Junior high years, the grades 7th and 8th, are usually a “make it or break it” for your homeschool. This seems to be the time when most children exit homeschool for that big public school. And it may be the worst time they could possibly attend school!
Children are easily influenced by their parents during the elementary years. By the time the high school years roll around, most children have grown into young people and have started forming their own beliefs, standards and principles. But during the junior high school years, everything seems to be helter skelter! Their bodies are changing rapidly and their emotions are in a whirl. They are often insecure, peer dependent, newly aware of their gender, attracted to the opposite sex, and highly impressionable! Sometimes their parents don’t always seem to be their friends anymore. Because it is a time of great changes, it isn’t an easy time for most children. Subjecting them to the peer pressure and stress of public school can be disastrous!
When Julianna was junior high school age, I was very pregnant with my seventh child, and having a very hard time of it, since I was in my forties. Life was nearly at a standstill for me, and I worried that Julianna wasn’t getting what she needed in homeschool. I decided it was time for her to take a class or two at public school—just something to augment homeschool and to give her a reason to get up and get dressed and get going when Mom was always lying on the couch!
So I drove over to our local junior high school, waddled through the big glass entrance doors and down the hallway in search of the office. Just at that moment, the last bell rang and out of the classroom doors exploded a mob of students. Around the corner of the hallway they poured, right into me. I was moving slowly, naturally, and was blocking their pathway to the exit doors. The fastest youth encountered me first and spurt out a series of vile 4 letter words in my direction. He had on a black t-shirt with a skeleton on the front and black and orange striped hair. I was stunned! My heart started to palpitate, and I felt afraid. Here I was, with 6 children of my own (one the same age of this boy) and I felt afraid of him! As I continued down the hallway, the locker doors began to be flung open as students grabbed their books for that night’s homework. I was shocked to see that many of the lockers had nearly nude pictures taped inside. This was at a junior high school in an conservative community. I am a Christian woman, a mother, a child of God. My spirit wretched!
That nasty little experience gave me a feel for junior high school. Yes, there are wonderful students there with good standards. There are dedicated teachers there also. But, then, there is that other influence, and at this very impressionable age of bodies changing and adulthood on the horizon, I was certain that I did not want that influence in my daughter’s daily life.
So, how can a homeschooling family enjoy the delights of time learning together and sail right on through these tumultuous years? With my children, I’ve done it wrong, right, and many variations in between. Here is what I have learned.
The first most pressing need for the young person during the junior high year period is social. Public school is not about academics at this point in their lives. It is about social life. They must have friends! Now, if they have been homeschooled or if you have high standards, your child is not going to fit in easily. So, if you choose to homeschool during these years, you must do all you can to make opportunities for social life with those who share like standards and similar upbringings.
At about age 8 or 9 years, I begin what I call “Girl’s Club” or “Boy’s Club”. This club is simply a group of hand-picked homeschooled children that are the same age as my child. I hold weekly meetings year round and we do fun things together. For boys, we do adventure type projects, tie knots, cook over a campfire, have “padded arrow” wars, make a rope swing and play on it, and more. For the girls, we put on plays, do arts and crafts projects, hold parties, bake, sew, dance, and do many other things along the lines of a 4H group. A few times a year, the families of my class members are invited to a performance they have prepared for in Girl’s or Boy’s Club and the parents and siblings all get to know each other too. This has been a high point in my grown children’s memories. My aim is to form a group of fine homeschooled friends of the same sex that will become their peer group during the upcoming rough ride of puberty. And it has seemed to work very well. My girls have made best friends with their Girl’s Club group and it has provided their social life and a very stabilizing influence through the ofttimes turbulent teen years.
When these children turn 14, their friends broaden to include the opposite sex. Now they want to have parties and activities with both boys and girls. So we begin what we call “Teen Group”. We have done this many different ways. One thing we’ve done is hold a weekly class, such as Geography Class for a few hours in the afternoon one day a week. We also have held parties or activities on a once or twice a month basis. We invite all the other homeschooled teens we know to these, as the more the merrier when it comes to teen parties!
In the winter, we hold parties in our home, in a basement or playroom so that the teens are on their own to run their own party, which makes them more comfortable and less self-conscious. (Of course, I supervise by checking in often. As the evening wears on, it isn’t necessary to check them, as they laugh louder and louder and I can hear what they are doing!) Other parents volunteer sometimes to host a party, too. In the summer, teen parties are outside at someone’s home or at a local park with parental supervision. We usually hold them from 7 to 11 PM. At these “parties” we simply potluck the refreshments. Everyone brings a snack: chips, cookies, veggie tray with dip. Sometimes it will be a potluck supper, a BBQ, or a celebration party for one of the holidays or with a theme. Then they play games: tag, word games, running games, volleyball, and more. A few times a year, we host big dances and get to know even more homeschoolers.
It isn’t that easy to find teen homeschoolers because they often are self-conscious and timid about not attending public school and don’t flaunt the fact that they are homeschooled. I call it “closet homeschooling”. Often homeschooled teens will all be in a class or choir and not know that the other is homeschooled, as they all assume that everyone else attends public school full-time!
“Fitting in” and being popular seem to be big issues during teen years, so, we try to give them a homeschool friendly environment to fit into! My aim with these parties is the same goal I had with Boy’s or Girl’s Club: to give them a group of fine homeschooled friends that they can enjoy. Without friends, it is almost impossible to continue homeschooling during the teen years.
As children grow, they begin looking at the opposite sex with a different perspective than they did during childhood. You, Mom, have a most wonderful opportunity to be close with them, be their best friend and most trusted confidante, and teach them about proper man/woman relationships. From you they will learn about the sacred nature and the beauty of marriage and of using our bodies to do the great work of creating a family. This is the pressing issue that is on the minds of these youth quite continually, because of the changes in their bodies and their changing feelings towards the opposite sex. To boys, girls no longer have “cooties”. And to girls, boys are no longer the other half of the world that little girls can live happily without.
The alternative is default: leaving the whole situation up to chance, and vaguely hope that they’ll make good friends in public school that can give them a correct perspective on the proper role of sex (in other words, the blind leading the blind). I don’t
want to leave this important issue to chance!
These are the years to watch for clues as to what gift this child will want to give to the world. You will be able to see his talents and enjoyments emerging. All boys seem to enjoy working with wood, metal or engines when they are in their early teens, but as they mature, you see them discover themselves and take to engineering or art or music or science and find their skills in a specific area that could be their life’s work. I like to give my youth time to try on different “hats” and figure out what they want to do with their lives.
Lastly, enjoy every minute, because before you know it, that struggling teen will emerge as a confident young adult that is ready to make his own life in the world. You don’t get them for long. Enjoy!
May I recommend: