There has been a good deal of debate on one of the homeschool forums I visit about how to best prep a child for their high school years. Many of the ideas that pop up are, to my mind, over-rigorous and not age appropriate. A middle-school aged child does not need to learn everything a high school aged student will. That is not preparing for high school, that is doing high school work in middle school. That may work for some students, but for many students it will only stress them out or be lost on them.
I understand the pull to do more and more at a younger age. Parents are under so much pressure to create smarter and smarter kids earlier and earlier in the game. But is it really necessary and does it benefit anyone? Many of the skills that parents want to teach their young student can be learned in the first half of ninth grade at a fairly quick pace because the student is ready to learn the skills. The amount of maturity that happens between eleven and fourteen is amazing. If your middle schooler is struggling with writing a good thesis, creating a killer outline, and coming up with amazing essays don’t worry. They will get there eventually.
So what then should your middle schooler be working on? Looking back on the twins time at this stage I believe the biggest help to their high school English studies was being involved in a book club with their peers. A book club that read a variety of books from the classics to non-fiction. A book club that created a safe place were all members could respond to the book with their opinions without being criticized. A book club that asked questions and allowed the kids to debate the answers. A book club that fostered a love for books and for thinking and discussing the books.
Most importantly, a book club that did not ask the participants to do any busy work. In fact besides actually reading the book (or listening to the audio version) there was no pre-assigned work at all. No worksheets to fill out, no questions to answer. Instead the kids were asked to think about what they read, form an opinion on what they read, and then share (and sometimes defend) that opinion with others.
How easy is that? And yet, after being in a book club for a few years, I saw the difference it made. The twins would actively be thinking about what they read. They would figure out their opinion on what they read. They would argue that opinion with examples from what they read.
Today they do much of the same thing except with more maturity and sophistication. Also they now share their opinions in essay form which, in many ways, built upon the skills they learned in their book club.
So if you are looking for something to get your middle-school aged students involved in, something that will help them in their high school years, I recommend a book club. If there is not one around you, form one. It is not hard to lead a book club, and you do not need that many students. A few kids that meet once a month discussing the classics is all it takes.