I just realized the other day that I have been teaching homeschool middle school for over half a decade, and I still have many more years ahead of me. The middle school years are an exciting time for both student and parent. Learning explodes into deeper thinking, and the personality of each student begins to shape his interests and learning process in concrete ways.
Middle school is an important learning time. The student begins gradually taking responsibility for his education and establishing habits that will carry him through those critical high school years. The right tools really help make this easier.
What makes good homeschool middle school products? The wise homeschool parent will take several issues into account:
- the learning style of the student
- the teaching style of the parent
- the intellectual and emotional maturity of the student
- the time commitment of the entire family
All of those variables are so different for every individual student. That’s why there are no cut-and-dry answers to that common homeschool question what is the best curriculum? The answer is always that depends.
You know you have the best curriculum or product for your needs if the following criteria is met:
- the student can understand and master new concepts with that product
- the parent can teach new concepts and evaluate learning with that product
- the product fits the child’s mental and emotional level
- the product can be used easily within the family culture
If all those criteria are met by the product, it’s time to stop looking for a better product and start working on learning.
I have found the products that meet my middle schoolers’ needs and our family’s learning environment. It’s a relief not to need to browse all the catalogs and buy more products in the hope they will deliver magical results. We’ve got our tools, we can get busy using them.
So what are my favorites? Here’s a peak inside my middle school toolbox.
My Favorite Curriculum for Middle School Homeschooling
I still love Saxon Math. It worked for me, it worked for my students. I have auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners, and they all found ways to use this curriculum with great success.
At the beginning of the middle school journey, I do continue checking the daily homework assignments myself. But by the time the student begins Algebra 1 (usually around eighth grade), I let the student grade his own homework daily. I continue to grade the course based on test scores. Tests are administered closed-book and are cumulative in the Saxon course, so this is a good indication of how well the students comprehends and applies the concepts. Since I’m grading the homework regularly, I don’t need to test middle school students on their math.
Middle school math students complete a year or two of general math, pre-algebra, and perhaps Algebra 1 using the Saxon method. You can find out more on their website.
Grammar is essential for the middle school student. There is no substitute for drilling parts of speech, sentence structure, punctuation, and capitalization rules until they are second nature. It is imperative middle school students complete at least two years of solid grammar practice so they are well prepared not only for high school writing but also essay tests and reports.
My favorite grammar practice book is still ABeka Grammar & Composition. It’s just so easy to use. Students read and memorize the rules, then they practice applying them in writing and in editing. All you need is the student workbook and the teacher answer key. Optional tests are available, but I don’t like them as much for the middle school level. They tend to emphasize areas that are less important for sound writing, in my opinion.
My only beef with ABeka Grammar is that it presents concepts out-of-order and contains practice over-kill. So I teach the units in a different order than presented in the book. And I would never require a student complete every single practice problem, especially if he understands and accurately applies the given rules.
If you have a strong writer in eighth grade and want to challenge him to improve his style, consider WriteShop. This curriculum works well for students who have mastered grammar essentials well enough to utilize them creatively in paragraphs. The course does a great job at teaching the writing process, self-editing, and style variations without producing formulaic writing common to other writing curricula.
I have mentioned before how much I like TruthQuest History for elementary and middle school. It is a great real-book four-year program of history heavy on background and worldview application.
We have used Tapestry of Grace for the past four years (a complete cycle!) and are addicted. As in I will never use another humanities program other than this. For one thing, I’ve bought it all, so I won’t need to purchase more history, geography, worldview, church history, philosophy, art history, writing, or literature curricula for the next ten years I have left in homeschooling. That is something to celebrate, right there!
I’ve taught all three levels (grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric, otherwise known as elementary, middle school, and high school) of this classical program simultaneously for the last three years, and that’s what makes me love it. We have found a rhythm in our family that really works for us — we know how to get the meat out of each lesson in a way that fits our learning and teaching styles. And in the process, we all are learning so much — and enjoying it!
Middle school students study the dialectic level of Tapestry of Grace. Most of their books are found in the library’s junior nonfiction or junior fiction sections or are available on kindle. The books are not too strenuous to read, even for my student who does not enjoy reading. There are plenty of hands-on projects, films, and other fun learning suggestions to keep a good variety in our homeschool. And the topics are so clear and well-presented, it is easy to supplement with our own field trips and found resources.
Dialectic students are given accountability (reading comprehension) questions and thinking (in-depth opinion and application) questions that can be discussed orally and/or recorded in a notebook. Teachers should plan for 30-60 minutes of discussion time each week both to evaluate student learning and to increase understanding. Optional maps can be purchased to simplify the geography study. The evaluations are helpful for high school testing preparation; they vary in style from matching to short answer to mini-essays and comparison charts. I highly recommend the middle school evaluations to help students practice putting their learning down on paper.
Jay Wile wrote the gold standard of homeschool science with his original Exploring Creation series. If you can find an edition with his name on the front, be sure to buy them for your younger students’ future use, as they are quickly going out of print.
Wile’s General Science and Physical Science lay that critical foundation for high school science study. The texts are written for students to read and understand, experiment and apply the concepts independently. There are study questions given to ensure comprehension, and optional tests are available. Since high school science will be tested and probably won’t be easy, I recommend testing in middle school to help students prepare for high school success.
We aren’t all trained scientists, however, and as great as these texts are, sometimes we wish we had an expert to ensure our students are getting it right. That’s why Red Wagon Tutorials is such a great ministry. Steve Rosenoff has a heart for training homeschoolers, and as a research chemist and long-time science teacher, he knows how to do it right. His classes sell out way in advance, so be sure to register early. Tell him I sent you.
Do you have to teach logic in middle school? No, but it sure makes the rest of high school easier! Strengthening those thinking skills makes math, science, and even literature and history easier.
I like the Building Thinking Skills series from the Critical Thinking Co. It starts simple but becomes quite challenging by level 3. It’s self-directed; I just have each student tear out a page or two each day to complete. The pages seem easy, but each unit becomes progressively more difficult until you can clearly see where your student’s own weaknesses lie.
I do think exposure to foreign language is important to our students, but I don’t believe it is worth killing ourselves or our children over. Now, I do have a close friend who is a dead language expert, and she is the nicest person I’ve ever met, bar none. It’s just not my cup of tea.
So we study living languages. Spanish, the language of their father, to be exact. And if you, like me, want your children to study language but not kill themselves over it, I highly recommend you bite the bullet and just buy Rosetta Stone. It works. We use it elementary through high school, as a matter of fact.
For middle school, I’ve found it helps immensely to set goals and expectations while taking into account the student’s ability. I require my early middle school students complete at least one half of a level per year; by eighth grade, they can complete one level per year. Each quarter, they have a milestone they must complete, so they work weekly toward that goal. Following these guidelines, we’ve seen regular progress in comprehension and conversational abilities.
Rosetta Stone is available in both standard and homeschool editions. The homeschool edition includes more grading insights into your individual students’ performances.
By middle school age, students are ready to move beyond Scripture memory to independent reading and application of Bible truths. Your church may already have program like AWANA that encourages development of Christian character and Bible knowledge. Local friends, contact me for more information on the program at our church; my husband is the commander, and it’s a great club.
In addition to AWANA, my middle school students study Bible and church history with their Tapestry of Grace curriculum. Year 1 includes a Bible overview integrated with history as well as a foundation of early church history. Years 2-4 follow church history through the middle ages to modern times from a Protestant perspective.
These are some of the resources that work for us in middle school. What are your favorites?
For more homeschool help, check out my new book Homeschool Made Easy, now available on Kindle. Get your copy today!