The Unhurried Homeschooler -Third to Eighth Grade
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You could find yourself and your child at any number of places in this stage of the game. Regardless of where your child is “academically”, by now you will have found him/her increasingly responsible and dependable. By third grade you have a pretty good grip on what kind of learner your child is, what he/she knows and doesn’t know and what his/her interests seem to consistently be. These next years of learning are a big part of what his/her mind and body have been preparing for.
Although it can be tempting to put the pressure on, especially if you feel like you have been patiently waiting beyond what you are comfortable with, I encourage you NOT to give into this. I WOULD encourage you, however, to increase the book work as your child seems ready for it. In fact, he/she may already have shown a growing interest in learning through book work and that may very well already be part of your daily routine OR hands on learning may still be the most effective. Whatever the case, just keep being consistent and increase the workload gradually, as they are ready over the coming years. It’s okay to test the waters regularly. Sometimes it’s the only way to tell that are ready for the next thing because a lot happens developmentally during these years.
Play is still a very important part of the picture, especially in the younger years of this age group. Often, as our kids got older (6th,7th,8th grade) I would find their play being replaced with their interests…guitar, photography, drawing, working on computers, making digital music, etc. It’s a pretty natural transition.
Chores and service should continue to be a healthy part of our homeschool plan, with increasing responsibility. Don’t give into the temptation to replace them with bookwork. You will be doing no one any favors. And remember that Unhurried Homeschooling doesn’t mean that you never make your child do something that they don’t want to. It does mean that you choose your battles based on what you know is best for your child to grow them into a healthy, whole, responsible adult. Character development continues to be vital. Solid work ethic, honesty, integrity, follow through/perseverance, healthy relationship skills, and discernment are what make our kids authentically successful as adults.
I think one of the best things I ever did was keep my academic expectations simple: I told myself that I was responsible to teach our kids the basics: reading, basic writing, and basic math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, etc). Because this goal was attainable and I knew I had all of their homeschooling years to teach these things, I was able to relax. Because my expectations were simple, I could also focus on helping our kids master these skills instead of covering copious amounts of curriculum. When we try to cover too much, we lose our kids’ interest and ability to absorb. We overwhelm them, we overstimulate them and that sucks the life out of learning.
Why is simplicity in the younger years important? What most people are not aware of (including many of the “professionals” that create the tests for public school) is that children don’t develop the ability to reason things all the way through to a logical conclusion until they are about 12 years old and sometimes as late as 15. So insisting on schoolwork and testing that requires those more detailed thought processes before that age, is absolutely ludicrous. It’s like asking a 3 month old to walk. They simply are not developed enough to do so. It is SO important that we allow our children to explore without always insisting on a results driven outcome. When our kids get to the place in their development that they are able to reason things out to an end conclusion, their freedom in learning suddenly and harmoniously merges with the realization of all they are capable of doing academically. Acquiring the information they need to be successful in upper education becomes exciting, fun, and something to be conquered. And did you know that almost all of what needs to be learned to be successful in high school and college can be acquired in as little as 2-3 years?
I think one of the biggest reasons I ended up taking this simple approach was because I had eight children. Unless I wanted to end up in a straight jacket, I NEEDED to do it this way. The result has been overwhelmingly successful. Our children have embraced the basic skills I taught them and have taken off running in the areas that they are passionate about. They didn’t need me to prepare them for EXACTLY what they were going to do. They just needed me to give them the main course and THEY dished up the rest of the meal themselves. The beauty of this is that they OWN it. Nothing is more effective than self motivation. If we 1.) encourage them to be life long learners (mainly by not burning them out) and 2.) teach them how to be resourceful, our children’s love of learning will do the rest.
I cannot continue here without emphasizing the importance of good character. Knowledge is not the same as wisdom. Knowledge is useless without wisdom. There is a Japanese saying, “Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of a donkey”. Some days we have to choose between instructing our child in wisdom or knowledge. Wisdom must always trump knowledge.
Our older kids have told me that the character quality that has been most useful has been work ethic. Let’s face it, it really is hard to find good help and hard working employees these days. IF most of what you teach your children is a good work ethic, they WILL have employment. Being self motivated and a hard worker is not something learned from books. It requires discipleship and example.
We cannot force our children to have(own) good character, but by teaching our children wisdom, we encourage development of good character. Never forget that we are their greatest example of this. WE must walk this out in front of them or all of our teaching is hypocritical and kids sniff out hypocrisy immediately. When that happens, we lose their respect and we sacrifice the privilege of speaking into their lives.
I’ve already conveyed to you the importance of simplicity. Our days consisted of covering the basics, like I described above (reading, writing, math). I had our kids do a math workbook and a language workbook. There are other ways to teach, but I wasn’t confident enough back then to not include SOME workbooks. After their workbook pages were done, they (the independent readers) would read for 15-30 minutes and write a summary of what they read. Until about 4th grade(depending on the child), I would let them narrate their summary to me. This just basically meant they could verbalize their summary of what they read instead of writing it, if, for some reason, that was overwhelming to them. Writing summaries was very helpful because we could cover reading comprehension, spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure,etc. all in one fell swoop. The summaries were generally about 1-2 paragraphs, gradually increasing to a little more the older they got. I would also sometimes let the non-writers narrate their own made up story and I would type it out, print it and let them draw a picture to go with it.
Writing out scripture was the only request my husband ever made when it came to homeschooling, so I made sure they did copywork each day as well. This also helped them with spelling, puncuation, etc. and greatly improved their handwriting.
As far as history and science go, you may already have found your child naturally learning on his/her own. We would often have conversations as they came up in these areas. If we didn’t know the answer to a question (I like to ask them what THEY think the answer could be first), I would either help them ferret it out OR challenge them to find a solution and report back to me and tell me what they learned. Even if it wasn’t EXACTLY right or incredibly thorough, especially with younger kids, that’s okay. What you have done is encourage them in life long learning AND being resourceful. There has to be some processes that they go through to get their information and all of those are important skills. At this point, we can encourage them and tell them how proud we are of them and we can feel around for whether or not they want to learn more by asking them more questions. However, I found that if I turned anything into a big project, they would often lose interest. It was almost as if when I took ownership of it, they lost ownership and, consequently, interest, so questions were a great way to avoid that.
Other ways we fed their interest in History and Science was through reading living books, watching documentaries, shows and videos including Magic School Bus, Liberty’s Kids, Bill Nye the Science Guy, using science kits, doing simple science in the kitchen, etc. The main thing at this stage of the game is exposure. It’s not as important that they memorize facts about science and history (although, if they find it interesting, it’s amazing what they WILL retain) as it is that they are exposed to it, often just in little blurps. As they reach 7th and 8th grade, I usually encourage some sort of history or science curriculum if they seem interested, but I don’t insist on it until high school.
During the 7th and 8th grade years, I also begin to gently nudge our children toward “owning” their education. I will ask them to set goals for themselves and I offer rewards for meeting those. If we have taken an unhurried, gentler approach to learning, chances are that our kids are just now entering a stage of explosive learning! They suddenly realize that the world is their oyster and are ready to conquer. For some this will play itself out academically, for others, experientially. In other words, you can have two kids at this same place. One will hit the books even harder, the other, although doing what needs to be done academically, will want to have experiences. As parents, we need to be the ones to help ferret those out, decide if they are worthwhile and get them there. This generally happens in the high school years, but some kids take off early.
Next year I will have three high schoolers: a freshman taking Algebra and Science classes locally, a Junior heading off to start community college (Running Start) and Senior going to a Skills Center to learn a trade. As our kids get into the high school years and closer to launching, it can be exhausting. So in these 3rd to 8th grade years I want to encourage you again to pace yourself. Keep a good routine that allows for a healthy lifestyle of being physically active, having regular meal times and getting good sleep. Growing kids need all of this and so do you.
If our kids have a negative response to schoolwork during this age, it can be difficult to determine whether it’s because they are not ready or if it’s a character issue. Just remember that they can learn those character qualities through more than one venue. It CAN be through schoolwork, but it can also be through chores, being part of a team, etc. As parents we have to make that call and know when to change things up.
I found this post particularly difficult to write because there is a lot that happens in these years and it happens at a different pace for each child. Some children are very studious and LOVE academics early and others not until later. Some are skilled with their hands, others are visionaries, some are great team players. The idea is to help our children grow in the areas they are weak while also honing in on their passion. It is a privilege and such a joy when you see your child motivated and passionate about what they are doing and to watch them overcome the obstacles it takes to get where they want to be. Our oldest son, who probably had the least amount of bookwork, but lots of time to explore his interests, is now 20 and a senior in college with good grades, getting a degree in Computer Science and Game Programming.
Curriculum is NOT what makes or breaks homeschooling. You don’t have to spend boatloads of money to give your kids a superior education. You just have listen to your mommy insincts, be a student of your child and make what you have work.
Not everything I’ve written may resonate with you and that’s okay. Glean what is useful. Every child is unique. Don’t let others determine your course in homeschooling. Seeking out advice can be helpful, but remember, first and foremost, to listen to your child’s heart and your own. If the advice feels overwhelming, it probably isn’t right for you. At least not right now. There is no perfect formula for homeschooling. However your homeschooling journey can be full of joy and freedom as you allow it to take on it’s unique design for your family and in doing this, grow whole, healthy children who make a positive difference in their world.
Please check out my new simple, mercifully short book on homeschooling! The Unhurried Homeschooler (aff) You can also listen to my podcast! You can find it posted here weekly or on SoundCloud or iTunes
*I did not even begin to touch on “screen time” because that’s a whole other subject. Here is a post I wrote reviewing my favorite book on that subject.
The book of Proverbs (in the Bible) is loaded with examples of foolishness vs. wisdom and helps us differentiate between the two to help guide our children with more clarity.
Educating the Whole Hearted Child– this book is one you will reference over and over again. It’s chock full of ideas so it’s best used as a springboard for what resonates with you and your kids. I highly recommend it!
Lifestyle of Learning Another great resource for whole-hearted learning.
Read for the Heart-This is a great book list of books that are not “twaddle”, but meaningful, with good illustrations and listed by subject and age appropriateness.
Growing Up Social-This is a wonderful resource about raising social kids in a screen driven world.
Curriculum: I am sharing some of the ones I have experience with. They haven’t all worked for all of our children. You may already have your favorites. If so, stick with them! “If it’s not broken, don’t ‘fix’ it!”, but you might find something useful here!
Unit Studies: Really great if you are teaching several ages at once.
Five in a Row-Also serves as a great booklist, but is designed as a unit study. Five in a Row has wonderful volumes of unit studies, each volume containing weeks and weeks of learning. There are not a lot of costly supplemental items to purchase, most of what you need you can find at your local library and at home. I’m using this with our youngest right now (he’s 10) who has attention deficit issues. I am able to follow his interests as I watch his responses to things. For instance, we were learning about how fog forms, so I pulled up a youtube video that explained it. I let him watch it until I could see that he was losing interest and then we moved onto looking at other resources about fog, again watching his interest and moving on when needed.
Learning Language Arts Through Literature– I love how thorough these workbooks are, centering all aspects of language around literature. Again, we don’t always do every single thing in the books (for instance,I don’t make my kids diagram sentences), but there is a load of great stuff in here!
The Story of the World-A great series to give our kids solid world history. Although really written for younger kids, and makes a good read aloud, it serves well as curriculum for Jr. High too. There is an activity book to go with each volume that is chock full of ideas to do with your kids to reinforce what they are learning!
Liberty’s Kids-A great cartoon series on American History that kept our kids engaged. It’s only $5.
The Magic School Bus-Love these videos and books! You can now get science kits to go with them! This link is to the complete series, but you can buy them individually as well. You may even find them on Netflix. You can also purchase science kits to go with them!
Usborne books on Science Activities This link is to one of several on Amazon. I liked that many of these activities our kids could do on their own.
Books to encourage work ethic: These are written for boys, but our girls really enjoyed them as well. In fact, as an adult, I love these for encouragement to persevere.
Some great books I’ve read on understanding our kids and how they may be wired:
Boys Should be Boys I LOVED this book. It was the MOST helpful in understanding our boys (we have 5) and how to be a better mom to them.
The Minds of Boys Michael Gurian is one of my all time favorite authors on boys. He has done extensive research on the subject of educating boys and he has several books on the subject. He is also speaking at the Great Homeschool Conventions this spring, so if you get a chance to go listen to him, do it!!
The Five Love Languages of Children It’s important to know what it is that makes our kids feel loved the most.
This is a quick, fun personality test that can help us better understand our kids and what motivates them. (It’s fun to take as adult as well)
In case you haven’t read them all, here is my series on The Unhurried Homeschooler. If you know someone who might be blessed by any or all of these, please share them...
The Unhurried Homeschooler- Babies and Toddlers
The Unhurried Homeschooler-Preschool to 2nd Grade