Seems like yesterday I was picking out lunchboxes and backpacks for my boys’ first day of kindergarten and now my husband and I are preparing them (and us) for middle school next year.
I handle these developmental milestones and life transitions better when I think in terms of a concrete list. Focusing on this tangible guide is easier (and more productive) than the emotional volatility of watching my babies grow up.
I remember my middle school years being consumed by the social life and dealing with body transformation more than the academics. Planning ahead and helping my kids now with organizational skills, time management, making good decisions (without parents in the wings), working well with others and knowing when to ask for help (in social and academic situations) will make the transition (I hope but cannot guarantee) to middle school easier on the kids and me (the parent).
Here’s my amalgamation of helpful tips for kids (and families) preparing for middle school
School + Academics
- Visit the middle school in advance and meet teachers if possible.
- Learn about school procedures and scheduling. Are kids grouped in teams? Are there different teachers for every subject? Are homework and project assignments posted online?
- Get ready. Discuss new schedules, using lockers, moving between classes, and getting used to larger building. Buy a combination lock over the summer and have kids practice using it.
- Prepare child for more challenging work and more responsibilities. Kids will be expected to work independently and adjust to multiple teacher styles and homework expectations. Work in and out of school will require more research and critical thinking.
- Start now to help students build time-management and other organizational skills. Daily planners are helpful for tracking multiple class assignments, projects and after school activities.
- Help child get organized. (I know I could use a tune-up in this department as well.) Work together to find systems that a child can follow. Set up a quiet study area with supplies. Set up a designated place for backpacks and extra gear.
- Keep a family calendar (online or wall version) to keep track of everyone’s schedule. Find one that works for your family rhythm.
- Know your digital devices (phone, iPad, laptop, etc.). If you share devices with your kids or they have their own, parents should be familiar with features (including privacy and location settings) and the cost to maintain the device(s). Can child buy apps using your password? Can they run up the phone bill by texting?
- Decide if child is will have his/her own cell phone (if they do not already have one). Should it be just a phone or a smart phone with additional options such as a texting, camera, video, and/or access to the Internet?
- Discuss/review social media use. Are your kids or will they be on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media sites? Same social etiquette rules apply online and off: being nice, not bullying, respecting privacy. My rule is “If you would be uncomfortable seeing what you wrote (parents and kids included) on the front page of the New York Times, best not to write it in the first place.” Most things on the Internet are accessible by many and can be copied, shared and live on long after the thought fades.
- Make a digital plan. Kids will be on computers more to research and write papers–easy to get distracted by unrelated sites, play games, or find not so kid-appropriate content. Whether a child is getting a phone or a laptop for the first time or they already have their own electronics, review features and set ground rules in advance of middle school. No digital devices at the table? Before breakfast? Keep the charging station downstairs in a central area and dock devices there over night. Agree on the plan (in advance) that works for your family and then be prepared to review and revise it over time.
- Talk to your child about being apart from old friends and making new friends.
- Discuss peer pressure–what it is and how to say no to it.
- Talk about bullying. Report any incidents to school.
- Foster student interests and hobbies. Encourage your child to take part in orientation programs, after-school activities and clubs, sports teams, or volunteer opportunities.
- Make family dinner a priority–an opportunity to share the good and bad parts of the day as well as talk about current events. Ask your child questions about what he or she is excited or worried about (in school or out).
- Be ready (available) to talk. Ask about school. Listen closely to concerns.
- Be open to talking about physical and emotional issues and changes.
- Get involved with school. Join the PTO/PTA. Meet the teachers. The more you know about what is happening at school the more you can talk with your kids about everyday happenings–academics and social.
- Ask for help. When a child is struggling in school with academics, organization, bullying, or other challenging situations sometimes we may need guidance from others. A teacher, counselor, principal, friend, or other family member may provide additional needed support.
- Middle School Confidential: Books, blog, apps for parents, teens, and educators (http://www.middleschoolconfidential.com/)
- PBS: Getting Ready for Middle School: (http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/school/middleschool/)
- Getting Ready for Middle School: The Guide for Parents (http://www.djusd.k12.ca.us/Pioneer/pdf/MidSch%2008-10.pdf)
- Common Sense Media (http://www.commonsensemedia.org/advice-for-parents)