What science should I choose for my middle schooler?

Choosing specific courses, especially as your children get older, can be downright frightening. With so many programs on the market, how do you know which is the best one for your child?

Sketching out a plan in the early middle school years can help you see your long-term goals for your child’s education, and the progression through the subjects. 

Two roads diverged in a wood…

Sorry, wrong subject! But still a good analogy. Science in middle school years can be approached two ways: 1) multiple topics covered each year, or 2) a single subject for a whole year. There are draw-backs and incentives for both.

Multiple topics means variety. If your child isn’t into anatomy and human physiology, then it only has to be done for a few weeks before you move to another topic. On the other hand, if your child lives and breathes health, human body, and physiology (yes, that was a science pun), then a survey course may not go deep enough to satisfy his knowledge. And vice versa for single-topics in one year: burn out and boredom can happen without variety. But which road to choose?

What have you already done?

The easiest way to figure out where to go next is to look back at what you have done in the elementary years. Which topics did you cover? If you’ve chosen to do survey-style courses you’ve likely touched on most of the major science topics. Look for programs that either repeat the same progression of topics, but more in-depth (if you loved your elementary years), or look for a new curriculum that covers many different topics (if you really didn’t like what you used in elementary years.

If your child sparked an interest in a specific topic, consider doing a full year on that topic to study it more in depth. If you used single topics for the elementary years, now might be a good time to explore a survey course to touch on several topics before high school. Or, stick with the in-depth single subject for consistency. 

What does my child need to know to be ready for high school?

There are no set requirements of study you must fulfill for homeschooling high school, beyond providing an equivalent education to the public schools. This leaves much room for interpretation, customization, and choices. Do you plan to cover the basic sciences in high school (biology, chemistry, and physics)? Or do you plan to specialize in high school (forensics, animal science, astronomy and physics, meteorology, anatomy & physiology, virology and genetics, mechanical or civil or electrical engineering, botany, etc.) If your child is college-bound, you will want to look at certain college’s requirements.

If you plan to follow a traditional science route, then consider touching on earth and life sciences, astronomy, earth science, and anatomy/health in middle school. These topics will not necessarily be covered again in-depth in high school.

If you plan to specialize your high school sciences, consider doing basics in middle school to give a solid understanding for more advanced studies—Introductions to physics and chemistry and biology. Some of these topics may be repeated in high school years, but will be more in-depth and directly applicable to the specific course of study your student has chosen.

Which way is best?

Ask your child what he’d like to do and discuss his perspective. What does he want to study in high school? What did he enjoy in elementary school? Middle school years are rife with emotional and attitude struggles already; giving control and allowing real, valued input into the decision-making process can help involve your child and give him ownership of his education, which can make him excited and eager to learn. Dictating the topic may possibly cause undue frustration for everyone.

If your child is absolutely not science-minded and would avoid it altogether, try to come to an agreement to at least try certain topics, and seek to understand why it’s important to know about them. Search for topics that meet his interests. Learning for the sake of knowing is not always obvious when it’s a topic we personally dislike. Come alongside your child and bring him into the conversation as much as possible. 

Have a backup plan.

Regardless of which route you choose, it helps to have a “safety net” waiting. Go with your top pick first, but have a back-up plan in case that one just doesn’t fit your child’s style or you find it not meeting your needs. This could be a completely new curriculum as a back-up, or it could be a simple list of ideas and topics to explore at the library in lieu of a traditional program. The last thing anyone wants is to be flying blind mid-year, and even a roughly sketched booklist and some major topics doodled on a napkin are better than nothing at all.