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10 tips to help students transition to middle school

Is your child entering middle school this year? We know this can be an exciting yet stressful time. These feelings are intensified if this is your first time as a middle school parent. One important thing to know is you are probably more nervous than your child.
Unfortunately, there are many misperceptions about middle school. We have all heard the story of someone getting stuffed in a locker or having to eat lunch on the floor because nobody will let you sit at their table, but in all of our combined years in middle school we have yet to see either of these happen. A good piece of advice is if you see a show or commercial that portrays middle school you can probably safely assume that is not how it works in the real world.
We have compiled a list of tips that will help you and your child master the transition to middle school.
1. Stay connected with the school.
For some reason we tend to pull away from school involvement when our kids enter middle school. Our kids tell us not to come near the school, but in reality they need us more than ever. Middle schools are usually larger than elementary schools, and we still need your help. You are always welcome to volunteer and be involved. Call your child’s specific school for details and procedures for getting involved.
2. Keep reading.
It is easy to push aside daily reading as your child gets older. There is so much research that clearly demonstrates the importance of daily reading. It is critical that your child reads at least 30 minutes each day. Make reading part of your family routine. While you might not read to your child anymore you can certainly read together and discuss what you read.
3. Time management and studying
It is important to set and keep daily homework and studying routines. As your child gets older they tend to get more and more involved with evening events. Setting aside time for studying is crucial. Even if your child does not have assigned homework, they should spend time reading and reviewing nightly. People remember more when they consistently review information.
4. Help foster a growth mindset.
What exactly is a growth mindset? Carol Dweck has done a lot of real-world research that shows the benefits of a growth mindset. A growth mindset simply means one believes they can get better and better with practice and their intelligence can grow with hard work. Children should be praised for their hard work, effort, perseverance and “grit.” We want our children to value hard work and dedication. Developing traits such as these are critical to success in school, their career and in life.
5. Stay in your child’s “business.”
As your child enters middle school, they may find themselves associating with new kids. We encourage you to stay in tune with their friends, especially their new friends. Middle school aged kids are very impressionable and we have found this to be an especially crucial time to stay in touch with their “friend network.”
6. Know what your child does online.
We know how powerful the internet is for our kids. They now have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Unfortunately, there are also potential pitfalls.
We encourage you to know what your child is doing online. They might not realize it but they are leaving a digital footprint. Once something is posted online it is nearly (or totally) impossible to delete it. Common sense media is a great website that contains a wealth of information on keeping kids safe online. You can visit it at www.commonsense.org
7. Ask your child about school daily.
Talk to your child about school every day. We know they will often answer you with a big “nothing” when you ask. We can assure you this is not accurate.
We would suggest you try asking questions such as, “What is one thing you learned today?” “What did you not understand today?” “What really made you think today?” We know it is hard to get the information, but keep asking. It is critical that your child sees you as interested and concerned about their education.
8. Bullying
We tell all of our students to tell an adult if they are being bullied. It is critical they feel comfortable enough to do this. Encourage your child to talk to an adult at the school. If they feel like their concerns are not being addressed have them tell someone else. As a parent, you can call the school when you become aware of a potential issue.
Schools, students and families must work together on this issue. No child deserves to be bullied and we want to help you if this does occur.
9. Encourage your child to become involved.
Encourage your child to become involved in something at the school. All schools have sports teams, clubs and other groups to join. A child tends to do better in school when they are involved in activities outside of the school day. If your child has a special interest and a club does not exist to match that interest, encourage them to ask their guidance counselor or principal about starting that club. We are always open to new ideas.
10. A village mentality
It really does take a village. We have a favorite saying: “Schools cannot do it alone, families cannot do it alone and communities cannot do it alone.” If we truly want exceptional public schools we must work together as a team. We all want the same thing: a world-class education for each child in a safe and engaging environment. This is a lofty goal but one that can surely be attained. We are excited to team up with you in pursuit of this goal.
Students who are in middle school are in a truly fascinating stage of their life. It is filled with challenges, extremes, successes, failures and everything in between.
Remember to simply stop and savor the moment every now and then. Your child will quickly move through this stage and be on their way to high school. Your child will grow emotionally, intellectually and physically as they move through middle school. It is truly amazing to watch students from the first day of their sixth grade year until we send them off to high school.
Despite the sometimes negative public perceptions of middle school aged kids, they are amazing people — they are passionate about many topics, and are typically very concerned with fairness and justice. We encourage you to enjoy these middle school years.

Dixon and Waiksnis are co-principals of Knox Middle School.

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