We homeschoolers spend a lot of time and energy talking and thinking about worrying about high school, but we don't spend much time talking about the middle school years, which are possibly even more tricky to navigate. First, let me say that I really kind of like the junior high age. I was a junior high youth group leader (voluntarily) and loved it. Children that age are still enthusiastic like the children they are, yet are beginning to develop upper level thinking skills and are starting to ask big questions. You can see a whole new world opening up to them.
That said, it can also be an exceptionally difficult age, for both parent and child. Let's face it... 11, 12, and 13 year olds are really giant toddlers. Emotionally and developmentally they are all doing the same work. They are learning to be more independent beings and cognitive skills are making huge jumps. They see everything they want to do and want to be able to do it all. Right now. Or yesterday, whichever comes first. With the junior high set, you also get an explosive cocktail of raging hormones as well, which often leave the child not understanding themselves, much less their parents.
(Remind me again why the Powers That Be think lumping hundreds of these unbalanced beings into one building and trying to teach them something is a good idea?)
I'm sure every parent who has survived these years with one or more children has their own version of having a child sobbing and saying something along the lines of, "I don't know why I'm crying!" Or has experienced the feeling of being on an emotional roller coaster where the child is happy and pleasant one second and the next has stomped out of the room in a fit of anger. Sometimes the best thing you can say about the age is that things usually even out by the end of age 15.
All of this developmental work is tiring. It uses internal resources like nobody's business and leaves little room for much else. Such as school work. If you wouldn't expect a tired or hungry toddler to be able to accomplish much, there is little difference with the tired, hungry, or emotionally fatigued middle schooler. Raising and teaching this age requires a heaping dose of wisdom and compassion.
My own personal philosophy for this age is to step back a bit. I do encourage them to start to take over their own work, to begin to learn at a deeper level, to stretch themselves. But I also keep an eye on how other things are going as well. Do they need me to take a step back? Do they need some time to just get used to their growing minds and bodies? Do they just need some sleep?
We also do more work on character qualities... kindness even in the midst of emotional upheaval, taking on more personal responsibility around the house and for their own person, learning to exercise patience with those around them. These things are just as important as academics, sometimes even more so.
Enjoy these years, they are the last little vestiges of childhood before young adulthood fully takes over. Allow your child these moments when they need them and support them in the times they are straining for adulthood. It's a tricky time for everyone.
I have a new article up at Heart of the Matter about socialization.. for parents.