Navigating the Tumultuous Waters of Middle School

Most students in their late elementary or early middle school years experience the challenges of transitioning from self-contained classrooms to departmentalized ones, using their lockers effectively, and managing competing demands. These demands include things such as extra curricular activities, homework or student council involvement. Some fifth grade students applying to private secondary schools have the added pressure of studying for standardized admission tests.

If that’s not enough, all of these demands come at a time when the child is undergoing a number of significant developmental changes as they grow into their teenage years. In light of this, it is easy to see why your child may become overwhelmed and anxious.

Maintaining some semblance of balance during these tumultuous times requires discipline, routine, organization, understanding teacher differences, and some sacrifice.

Material Girls and Boys

How many times has your child come home with their assignments written down but not the materials they need to complete them? Departmentalized classes up the ante by asking students to be responsible for multiple assignments which all come with a different set of materials. Students need to know what is expected of them and what they will need to bring home, in not just one but each of their classes. To ensure that students remember the necessary materials as well as assignments, I suggest they create two columns in their student agenda for “assignments” and “materials.” With a bit of discipline and routine, this system will help by getting students to see that their responsibility is two fold.

For Example:

Assignments Materials

Math Pg. 512 Math Workbook

Journal Exercise #3 Math Journal

Complete project Project rubric and class notes

Don’t Let Your Child’s Backpack Morph into Their Locker

Does your child come home with a backpack that weighs a ton and holds all of their books? Students are often so fearful of not having what they need that their backpacks morph into their lockers. This is a foolproof insurance policy that many students have adopted to ensure they will have what they need when they get home. The problem is they are literally being weighed down by all of this unnecessary “stuff.” Instead of lugging around every book they own, I strongly urge students to following these 3 simple steps at the end of each day:

  1. Wheel your overstuffed backpack to your desk and take out all of its contents and stack them in a pile (or two piles) on your desk.

  2. Take your agenda out and cross-reference the section that says “materials” with the books on your desk.

  3. Anything you don’t have, get immediately, and anything you don’t need, store in your locker immediately.

This process doesn’t take more than 5-10 minutes a day and guarantees that students are only taking home what they need.

Not All Teachers Are Created Equally

At most private elementary schools in Miami, fifth grade students are immersed in “the middle school model” in which they go from the comfort and familiarity of one homeroom teacher to 4 or 5 teachers. Naturally, this transition can bring about some uneasiness as children now have multiple styles and expectations to learn. Understanding early that each teacher is unique and different will help when it comes to being successful in each class. Taking the time to learn each teachers preferences and noting the differences among them will pay off. Just because it’s okay to use your computer to write an essay for teacher A does not mean it’s okay to do so for teacher B. Similarly, while teacher A may give a lot of leeway for creativity, teacher B may be more rigid and ask that you stick to certain guidelines. Don’t generalize or make assumptions based on what any one teacher does, rather be open to the idea that different teachers will prioritize differently.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

While it’s totally understandable that your child doesn’t want to give up any of their extra curricular activities, it is our job as parents to assess whether their schedules allow for academic success and balance. What does this mean exactly? This means that children have ample down time built into their day as well as enough time carved out to complete homework, sit down for a family dinner and bathe. Down time is a highly underrated necessity, and I strongly encourage you to take a hard look at your child’s schedule and ask yourself if they are over scheduled. If your answer is yes then do your child a favor and take something off their plate.

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