The transition from elementary school to middle school is an exciting milestone for students and parents - but it can also be a stressful one. Middle school can often mean an increased homework load, an adjustment to new teaching styles, the need for strong independent study habits, a schedule with more transitions, and the acceleration of extracurricular activities. Middle schoolers juggle a lot!
As you approach your child’s transition to middle school, we recommend focusing on two main areas: socio-emotional readiness and academic readiness. Both are equally important to give students a strong foundation to handle this major new experience, especially at such a delicate period of adolescence. Read on for more tips on priorities you can focus on with your child in the months ahead of middle school.
While many parents worry primarily about academic readiness (math, reading, etc.) ahead of middle school, it’s also important to ensure that your child has the “soft skills” required to navigate their new environment. Here are a few areas to think about ahead of time:
- Finding friends. Social dynamics tend to become more and more fraught as students exit elementary school, and friendship challenges can cause some of the biggest struggles that students face as pre-teens. If your student will be attending the same school as they did in elementary school, and/or are entering middle school with many familiar faces in their class, they may have less of a friendship transition. But many students head to a new school where they may know fewer peers - in that case, focusing on friendships ahead of time can be very helpful. Spend time brainstorming with your child about how to meet people in the early days of school (or even in the late summer before school starts), whether by proactively joining clubs, trying a new sport, or attending any events that the school offers ahead of the first day.
- Processing emotions. Middle school is synonymous with the pre-teen years, which can be fraught with big, hard-to-explain feelings for many kids. They’re starting to grapple with hard questions: who are they? How do they fit into the world? Equipping kids with the skills to navigate these moments is helpful preparation. Practice habits like finding words to express their emotions, self-regulating in stressful moments (taking deep breaths, stepping away to enjoy a fun activity, etc.), and viewing challenges with an opportunistic growth mindset. If you’re noticing your child working through any particularly difficult emotional challenges, be proactive about speaking with a guidance counselor or trusted teacher.
- Making decisions. Middle schoolers have more independence, more responsibilities, and a much busier schedule than they did before. Their ability to make good decisions will be more important than ever. For example, there might be a fun opportunity to go out for pizza with the basketball team tonight, but they have an important test tomorrow that they haven’t studied for - what should your child do? Help them weigh the pros and cons and prioritize. Keep in mind that you can also allow your child to make mistakes (safe mistakes) and learn from them afterward, with your gentle and growth-oriented guidance.
Of course, an important part of middle school preparedness is being ready to handle the increased complexity and workload of a fuller class schedule. Independence and ownership over learning become much more important in middle school - your child needs to adapt to a system that may have much less direct supervision and encouragement from teachers than they were used to in elementary school. Consider these key skills and tools:
- Create a schedule. Middle school is a great time for students to create and manage their own daily planner or schedule. This tool can take a wide variety of forms - there are countless digital tools to track appointments and schedule study time, or your child could get an old-fashioned paper planner to keep track of their commitments. Either way, students should begin taking ownership over the ways they spend their time.
- Practice organization and time management. In concert with a planner, middle school is the time for students to begin taking more control over their own tasks and work time. Work with your child to experiment with various strategies, like using a timer to focus in 20-minute increments, making a prioritized to-do list, organizing their books and worksheets into piles for each class, etc. Even opportunities like creating a checklist to get ready for a sports practice can build a student’s ability to function effectively into their future adult life.
- Set goals proactively. As students move into middle school, they are expected to take more and more ownership over their learning. One way to boost self-motivation is to set clear goals - the beginning of the school year is a great time to begin. Sit down with your child and discuss what challenges them, what they’re looking forward to, and the specific things they want to achieve this year. Examples include setting a grade goal in a specific class, a goal to take on additional (fun) self-study in a particular subject, a participation goal, etc.
- Prioritize teacher interactions. Increased ownership over learning also means interacting with teachers one-on-one more frequently. Begin familiarizing your student with how to communicate their needs with adults - you can even role-play to help them feel more comfortable. For instance, practice a scenario where your child needs to approach a teacher after class to ask for additional help on a lesson they aren’t grasping. The goal is for your student to understand that they have the power to seek additional attention and assistance from teachers, and that they’re expected to do so if they’re struggling.
As a parent, you also have some preparation to do ahead of middle school! Most importantly, prepare to observe your child closely during this important transition and the pre-teen years that follow. Do your best not to let your child fall behind, and not to let them get bored - at this age, lack of engagement at school can have consequences into the future. Be prepared to be proactive about seeking additional support - or an additional challenge - for your child. Teachers are more than willing to offer their guidance and help your student find success in middle school!
Looking ahead to your child’s middle school and high school paths? Admit NY is a leading boutique educational consultant in NYC, with years of expertise in helping you find the perfect-fit school for your family. Reach out here to start a conversation about your child’s educational journey.