Middle school may be referred to as the awkward or “lost years” for the majority of people. I not-so-fondly remember my own middle school years as confusing, intimidating, and all-around stressful. Good, bad, or ugly, these mystifying years are truly transformative for young people, which could be why I’ve ended up working in the middle school classroom as an adult. In addition to the physiological and hormonal changes going on for this age group, middle school itself is a transition socially, academically, and emotionally.
Middle school, for most students, means leaving the elementary school nest and entering an entirely new school day model. Not only are the peers new, but the entire concept of the school day is much different from elementary school—lockers, subject-area teachers, different classrooms for each content, an increase in homework—all of these things make for an exciting and anxious transition. Since the start of a new school year can bring stress in addition to the excitement, middle school parents can put a few practices into place towards the end of the summer to allay the nerves and ensure a smooth start.
- During the final two weeks of summer, parents should begin to set up a more consistent sleep schedule for their middle schoolers. This schedule should fall closely in line with the school year sleep and wake time. Some families may wait to readjust the sleep schedule until the week before; however, that may not be enough time for children to fully adapt to the new sleep/wake time.
- In addition to getting an adequate amount of sleep, middle schoolers need to have restful, uninterrupted sleep. A tough, but very effective way to ensure that your preteen is getting quality sleep is to remove the standard distractions. Your child may be vehemently opposed to this at first, but consider making phones and other screens off limits during sleep time. This is a great way to ensure that late night scrolling, texting, or gaming does not interfere with the rest that is essential for middle schoolers.
- The agenda book is a little-known life saver when it comes to tracking assignments, due dates, and other obligations. Many schools issue agendas free of charge, but if not, definitely purchase a weekly planner for your child. Nowadays, there are online homework forums like Edline, Google classroom, and Blackboard; however, the agenda book is the surefire way to ensure that homework is accounted for and completed. Teachers are not always capable of posting or attaching digital documents or reminders for homework on a daily basis. For this reason, the agenda is your best option. This practice also promotes self-advocacy and responsibility; students that write down each assignment are engaged and aware of the tasks. The agenda also helps middle schoolers to begin prioritizing based on how their week at school is looking. Talk with your child about the importance of writing down ALL assignments with details about deadlines and any other vital information. It may also help to arrange a homework buddy system with peers in the neighborhood—stress from forgotten assignments or absences can be alleviated by a simple text or visit from a homework buddy.
- Discuss the importance of eating a healthy breakfast and a substantial lunch during the school day. Because of growth spurts, hormonal changes, busy schedules, etc., preteens and teens need to maintain nutritious eating habits to keep up with their bodies’ needs. Hunger can increase fatigue and irritability while decreasing motivation and concentration—not ideal for student success. Plan easy, nutritious snacks that your middle schooler can store in his locker for between classes. A water bottle can also come in handy to keep children hydrated throughout the long school day.
- Since most schools are handling lunch funds through online accounts, it doesn’t hurt to plan to put a little money in your middle schooler’s cafeteria account as a backup plan, even if she is a preferred packer. We all know that the mornings can be hectic—kids oversleep, someone is sick, lunches get left in the car/bus/refrigerator—you get the picture. A little back-up lunch money can ease the stress of forgetting to pack lunch for both you and your child. Visit your school’s website to find more information for loading and account or prepaying for the beginning of the school year.
- Encourage small literacy practices in the evening hours to get a jumpstart on the larger reading assignments that your middle schooler will have. Begin with 30 minutes of silent reading or journaling and build from there. The intent is to acclimate your middle schooler to the idea of downtime so that they aren’t jarred from the three months of summer freedom. Even a small amount of time can prepare students for the structure of nightly homework. Help encourage this practice by doing your own silent reading or journaling while your child is reading. Unless typing or research is involved, limit your middle schooler’s use of technology or screen time to promote good study habits.