Going from grade school to middle school is a big transition. In fact, it’s probably going to be the biggest transition your child will make since he began kindergarten. Adjusting can be hard for any tween. But it can be especially difficult for a child who is already facing social, organizational and learning challenges.
Here’s what you need to know about what’s ahead for your child and what you can be doing to prepare him for this important transition.
A Bigger School and Different Classrooms
To a child who is used to a small elementary school, a bustling middle school building can be scary. Your child will be expected to move from class to class on his own. He’ll also need to get materials from his locker and still be on time for each class. If your child has issues with organization or other executive functioning issues, these basic logistics can overwhelm him. And that’s before he even faces the academic challenges that await him in the classroom.
With some advance practice and preparation, you can do a lot to help make the transition easier for him. Once your child knows his schedule, request a basic floor plan from his school. Sit down with your child and mark where his classrooms and locker will be. Then do a few “run-throughs” at the school before classes start. This will allow him to see how far apart the rooms are and how quickly he’ll need to move if he has to go to his locker between classes.
Buy his combination lock and bring it with you so he can practice opening and closing it. Have him continue practicing with his lock at home. Discuss with him what to do if he forgets the combination—or where his locker is.
Explore more tips for creating a smooth transition to middle school.
Greater Academic Expectations
In middle school, your child will probably have different teachers for each subject. He will be expected to take charge of his assignments with less guidance than he did in elementary school. He may worry that he won’t be able to keep up with the workload or that his teacher will be “tough” or “mean.” (Or he may decide that after attending just one class.)
Both you and he may find it harder to have the one-on-one relationships with teachers that you might have enjoyed during grade school. As a result, it may be harder to communicate what your child’s learning needs are. It’s important to try to anticipate problems and address them quickly before your child falls too far behind or he starts feeling discouraged.
If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), you’ll want to meet with the case manager in the spring before middle school starts. That way you can review your child’s evaluations, report cards and teachers’ comments. The school can match him with teachers who are best suited for him.
Meet with your child’s teachers either before school begins or during the first month of classes to explain where your child needs support. It’s a good idea for your child to come along to one of those meetings so that his teachers can get to know him on a more personal level.
Social Pressures of Middle School
Social life is notoriously challenging in middle school. Students go from being the oldest kids in grade school to being the youngest kids in a bustling new building. Kids may worry that it’ll be hard to make friends. They may think that their physical appearance somehow doesn’t measure up.
Overwhelmed with insecurities, many adolescents will do just about anything to fit in. That may mean joining cliques, experimenting with alcohol, drugs or even bullying and risky sexual behavior. If your child already struggles to make friends due to his learning and attention issues, middle school socializing can seem even scarier. Take a look at tips for reducing risky behavior.
Not all change is bad, however. Being in a larger school with many new faces may give your child an opportunity to make new friends. There may be more ways for him to “belong” that his smaller grade school didn’t offer.
Encourage your child to join clubs and extracurricular activities. They’re often more numerous in middle school and provide a ready-made peer group. Finding one or two friends he can eat lunch with can make the transition easier.
Over the summer, practice role-playing skills such as how to join a conversation or introduce himself to new people. In some cases, social skills classes may also be helpful.
Getting Used to Middle School
It can take some time for kids to get used to middle school. Tell your child it’s normal to feel nervous when he starts school. If your child is still struggling to adjust after the first two to three months, you may want to schedule a meeting with his school counselor.
Going to middle school is a big step. Be encouraging and supportive of your child, including his academic concerns, and meet with his teachers if necessary. Together, you can help him adjust to the learning challenges of this important next step in his education.