By Kelly Youngblood
If the idea of sending your child to middle school sends a shiver up your spine, know that you are not alone. It seems the transition from elementary to middle school is a pretty big deal to students as well as parents. Research on the issue even confirms it.
Middle school is usually bigger and full of unfamiliar faces. It’s also full of little changes that can feel like major changes to inexperienced students – lockers, bells ringing, more teachers, more homework. Add to that the socialization of young adolescents and you can see why middle school can lead to stressed out students and panicked parents.
The good news is most students adapt pretty quickly to the new environment. Urbana Middle School Principal Scott Woods says usually within the first week, the majority of sixth grade students feel pretty comfortable with the new routines.
However, if you’re still feeling anxious, here are some tips from parents as well as professionals in the field to help better equip you to deal with the transition and get the milestone year off to a positive start.
Visit the school
Most districts will hold open houses for parents and students to become familiar with the building and classrooms. If you can’t make it on those dates, make an appointment to come and tour the building.
Mahomet-Seymour Junior High Social Worker Jill Kyle recommends walking to each classroom on your child’s schedule. Knowing where to go on that first day of school will help alleviate some of the stress for your student.
According to Terri Medwed, a 6th grade guidance counselor at Urbana Middle School, “(The students) have to have a feeling (the school) is a warm, supportive environment and know adults are there that will help show them the right track.”
(Urbana Middle School is holding its Open House for incoming sixth graders on April 21 from 6:30-8 p.m. https://www.chambanamoms.com/events/family-curriculum-night/)
Check in with your kids daily
Woods also recommends talking with your kids each day to make sure things are going well. Opening up a dialog with your child is an important way to show your support and encourages your child to communicate when they have a problem.
Kyle says to try to focus on the positives with your student, like asking him/her what the best part of their day was. If there are any concerns after a few days, feel free to contact the particular teacher or the office staff.
Get involved and pay attention
Many parents might think they aren’t “needed” as much during the middle school years, but parent involvement is very much encouraged at this stage.
According to Medwed, “We really like to get parents to develop a partnership (with the school).”
Parents should try not to worry too much about embarrassing their kids by being present at school functions or that their presence is somehow preventing their child from learning independence.
“Parents can be very involved and still have independent kids,” said Woods.
Attend PTA meetings, go to band concerts, don’t miss out on sporting events- you are not interfering with your child’s social life.
Amy Lamb, whose child entered middle school this year, feels students will adjust much easier if the parent(s) are engaged in what they and the school are doing.
“I have a sixth grader at Jefferson and one going in next year. SO happy I paid attention!” Lamb said.
While anxiety about the transition to middle school is normal, parents need to trust that teachers and staff know what they’re doing and want what’s best for their child. Woods says they are very aware of the challenges and stress that students face.
“We try to be very deliberate with the transition with our kids. We are anticipating we’ve got to do (certain) things to mare sure our kids will do well,” he said.
Kyle added, “Be assured that all parents and students are somewhat anxious/nervous/scared about the transition to the junior high. However, invariably, most parents and students tell us afterwards that it went more smoothly than they anticipated, and that their students actually like the junior high.”
More transition tips
If you’re child is nervous about opening lockers with a combination, buy a lock with a combination and let them practice at home.
Buy an assignment notebook or daily planner (or use one the school provides) to help your child stay organized and on top of homework.
Many schools have online programs like Skyward that allow parents to log in and check their student’s grades and attendance. Make it a point to routinely check their progress.
Use color-coded folders and notebooks so every class has a different color. It will help your child stay organized and more efficient between each class period.
A lot of teachers also have a homework blog so parents can be aware of what their child is working on and when it is due. Set up an email list and check in with teachers every week or so if your child seems to be struggling.
Get on the school website and read the daily announcements.
Kyle also encourage students to find clubs/sports/activities to get involved in – it makes school a lot more fun and makes connections with other students that have similar interests.
Remember, middle school is a time when your child needs and wants increased independence. That might be difficult for some of us moms who want our children to stay little forever; but, we know in the long run it’s healthy and (ultimately, best) to gradually give them more responsibility and ownership.
While you don’t have to prepare yourself for the empty nest quite yet, know that your child will likely undergo some pretty big changes during his middle school years.