Middle school is where you watch your son or daughter grow into a preteen. Here’s some things parents should know about the middle school years, and how they can help their preteen navigate the changing environment.
“The biggest differences between elementary school and middle school are that the buildings are much larger, which can be intimidating,” Todd Griffen, principal at Shiloh Middle School says. “This also means that students will be moving more throughout the day and having more teachers on their schedule than they might be used to in elementary school. Another big difference is the amount of students in their grade and in the building. Students go from 300 students in a building to 500 or more. This brings new friend groups, which again can be a big change for students.”
To ensure your child makes a smooth transition from elementary to middle school, knowing when to start looking at middle schools is a key step. If your local district’s middle school is from sixth through eighth grades, it is important to start looking for schools when your child is in fourth and fifth grade. Begin by shadowing at schools, meeting with admissions teams, and getting an overall feel of the environment.
Some schools might have an application process, whereas other schools don’t. Check in with the school you are interested in and find out what the enrollment process will look like and when you can begin applying.
“We don’t have an application process, but we do have the opportunity for students and families to choose a school that they would like to attend,” Griffen says. “Otherwise, based on boundary lines, students are slated to go to the middle school that is closest to their home. If they are trying to use the school of choice option, they fill out a form and state their reason for wanting to go to a different school. The principal then makes a choice on whether to accept that student or not.”
Understand New Routines
Some students may no longer have recess as they enter middle school. Students can expect a variety of new subjects, which means new supplies. Check in with the teacher and determine if your child needs an advanced calculator, graphing paper, a protractor, or a laptop.
Also, kids might have something new in middle school — a locker. Remembering the combinations, opening it and staying organized can be tricky. Most schools provide opportunities for students to practice and fill their space before school starts.
Encourage your kids to practice at home with a lock and check-in with them on how it’s going throughout the first month of school. Also, before winter break, talk to them about bringing their locker contents home, as you might need to replenish supplies or ensure they are throwing away items.
Road to Independence
Around middle school age, children should be able to do their homework independently and should study independently.
“I think the biggest area is to give their students an opportunity to find their own path, and know that especially at the start of the year it is probably going to be a bumpy road,” Griffen says.
He encourages kids to get involved with the various clubs and activities.
“Students need to have a chance to make their own way, and learn to advocate for themselves or ask questions if they are struggling with something,” he says. “The parents’ role in that is just to encourage students to get involved in any school activities, but also continue to support their child like they did in elementary school.”
Getting Help if Needed
Many schools offer resources for students during the day if they are feeling anxious — coaches, teachers, and school counselors are often willing to talk and offer support and resources.
“Our goal is that every student is able to identify at least one support person in the building,” Griffen says.”
As students grow up and become pre-teens, their relationship with their parents might change. Students might become more distant and might not want to tell them everything about their day, as they once did in elementary school. This can be difficult for aparent, especially if their child was close to them in the younger years.
“I think it’s good to recognize that your child is going to change as they enter middle school and grow over the years,” Griffen says. “This change is expected and with it will come some distant behavior, back talk, forgetfulness, and attitude. Knowing that these changes will occur and continuing to be a support system for your child is the most important thing that any parent can do. Have a nightly conversation about the most challenging thing that their student did that day, or a highlight from one of their classes will keep that connection between parent and student, and also allow the parent to learn a little about what is going on each day at school.”
Knowing what is going on in your child’s life is important. Many children hide a lot of aspects of their life from their parents – including if they are getting bullied.
“I encourage every family and student that if they are having trouble with another student or group of students to make sure that the office is aware of what is going on so that things can be put in place to make that situation better,” Griffen says.”
Middle school will be filled with new experiences and new opportunities – it is important to support your child in any way that you can.
“My best advice is that every new middle schooler is feeling the exact same way, including myself for the first week of school,” Griffen says. “Everything is new and that can cause anxiety, but it can also bring on a lot of excitement if we are able to provide the right support for our students. What I encourage all of our new students and families to do is to communicate with us about what their student needs, and trust that we will work tirelessly to make their experience at middle school a positive one.”