Sunday, September 11, 2011

How do I keep my middle-schooler going and not fight me ALL THE TIME about doing school work?

This question was posted on Christian Homeschoolers Taking a Stand.  I had to laugh.  I'm not always that successful on this one.  From age 10 or 11, each of my children took a slightly more adversarial stance about everything.  I've tried, first of all, not to take it personally.  I believe it is a phase, but one that has to be worked through.  My oldest is almost 15 and we are seeing light at the end of a long tunnel.  Here are some of the ways we have tried over the years:

1.  We remind them of Ephesians 6:1-3.  The first day of homeschooling, we undertook to memorize this verse.  It was the first thing we did and they know it, they know it, they know it.  They know that what we as parents require is "for their own good" and that if they want to "do well and live long," they will obey us, pure and simple.  So, sometimes, a simple reminder with a smile will do.

2.  At other times, we have instituted incentive programs.  At the end of the last school year, I had one that worked well.  We were getting ready for a big vacation to Alaska.  I tacked an envelope to the wall with the monetary figure $20.00 written on it.  I let them know that they would be getting that promised amount IF they discontinued "the stall" which had become such a part of our daily lives.  But, every time I caught them using a stall tactic (including arguing about why they needed to do this), I would deduct fifty cents from their total.  Unfortunately, I hestitated over the first few times and gave too much mercy.  But, one day, I did it.  I walked over and slashed the $20.00 and wrote $19.50.  That was it.  That was the last stall that we faced for several months.

The things to remember about incentive programs is that they must pay off and the pay off shouldn't be too distant.  A year is generally to long to wait, but 9 weeks isn't too bad.  And it doesn't have to be money, it could be any privelege.  We used to give tickets for the amount of schoolwork done each day in order to have time on the computer.  No tickee -- no playee.  We have rewarded certain numbers of books read with outings or new books. 

3.  Sometimes, I've had to take a step back and say, "Why is this child fighting so much?"  Is there something else going on?  And sometimes there was.  Sometimes there was unforgiveness in a heart that needed changing.  Sometimes there was sleep deprivation.  Sometimes there was anger that one sibling's work was more/less than the other.  And sometimes they just needed a break. 

We, as adults, don't think too much about working all day and then some more.  But, kids need fresh air, they need change of pace, and they need rest in order for their brains to keep working.  At different times, we've had to adjust the break levels and add in snacks.  When they plaintively ask, "Can't we take a break now?"  I don't ignore that.  Our school day generally runs something like this:

8:00 AM - Breakfast/Bible/Read Alouds/Morning Chores
8:30 AM - School Work (schedule varies, but math is always during this slot)
10:00 AM - SNACK BREAK -- for my kids -- this is the most important meal of the day!!!
10:15 AM - Return to School Work
12:00 N - Lunch (We sometimes do work over lunch, sometimes not)
After lunch, we finish up school between 1:30-3:00 PM depending on what's on the list.
2:00 PM - Another light snack

They have a list of things to do each day and they can generally order their day, with the exception of math which I insist upon being done early.  In the olden days, math could drag for hours if it was left to a less brain ready time of day.

I also have had them use timers during math so they are aware of the time.  They are allotted an hour, but generally finish in much less time.  If the hour bell rings, they have to stop and do push ups, do something else on their list, then return to math later.

The good news is that in middle school, your child may be able to help you figure it all out.  Have a conversation with them.  First, get away from the situation, preferably alone with them.  Ask "What is bothering you about school?  Is it the material?  Is it too hard, too easy, too boring?  Is it my teaching method?  Are you upset about something?  Are you tired, unhappy, or overwhelmed?"  Let them try to voice their issue.  Sometimes that is all it takes.  To know you care.  And they may put out more effort for you afterwards.  Or, they may not.  But, your relationship will be stronger.

4.  As always, pray for God's wisdom.  He has it when we don't.  He knows how much structure you need.  You may need more.  You may need less.  Depends on what you have going on right now and both your and your child's personalities. 


  1. Oh my, we have a cruise coming up and I'm totally borrowing idea number 2. Genius!!

  2. Colleen,

    This is insightful, encouraging and well written.

    From the Comment Club and now following you as an email subscriber and via GFC.


    PK @

  3. Oh my dd is 8 and she is already stalling. I won't see the light until she is 15? lol! Hope things start to get better. ;)

  4. I love all of your suggestions. My eleven year old twins have their moments.. That's for sure! It certainly keeps me on my toes. :)

  5. I like the idea of tickets. Maybe when we get home I'll do that for the wii, computer, and anything electronic.

  6. These are some GREAT tips, I have my first 7th grader this year, so I could use them. He is my most obedient child (very sweet spirit) God has gifted him with so it makes it easier, when my 2nd son reaches 7th grade-just the thought scares me to death. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  7. Great tips Colleen! As always, you are my hero!!!!

    I'm off to buy a timer ;-)