Middle School Homeschooling Options (And Why We QUIT Connections Academy After Only a Week)
Spoiler alert: We quit Connections Academy after less than a week because Grace was bored to tears! It wasn't like homeschooling at all. It was just like regular school, but without the friends and fun. You have to sit online for 6 hours a day, and who wants to do that (unless they're getting paid)? Grace loves being online as much as the next kid, but the “live” learning classes with teachers and other students were just as boring as the self-study portions. She learned nothing. To be fair, we only gave it a week, but seeing the look on her face when I told her it was time for another “live lesson” with her “teachers” was enough to say it all.
We quickly realized that as much as we thought we wanted the structure of an online public school, we were wrong. Schools like K12 and Connections are great if you live in a state that has strict homeschooling requirements. However, if you live in a state like Arizona where they are pretty relaxed about everything (well, everything homeschool related), it's better to create your own curriculum. What?! Hold the phone. Create… your own… curriculum? YES! Hear me out.
Note: Some links used in this post are affiliate links.
Middle School Homeschooling Options
I was homeschooled in 9th grade (long story, but I basically homeschooled myself). To figure out what I should have been learning, I used the Typical Course of Study from World Book. We still use that today. It's easy to go through the list and say “yes” or “no” when your child knows something. When you come across a “no”, you add it to your study list. The Course of Study is extremely thorough, and can seem overwhelming at first but it really isn't that bad. Take it subject by subject, line by line.
If you look at the Course of Study and realize your child doesn't know hardly anything on the list, it's okay to go down a grade. This doesn't mean your child is behind, it just means you need to focus on different goals. Likewise, if your child knows almost everything on the list already, you might want to skip up to the next grade. In homeschooling, especially if you plan to homeschool for several years, grade level doesn't matter a whole lot. Your child may be at a 6th grade level in History but a 9th grade level in Math. Homeschooling is completely personalized for your child and their learning style.
A curriculum doesn't have to be super structured, unless your state requires it. Thankfully, ours doesn't (it was one of the things we looked at before moving here, just in case we ever had to homeschool). You need the basic subjects (Math, Science, Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Health, Art, etc), and can add as many electives as you want… which is one of the main reasons homeschooling is so awesome!
Decode Your Child's Learning Style
Before creating a curriculum for your homeschooler, you need to decode their learning style. If they've been in public school for a while, you may need to “deschool” for a while, or they might not want to deschool at all. Gracelynn was offended by the idea of deschooling, even though almost every homeschooler I spoke with said we MUST do it. Thankfully, I listened to Gracelynn, because deschooling is not something that was going to work for her. She loves to learn in a traditional format, with worksheets and “homework”. Deschooling for several months was recommended, and she would have been so bored. We tried it for a few days and she was extremely frustrated.
Does your child like doing their own thing or do they like following a strict plan? With Connections, there was no creative freedom (even the art projects were not very fun). A program like that will kill your child's learning potential if they're a creative learner who needs some freedom.
How does your child learn? Do they prefer to learn on the computer with a “teacher” of some sort talking to them (video, web chat, DVDs), or do they like writing everything down by hand? Do they hate writing but love building things? Do they learn better with pictures rather than words? It might take a little bit to figure out exactly how your child learns best, but that's another joy of homeschooling: there's no rush!
Decode Your Teaching Style
You're a teacher now, congrats! We are our child's first teacher, but then we send them off to school and no longer really have the official “teacher” role at home. We are just “Mom” again. Your teaching style will affect your child's learning, so it's important to set yourself up for success, too! When you're new to homeschooling, it's all trial and error. It might take a little while for you to figure out how you like to teach, and it could take your child a while to figure out how they like to learn (and that's okay!).
The goal here is to get your teaching style and their learning style to work together as seamlessly as possible. I am a hands-off teacher. I don't mind it when Grace sits next to me to do her homework, because I can answer questions as needed. When the kids were younger, I was super hands-on, and would sit at the table to help them with their projects. The middle school years are a bit different because, chances are, you have other stuff you could be working on and they don't want you hovering, either.
My hands-off teaching approach works for us because I'm not bugging Grace about her work. She does what she's supposed to (and then some). We don't follow a schedule or a strict curriculum, but we have goals each week and she usually has them completed mid-week. When she's finished with all of her school work, I make her more. We print hundreds of pages of worksheets each month, because she loves writing and doing schoolwork the “old fashioned” way. Her homeschooling resembles my homeschooling (from 15 years ago!), and it works well for us.
Set SMART Goals … Together
I set SMART goals for my business, but at first I didn't really think of setting SMART goals for our homeschool. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Each project we work on must serve a purpose, even if it's just to have fun. Define the purpose ahead of time so you can track your child's progress.
You can set SMART goals for the day, week, month, or year. You can even set them by subject. Referring back to the Typical Course of Study, you can easily set goals for your homeschool based on each concept that needs to be taught. It takes more planning on your part, but if your child wants to go back to public school, it's important that they will be prepared. Many do a less structured homeschool and some even do unschooling, which is basically just learning through nature, play, and however your child wants to learn. Read more about unschooling here. Oh, we briefly even considered earthschooling, because Rachel and I loved it! However, Grace was like “nah”…
No matter how you homeschool, there's no “right” or “wrong” answer. We know that we will probably send Grace back to public school in a year or two, so we want to make sure we stay on track with the Typical Course of Study and the state standards. Without having this to worry about, we might not necessarily follow the course of study plan, and we might not even worry about setting SMART goals. It's something to consider. What works for your homeschool?
Middle School Curriculum Options
There are so many options for homeschool curriculum. It becomes overwhelming to search through them all, and to figure out what your child wants to do, should be doing, etc. Does the curriculum match your learning style? You won't know until you buy it, and then it's too late! Before you purchase a curriculum, look up reviews (make sure they are not paid or sponsored). Check Amazon and other sites that sell books. Scour homeschooling forums. Do your research so you don't regret your purchase!
One thing to note: you can learn anything online for free. In my opinion, curriculum is just to save us time. Time is money, and I'm all about saving it.
The problem I have with most full curriculum options out there are that they are religious based. Gracelynn doesn't believe in god, so that obviously wouldn't be a good option for her.
Earthschooling is a Waldorf-style homeschooling curriculum. It includes lesson plans, instructional videos, and tutorials. They align with core standards and provide everything you need for your homeschool. The goal of Earthschooling, from what I understand at least, is to help your child connect with nature and enjoy their learning. We really loved this option, but Grace wasn't on board so we decided against it. The cost for a year is under $1,000.
Global Village School is accredited, and offered for grades K-12. Their Whole Child, Healthy Planet curriculum is progressive, forward-thinking, and engaging. The price is around $2,000 for the year, which seems steep but when broken down into how much time it saves and the fact that it's accredited, most families will find it's worth it.
Time4Learning is an online option for homeschooling. We tried it last year and Grace didn't like it (again, being online too much just doesn't work for us). With that being said, it's one of the most popular secular curriculum options I've come across.
DiscoveryK12 (not to be confused with K12 virtual public school) is a 100% free homeschooling curriculum, designed for all ages. I purchased a parent account (it's $49 for the year), for the added benefits. Grace logs in each day and can work through the topics she wants (and skip the others – like the Bible). We use it as a supplement, to get some extra learning in. You could essentially use this as your base curriculum, and supplement from there. If your child is good about logging in to do the work they're supposed to and not getting distracted, this might be a good option for them. However, they do cite wiki as a source fairly often, so make sure your child understands that they should find a more reliable source when researching.
Piecing Your Own Curriculum Together
My favorite way to homeschool is by gathering (mostly free) resources from across the web. We love to do Unit Studies (download a free Unit Study Planner here), and kind of “do our own thing” with a little structure to back it up.
Our first purchase for our homeschool this year was the Everything You Need to Know book series. This is the base of our homeschool. They cover every subject, they're fun (Grace loves them!!), and they cover the topics needed. However, they're just a jumping off point. When your child stumbles upon a topic they really want to learn more about, that's when the real fun begins! Grace will read a few pages and then all of the sudden, I see that lightbulb. The spark in her eye. The “I want to learn more”. She starts writing down questions she has and we talk about where she can find the answers. If I know anything about the topic, I'll explain what I know and sometimes we continue searching the topic together.
BookShark is another good resource. They have homeschooling books for all subjects.
Everything You Need to Know to Ace Math is our base math curriculum. I highly recommend using it, no matter what your child's learning style is, because it's so flexible. If you're like us and everything you see sparks a new idea, you'll have a busy bee in no time because they're going to be scouring the library and the web to find out more, more, more about the concepts the curriculum is teaching them. If your child just wants to “clock in and clock out”, and get the work done, it works for that as well because the lessons are short, sweet, and to the point. They won't have to sit there for hours and hours just to learn a new math concept.
You know your child best. If they're struggling with a subject (or two), bulk up on those. For example, Grace struggles with some math concepts. We use ALEKS, because it's affordable and it's the same program our local public school uses. Math isn't my strongest subject, so I make sure she has what she needs to learn. I print out tons of worksheets for multiplying fractions, converting decimals, and understanding percentages.
Khan Academy is another amazing resource for math (and it's free!). We use Khan Academy mostly for video tutorials when introducing new math concepts.
This is our Science Curriculum. With science, there are so many concepts to learn (and so many ways to learn them!). We do them one by one. Memorizing the Periodic Table is something we're working on now. It took us a while to find something she enjoyed. The videos offered by Memorize Academy are fun and, well, memorable!
You can use Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding for grades K-8, so if you're homeschooling more than one child, it's a good curriculum option for Science. R.E.A.L. Science is a little more expensive, but it digs deeper into science terminology, scientific method, and it even incorporates math.
Groovy Lab in a Box is designed for kids 8+, so for younger middle schoolers. We use it for supplemental science experiments from time to time.
This is my favorite subject, and Grace's, too! Our English/Language Arts Curriculum is comprehensive enough that she doesn't get bored. A lot of her time is spent reading and writing, and she already has a grasp on grammar, so we don't focus on this subject a whole lot (formally).
Build Your Library is a resource we recently stumbled upon. It covers all subjects (and has Unit Studies, which we love), and allows you to piece everything together based on what your child wants to learn about.
If your child needs extra help with writing or Language Arts, there are writing practice workbooks. Yes, even for middle school!
Social Studies & History
Our curriculum covers both American History and World History, though they are in separate books. Usborne's World History is another good option. I didn't learn a lot about World History while I was in school, so it's important to me that Grace does. It's also important to me that she learns the true version of American History, not the delusional “Pilgrims and Native Americans had Thanksgiving dinner together” version. Because of that, we are basically taking History together. Learning more about the world has given me a bit of a travel bug, though. I think I need a second job now. ;)
If you were feeling uneasy about homeschooling options before, I hope this post has helped you understand a few things:
You don't have to use a strict curriculum (unless your state requires it – check your state's laws here).
Your teaching style and your child's learning style will mesh, sometimes it just takes a little time (and patience!).
You can learn alongside your child if you want to. Grace is teaching me new things about history every single day!