Making the transition from 5th to 6th grade can be very daunting. Even pre-teens that may appear to be calm about it, may be hiding some anxiety under the surface. As a parent, try to recall your middle school experience, or think of starting at a new job. You may have been filled with a combination of anxiety and excitement. Starting from a place of empathy towards your pre-teen is a vital perspective to approach this subject.
Here are several tangible strategies to try as you assist your pre-teen with making this transition.
Map—If possible, see if you can locate a map of the school’s interior. Some schools may have this on their website or you could call the school to find this. Before you even get a class schedule, your pre-teen can study the map to orient them with the general layout of the building.
Open House or 6th Grade Night—if your school hosts one of these events, I encourage you to attend! This will help your student see they are not the only one going through this transition. It is also a time of important information for yourself and you’re pre-teen. If you get a chance, use that map you already have and walk the path of their schedule and find their locker to practice the combination on. If your student is still anxious after this, consider practicing at home by getting a combination lock for them to practice opening. Some locks are programmable and you can even make the combination the same as the one their locker will have.
Locker Trips—once the schedule is figured out, sit down and make a locker strategy. Many students worry about having enough time for their locker, a restroom break and getting to class. One possibility (depending on the weight of books) is to go to the locker before school, lunch time and at the end of the day. This alleviates having to rush between classes.
Buddy System—If there are other students in your neighborhood that will be going to the same middle school, see if you can make some connections over the summer. Other future 6th graders can be a source of security on the first few days. Consider finding a helpful 7th grader who can speak to your pre-teen about their 6th grade experience, and be a source of help as needed.
Extracurricular Activities-On the school’s website or at back to school night you should be able to locate a listing of clubs and sports. Look over this list with your pre-teen and discuss potential activities they would like to get involved with. This will give them something to look forward to as they start.
Perks—consider discussing the “perks” of being an older kid. They will no longer have to walk in a single file line everywhere, they won’t need to be monitored all the time, and they will more privileges as they get older. Yes, there is a lot of responsibility to, but this might be a good time to highlight the positives, especially if they are feeling uncertain about middle school.
Schedule—when it is about a week away from school starting, consider changing what your daily summer schedule has been. Set the alarm clock for the time they will need to get up for school, and make their bed-time what it will be once school begins. Try to insert some times of structure into the day (silent reading, math games etc). This will make the start of school less of a shock!
Celebration—plan something fun to do together after the first day of 6th grade! Perhaps you could go out for ice cream, order pizza, or go do one of their favorite sports or activities. This will allow them to wind down from the day. During their first day if things are going rough, it also gives them something to look forward to.
The transition to middle school can be difficult, but with proper planning and a positive attitude you can help make the transition less stressful for your pre-teen. Enjoy the journey!