How to Help Your Student Transition from Elementary to Middle School

4 min to read
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It doesn’t seem fair, but just as kids are learning to cope with the tremendous emotional and physical upheavals of early adolescence, along comes the challenge of the transition from elementary to middle school with ramped-up expectations for both a student’s academic performance and individual responsibility. As parent and Learning Coach, you can prepare to be a support for them during what can be one of the most rapidly changing periods of a child’s life. 

8 Ways to Support Your Child Through the Elementary to Middle School Transition

Here are some tips and strategies for helping your student through the transition from elementary to middle school.

1. Prepare your student to have multiple teachers.

In middle school, your student will have a different teacher for each subject unlike one main teacher like they did in elementary school.  In addition, your child may have an advisor who will help with setting academic goals and measuring their overall performance. To help them prepare for this change:

  • Explain to your child that each teacher specializes in one subject and will each have their own teaching style and expectations for their class.
  • Make sure they understand that the rules and grading criteria may be different for each course, and it will be their responsibility to keep those in mind throughout the semester.
  • Talk to your child about managing multiple or conflicting priorities—and encourage them to turn to you or another trusted adult for advice as soon as any situations arise.

2. Encourage your student to communicate with their teachers.

During this period of middle school transition, the responsibility for communication begins to shift from teachers to students. To help support your child’s transition to becoming a more independent learner, you should encourage your middle schooler to call or send a message to the appropriate teacher whenever they have a question, need assistance, or want to share successes in learning. You may need to provide some coaching or assistance until your child is more comfortable with this new responsibility.

The following tips may help lay a good foundation for communicating with middle school teachers before your child begins their first semester:

  • Talk to teachers before or early in the school year about your child’s strengths and areas of concern.
  • Share strategies that have worked for your child in the past with their teachers.
  • Encourage students to discuss problems and solutions with teachers on their own but be ready to step in and help as needed.

3. Help students stay calm about changing academic standards.

Middle school often means the beginning of more challenging classes, with more coursework, longer-term projects, and new academic expectations. Teachers also expect students to take charge of assignments and projects with less day-to-day guidance. Not surprisingly, with so many changes, it’s possible that a student’s academic performance may drop during their first semester of middle school. If this happens, don’t panic! Avoid overreacting to grades, particularly in the early weeks. Instead, talk to your child about what could be causing them academic stress, and involve the teachers in a solution. As a Learning Coach, your most critical task is making sure your child gets a handle on how to meet these new standards.

4. Teach your student how to keep an open mind.

There’s going to be a lot of changes—big and small—that your student will face as they navigate the transition from elementary to middle school, so one of the best ways you can help them is by encouraging them to be open to change. According to the Association for Middle Level Education, a great tactic for helping your child be more comfortable and accepting of change is by sitting down with them and asking them to reflect on what has helped them through previous transitions they’ve experienced and what can be added to improve the process for them in the future. 

5. Help your child transition to independent learning.

Another important hallmark of the elementary to middle school transition is that it’s the time to teach students to work more independently while supporting them enough to give them confidence.

  • To help them learn how to prioritize, work together each morning to identify the top tasks that need to be done that day.
  • Suggest they break larger projects into small parts over several days or weeks. Encourage them to use a daily planner to keep track of due dates, appointments, sports practices, and other commitments.

6. Allow your student to take on some new privileges.

Just like adults, kids think it’s unfair when they are given more work without greater rewards. It’s a good idea to establish some small incentives for middle schoolers to perform well in their new responsibilities throughout their middle school transition. You may also want to be prepared to redefine your limits of control over their life as they start to think and act more maturely.

7. Set clear boundaries and rules.

During the middle school transition years, it’s normal for kids to begin exercising their independence and testing boundaries. It is important to be prepared for at least occasional conflicts while also giving them the chance to make their own decisions.

In the interest of maintaining a good relationship with your middle schooler, you may want to establish your priorities together before conflict arises to help you both keep a clear head when your child (inevitably) challenges you.

8. Maintain your student’s social and emotional needs.

Many articles for middle school students will mention the above elements, but a topic that isn’t often addressed is the importance of supporting your child emotionally and socially as they navigate this transition from elementary to middle school.

Even as your middle schooler tries to establish distance from parents and siblings, it’s critical to keep family time a “must.” Spend some one-on-one time just hanging out with your preteen. This time together tells children that you find them interesting and worthwhile, which will boost their self-esteem. This is also the prime time to create an open space for kids to ask parents questions.

  • During these transitional years, it’s critical to remind your children that you are on their side! Provide frequent reassurance throughout the middle school transition that it’s completely normal to have some “growing pains,” and that the emotional, social, and academic changes will feel more comfortable in time. Above all, new middle schoolers need to be reminded often that you love them—and believe in them—no matter what.

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