Advice for getting the most from those Junior High Years

What you need to cover in each subject area

So Just what do your kids need to do in Junior High?

What your child needs to cover in each subject area

In elementary school our children are learning the basic building blocks of education; reading, writing, and arithmetic. Their understanding of basic science concepts and vocabulary are growing, and  they are gaining a sense of the flow of history. Make this framework strong and solid so our children have a good base upon which to build advanced knowledge and wisdom.

In high school course schedules are basically set

In high school our children’s studies become more focused and intense. If they have that solid foundation they will be able to move, rather painlessly, into these more focused studies. Students at this age are expected to be able to work independently through material, to read, absorb, and analyze new information. By high school we should be past the ‘hand-feeding’ stage where a teacher is needed at every step. New concepts may well need explanations, but students have come to ‘own’ their education.

So, what about Jr. High?

Jr. High is a great opportunity to evaluate our child’s progress and to take 7th and 8th grade to fill in any gaps or weak points our child has. If we use a building analogy, in elementary school we are laying a solid foundation and getting the framing up. In Junior High we are making sure that all of that is solid and that the hidden systems, like electrical and plumbing all work seamlessly. If all of this is in place, then the finish work of High School will be solid, we won’t have to tear out walls to repair electrical connections that don’t quite connect.

I like to think of Junior High as an inspection stop. We have two years to make sure our child has all that they need to move on into the more advanced course work of high school. Of course, we will still be moving forward and adding new ideas, but we also have a bit of breathing room to evaluate and strengthen any weak areas.

So let’s examine each subject area.

Reading

By Jr. High your child should be reading fluently and comprehending most of what they read. In elementary school it’s important to give your child adequate practice at ‘easy’ reading so that they develop fluency, but in Jr. High it’s time to challenge them.

Think of the reading they will be doing in high school – Shakespeare, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald – you don’t want them to jump from easy reading straight into these authors. In Jr. High ease them into classic authors and more difficult essays. Reading challenging works will improve their critical thinking skills and increase their vocabulary.

If your child is still having trouble with the basics of reading, it’s past time to have them assessed and give them the help they need. You might consider doing an intensive phonics review. I’ve used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with great success with older students.

Spelling

By Jr. High your child should be spelling most words correctly. Let’s be honest, many spelling errors are nothing more than laziness. If that is the case with your child, crack down now. If there are multiple ‘lazy’ spelling errors in their work, make them rewrite the entire piece. I’m normally all about making school enjoyable, but your child needs to give it their best effort. A few rewrites will usually work a quick cure (not erasing and fixing the word, a complete rewrite).

If the errors are a lack of knowledge you have two years to teach spelling rules and move quickly through a program like Spelling Power, Fourth Edition I like Spelling power because it can be used by any level power. It is more expensive, but it a comprehensive program that can be used from kindergarten through high school. Well worth the investment.

Writing

By now your student should be able to write a clear and concise paragraph that communicates clearly. They should be skilled  at writing summaries, book reports, letters, and fiction. Most Jr. High students need to improve these skills before entering high school and one of the best ways to do this is to get them writing.

I had my sons writing for 30 minutes a day…minimum. Much of that time they could write what they wanted, although sometimes I would assign a report to focus their efforts. If you use narration in your school day you should be requiring that some of their narrating be done in writing rather than orally.

There are many excellent writing programs if you feel this is not your best subject to teach. I would recommend looking into Susan Wise Bauer’s writing programs. They were designed for homeschoolers and are easy to follow, while holding up a high standard.

Math

I cannot stress this enough, your child’s basic math skills (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions, decimals, and place value) need to be absolutely solid by the end of Junior High.  It is best to stop for a period of time and really master these skills if your child is struggling.

Beginning Algebra or other high school math programs before basic math skills are automatic will cause unnecessary struggle and frustration. A solid foundation cannot be overstated. Every concept they will learn in the coming years will be dependent upon these basic skills.

If there is any chance your child will be moving back into the public school system during high school, you need to seriously consider using a Common Core edition of your math curriculum. Otherwise, the transition will be very difficult. Also, the SAT and ACT tests will be re-configured with Common Core standards as an element. Homeschoolers are often dependent on these tests scores for college admission. I’d recommend looking into Singapore’s Common Core series.

I understand that many parents wish to avoid Common Core altogether, but you need to be realistic. At the very least, educate yourself about the changes and how you can prepare your child for these future challenges.

Science

Hopefully, your child’s elementary school years were filled with exploration and wonder as they discovered the world around them. A nature walk, gazing at the stars, growing a seed, all provide a good foundation for high school science courses.

Curiosity is one of the marks of a great scientist, and all children are curious, so science is a natural subject for them to enjoy. This exploration should continue in Jr. High, supplemented with lots of hands on experiments and field trips. A carefully chosen text is helpful…just be sure you remember you are teaching a child, not a textbook. Adapt the textbook to fit your studies.

Very soon students will not have a choice and will have to work through a Biology or Chemistry book from start to finish…but for these years you still have a lot of freedom, take advantage of that. Personally, we moved into the Apologia Jr. High books. They provided a nice bridge between the exploration of elementary school, and the more stringent work of High School.

History

Often, even with our best efforts, history is a mish-mash in kid’s minds. While they have studied different periods, they are likely still fuzzy about where everything they’ve learned fits.  Jr. High is a great time to lay out a framework to organize all the knowledge they have been accumulating.

I would suggest making a timeline and laying out some of the key moments in history (there are a few excellent ones that are bound into books like the Homeschool History Book of Centuries: A Portable Timeline for Charlotte Mason and Classical Education Students (Real Life, Real Books, Real Learning Series) (Volume 2) ). Taking some time out to construct a time line and add in what they already know, including scientific advances, famous artist, writers, and composers will give students a better grasp of the flow of history.

Taking a few months to work on a timeline is well worth the effort.

Working Independently

My goal was that by Jr. High my sons would possess the skills to work independently. I wanted to be able to give them an assignment, and leave it to them to do. More and more the goal was for them to manage their own time, and when things were due.

If  your child is still dependent upon you sitting with them as they do their schoolwork, it is time to wean them off of your presence. Our goal is to have independent learners who will continue to learn for the rest of their lives. In High School, in many subjects, I gave my sons a syllabus, much like a college professor would do, and left them to it. Of course, I checked in, but I no longer micro managed their school time.

If this is new and/or difficult for your students start small. Give an assignment that can be done in 15 minutes, make sure this is an assignment that they won’t need you for, and tell them they have 15 minutes in which to finish. Giving a time limit does a couple of things, it gives them an ending time…they know they won’t be sitting there for hours…so they are more willing to focus their attention, and it lets them know that they don’t have time for staring off into space, sharpening their pencil, or texting a friend. Gradually increase the amount of their day they are working alone, offering encouragement and support when they need it.

Research and Study Skills

Often we overlook these basic skills that are going to be a key to success later in life. Our kids need to know how to study and how to discover information. Again, this topic deserves it’s own post, but for now let me just point out that your child needs to be doing their own research. Specifically assign projects that will require research, point them in the right direction, and let them do it. This is a crucial skill for life, too much help at this juncture will cripple your students later on.

Embrace the Argument

Your greatest asset during these years is your child’s curiosity and desire to argue…yes, argue. During the Jr. High years your child begins to develop a sense of self outside of family and they begin to question…well, everything. Oftentimes this can come across as argumentative, and while I’m not suggesting you should allow your child to be disrespectful, I am saying that this questioning is a natural part of their development. It is also a powerful learning tool; play devil’s advocate, make them defend their positions, and get them used to using those critical thinking skills.

They will enjoy expressing their opinions and having them heard. Engaging with them in this way develops their skill at expressing themselves, thinking logically, and lets you know some of what they are thinking.

Jr. High is an exciting and fleeting time, enjoy it.

Have you been teaching a Jr. High student? What challenges have you faced and how did you deal with them? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

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