By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.
For those of us on summer break, the end of July signals that our days of summertime frolicking are quickly coming to an end and the time to prepare for another school year is upon us. For students like my fifth graders, the end of summer also means transitioning to a new building, meeting new administrators and teachers, maneuvering a new schedule, and mastering new routines. Along with the excitement, enthusiasm, and eagerness for all of that newness, it is normal for kids to experience some anxious, nervous, or scared feelings.
Being prepared can help tame some of these jitters. Since I’m a newbie at helping families make the move to middle school, I collaborated with my friend Dr. Susan Fuller, a veteran school counselor, to create this list of helpful hints for a smooth, seamless transition.
- Get school supplies ready. Perhaps you’ve already preordered a school supply pack that will be waiting for your child when he arrives at his new school. If you have, great! If you haven’t, research what supplies students will need so that your child can start school armed and equipped to learn on day one. Keep in mind that some teachers will request specific items. Band, for example, might require a one-inch, three-ring black binder with plastic sleeves for music. Knowing that you may be headed back to the store during the first week of school for a few more items may keep that extra shopping spree from feeling stressful.
- Invest in a good planner. One essential item for all students as they transition to middle school is a student planner. Encourage your child to get in the habit of writing down and keeping track of the deadlines for both short-term and long-term assignments and projects in her planner. Since many 21st century students have access to a digital calendar, your child might use an electronic planner if she prefers to. Program the planner to send her reminders when things are coming due and take advantage of syncing it with teacher websites, syllabi, and class calendars if available. (Bonus! Download 9 Great Reasons to Use a Student Planner, a free printable list from Get Organized Without Losing It. Use this list to remind your child why it’s important to use a planner regularly.)
- Complete required summer reading. Many schools send home a list of books for students to read over the summer. Encourage your child to set aside some reading time every day from now until the start of school to complete that assignment. Remind him to highlight the parts in books that stick out to him, resonate with him, or puzzle him so that he’s ready to hit the ground running in his language arts class. There’s nothing worse than being behind before even starting, so help your child set a goal for how many pages he’ll need to read each day between now and the first day of school. If he’d rather not read alone, invite him to read the assignments aloud to you.
- Practice with a combination lock. For many middle school students, this will be their first time using a locker. It’s super fun until that locker gets jammed or the student can’t remember the numbers to that combination lock. Going to school prepared to rock the lock will help your child feel less frazzled when one or both of these issues strike. To borrow advice from the College Board: Practice makes perfect, so perfect your practice.
- Attend orientation. Because there will be a lot of changes, including a schedule with six or seven different classrooms, many schools will host an orientation. Make sure to attend so your child can become familiar with the new campus. If the school doesn’t have an orientation scheduled, call to ask for a tour of the building. Download a map ahead of time and highlight the areas students frequent, like the cafeteria, library, gymnasium, entrances and exits, and restrooms.
- Network. The burning questions your child might have (Do we have a strict dress code? What are the consequences for late work? Do we get to sit by our friends at lunch?) can often be addressed best by the experts—students who have attended that school in the recent past or who are currently enrolled. Keeping in mind that she is the author of her own story and will be responsible for scripting her own experience at school, find a few neighbors or friends that you trust so your child can interview them about campus life and her new school family. Have her write down questions that weren’t answered so she can ask school personnel. For caregivers who want to network, joining the parent-teacher organization can be a great way to connect and get involved.
- Check out extracurricular activities. A huge change for your child will be the myriad of extracurricular clubs available in middle school. Is he interested in robotics? Chess club? Scrabble club? Video game club? His new school may offer all of these. While it may be exciting to think about filling up the week with these different enrichment opportunities, it’s also important to make sure your child does a thorough job of discerning how much time he will need for his studies so he doesn’t over-schedule himself. Dream big, but start small.
- Sign up for online access. While middle school is a good time to loosen the reins a little if you haven’t already, your child is still not ready to go it alone. Stay in touch with what’s going on by signing up for online access to her schedule, attendance, grades, and academic plan if they’re available. Checking in periodically with your child’s student records may be the safety net and accountability check she needs to help her stay on track.
- Keep lines of communication open. When students go through this developmental stage, they often start to internalize what they’re going through. This might mean your child won’t initiate talks about his experiences aloud with you, so use your time in the car or around the dinner table to intentionally open up a dialogue with your tween. Ask him to share fun facts about his teachers. Inquire about what he’s learning in his classes, what part of the day fits him well, and what he doesn’t necessarily like. Find out the names of his new friends. Pay attention to any changes in his mood or disposition and offer him an emotional outlet when needed. If conversations aren’t his thing, provide a journal for writing or drawing out his emotions. Invite him for a walk, bike ride, or swim as another option for feelings expression and management.
- Empower your child. Your middle school child is at the perfect age to spread her wings and fly as she practices living the character traits and leadership skills she has been developing through her elementary school years. Move out of her way, but be there to guide, support, care for, and love her. Make sure she knows how to get an appointment with the school counselor or other trusted adults on campus. Remind her to work hard, be kind, and keep a growth mindset: There is no problem that’s too big, no conflict that she can’t resolve, and no obstacle that she can’t overcome.
Welcome to this exciting new chapter in your family’s book of life. It’s a time of transformation and growth for your child. Connect with other families in this same age and stage so that together you can enjoy watching your future soar to new heights.
Currently in her 32nd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.
We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.
Middle School Confidential™ Series