Congratulations! Your child has made it through sixth grade. In a perfect world, that means that lockers, planners, backpacks, and all the other new systems of middle school are old hat.

But this isn’t a perfect world … in fact, it’s seventh grade, a year notoriously full of backpack fumbles, locker explosions, and social jungle adventures; a year, in short, when a supportive parent is an awfully nice person to have around.

And when it comes to social studies, you can, indeed, lend a helpful hand. Here’s a brief overview of what to expect:

First, remember that exact topics still vary by state. For a comprehensive list, you should plan to consult your state standards, available on the website for your state’s department of education. In addition, remember: private schools are not required to comply with state frameworks, although many of them do. Whichever type of school your child attends, don’t hesitate to ask for the school’s curriculum list to be sure what’s in store.

As a general rule, however, these are common themes:

Topic: Seventh grade curriculum varies quite widely across the states. In some, the course focuses on world history and geography, starting where sixth grade left off, around the fall of Rome, and then covering the rise of Europe until the Enlightenment. In many others, seventh graders study this world history but also add a hefty section of state history, particularly when a state was first settled by European conquerors during the early modern era. In some states, such as Texas, the entire year is devoted to state history, starting from the first Native American habitants. Building on sixth grade, the curriculum also focuses on geography, and the important relationships between people and the lands they settled.

Thinking Skills: If the course is about world history, you should expect your child to develop basic understanding of key vocabulary and concepts such as the rise of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Confucianism; the institution of feudalism in many settings; the European Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment. If state history is blended in, expect the major milestones of its development. No matter what the topic, says the National Council of Social Studies Teachers, be sure that you don’t confuse memorization with learning. Whatever the specific topic, the goal is to develop “integrated knowledge of social aspects of the human condition: how they have evolved over time, the variations that occur, and the emerging trends.” In other words, parents, you can provide excellent help just by talking. What’s cause and what’s effect? How has religion shaped our history? Why did certain kinds of leaders succeed when others did not? You may be amazed by the insights you hear. Encourage them—this is higher level thinking, and it’s what students need as they move forward.

Study Skills: Since seventh graders usually have a year of middle school under their belts already, most of them have figured out how to manage the basics of planners and homework. But don’t expect you have any kind of expert on your hands. Plan on checking homework calendars and assignment pages; lend a hand if textbook reading remains tricky (it often is). Above all, get ready to help with independent projects, which typically increase through middle school. As you already know, it’s your child’s work, not yours … but seventh graders are still rarely able to break down an assignment and work on it step by step. When you help figure out stages and benchmark deadlines, you’re coaching your kids on habits that can benefit them for life.

With luck and a little patience, your whole family can get a kick out of seventh grade social studies. Ever thought about visiting historical sites around your state? For kids in many parts of the country, this is an ideal time. As the National Council for Social Studies has said,“Social studies teaching and learning become powerful when they are meaningful, integrative, value-based, challenging, and active.” And parents really can play an important part in making that happen.