By Sandy Silverthorne, Crosswalk.com
Whew what a year it’s been. And with COVID restrictions slowly being lifted and kids returning to school, things are a little…different, to say the least.
Your child may have been “distance learning” for the past twelve months or they might have been attending live, in-person classes all along. No matter what their year has been like there’s one transition that can be a challenge for almost every child, even if they don’t show it: The transition to Middle School.
Some kids sail into Middle School like it’s a breeze while others are unsure or even anxious about the transition. And still others are nervous, but they look like it’s a breeze for them. And as schools begin to open up and things (hopefully) get back to “normal” your kids might have a lot of questions about this brave new world called Middle School. Questions like:
Will I know my way around? What if no one will talk to me? How do I make friends? I’ll really be in different classes all day long? The place seems so big, what if I get lost? Are the eighth graders really that big?
So, with all this going on in their heads, how can you help your child make the transition into this next stage of their life?
In my new book Important Things Every Kid Should Know to Survive Middle School, I try to answer these and many other questions that Middle School kids might be asking. But what about you? What are some ways you can help?
Here are eight things you can do right now to help take some of the mystery out of Middle School for your child.
1. Spy Out the Land
Before the school year begins, go over with your child, and visit their new school. Take a look around or even take a tour if possible.
See if you can arrange to meet with a teacher or staff member. Find out how the school deals with 6th graders. Are they kept separate from the older students or is everyone altogether? Have them explain to your child some of the differences between Middle and Elementary school. Encourage your kid to come prepared with a list of questions they’d like to ask.
(If COVID-19 protocols prohibit in-person appointments, arrange a phone or Facetime meeting with a teacher or staff member)
2. Map Making 101
During your visit to the school, have your child either take photos or make sketches of the campus. Then after your visit, have them draw a map of the school, including all the useful places they’ll need as they go through their school day.
This will help familiarize them with their new campus. Be sure to include everything--bike racks, cafeteria, library, classrooms, gym. Oh, and don’t forget the bathrooms!
3. Go Online
Almost all Middle Schools have their own website with important information for students and their parents. Go online and check out teachers, classes, extracurricular activities, and everything else you can find out about the new school.
Most school websites even list their student conduct standards, upcoming special events and even their cafeteria menus (So your child will know which days to bring their own lunch!).
4. Peer to Peer
Try to recruit an older kid- either a sibling, neighbor, or a friend from your church to share some of the ins and outs they’ve learned during their Middle School years.
Somehow kids are more receptive to advice given from other kids than they might be receiving it from us (even though they’re often saying the same things!)
5. Lights! Camera! Middle School!
While it’s still summer, encourage your child to write, shoot and edit a video about their new school. If possible, use the school as a location.
The video could be in the form of a news broadcast, featuring school activities coming up, or a comedy about a sixth-grader who gets lost on his first day of school, or even a monster movie about the man-eating tuna casserole from the cafeteria.
Encourage them to use some other middle school friends to make it happen. Once it’s finished and ready to show, host a premiere party complete with red carpet, refreshments, and awards.
6. Where Do You Fit?
Middle School offers a lot more opportunities for kids to explore their interests than they were given in Elementary School. Activities like sports teams, music, art and computer science are available at most Middle Schools today. Plus, a lot of schools are offering classes or clubs in robotics, filmmaking, graphic design and even pop music.
Make a date with your child to figure out extracurricular activities they would enjoy. Would they excel on a team? Do they enjoy music or singing? How about advanced classes in math or science?
Try this--do some research online or in-person to find opportunities that your child’s school might offer. Then plan a breakfast or ice cream date to discuss their options. Nobody knows your child as well as you do.
What are some God-given talents and interests that you’ve observed in their lives? Music, sports, art, academics? If they have an interest that’s not currently available at the school, encourage them to grab some friends, find a willing teacher sponsor and start their own club. Who knows? They may create the only Middle School Alfred Hitchcock Film Society in America.
(And encourage them to try something new if that fits for your child. It might stretch them a little, but they may end up falling in love with a new activity they never would have tried before. After all, Heisman quarterback Tim Tebow joined a minor league baseball team awhile back and had a blast!)
7. Set Some Goals
One great way to help your child feel more confident and a little more in control of their situation is to sit down with them and help them create some goals for the year. You can help with some ideas but really let these be their goals.
It might be to meet one new person a week. Achieve a B average in all their classes. They might decide to try out for a team, play or musical group. Or join an afterschool club. Learn how to play the guitar. Enter a science fair. Read through the New Testament.
Often as we succeed and meet some short-term goals, we experience the payoff of long-term confidence.
8. Most of All…
Finally, and most important--remind your child of God’s promise from Joshua 1:5, I will never leave you or forsake (abandon) you.
Let them know that God’s going to be right there with them every day. On the bus. In their classroom, even in the cafeteria. Teach them that change is hard for everybody but that challenges are good for us because they help us grow and give us new opportunities to trust God.
Pray! “Of course,” you say, “I’ve been praying for my child since before they were born!” But as they transition into Middle School try praying outside the box- pray for their friends and their friends’ families.
Pray for teachers and administrators. Pray for the teams and arts or music groups your child might be a part of. Ask God to help your child make good decisions during this important time in their life. You’ll be amazed at how God will begin to answer your prayers as you continue to lift up needs before Him.
And most of all, relax. You and your child will get through this. They’re beginning to grow up and experience new independence and that’s a good thing. Just make sure the communication is open between you two and this will end up being a great, growing time… for both of you.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/jacoblund
Sandy Silverthorne is an author and speaker who has worked with young people for over twenty-five years. His new book Important Things Every Kid Should Know to Survive Middle School includes helpful tips, kid friendly humor, cartoon illustrations and devotional material to help kids navigate the wild new world of Middle School. To learn more, check out his website, sandysilverthornebooks.com.