written a couple of posts about teaching some of the necessary life skills to teens, and about parenting teens, but at the time my focus was more on high school age kids. But guess what - most of that stuff applies to middle schoolers too! We don't start teaching those skills the day our kid enters sixth grade or turns 13, because we've more than likely been teaching them for many years already. It's just that during the teen years, the need to move kids towards independence takes on a whole new meaning!

Learning responsibility and independence means that we as parents have to hand over the responsibilities to them and trust them with more independence, but of course we need to prepare them for it! Kids need to be clear  on our expectations of what needs done and the deadline. And the consequences! Want the dishes done by your teens after dinner? Be specific about who does which part of the job, what standards they are held to, a time frame for getting it done, and consequences if you have to come break up fights or it isn't done in a timely manner or if it's done poorly. (Not that this has ever happened at our house! Ha!! Right.) My kids knew how to wash, dry, and put away dishes long before they were middle school age, so it was a matter of making sure they know what was expected of them, and giving them the responsibility for getting the job done. And most of the time, they do it and I can trust them to do it! That's just one example in the household responsibility area. The same principles apply to schoolwork. If I have given an assignment list to Kennady that makes it clear which chapters to read, which review questions to answer, and how much needs to be complete by the end of the week or whatever, there's usually no reason why she can't do that herself. Of course I'm always available when she has a question, and we spend lots of time talking through what she is working on, but she doesn't need to constantly be waiting on me to tell her what to do next. She's got at least a week's worth of instructions and can follow them. (For some ideas on getting kids to do chores, see the Hip Homeschool Moms article Tips for Getting Kids to Do Chores. For another mom's take on giving her middle schooler more responsibilities, see the article Middle School Schooling at Homeschooling for His Glory.)

Managing their own time is such a valuable skill for kids to learn! But it's more than just the rule that chores and school come before fun and games. Kids (and some grown-ups, myself included!) tend to be unrealistic about how much time they are actually spending on something, and reading just to the end of the chapter, or watching to the end of the show, or playing just a couple m ore minutes means they forget what it was they were supposed to do. With schoolwork, start trusting them with that assignment list - make sure they know what to do next and when it needs to be done, and then let them make decisions about how they will get it done. This is very new for many kids, so you might want to start with a subject at a time, or maybe sit down with them and help them figure out the daily routine that will work for them. Let them have control over as much of their school schedule as is practical. If you are teaching some subjects to more than one student at a time, or for the aspects of your homeschool that do require you to be fully involved, those will have to be scheduled in a way that works for you. Last year, for example, Landon and Kennady did Social Studies together, so that was scheduled for first thing in the morning, because that's what worked for all three of us. This year, they are working independently on everything, so it really is up to Kennady whether she'd like to start her day with math or with science or something else. It's up to her whether she wants to follow the same schedule every schoolday or start some days with Literature and other days with Art. I've set a few parameters for the decisions - work on math every day, for example - and as long as the work is being done by the deadline I've given, it's all good. I firmly believe that starting in middle school, kids should be keeping track of their own time and assignments. Many homeschoolers award grades and high school credit for classes such as Phys.Ed. and Music based on time spent, and the student should be responsible for logging those hours. We've found My Student Log Book to be the handiest tool ever for doing just that! We reviewed it awhile ago, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's perfect for the middle school kids transitioning into more independence with their schoolwork, and it's also perfect for high schoolers keeping a log of their schoolwork. (Read our review or visit the My Student Log Book website for more info. I recommend this resource because we use it and it works, and receive no compensation for doing so!)

My Student Logbook review

More "life coaching" and less "micro-managing" - I'm pretty sure this is a tough transition for parents who have a detail-oriented style when it comes to parenting, homeschooling, or home management! I definitely don't have that style, but that doesn't mean that I don't struggle with backing off from managing my kids' details. Teens are ready to be coached in making wise decisions rather than having decisions dictated to them. They are ready to grapple with the reasons why we hold them to certain standards (such as modest dress or media discernment or consistent church attendance), and to practice applying those principles in real-life situations. I think we should have high but realistic expectations! I want my daughter to know that I believe in her ability to do a great job, to meet challenges, and to shine. She's strong and smart and capable, and I need to let her be those things. Often teens can do more than we give them credit for! If we as parents give them the tools and background support they need, we can mostly get out of their way and let them really own the projects they take on.  During these years, they are learning a good work ethic, how to do their very best, and how to interact with and respect those in authority over them. Those are skills that translate into the workforce. They should start to realize that how they handle themselves when helping with the little kids at church, or serving with their family at a soup kitchen, or helping an elderly neighbor with yardwork can all be valuable experiences for getting a job, starting their own business, or just getting a good reference. In school, continue customizing their studies to their interests and needs as much as possible - they will be more likely to apply themselves to a study they have had a hand in choosing. Help them understand WHY they have to learn the stuff that seems useless to them - even if it's just "because you will need to earn a credit in this course in order to meet the state standards to graduate."
Continue easing them to independence. Hopefully they've been learning life skills all the way along. The skills they need to learn might start to look a little different as they become young adults, but they need to be able to do for themselves, take responsibility, and make good choices. Think of yourself as a sort of life coach, and you're getting your kids - and yourself! - through the transition from dependent child to independent adult. They know how to make a sammich - now let them cook a meal for the family once a week. (I wish I'd done this. I still have a chance with my daughter, I guess. LOL) After all, they'll need scavenge their own meals when they move out, and you'll want them to have more than scavenger-level skills. Adjust their household responsibilities to their age and skill level. They will need to know how to do their own laundry and dishes, do their own grocery shopping, take care of household maintenance and yard care duties, do their own banking, pay their own bills, etc someday. If they don't move out as soon as they graduate high school, you will want them to clean up after themselves at the very least. Don't let them graduate high school without knowing the basics of running a simple household. Expect them to take responsibility for their own actions and choices. They should learn how to be trustworthy workers, and that they should contribute positively to society, rather than sit around expecting the world to cater to them.  (from
T is for... Teenagers)

Most of us would prefer that our little ones learn to swim in stages, starting in the shallow water and with a competent instructor on-hand to help when needed. That makes more sense than shoving a child into the deep end of the pool to survive as best they can. It's the same with young people learning the ropes of high school (and eventually adult) responsibility - most will do much better if they get the proper instruction and support, and are allowed to take on the new challenges in increments, knowing that their parents will always be there to cheer them on and help out when needed. It's fun and exciting to be a part of it!

Related posts:
Homeschool Essentials for Graduating: Skills for the Real World
T is for... Teenagers

How are you helping your middle schooler become more responsible and independent? Leave a comment and let me know!

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This post is also linked up on the Homeschool Review Crew Blog for the 5 Days of Homeschool Blog Hop (Spring 2018).

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