You’ve reviewed the walking route to school. You’ve worked with her on opening and closing her snack containers. You’ve carefully curated her first day of school outfit.
While this was the kind of legwork you put in as a parent before your child headed into kindergarten, what are you doing now that they’re off to middle school? Like that first year of school, junior high school can bring a new environment and sometimes a completely new school and it’s helpful to prep both parent and pupil. Here are six ways to get your child ready for this new chapter in their academic career.
Practise working a lock
At least a few times at home so they’re not fumbling with it the first day while they’re figuring out where their new class is, who their teacher is and if they’re friends are with them. “So ensure your child knows how to use the combination lock,” says David deBelle, principal at Toronto’s Lawrence Heights Middle School. David also advises investing in a good solid lock. “The ones at the dollar store don’t actually work. Sometimes one pull on them and they open.” David also suggests that if remembering the three-number combination is too much for your child, opt for the kind that opens on one number only.
Visit the school
“Transition visits can be arranged and are helpful,” says David. “And those visits could include parents. So around June, kids should get a chance to be familiar with the school, maybe tour it and see the facilities and even meet the administration.”
Work on their responsibility
“In middle school, they take on more responsibility because they no longer have only one teacher for every subject telling them ‘Don’t forget to do this and that,’” says Zenta Caya, a Grade 7 and 9 teacher with Halifax’s Oyster Pond Academy. “The onus will be on the student to make sure they’re keeping up to date with all of their assignments, checking in with their teachers when they’re not there and more.” In preparation at home, try assigning your child with more responsibilities such as feeding the family pet and emptying the dishwasher for example, so they know what it feels like to take on more of a workload.
Boost their time-management skills
“In elementary school, they had one teacher who already knew for example that they had a social studies assignment so they wouldn’t pile on the homework that week,” Zenta says. In middle school, however, different teachers from different classes assign work regardless of what other teachers have assigned and it’s up to your child to manage their time. So prior to middle school, work their time-management skills by giving them a list of weekly tasks and help them figure out ways to manage executing them.
Get them to handle money
Whether it’s buying lunch at the cafeteria or stopping off on the corner store on the way home, money management is key in middle school. “Give them the opportunity to manage money,” suggests David. “You could even try with school supplies by giving them a budget, seeing what they need and helping them organize and purchase items.”
Until now, your child may have been a hunt-and-pecker when it comes to typing in their work. But in middle school, more of their work is likely to be computer-based. “There are lots of simple online keyboarding type programs that kids spend a little bit of time on. They develop a home row sense with their fingers and do the data entry – that’s not a barrier to writing,” says David. “And it only takes 10 to 12 hours of dedicated practise and they can start to do touch typing and not have to look.”
*Name changed to protect privacy
We asked: if you could go back in time and offer your middleschool self some advice, what would it be?
Choose better friends. Mine would choose someone to exclude from the “group” on any given day and more often than not, that person was me. The lot of them would ignore me for days or would say mean things to me. I ended up switching schools because it got so bad.
Boys will comment on your boobs! Especially if you’re one of the first to develop them. Pay no attention to them.
Be kind to everyone. One day you will feel terrible for making fun of someone. That someone is someone’s baby, and one day it could be your baby that’s being made fun of.
Truly apply yourself because one day you could look back and regret not trying harder!
Play more, skip class every now and then, have fun – but keep it balanced. You have the rest of your life to bury your nose in books. Also, don’t participate in or listen to gossip. As you get older, you’ll realize that what other people think means nothing. Be a person you would want to be friends with.
Don’t try so hard to be like everyone else, popular, cool, etc. Just be yourself.
Focus on nutrition. Man, I wish I had learned better habits at a younger age. Also, don’t get that haircut.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Fall 2017.