Are you wasting the middle school years? Part 3

middle school Nov 17, 2018

(Missed the beginning? Go here for part 1. )

Have you thought about volunteer or community service activities?

During the middle school years, there should be some amount of volunteer work. It doesn’t have to be much. Twice a year is good enough between 6th and 8th grades. Example: Boxing canned goods at the local food bank or being a helper for your church Awana or Vacation Bible School program. If your child has participated as a youngster he might want to volunteer to help with games, reading stories, distributing snacks, etc. Just ask! If you are willing to drop them off, the church will graciously accept the help! Again the goal is to find something he truly enjoys doing and might be able to do on a more regular basis in high school (weekly or monthly). Everything will go on their high school resume and be listed on the college application.

If your teen has found their passion, brainstorm ideas for volunteer activities that may be related. We are looking for consistency/focus and something that can be utilized for the purpose of scholarship and college admission essays.

Many hospitals, assisted living and the like, may be interested in having young people come and entertain. Does your child play chess or checkers? Does she play an instrument, sing, or dance? Put together a 30-minute performance and make some phone calls.

Is your child always fixing everyone's scrapes and injuries? Maybe he is headed for the health care profession? Hospital volunteers often have to be at least age 14 or 15. In the meantime, he can take a CPR class and keep up the certification. Is he an excellent swimmer? Look at the qualifications to be a lifeguard. I know many opportunities will have to wait until your child reaches a certain age during high school, but you should be planning to prepare them for this now.

And let's not forget about academics. Having a successful academic experience in middle school sets them up for academic success in high school and college. If your child is struggling in a particular subject, don't wait until they've missed important concepts to consider a tutor for personalized help.  (I've personally used tutors for my children from a young age through college.) 

However, it’s not all about the student. You, the parent, must take responsibility to help your child along in these endeavors. In most cases, this means being the driver (or rather the chauffeur), until you trust them to drive on their own. In other cases, it’s carpooling, or finding alternate activities because you are a full-time working single parent.  If you live in the mountains, or on a farm, 40 miles from civilization. and there are no local activities, you may have to get more creative. If you have the internet, you can make something happen.

Another important aspect of the Middle School years is to get started on Life Skills. What are important skills for life? There are the obvious tangible skills such as learning to cook, keep a clean house, do laundry, ironing, washing a car. In high school, they should be able to change a tire, check the oil in their car, pump gas. My son was laundering and ironing his karate uniform by the age of 12.

And there are other skills that are necessary as well but are more difficult to teach.

Do your children have talents that you are missing because they look like annoyances? And how can you redirect those annoyances to their benefit? (Same ADHD video from part 1: )

The bottom line here is that you cannot simply let the middle school years go by without a thought. It’s a much more crucial time than you think. So here’s your To-Do list:

* List and evaluate your pre-teen's current activities for passion, talent, and future viability and if there is an opportunity to teach/tutor or self-employment.

* Search through your local newspaper and do an internet search for summer camps in your area. If the price is prohibitive, ask if they offer scholarships, many do. After attending camp, ask your child what she enjoyed the most & the least about the camp? Thinking about their future is your job, so you need to be asking the questions.

My son went to space camp at age 13, and as sons will do, didn’t say much throughout the week. So when picking him up on the last day, I asked, what was it he liked the most? He enjoyed the robots. Specifically, he enjoyed computer programming the robots! A year later, I found a homeschool computer programming course, which he loved. I bought it online and taught it at home. That course was added as an extracurricular course on his transcript. Years later, as both a Mechanical Engineering college student and an intern with the US Air Force, programming is what he enjoys the most, and takes on that responsibility in most group projects.

Another summer camp opportunity I found was a week-long kid's cooking camp. Yes, he learned to use tools and techniques we don’t have a home. But again, when he would come home I asked, ‘What was it you liked about the dish you created today? What was it you didn’t like? If you were going to make this recipe again, what might you charge, or add to improve it?’ This line of questioning told him that he is in control and doesn’t have to accept it the way it came out. In high school, he earned a little money cooking for other families and selling his prize-winning cheesecakes! As a young adult, he is always trying new dishes and seeking out ways to improve it. At one time I thought he might choose a culinary career. At least I know he won’t starve or eat junk food all the time.

In searching through the community news section of your local newspaper (usually printed once or twice a week) look for these two things and start a folder or section on your computer where you won’t misplace it.

  • Activities and volunteer opportunities for middle school and high school students - those open to the public in an advertisement, and those listed within short biographies of student accolades. You’ll be surprised at what is available in your community. These could be opportunities for participation and for leadership during high school.
  • Scholarship opportunities. Again, you will find students graduating from local high schools with a list of their activities and scholarships they’ve earned. You will also see advertisements with information for local businesses offering scholarships.

Save the clippings or take a photo with your phone and keep an organized record of these on your computer. Search the internet for these activities and scholarships. Which ones might appeal to your child? Get information from the organization or business and plan to participate. I started noticing and clipping these when my daughter was 9 or 10 years old. I didn’t have many, just a few at that time. The National League of Junior Cotillions was one. She participated at age 11 and continued as a participant, then as an assistant instructor throughout high school. This became a major part of her High School portfolio.

Using the middle school years wisely can help your child Get Ahead of the Class!

Missed the beginning? Go here for part 1

Denise Thomas


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