I’m a newbie mom to the world of middle school. My daughter is in the sixth grade and my experience with middle school is limited. To preface this post, let me say that transitioning into the middle school years is very personal for each child and family. What works for one family, or even one child in a family, may not work for another. What I share here are my initial experiences, and I believe with time and frankly more involvement on my part, the experience will be as great as I can make it.
I have to admit I’ve not been a huge fan of middle school up to this point. It’s not the school I’m disenchanted with, it’s more about leaving the comforts of elementary school and entering a world which is totally foreign to me. Lucky for me my daughter is happy and doing well both socially and academically. So what’s my problem?
I guess it boils down to change and how comfortable I am adjusting to it. I’m great at rolling with the punches, but middle school is just awkward to me. Never mind the kids and their awkward stage of life. It’s nothing like elementary school. Gone are the sweet days of walking my daughter to class, or having a nice conversation with her teacher before school, or even helping in the classroom with a school project. Nope. Middle school is very hands-off, especially when it comes to parent involvement. I understand the schools work hard to prepare our kids for high school, but I do miss the warm and fuzzy feelings from elementary school. It’s like going from a big hug in elementary school to a cold firm handshake in middle school. It’s just distant. What will high school be like? A cold shoulder? A slight nod of the head? Welcome to the world of tweens, teens and their academic future.
Here are a few my own experiences in the world of middle school. I hope you glean what you can and remember – it’ll all be okay. It makes me think of the book, We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, which I read to my two-year-old daughter today. Remember the repeated line, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it.” Eye roll, eye roll, eye roll (my own middle school interpretation.) Here’s to getting through it, and hopefully we find enjoyment in the process.
NO PARENTS ALLOWED
The role of middle school is not only to teach and advance our kids, but it’s also a time to cut the cord between the parents and kids. Moms and dads, we have to loosen our grip and allow our kids to grow up. Middle school is a safe place for them to learn responsibility and how to rely on themselves to get things done. They’re capable, but unless we allow them to be, they won’t realize it. I admit I was initially offended at this arms-length stance the school takes with parents, but I do get it. I’m fortunate my oldest daughter is very responsible and manages her own school work load. I don’t have to be on top of her all of the time. However, if she ever does need my help with a teacher or a class, I’ll do what I need to do in order to see her succeed. We’re our kids’ advocates and we need to discern when it’s right to step in and when it’s right to step out.
Unlike elementary school, in middle school there are less opportunities for parents to get involved. If this is important to you, make sure you do it. Whether it’s the PTA, or being invited to help with a school event, you have to take advantage of these little carrots they dangle. Don’t complain about something if you haven’t made an effort to get involved. (I’m taking my own advice.)
BUS, CAR LINE, BIKE OR WALK
In elementary school we drove our daughter to school every day. Now that she’s a middle-schooler and we live close enough to the school, she can walk or ride her bike. I love this about middle school! It felt strange at first allowing her to walk with her buddies to school, but seven months into the process, it’s very natural. I’m not secretly following behind making sure they get into the school building. Whatever transportation you use to get your child to school, embrace the opportunities for them to stretch their wings and rely on themselves.
When we think of middle school, most of us are transported back to the day we were in middle school. Ugh. What a time that was! During the first few weeks of school, I found myself asking my daughter,”Who did you sit with at lunch?” Don’t you remember middle school lunch? I hated it. Wondering who I was going to sit with. Fortunately for me, my daughter seems fine with her social circle. She’s got a few different groups of friends, which I appreciate. But it also means I need to be more active in getting to know her new friends’ parents. While we still can, we need to influence our kids and their choices in friends because when high school rolls around, it might be a little too late. Another thing to remember – your child isn’t you and may not socialize the way you do. I’ve had to adjust to this with my sixth-grade daughter. I’m a social butterfly and love setting up my own play dates. But my daughter – definitely not. She’s an introvert. She’s content to hang out with the family on a Friday night and rarely asks to have friends over. I use to worry about this, but I’ve come to realize and appreciate this is just who she is and she’s happy with her circumstances. When it comes to socializing in middle school, always talk to your child, ask questions, and make sure to listen.
THE COMPUTER IS YOUR BEST FRIEND
If the computer is my best friend, I want my old reliable friends – like a freaking school book or printed handouts. At my daughter’s school, everything is on the computer. Even some of their textbooks are relegated to an electronic book. My greatest pet peeve are all of these uploaded handouts the kids “don’t have to print out,” but they have to study them. Seriously? Who wants to study sitting in front of the computer scrolling the touch pad to read their notes? I guess kids do – that’s who. I can’t stand it. I like to touch and feel paper and highlight text. I have to believe deeper learning takes place when there are other senses involved. But it doesn’t really matter because it’s all about technology and books and printers are a thing of the past. I have a friend whose kid attends another middle school and all of their math is done on the iPad. I just shake my head.
Here’s my advice – set up a printing fund to cover your ink and paper costs. And if it means you have to give less to your school fundraisers, then so be it. And if your kid’s style of learning is better using a physical textbook, then demand it from the school. I know parents who at the beginning of the school year just buy the books and don’t fool with the electronic options. Kids learn in different ways, and it doesn’t take a scholar to figure that out.
CELL PHONE – CHECK Y OR N
“Everyone has a cell phone, mom!” No they don’t. Your child will tell you this, but everyone doesn’t have a cell phone in sixth grade. Again, this is a personal family choice. We chose to get our daughter a cell phone – but not a smart phone. Since she walks to and from school with friends, I wanted her to have a phone for emergency use. I spared her the flip phone and the phone where each number has three letters to text, but I got an inexpensive pay-as-you-go phone. I’m not ready for her to have a smart phone and deal with all the social media access and parental monitoring which goes with it. I think by seventh grade we may upgrade her to a smart phone, but for now, the one she has works fine.
BEDTIME – WHAT’S THAT?
Prior to middle school, my kids went to bed around 7:30 p.m. It was nice to be done with the day and have time for myself. Now with a sixth grader, her later bedtime trickles down to my other three kids. She’s older now, has homework to finish and her school starts later in the morning so she’s allowed to go to bed by 9:30 p.m. But somehow middle school has affected my other kids’ nighttime routine, and now they’re going to bed later, too. Needless to say our days are longer and our downtime is shorter.
MORE CLASSES, MORE HOMEWORK, MORE TEACHERS, MORE EXPERIENCES
The theme song to Alladin comes to mind: A Whole New World. Sorry, now it’s stuck in your head. Middle school opens up your child’s world. They’ll have more teacher relationships to navigate, more classes and homework to stay on top of and more social and emotional dynamics to experience. It’s a little magic carpet ride and you’re along for the ride, too. Hang on and enjoy it – all rides do come to an end.