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Moving Up to Middle School

Brought to you by National PTA

Are They Kids or Teens?
Do you remember what is was like to leave your elementary school behind? Some kids are psyched; some are scared. By being aware of the changes at school and the changes within your child, you can help make this transition to his new school go smoothly.

You may have noticed that as your kids reach adolescence, they seem more like adults every day. Don't be fooled! "Your child probably needs you more now than at any other time," says Jan Stocklinski of the Yale Child Study Center. "Many parents see their child's thrust for independence and back away," Stocklinski says. This decrease in parent involvement is a mistake. The move to middle school is an opportunity for your child to grow. While you want to help your child prepare for this challenge, you also want to push him to be able to negotiate things for themselves. The involvement needed from middle-school parents is different than before. It involves supporting your child's sense of independence.

Changes at School
The structure and environment of a middle school demands a higher level of independence than elementary school. Your child is going from a protected environment to one where he must be more self-reliant. This change can be scary for you both.

Middle-school students stay together for most of the day and move from class to class for different subjects with different teachers. If your child is attending junior high, he'll move from class to class by himself rather than in a group. In both cases, students must remember their schedules and organize their belongings with minimal help from others.

"The expectations increase in middle school," says Sheila Jackson, director of the Comer School Development Program and Special Programs for the Prince Georges County, Maryland, School District. "Kids are expected to manage six or seven classes; they're expected to manage the homework load." Often, they must deal with a significant change in the size of the school, too.

Your child may worry about being able to open his combination lock, grab his books, and still make it to class on time. Judy Bippert, a professor of education at San Diego State University says this is a typical concern. Kids worry that they're not ready for the added responsibilities that this year brings.

Get to Know the Teachers
Your child is going through changes, and so will you. Your relationship with your child's school also changes at this time. In elementary school, your child probably spent most of the day in one classroom with one teacher. The teachers have 20-30 students on average who they get to know fairly well. In middle school, while there may be a "homeroom teacher," students see 4 or 5 teachers a day -- and each teacher may see more than 100 students each day.

To keep track of what's going on at school, get to know the administration and teachers. Take an active part in getting to know the teachers who are in daily contact with your child, and stay in touch. Get a copy of the school calendar, class outlines, and advance homework schedules, if possible, and make certain you're getting your child's report cards.

Pester Her!
What's the best way to stay in touch with your kids during this time? Communication is the key to a great transition. "Keep the communication flow open," Sheila Jackson says. "Over dinner or breakfast, ask questions like 'What did you do that was interesting today?'" Encourage your child to describe what she did at school and with her friends. A good technique is to ask open-ended questions, which require more in-depth answers than "yes," "no," or the ever-popular "nothing."

Remember that as grown up as your child may seem, she still needs your support. Take your cue from her, but keep in mind that her pushing you away is a normal part of adolescence. What she really wants -- and needs -- is for you to stay involved.

Excerpted from "Moving to the Middle," published in National PTA's Our Children magazine.

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