Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Whys and Whats of Homeschooling for 8th Grade


Over the last few years, I've had a lot of people ask me about our decision to homeschool our children for 8th grade.  It's a rather drastic choice and while most people have been supportive, it's also somewhat controversial.   Of course we did not endeavor into such a decision without a lot of research and prayer and over the course of the last few years we have felt very inspired that it is the right thing for our family.  Recently a friend of mine asked me some specific questions to help her as she decides whether to homeschool her own daughter for 8th grade and since  other people have been asking as well, I thought I'd compile a list of the things that I've been asked most frequently:  

Why 8th grade?

For a number of reasons, we felt like if we were only going to homeschool the kids for one year, then the eighth grade year was ideal.  My first main reason for this decision is that for the most part the year is off their high school record, so that I don't have to explain the holes in their transcript (see exception below) when they're applying to college.   Secondly, we felt like it was their one last year before heading off to the crazy world of high school, and we wanted to give them every opportunity to strengthen themselves within the walls of our home before then.  Lastly, both Spence and Cami had gone to their seventh grade year at middle school before homeschooling for 8th grade, and frankly for various reasons both of them were very excited to have a year "out of the system".   While neither one of them had had bad experiences, neither one of them were such fans of the middle school garbage that goes on either.  And that brings me to my last big reason...middle school is kind of  a yucky, transitional time in many kids' lives and once again, we felt that a year of a positive strengthening experiences in our home was infinitely better than the negative environment of a middle school. 

 Many people we've met in our homeschooling ventures, homeschool for all of middle school.   With our younger kids at home, we didn't feel like that was the right thing for our family, but now that my baby is in school, I may consider that for the future (if the younger kids are game for it). 

Doesn't the middle school need their positive influence?

Of course it does, BUT not at the detriment of tearing my kids down along with them.  Once again, we absolutely felt strongly that bringing them home for a year was  exactly the preparation they needed to be the best positive influences possible going forward into their high school years and beyond. 

My child doesn't want to homeschool, but I think it would be best.
I personally do not feel like it would be a very successful experience if your child is resistant to being homeschooled, even for just one year.  My advice is to suggest homeschooling as a possibility for a year or two in advance of when you're considering it, then take opportunities to regularly point out the fun advantages that homeschooling will offer them (field trips, no late night homework, etc). 

In addition, to increase their excitement level of staying home for a year, we also promised our kids a fun trip sometime during the year....a special trip that they wouldn't be able to do if they were in school.   Spencer went on a trip with my parents to the the Pacific Northwest through Seattle and into Canada.  Cami is heading to Denver in a couple of weeks with visit his family and hopefully to catch  BYU in the basketball playoffs there.  

If despite your advance preparation and promise of something exciting, they are still resistant, then I would strongly advise you to reconsider your thought to homeschool.  Having a sullen, unhappy teenager at home for a year could be a very trying experience for both of you that may sabotage your efforts in strengthening them for the future.  If, however, you absolutely feel that it is the right thing to do despite their resistance, then I would plan on a month or two of decompressing and working on your relationship. 

I'm too busy, I'm not sure I can make it work.
I figure everything that keeps me church callings, PTA responsibilities, Ellie's health issues, etc....would be consuming my day regardless of whether I was homeschooling or not.  But if Cami were at school, my time with her would be short and rushed.   With her at home, in addition to her academic studies, she also gets some Real Life 101. 

My advice is to take a deep breath and be prepared to prioritize.  First off, while some people may argue with me, I do not feel like homeschooling should be designed to be just like a school day where they are trying to cram six subjects in a day, while you stressfully try to keep up with everything they're doing.  I firmly believe that one of the beauties of homeschooling is flexibility.  Math is something that needs to be done every day, or it can easily get away from you, but in my opinion, there is room for much flexibility in all the other subjects. 

When you think of all the down-time in a day of school...going from class to class, the teacher disciplining other students, taking attendance, the teacher answering questions that your child already understands...the actual amount of time spent learning is not that impressive.  I feel like Cami spending an hour-and-a-half doing her online, interactive science class geared to her specifically is every bit as effective (or more so) than 2-3 hour-and-a-half blocks of science per week at school. 

What about curriculum? 
There are a million things out there, but my strong suggestion is to not feel like you need to recreate the academic environment of school at home.  Take advantage of being at home and make it fun!  Math is math, but every other subject can be made exciting and interesting for both of you.  I won't go into great detail here (call or email if you have specific questions), but here are a few basic things to keep in mind. 

  1.  Homeschooling is not free or cheap, especially for teenagers.  You want them to have quality materials and exposure to uplifting ideals and you should expect it to be about as expensive as sending them to a cheap private school....but with a much more loving, committed teacher!  :)

  2.  I know I'm repeating myself now, but do NOT try to recreate school at home.  It will be too draining for both of you and will likely not be the fun, bonding year you're hoping to have.   Except for math, it is absolutely not necessary that they learn exactly what they would have had they been at school. 

  3.  Contact your high school and find out if there will be any potential conflicts with homeschooling for 8th grade.   Especially, discuss math, since many kids are taking high school level math by 8th grade.  Our high school needed to see Spence's Algebra work, in order for him to sign up for Algebra 2.  For this reason and because I was much more intimidated by teaching Geometry, we signed Cami up for a Geometry class at a local private homeschooling "school".  I liked that she was being taught by someone more knowledgeable than me and I appreciated that she would have a grade and plenty of proof (and proofs) to show the school.  

  4.  Network!  Before you even start homeschooling, find a local LDS homeschooling group, get on their email list, and start participating in their social activities.  As you go along, you will most likely discover amazing moms who teach classes to other homeschoolers.  My kids have participated in Shakespeare, Statesman, and cooking classes this way.  It's great for them socially, good for you to have someone to bounce ideas off of,  and also great for supplementing the curriculum. 

  5.  In order to ensure that their homeschooling day doesn't dissolve into time wasting, we make the hours that they would normally be at school (8-3) a time set aside for their development....without TV, computer, or sometimes even pleasure reading since I have a few bookworms.   It doesn't necessarily that that block of time is super structured the whole time, but I want them to understand that their time at home is meant for  their strengthening and development, not to have extra time to waste. 

What are some of the coolest parts about homeschooling?
This list could be a mile long, but here are a few of my favorites:

  Low stress.  No more staying up until the wee hours trying to get a project done.  With even a somewhat concerted effort, they can easily complete all their work in a couple of hours each day, leaving the rest of the day open for developing talents, friendships, reading, helping around the house, exercising, etc. 

  Developing talents:
  This is one of my favorite parts about homeschooling...the opportunity to explore their talents like music, cooking, sewing, etc. in much greater depth than they could if they were bogged down with a full day of school and the ensuing homework. 

  Working on goals: 
Along the same lines as the previous  one, when their school work is all done in the first few hours of the day, guess who has plenty of time to work on Personal Progress, merit badges for Scouts, and any other goals they have set for themselves?  No more excuses! 

  Specific training:  You really want to teach them about how to balance a checkbook or make and keep a budget or learn how to plan a well-rounded menu and haven't had time yet?  Homeschooling provides the perfect opportunity to sneak in teaching about all those practical skills you've been meaning to teach them, but struggle to find the time for during the school year. 

  Family relationships strengthened:  I love to see the special bond my 8th graders develop with their younger siblings during this time at home.  The bond is not only between them and any preschoolers that happen to be home with them, but because their lives are less stressful and jam packed than previously, they also have more to give to their other siblings as well.  It really has been a wonderful blessing to our whole family. 

In addition, there's also the bond between parent/child that invariably is strengthened as well.  Part of it's just the sheer quantity of time spent together, but it's also the special little things that we do together through the year...the Friday lunches out, the inside jokes, the shared dinner preparations, and the fun shared experiences. 

What are some of the disadvantages of homeschooling for a year?

Probably the hardest part of it for me is the lifestyle change that it entails.  I was used to having preschoolers around all day, but it's totally different dynamics with a teenager in the house.  In many aspects it's easier than having a preschooler, because they can be left alone for a time, they're a little more self-motivated than a preschooler, and don't need to be entertained all day.  On the other hand, teenagers don't take naps or go on playdates and it sometimes can be draining to have them there all the time.  On the flip side, it could be just as challenging, if not more so, for the teenager who is suddenly at home all the time.  I suggest finding social groups and classes to get the involved in, for your sanity and theirs.  

What about sports?

Our district does not offer middle school sports anyway, so this was not an issue for us.  We just had them participate in the community sports' leagues. 

What would you change?

Not much....maybe go on more field trips and be better organized. 

Any last words of wisdom? 

Be prayerful, be prepared,  be flexible, and have fun! 



JenJ said...

This is an awesome awesome resource. You have helped me and touched my heart. I have a lot of research left to do. But you have me on the right track. :) you are the best dear friend. What was the most rewarding and valuable thig you taught or did with Cami this year?

Jocelyn Christensen said...

Man, that sure sounds like the ultimate compromise for someone like me! :) You make it sound fun. Low stress tell me more about that. Many homeschool moms I read sound stressed. Perhaps because they are schooling more than one child with wee ones at home?

Katie said...

Thank you so much for posting this. Homeschooling was never on our radar, until we heard this idea and loved it, and now it's something we're seriously considering (when the time comes...) I'm printing this out for my files, and forwarding it to a few friends & family members I think will find it helpful. Thanks!

Kim said...

I home schooled 7th grade I enjoyed it. It was great time to instill my values into my son instead of the worlds. Junior High is a time when you are developing your personality and I want them to decide for themselves who they will be.

Liz Szilagyi said...

You obviously wrote this a while ago, and may not see my comment. But I still wanted to say this was the most thoughtful post on homeschooling I have ever seen!

I love that you mention it is a prayerful experience. I love that you don't support "forcing" an unwilling child into it.

Though, as a former middle school teacher -- I think I'd choose 7th, not 8th. I'm sure each little neighborhood school is different, but I found students were "meaner" and more awkward in 7th grade. 8th grade was a year of much social growth and maturity, which I feel would be best done in that "public school" setting, rather than at home. But as you said, if 8th grade felt best for your family, then it was!

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Public schools are getting so bad !!!! This is a wonderful story.. more parents need to start taking control !!!!

Kimberly King said...

This is just what I needed. Thank you so much. I have been trying to figure out what to do with my 8th grader and you just gave me the guidance I needed.

Priscilla Lackey said...

I feel the same way about middle school. Now that I have two in middle school, I am starting to feel like all the hard work I did to raise my children is being torn down by the public school system. It's more than just the other kids at the school but also the educators that I feel like something is lacking. I have chosen to home school my eighth grader for the remainder of his eighth grade year to help him prepare for high school and depending on how successful I am at the home school method, I may choose to do the same with my girls. But I agree that I do not want to home school through high school because I want them to have a solid high school transcript for college. Not to mention all the important moments in high school that I would like my kids to still be a part of. Like Prom, drivers ed, lettering in a sport. Middle school for some reason, just seems like it can make or break a kid for the rest of their life. My kids are telling me about friends making bad choices that I didn't expect them to have to confront until high school. The kids start early these days I suppose. It is definitely comforting to hear that I am not alone in my decision.

360dave said...

I'm wondering if any of you are considering homeschooling for AGE reasons? My dilemma right now is that my son is a young 8th grader. By high school sport standards he could stay in 8th grade one more year and still play 8th grade sports. He is extremely tall for his age, which is great for basketball, but he has ZERO fat on him and hasn't hit that puberty stage just yet. What concerns me is seeing him play against some of the other boys, he just get knocks around so much being tall and thin, I think an extra year would really help grow into his body, at least by the time he is in high school.
Secondly, we are in a high school transition, where if he continues on his default path, would go to one high school for a year or two (depending on construction meeting deadlines) and then transfer in his sophomore or junior year to the new school. If we homeschool for one year, we will most likely not have to deal with that mid school transfer.
My son is a great kid, nice to others, but is probably your typical loose his head if it wasn't attached teenager. Gaining an extra year to grow and mature could make a ton of difference for him both academically and athletically. Would love any feedback or thoughts. Thank you for having this blog here. Good to see all the other stories.

andrew COD said...

Whale I've been in alternative school for the past two years and I hate it so I wanna do homeschool is that a good decision? I'm in the 8th grade

Lara said...

Andrew, Deciding to homeschool is a big decision that is individual for each person. I think that it offers some great benefits and can be a wonderful experience, but both the parent and the student need to be on board with making it work. Good luck with your decision!