How to Prepare Your Student for the Transition to Middle School

Jul 27 2020


For most children, and even many adults, routine is vital. 

The same holds true for fifth graders who are preparing to enter middle school: For the past five or six years, your child has most likely had a pretty consistent educational experience. In elementary school, students usually have a single teacher for all subjects, most of their days are spent in one room with minimal transitions, and they are around the same 20 or so peers. 

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Middle school is different. Time in middle school is marked by physical and emotional changes for students. On top of that, students must also adjust to multiple teachers for different subjects, several transitions to different classes throughout the day, and generally higher expectations. 

But while it’s different, it doesn’t need to be scary.

The underlying challenge for not only the child, but also the parent or guardian, is adjusting to a new level of responsibility and independence. Helping your child transition can ease some of that anxiety, but it is also important to find the balance between helping your child adjust and letting them experience things independently.

Preparing Your Child for Middle School

1. Schedule a tour to get familiar with the campus.

One way to help your child get ready for middle school is by simply asking them what they think would be helpful. Often, one of the scariest things to students entering a new school is not knowing what the environment is like—where their classrooms are, where the bathroom is, where they will eat lunch. Navigating the school’s campus together, before classes begin, can ease the anxiety of the first day. 

If you have a neighbor or family friend who has already been to the school, they can also be helpful sources of information.

Many activities are also offered at the beginning of the year such as orientation day and other social events that can help familiarize your child with the campus. Taking advantage of these can be one way to start the year off smoothly.

Of course, as we are still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, scheduling an in-person tour may not be possible just yet. It may be possible, though, to take a virtual tour, as some schools have created. If you are able to participate in a virtual tour or open house, make sure you come prepared so your family can get the most value out of the session. Additionally, it may be possible to connect with your child’s teacher remotely, before the school year begins, to put your child at ease.

At Friends’ Central, for example, prospective parents have multiple options to get to know the school. Families who would like can experience a virtual tour from the comfort of their own homes, while in-person tours are made available for anyone who would prefer to see the school and campus first-hand.

2. Establish a routine.

Most of the challenges associated with the transition to middle school come from the many changes that it entails. That’s why establishing a routine at home can be very helpful. Homework routines, in particular, tend to pick up significantly in the middle school years compared to earlier years.

To prepare for this change, set up an afternoon routine and talk about the weekly schedule ahead of time. Middle school will likely bring additional activities like sports and clubs, on top of more responsibilities and homework. Establishing an afternoon routine before the school year begins helps students to plan how they will organize themselves and their time, while also not overwhelming them with multiple changes simultaneously.

Constructing this process is also something you and your child should do together. Talk with him or her and find out how he or she works best. Do they enjoy some downtime after school before starting homework, or would they rather complete homework right after school and leave the rest of the evening free?

For example, when your child comes home from school you can set a timer for 30 minutes so he or she can have a snack and some downtime before starting homework. Additional downtime can be enjoyed after homework is finished. Chores, music practice, and other duties can also be built into the routine at a time that works best for your family. 

Similarly, an evening routine can help students prepare to begin the next day ready to learn. When homework is finished and before your child goes to bed, he or she should pack their backpack and potentially even select their outfit for the next day. Waiting until morning to do this more often than not leads to frenzied adults rushing groggy children out the door. 

Establishing a sleep schedule before the school year starts can also be beneficial. The summer is wonderful, but adjusting to waking up early and going to bed at a reasonable hour can be a real challenge for all students, especially as they get older. You will help your child tremendously by establishing a sleep routine before the first week of school. 

Has your family schedule been thrown off due to distance learning and social distancing? Here are some great tips you can use to create a remote learning schedule that works for your child.

3. Set up an at-home learning space.

Another great way of helping your child build necessary structure into their day and prepare them for middle school is to build an at-home learning space where they can study and complete homework free from distraction.

As a parent or guardian, you can guide them by not setting up a space in the same room where they watch television at night, but you can also include your child in the process. Ask your child to think about how they learn best and what type of space will help them focus on doing work efficiently. 

For some students and families, it may work best for a child to do homework in a common space like at a kitchen counter or dining room table. For other children, working at a desk in a bedroom or office space where there is less activity may be better. Either way, it is important to talk ahead of time about family rules in order to form good habits. Cell phones and televisions can be major distractions, as can doing homework on a bed. Talking about the rules and expectations for productive homework time, and even starting to establish those routines at the end of elementary school is important and will be helpful in the long-term.

Having an established learning space is especially important during periods of distance learning, when your child cannot be in the classroom. Here you can find advice on creating a remote learning space for your child. 

4. Organize supplies.

Some schools share supply lists with families (and local retailers) ahead of time. Before school begins, try to purchase or gather those supplies. This way, your child can be ready for Day One with everything he or she needs to be successful. No one wants to scramble around collecting notebooks, pencils, and other supplies during the tiring first week of school! 

Another monumental transition for middle school students is being in charge of more stuff. Helping your child label their belongings (folders, backpack, pencil case, jacket, even shoes) can go far in assuaging concerns. We often stop labeling students’ school materials and belongings toward the end of elementary school, but middle school means more students, and more students means more stuff. This is a recipe for lost items, and labeling is one way to prevent the hassle of buying replacement supplies. 

5. Encourage healthy friendships.

Be honest with your child when it comes to friendships. Normalize the fact that friendships change often at this age. Each child is figuring out who he or she is, and that can lead students to shift who they are friends with or how their friendships look. 

You can prepare your child by helping him or her build a wide group of friends while also reaching out to new students at the start of the school year. 

If you are worried that your child’s friendships have begun to suffer due to social distancing efforts, there are a number of steps you can take to help them maintain and nurture their friendships even when they can’t be in the same room. 

6. Communicate with teachers and advisors.

If your child struggles with certain subjects like reading or math, get in contact with that teacher to discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Ask the teacher what your child can do and what you can do to help your child find success in that class. Making the first communication early and positive will also help later on if an issue arises or your child needs more support. 

In addition to their teachers, introduce yourself to your child’s advisors or counselors, even if it’s just through an email or a quick 15-minute meeting. Advisory systems are incredibly important in the middle grades, and an advisor can be a point-person and help to oversee your child’s overall experience at school. Reaching out to share your child’s strengths and challenges—whether they be academic, organizational or emotional—gives that advisor a better sense of your child from day one. 

For example, if your child has extensive commitments outside of school, or if there have been recent changes in your family, that information can help the advisor develop a positive, caring relationship with your child. 

7. Be proactive.

If your child needs academic or emotional support, such as tutoring, counseling, or general advising, try to have it in place before or as the school year starts. Oftentimes, parents and guardians want to see how things go before starting any support plans, but having them in place will prevent your child from falling behind if problems arise. It is much easier on you and your child to discontinue any additional support if it is no longer needed than it is to need it and not have it in place. 

By being proactive, rather than reactive, bumps that arise can be addressed immediately. Furthermore, your child will also see the support not as fixing something that is “wrong,” but as something to help them manage school. 

Consistently talk to your child about transitions and explain to him or her that changes are a natural and frequent part of life. One way to do this is by sharing what you have learned from navigating transitions in your life—both successfully and unsuccessfully. You can also instill confidence by reminding your child of his or her resilience when he or she had to face new situations before. 

Preparing Your Child For the Next Chapter

When a child graduates to middle school, every family needs to find a healthy balance. Parents and guardians can take an active role in the transition process, but allow and encourage the student to lead the way at times. We often assume what our kids are worrying about rather than actually asking them. Instead, reflect and discuss aspects of any routines with your child. Talk about what each of you thought worked well or didn’t work. Change can be hard, so it is important to face it together.

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