Hormones are raging. Voices changing. Pimples forming. Bodies growing faster than humanly possible. It's time for middle school, whether you and your child are ready or not! Turmoil, transformation and transition mark the pre-teen years, and the move to middle school presents yet another change for children already overloaded with social and emotional challenges.
As tough as it all sounds, the middle school experience can and should be a positive one, for both students and parents. Here's what parents and schools can do to ease the transition and get new middle school students on the right track.
What schools can do:
- Many schools have transition programs to make new students comfortable. According to the National Education Association (NEA), transition programs should provide a positive introduction to middle school and help students form realistic expectations of what being a middle schooler will be like.
- School transition programs often consist of a parent/student night or a tour of the school, and present the chance to meet school personnel and address any questions or anxieties. Many programs pair incoming middle schoolers with older student mentors who provide ongoing support throughout the school year.
- The National Middle School Association notes that a great middle school addresses the needs of parents as well as students, and ensures that parents feel welcomed and well-informed throughout the transition process.
Visit the school. Part of a student's stress is the unfamiliarity of middle school. See if you can get a copy of your child’s schedule. Walk from room to room, finding the classes that your child will need to locate. Don’t forget the lunchroom, gym, and your child's future locker.
Keep backpacks at a manageable size. Students don’t need room for a week-long hiking trip, and if a backpack is large, a student will fill it up with unnecessary items. Smaller packs not only ease the stress on a student’s back, they allow for better organization.
- Read up on adolescent development. Your child is experiencing emotional, physical and intellectual growth that can be challenging for everyone involved. It’s a complicated time, and one of the most important things you can give your pre-teen is a hefty dose of understanding.
Get involved. Encourage your child to join a club or sport of interest-- it's a great way to make friends and feel a connection with the school. You should join a club, too: the PTA. PTAs, PTOs, and other parent groups allow parents to gain knowledge and support from others walking in the same shoes.
- Stay connected. Talk with you child's teacher about the best means of communication. Is it more convenient for the teacher to respond to emails or telephone messages? Will the teacher contact you if there is an issue or concern? Typically, students are expected to take more responsibility with their schoolwork - meaning parents have less interaction and communication with teachers.
When schools, parents, and students work together, the transition from elementary to middle school can be an opportunity for tremendous development. Students who feel comfortable in their new environment are more able to learn and grow effectively. Plus, all that transition practice will make another looming step easier... the move to high school!