When a child hits the tween and early teen years, he or she enters what we call the Beginning to Understand stage, or middle school years. Fun abounds in this stage because light bulb moments resume and learning becomes less about facts and more about truly understanding what is being learned. What an exciting stage!
Ah, but there is a catch.
The beginning of understanding accompanies hormonal changes and a hunger for freedom, independence, and being grown up. It can be hard for a tween to process the reality that he or she still has a good deal of work to push through before reaching that coveted grown-up status, and this can introduce conflict.
Here is something to ponder. Because of the natural changes that occur during these tween years, many of the things that have been fun for as long as your child can remember are now suddenly “kid stuff.” Perhaps you have felt the twinge of sadness as certain toys are rejected or activities and interests change. But have you thought about the fact that this growth applies to academics as well?
Making Academic Adjustments for Tween Learning
The activities, treats, games, and even curricula you have used for years to entice your child to love learning and to keep each day fresh and exciting just don’t have the same impact as you enter the tween years. Combine that with the fact that learning is getting a bit harder and more formal, and you just might find yourself struggling to keep your tween engaged. How do you keep the love for learning alive in the midst of so many changes?
What to Keep: Read-Alouds
As the academics grow more challenging and the need for increased independence in learning becomes more prominent, there is a sure-fire way to keep at least one thing that everyone looks forward to each day: read-aloud time!
By the tween years, your child should be confidently reading on his own, even if it is not his most preferred activity. But, reading aloud to our children is not only about building our children’s literary exposure in the early years. It is also about relationship, shared experience, and building a love of learning through story. In families where the read-aloud culture is strong, students often crave that special time on the couch even through high school!
Continue to choose fun, nourishing living books that enhance and breathe life into the information being learned in history, science, and even math, and continue to enjoy stories together.
What to Adapt: Manipulatives
In the early years, learning tools like counting bears, building blocks, and math cubes make learning feel like playtime! But by about fifth or sixth grade, most of these resources are no longer relevant to what our children are learning. Even if they don’t admit it, kids often miss these fun resources. Fortunately, manipulatives do not have to disappear entirely. The tween years simply provide a perfect opportunity to be creative in discovering more “grown-up” resources.
For math, consider a game of Battleship to help cement the concept of Cartesian coordinates. Use wax paper squares to help a tactile learner grasp foundational geometry concepts. Play Equate together and challenge your child to create more complex math sequences that will help with algebraic equations. Find spatial reasoning puzzles, brain teasers, or workbooks like Balance Benders and race each other through solving the puzzles.
Science also tends to naturally incline toward continued hands-on learning with experiments. Begin challenging your tweens to complete experiments independently to stretch their abilities and help them learn to engage on their own.
Tie history and fine arts together, adding music and art projects to the school day to keep history learning as hands-on as possible through these years.
What’s New: Exploring Interests
When children are little, they dabble in all sorts of interests. They may love painting for a few months before deciding that they are ready to learn the violin or spend every spare moment with animals. Jumping from one interest to another, they leave us dizzy with confusion as we struggle to guide them to settle. It is in the Beginning to Understand stage that the exploration narrows and the focus begins to become evident. This natural, settled focus provides a delightful new avenue for maintaining the fun of learning even as it all becomes more challenging and academic.
With a bit of creativity, thought, and preparation, you can latch onto your child’s budding interest and tie it into his or her academic progress in beautiful ways. A passion for piano can enliven learning as you explore how music history has impacted and been impacted by the rest of the ebb and flow of general history. If your child loves art, making sure that art history incorporates enticing period-related projects can encourage retention of information in powerful ways.
A bend toward electronics or building and design can create immediate application of the more complicated and advanced math and science lessons. If you have a natural writer or poet, allowing a blog of personal writing exploration to merge with literature assignments can be just the motivation needed to push through what would otherwise be dreary projects.
Interest in cake decoration, love for small children, passion for animals, rodeo skills, natural acting abilities, athletic inclinations, and so much more can and should be explored during these years. When we show our children how academic pursuits nourish and strengthen us even in these seemingly unrelated passions, motivation to learn naturally follows.
What’s Most Important: Communication
The tween years present a challenge as we want to continue helping our children process through learning but also desire to help them become more independent. Sometimes it is going to feel as if we are hanging on too tightly, while other times we will struggle to stay involved enough.
As your child’s work becomes increasingly independent, preserve a daily time to come together and go over everything your child has done independently. Part of this will be a natural grading time, checking work and making sure that your child has understood basics such as math and language arts. But, more importantly, this will be your time to connect and communicate.
Ask questions about what he read that day. Look for more than reading comprehension, probing into a deeper level of understanding and connection. Your child might not yet be able to verbalize his or her own opinions about what was read, but he or she will start to see how each bit of information is a piece that fits into a larger picture.
Ask her what he enjoyed most that day. Find out what caused the greatest frustration. Help her learn to discern what she really needs more help in and what was simply a struggle resulting from an “off” day.
With a bit of investment and acknowledgment of the challenges at hand, the tween years can be a stage that heightens a love of learning that exceeds even the excitement of the early learning years. With a little creativity and lots of communication, you and your child can both have fun learning through the tween years!