The Middle School Squeeze

“Whstress-624220_640at do you recommend for teaching essays to middle school students?” queried a customer at my bookstore for gently-used homeschool curriculum.  Upon further discussion, I learned that her sixth grader hasn’t ever written more than a few sentences and now she wants him to master an essay within the next month! Has she succumbed to the dreaded Middle School Squeeze?

This very specialized form of a Homeschool Mom Panic Attack has lain dormant since she began homeschooling preschool or kindergarten.

Throughout the younger years, this mom has emphasized unstructured play, time in nature, and curiosity-inducing experiences – a great recipe for a solid educational foundation.  But now that her student is older, this mom begins to doubt that approach and is questioning whether accelerated academics would be better. While she values the intellectual inquisitiveness she sees in her child, she begins to worry that he is “behind” compared to his chronological age-mates.  And she makes plans to catch up and then surpass them  – yesterday!

Sometimes this disease develops as moms begin to investigate homeschooling high school.  A recent Facebook post by the Smiling Homeschooler mentioned, “The words high school strike fear into the hearts of most homeschoolers. It’s somewhat comparable to the Bermuda Triangle.”

The major symptom of the Middle School Squeeze is mom panic resulting in an inordinate amount of academic stress placed abruptly upon her student.  Instead of seeing the rich and wonderful gift of childhood that she has given her child, she focuses on what has not been taught.  In fact, she prepares to squeeze several years of standard school skills into mere months. And then, to further complicate matters, the hormones of puberty kick in and her poor student is not only dealing with physical and emotional changes, but also a sudden overload of academic pressure.  The stage is set is trouble!

Is there a cure?  Can mom and student navigate these obstacles without succumbing to the pressure to begin copying the path and pace of the public school system? Yes!  But it will require that both parties overlook the processes of the school system while working toward toward their determined educational goals.  Our homeschool students do need certain skills and knowledge to transition successfully to the adult world.  But as any recent high school graduate can tell you, not all that is taught in the school system is essential for future success.  In fact, some critical skills are not even covered in high school! The public school system is probably what the family was trying to avoid when they began homeschooling. This is not the time to begin mimicking it!

Students of middle school age are usually ready for deeper levels of learning using their maturing analytical abilities and increased capacity for independent work.  They are ready to begin testing their wings and may request more freedom and less direct oversight from their parents.  However, a recent Australian study observed “pubertal status was not significantly directly associated with academic achievement. Rather, its negative effects on achievement occurred by way of lowering students’ academic motivation.”  So parents will likely need to help with their student’s academic motivation during this time which will become much more difficult if they succumb to the Middle School Squeeze.

Each family’s homeschooling journey will be different.  Middle school definitely presents challenges and changes for parents and students to navigate and negotiate.  But the Middle School Squeeze can be avoided.  With a little foresight and knowledge, a new path can be planned without causing unnecessary stress and pressure on the middle school student.

If you’d like to learn more about the challenges of adapting homeschooling when your student reaches middle school age, join Penny Ross (30 year homeschool veteran) for an interactive workshop, Homeschooling Middle School: Is it Any Different? on Tuesday, November 5 at Tools for the Home Educator.  Limited seating; pre-registration required.

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