I’m blessed to be part of a local homeschool support group in my community that’s been around for about a decade. When we joined in 2010, they offered monthly group activities for elementary age and teens, and the existing opportunities allowed my fourth and second grade daughters to make friends while I found support among their parents.
However, the dynamics of our group are changing: This year, we discovered there’s a large segment of members with “tweens” — homeschooled middle schoolers who aren’t quite ready for (nor wanting to participate in) teen activities, but are too mature for the “kids” program. Since two of the tweens are mine (almost 13 and 11 now), I decided to help out with filling the gap in our program.
I’m a strong believer in the idea that good socialization includes interaction with all ages, and we keep this in mind in all the activities we participate in. However, if you have tweens (ages 10-13) in your family, you are probably experiencing some transitional challenges too — especially if your family also has little ones and/or older teens.
At this age, tweens are dealing with a lot of changes, including physical, emotional, and social development. There’s more of a divide between the boys and girls when interacting in groups. They are taking on more responsibility and freedom. However, they also still need your attention and guidance. Tweens also benefit from being challenged and stretched to enjoy friendly competition and demonstrate their skills in positive ways.
With all of this in mind, here are three easy group activities you can coordinate for homeschooled middle schoolers:
1) Movie Nights
Because we already had teen movie nights taking place that were quite successful, we decided to try tween movie nights. We used a similar format of watching a movie at someone’s home, followed by discussion and games/fun time, only with movies for younger ages. It’s easy to research potential movies for tweens using Web sites such as Focus on the Family’s Plugged In. You just need a host home, a discussion leader, and families to contribute potluck snacks (or rotate the snack responsibility).
Those families that participated really enjoyed the movie nights, however we hit a snag when our host family (with a house large enough to accommodate our group) moved to another state. Because we haven’t found an ideal location to continue, we’ve put our movie nights on hold for now.
2) Activity-based Outings
Tweens still love to run, jump, compete, and play, but they’ve outgrown the playground equipment. Activity-based outings give them an opportunity to be active and socialize in an environment that suits both boys and girls and encourages their interaction in positive ways. Think bowling, roller skating, ice skating, “jump” gyms with trampolines, laser tag, etc. While the boys and girls might naturally want to separate into different lanes or teams, splitting them into teams would be an easy way to mix it up and teach appreciation of one another’s skills.
Activity-based outings usually come at a price, but if you get organized, you can usually arrange for a group discount. You might also live in an area where local attractions offer discount days especially for homeschoolers. Where I live in Colorado, we have homeschool skate days, bowling days, and even our local Six Flags hosts an annual homeschoolers day.
3) Volunteer Opportunities
Our teen group has participated regularly in volunteering with Operation Christmas Child at the local sorting facility (which requires ages 13 and up), and it’s been very popular over the years. Although not all volunteer programs allow younger ages, there are a few that do. Volunteering together is a great way to serve and be social at the same time.
In the past, we’ve participated in the local co-op farm’s clean up days, where children of all ages can pitch in. Other organizations to check out for existing volunteer opportunities include horse rescue ranches, children’s camps, libraries, churches, trail maintenance and park service, etc. If you’re not finding much available in your area for middle schoolers, you can organize your own. Some examples include sponsoring a parents night out (where tweens entertain the little ones for free), making treats for a nursing home, leaf gathering and cleanup for the elderly, etc.
Segregating middle schoolers isn’t the goal of these suggestions: In fact, we expect parents to participate with their tweens. And if younger siblings need to tag along, that’s not an issue. Our mission is to provide activities that homeschooled middle schoolers can thrive in at their stage and feel comfortable socially, while they still enjoy being kids!
Are you homeschooling tweens? If so, what challenges are you experiencing with their physical, emotional and social changes? Do you participate in any activities organized for homeschooled middle schoolers? What are some of your tween’s favorites?
About Renée Gotcher
Renée Gotcher is a wife, writer, entrepreneur & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. A former journalist, Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She is editor of NextGen Homeschool and blogs on personal topics at A New Chapter. Her family lives in Castle Rock, Colorado.