Children transitioning from elementary school to middle school are a bit like fingerprints: no two are alike. Each child handles the new stresses and responsibilities in a different way. Some adapt quickly, others ease into it, and some can lose their way as they become a small fish in a big pond. As a parent, the best thing that you can do to help smooth the transition period is support your child in any way possible and know what they need before they do.
Entering middle school, your child is no longer the “big kid” on campus and must deal with a new set of rules, new teachers, new schedules, and possibly a new school. This is a time for adventure and a chance to try new things and meet new friends. Many parents and teachers view this transition as the beginning of adulthood and the expectations of your child and their responsibilities will change. Discuss with your child what their own expectations are so that you can help them prepare for this new adventure.
If possible, take a tour of your child’s middle school before classes start. For most children this will be their first experience with changing classes and teachers during their school day. Use your child’s new schedule to show the layout of the school and how to get from classroom to classroom. Find other important spots like the gym (check out the locker room), cafeteria (more options for lunch), and library (lots bigger than elementary school). Find the lockers and explain that a locker now gives them their own space to store their books and backpack and that they can hang photos and personal items inside. Buy your child a combination lock before school starts so that he can practice with it at home.
Also discuss some of the other things that will be different about middle school. Recess may be gone, but now there might be study hall or a free period during their day. They might now be required to wear a special uniform for gym class. They will need to make sure that they have the correct books for each class with them before they go.
Before school starts, find out what extracurricular activities are available at your school and discuss them with your child. The opportunity now exists to get involved in sports, clubs, drama, and yearbook, to name a few. The more your child is involved, the easier the transition can be. The same goes for parents. Find opportunities to volunteer your time or help out with school events. Volunteering at your child’s school is a great way to be “in” on what is going on.
Parents must also understand that as their child transitions to a new school environment, they are also transitioning into adolescence and craving more independence and testing boundaries. Many resources are available at the school, local public libraries, or the internet to help understand what physical and emotional changes your child is going through at this time in their lives. Talk to other parents of middle schoolers to see what their experience has been like. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open with your child. Maintain a strong family connection and support them as much as possible. Remember that the transition process won’t happen overnight. The more organized and knowledgeable you are, the better you can help your “small fish” navigate the waters of the pond.