The first day of middle school. I remember it like it was yesterday – the first time with lockers, changing classes, gyms with locker rooms, all while your body is changing the most it has since birth. It can be scary and anxiety inducing for preteens facing new expectations and the unknowns of a new school. And just as scary for parents navigating and managing their preteen’s emotions, hormones and all the new found freedoms that come with middle school.
10 Things All Parents Should Know for the First Day of Middle School
This year, my niece is starting middle school for the first time. My mother-in-law, a retired middle school teacher with 24 years of teaching experience (14 in middle school), is an awesome resource for her. She has been coaching her through what to expect, while also providing practical advice for both her and her parents leading up to her first day! So I asked her to share her best tips for the first day of middle school with all of you too!
1. Organization is Key to Middle School Success
Organization is the key to success in middle school. Kids will be moving from classroom to classroom and will need to keep track of their belongings. Anything parents can do to help them get organized will be helpful.
In the last days of summer, help them to organize their rooms, closets and drawers. Purge items that no longer fit or have not been used in ages. Create a space for school supplies and other school related material. A backpack with plenty of storage pockets is a necessity.
2. The Right Supplies, The Right Start
Make sure your child has the items on the teacher’s required supplies list, if you have received one. If the list calls for colored folders with fasteners, don’t buy a three ring binder. If you are buying new pencils, make sure they are sharpened. You can’t go to class with your child, but you can send him or her off for the first day of middle school with the equipment needed to do the job!
3. Get in Back to School Routine
Prepare for the first day of middle school by establishing a routine for school days. Get your child to go to bed at a reasonable hour. The middle school generally starts class earlier than elementary school, and that means getting up and out earlier. Packing the school bag and picking out school clothes the night before will make the process easier. If you can establish a routine and avoid surprises in the morning, the day will go better.
4. Trust Your Child’s Teachers
Teachers have years of experience with preteen students, and they will do everything possible to ensure your child’s success. Most middle schools are organized into teams, where several teachers focus on one group of children. They meet with each other and communicate amongst themselves regarding student issues.
Your child will be dealing with several different personalities and classroom requirements. This may take some getting used to, but most middle schoolers enjoy the interactions with different instructors.
5. Homework is Your Child’s Job
Homework is part of your middle school child’s job. You should not be spending your evenings doing it with him. The middle school years are the time for parents to take a step back. Your child needs to develop responsibility, and getting homework done and in on time is one way to ensure that this happens.
If he/she has difficulty completing an assignment, let their teacher know. Let your child go in with his questions and let the teacher handle it. Do help your child be organized (see #1). Remind him/her to put completed assignments into the backpack when finished, so homework is not left behind in the morning rush. Having a desk or at least a designated place to complete assignments and keep school supplies is a real necessity.
6. Long-term Projects Begin in Middle School
In middle school, your child will be assigned projects – perhaps for the first time. These long range assignments are given to engage the student’s interest, and to help him/her learn how to plan and execute a series of tasks. It can be fun to do research and learn together, so as a parent, you should feel free to get involved.
It can be really helpful to have a calendar that breaks down the project into steps and shows when each part should be done and when the completed project is due. Many teachers will send home a suggested calendar with the assignment. Pay attention to this, and remind your student to keep working on the project a little at a time.
When left to themselves, middle schoolers often postpone doing anything on an assignment that is not due for a week or two. Then they are in a panic when the due date looms and they have no time to complete the assignment. This too is an important lesson though, and better that they learn it in middle school than in high school or college.
7. Friends Make Your Middle School Experience
For probably the first time, you may not know the kids your child is meeting, because middle schools generally have students who come from several different elementary schools. The larger student body can be intimidating, but the greater number of students usually means that there will be lots of groups with many different interests, so your child can find their own niche.
After-school activities are a great way to make new friends, and choosing to participate in one or two clubs or sports will help your child feel a part of middle school life, so that should be encouraged. Kids at this age are really trying to discover who they are, and where they belong. Being part of a group with like interests can really help that process, but remind your son/daughter to treat everyone the way they would like to be treated.
Tell them to have the courage to stand up for themselves and for others who may need a little help. Bullying and teasing unfortunately does exist in middle school, and kids can feel isolated and fearful. Be alert for signs that your child might be having difficulties making friends, and talk with him/her about it. Don’t hesitate to get teachers and school counselors involved. They have been down this road before, and are there to help.
8. Make Way For and Manage Technology
Cell phones and computers are useful, and in fact, indispensable in the 21st century. Middle school seems to be the time when many kids get their own phones, and while this can be a great way for you to stay in touch with your child, cell phones can also be a gateway to many social problems.
Parents need to set rules for cell phone usage, and follow through with consequences if the rules are not followed. Make sure your child understands social media: what is and is not appropriate to post, what information should never be shared, and what Internet sites should be avoided. Also try not to let electronics take the place of conversation. Set time limits for internet usage, and put away cell phones during dinner.
9. Ask Leading Questions, Listen to Answers
Avoid asking simple yes or no questions. Instead of “How was school today?”try asking “What was the most interesting thing you learned today?” Or “What was the best (or worst, or funniest) thing that happened in class today?” Or “What book are you reading? Are you enjoying it or not?” Keep the conversation going. When your child freely opens up, encourage them to talk by just listening.
10. Keep an Eye Out for Behavioral Changes
You know your child best — you are the best judge of whether he is happy or stressed. The first year of middle school is a big change, and for many kids, hormonal changes are happening too. They are growing out of being little kids, but they still need you to monitor their feelings and activities to be sure they are safe.
Don’t hesitate to contact the teachers if you suspect any problems. They have seen it all, and are eager to help all their students have a successful year. Your kids will survive, and so will you!
Do you have a child going to their first day of middle school this week? What are they most worried about? What are you most worried about as a parent? For more posts on parenting and activities for your preteen, follow our Tweens and Teens board on Pinterest!
Karen is a retired middle school language arts and social studies teacher. She has 24 years of teaching experience, spending her last 14 years in middle school. She is also the mother of 3 grown children, and 5 grandchildren, the oldest of which starts middle school next week. Stay tuned for more posts on parenting your middle school child from Karen coming soon!
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