Welcome to the month-long series “Homeschool HIGH SCHOOL Made Easy,” a follow-up to the popular “Homeschool Made Easy” series (now published on kindle). I’m sharing tips from my experience as a homeschool graduate and homeschool mother, showing YOU how easy and enjoyable these high school years can be for you and your teen. Be sure to sign up for the entire series so you don’t miss a thing!
Aristotle reportedly said, “Well begun is half done.” In the case of homeschooling high school, well prepared in middle school is half the battle of high school. There are several things middle school students and parents can do to ease the high school transition, helping smooth the way for a successful freshman year.
In fact, this is one of the primary purposes of middle school. Students are moving beyond the elementary years when they concentrated on the basics of education: how to read, how to write, how to use numbers to express truths, how to memorize facts. Now in the middle school years, students begin looking for connections to a bigger picture: how to read and research for deeper understanding, how to write paragraphs and papers to express their thoughts, how to express unknown ideas and complicated processes with numbers and words. They are moving from the knowledge stage to the understanding stage, from grammar to dialectic.
During these brief 2-4 years, our students go through great changes. Their bodies rapidly grow and change through puberty. Their emotions deepen and explode. Their minds develop rapidly, challenging what they know and longing to understand what they don’t. This is the time for young teens to develop the healthy habits, character qualities, and study skills that will ensure high school success.
You need to understand where your student is and where he’s likely to go.
What if it’s too late, your student is already in high school? Then don’t despair! There’s always time to catch up! Take a look at this list of goals and find areas your student can improve, then take steps now to train these habits. Instead of taking a year or two to practice, you can concentrate for a month or a semester on each one, and you’ll see big improvement quickly.
So what does your new high school student need to know? What should middle school parents be doing now to give teens a strong start? Here’s a checklist of goals I use with my middle school students to make sure they are well-prepared before high school begins.
Get your homeschool middle school student ready for high school.
Check this list to see if your young teen is ready for his freshman year of high school.
Not all homeschool students love to read; I actually have one student that hates it. And my homeschool grad doesn’t care much for reading, either. Our family is split with fifty percent book lovers, and the rest of them think we’re weird. So as much as we want to instill a love of good books into our students, a serious book addiction won’t strike all of them.
The best way to help students prepare for high school is by practicing in middle school.
But every high school student needs to be able to get the job done: finish reading assignments in a timely manner with good comprehension and the ability to get more information as needed. If they can read at-or-above grade level (and even glean facts from more difficult books as necessary) and answer thoughtful questions on the author’s message and intent, the job is done. No one said they have to like it.
If a student has reading difficulties, is unable to recall what is read a day or two later, and cannot research a topic from multiple sources, he may benefit from working on these skills with another year of middle school before beginning high school studies.
Math skills vary wildly in the teen years. Asking “where should my student be in math” is a lot like saying, “how good a piano player should my teen be?” There are too many variables: what’s his ability? how often does he practice? does the family have a strong aptitude or culture of enjoying the subject? does he love it? is he in a learning plateau or on the verge of a big mental growth spurt?
I’ll be spending more time on the subject of math later in the series. But for middle school, there are two important points, one for you and one for the student. First of all, the student needs to understand the basics of math — addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. He needs to understand what they mean and how they are related to each other and how to express them in words and numbers and real life stories. He needs to understand how to use them with whole things and with parts of things (fractions and decimals). He needs to understand how to use them with measuring real things in a variety of forms and how to translate the answers to different scales of measurement. Finally, he needs to practice doing mental math (what he’ll use most in his everyday life) and he needs to demonstrate how to show his work on paper when working complicated problems. He needs a lot of experiential knowledge with math in the real world so he’s comfortable using it and understanding it.
Secondly, you need to understand where your student is and maybe where he’s likely to go with math. You may not have thought about this much if your math curriculum is basically “do the next worksheet.” And that’s ok, just start paying attention over the next few weeks or months. Does he finish his math quickly and easily with little or no help from you, or does it feel like a foreign language to him? Does he do math in his head during the day, like estimating how much sales tax he needs for a purchase or how many miles he has traveled in 20 minutes while riding in a car driving 35 miles per hour (yes, we’re weird like this)? Has he started algebra, and is that fun or maddening for him? How comfortable is he with unknown quantities or imagining shapes rotating in space? These are all clues as to how prepared your child is mentally for algebra and geometry. By taking his mental capabilities into consideration, you can better plan for the future and pace his math in a way that reduces frustrations for you both. Here is a course that gives middle school students an excellent math foundation.
Study for a test
Whether or not you keep track of grades for elementary and middle school work (I mostly don’t), high school needs those letters and numbers on the transcript. The best way to help students prepare for those high school tests is by practicing in middle school. Many classes lend themselves well to testing, especially history, science, and math. Guide your student through the process for a year or two, and then back off and let him prepare on his own. Middle school students need to practice studying over time (instead of cramming), taking notes, memorizing facts, and presenting their knowledge on paper in an essay, short answer, and multiple-choice formats. For many homeschoolers, this is a skill that needs quite a bit of practice.
Write a strong paragraph
High school introduces essays and papers, so middle school students should already understand paragraph form. Take the time (or even an entire course) to teach students how to write complete sentences and how to recognize and correct fragments and run-ons. Then explain how to construct a simple paragraph with a topic sentence, strong body, and conclusion. This skill will improve the student’s confidence and even grades in every other subject. Here’s the writing course I’m using with my middle school student right now, with great success.
Take responsibility for time management
I put these two ideas of responsibility and time management together because for preteens and young teens, they really go hand in hand. Students aren’t responsible for much more than how they use their time because that’s the basis of what their day is made up of. Are they spending time in their studies or daydreaming? Are they practicing their music instruments or YouTubing? Are they finishing their chores or picking arguments with their siblings?
When our children were little, most of us used chore charts for at least some time to teach our children daily habits. Now is the time to train our middle school students how to use a planner or notebook to organize their work. At first, I write a weekly list of what needs to be accomplished, and I’ll check it every day, then every couple of days, and later just weekly. Students know there will be consequences for “smiling or having fun of any kind” before the responsibilities are finished (I’m such a work nazi, but my homeschoolers think it’s always happy play time!). By the time a student begins high school, he should be able to track all his own chores, jobs, projects, assignments, and personal appointments without reminders or nagging from parents. That’s the goal, anyway.
Maximize his learning style
While doing all of the above, the student will soon realize he prefers to do things a certain way:
- he studies better in the morning or in the afternoon
- he likes music playing when he does his math, or he needs silence
- he remembers better if he discusses the concept with a parent, or he recalls better if he reads
- projects make him happy, or he dreads anything that requires crafting
As parents, we can begin taking a step back from directing every detail of each assignment during the middle school years. As we move away from micromanaging our student’s learning, he becomes freer to learn as he does best — using his unique learning style to its fullest potential.
Are you intrigued? Stay tuned. In a couple days, I’ll talk about finding your student’s learning style and your own teaching style. Then we’ll see how both of those can work together to make homeschooling high school even easier.
What does your middle school student need to know?
I just shared a quick checklist of important skills that make the transition easier from middle school to high school. If you’re eager for more, you can find a more comprehensive list of what your middle school student needs to know in my book, Homeschool Made Easy.
Is your student ready for high school?
Or maybe you have thought of another skill that middle school students need. Let me know what you’re working on in the comments below.