I can recall when my kids were younger, when I was wishing and daydreaming about when they would FINALLY be old enough to work independently. When they wouldn’t need me all.the.time for everything. I really thought that a day would come when they would just happily scamper off with their school books and do it on their own. Now that we’re homeschooling middle school I’m wondering if independence isn’t really the end goal? What if my understanding of independence itself is skewed? What does being independent really mean?
With one child heading into 7th grade next year, and the other about to hit 5th grade, I have spent a lot of time recently fretting about whether they’re “able to work independently”. Shouldn’t they be able to do most of this on their own by now?
Homeschooling Middle School
We’ll be starting our sixth school year as homeschoolers. Some days I can’t even believe it’s been that long already – time has just flown by. Other days, I think it feels like forever. And on those days where it feels like we’ve been at this for a lifetime, I am much more likely to freak out about my kids (perceived) lack of independence.
Like, cmon kids, what’s the hold up? You should be able to just go do your work by now. Sheesh.
Particularly with my oldest who is solidly in the middle school stage now, I have noticed that while this age definitely does have its difficult moments (I’m lookin’ at you, raging hormones) – mostly it’s been a beautiful thing to watch my middle schooler develop.
He has started to stretch his wings a little, he’s wanted more input on what he’s learning and even HOW he’s learning. We can talk through difficult days, and for the most part we don’t have the daily meltdowns over writing or math, the way we used to.
What I envisioned, back when my kids were younger, is not at all how it’s turning out. I was sure by the time we were homeschooling middle school, my kids would be totally self-directed, self-motivated, and working independently.
What I’m realizing is that we actually don’t want independence in our homeschool. What we want is partnership.
Independence vs Partnership
When I think of ‘being independent’, I think of alone. Working alone, learning alone, driving your own engine forward however you feel is best. Independent learning brings to mind images of kids at their desks, hustling away at their school work on their own. Maybe being handed workbooks or textbooks and told to ‘do this lesson, check with me when you’re done’.
The reality is, that would be a disaster for most middle schoolers. Because, while they are absolutely beginning to come into themselves and have an idea of who they are and what they want to do, they still need our guidance. They need our support. They need us at-elbow for a lot of their work.
The shift from “teacher” to “facilitator/guide” can be a really difficult one for us to make as home educating parents. After years of teaching phonics, and basic math, and how to write a sentence – we’re tired. We want them to just…do the work.
While we might be tired, and just want them to do the work now – these kids are just entering a phase where they are going to need us more than ever. They’re as confused as we are, wanting independence but also still really needing our structure and input. They’re emotional and reactive, one minute they resist us and push us away and the next they need a snuggle and a snack.
Shifting Our Expectations About Independence
Is independence really our goal? I used to think it was. The more I watch my kids grow and start coming into themselves, however, what I want is for us to work together.
I try to make sure that I’m available while my kids are doing their lessons, even the ones that they are working on without me. I check in, ask how it’s going. I don’t go off doing my own chores or tasks, I make sure that our school time is held sacred.
Sometimes, I just keep supplying food and the occasional shoulder rub. In fact, I’m pretty sure that a steady supply of good nourishing food (and the occasional brownie treat after a hard math lesson) is actually the entire key to suriviving the middle school years. They eat like Hobbits, you guys.
I do my best to bring them in to my planning and decision making for our homeschool, making sure they’re on board with what we’re going to be doing. I give them the reins as much as possible.
I also step back, and not only hear them but believe them, when they tell me something is just not working (or that something really IS working).
My kids are growing into really cool, funny, and bright people. I don’t want them to go off now and work on their own. I want to be part of it, I want to dig in to these meatier and more robust topics and subjects. After years of putting in the tough work of teaching the basics, I want to now walk beside them and share their journeys. It feels a bit like the payday at the end of all the work of these early years.
Are you homeschooling middle school? How are you surviving it? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!