Middle schoolers are officially in the realm of the “young adult.” Your once little tot is now beginning to look and talk just like a grown-up. But, although your child does think mostly like an adult, there will be some exceptions. So, what are they?

To answer that question we turn to Jean Piaget, the psychologist credited with forming the theory of cognitive development in the late 1920s. He created a list of mental yardsticks for children of varying ages. Here's what Piaget had to say about children of this age:

    • There's a return to egocentric thought, meaning your child believes the world revolves around him. But it's different than when he was a kid. He understands now that people have different points-of-view, even about him! As a result, he becomes preoccupied with other people's opinions of him.
    • Middle schoolers can logically manipulate symbols, even those relating to abstract concepts. This means they can combine symbols; for example, you may catch your preteen drawing a lock over a heart to show commitment.
    • Middle schoolers can develop a reasonable hypotheses and test it against reality. In a science class they can guess how two chemicals will react to each other, and then go through the appropriate steps to see if they're correct.
    • Tweens are pros at using deductive reasoning. On a multiple choice test when they don't know the answer, but know that answers A and C are incorrect, they'll realize that the solution must be B.
    • Middle schoolers can also classify objects according to many features, as well as classify them in a series according to one feature. They can organize books according to height, while also grouping any similar topics together.

Understanding how middle schooler thinks is the first step. Another psychologist, Benjamin Bloom, took things further. In the 1950s, he led a group of researchers in creating a cognitive learning guide that explained several levels of understanding. According to Bloom, everyone goes through a steadily deepening process of comprehension. But, people vary in how long it takes them to reach each level.

Each level is based on the one in front of it, similar to a staircase. Once your child learns something new, you can use Bloom's levels of learning as a guide for helping your son or daughter reach the next step of understanding. The levels of learning are:

    • Level 1: Knowledge. This is when your child has already been taught a concept and just needs to remember it.
    • Level 2: Comprehension. Your child understands what the concept means.
    • Level 3: Application. At this point your child can come up with examples of how the concept can be used.
    • Level 4: Analysis. Your child can break down each idea and think of it in ways that weren't introduced.
    • Level 5: Synthesis. At this stage, your child will be able to apply the concept to new situations.
    • Level 6: Evaluation. Your child thinks about what she's been taught and weighs the pros and cons.

You can help your child progress faster by asking questions that require higher levels of thinking. For example, after teaching her how to navigate a new computer program, you might ask your child, "How would you make this program better using what you know now?"

Each child develops differently, but Piaget and Bloom provide some general guidelines that can work to guide your child. By giving your child a new concept that's not beyond her middle school mental limitations, you can watch her progress through the levels of learning.