Help Your Online Student Make a Successful Middle School Transition
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 middle school with ramped-up expectations for both performance and individual responsibility. As parent and Learning Coach, you should prepare to be supportive during what can be the most rapidly changing period of a child’s life. Here are some tips and strategies for helping your son or daughter through the transition.
Prepare your student for multiple teachers.
Just like in a traditional school, your virtual school student will have a different teacher for each subject in an online middle school. In addition, your child may have an advisory teacher who will help with setting goals and measuring overall performance.
- Explain to your child that each teacher specializes in one subject and will have his or her own teaching style and expectations.
- Make sure your middle schooler understands that the rules and grading criteria may be different for each course.
- Talk to your child about managing multiple or conflicting priorities—and encourage him or her to turn to you for advice as soon as any situations arise.
Expect to communicate differently with teachers.
During this period, the responsibility for communication begins to shift from teachers to students. To help support your child’s transition to becoming an independent learner, you should encourage your middle schooler to call or send a message to the appropriate teacher when he or she has a question, needs assistance, or wants to share successes in learning. You may need to provide some coaching or assistance until your child is comfortable with this new responsibility.
Naturally, teachers will continue to schedule lessons in the virtual classroom, respond to student and Learning Coach emails and phone calls, and arrange regular parent-teacher conferences. They will also contact you or your student if difficulties arise. In addition, the following tips may help lay a good foundation for communicating with middle school teachers.
- Talk to teachers early in the school year about your child’s strengths and areas of concern.
- Encourage teachers to use strategies that have worked for your child in the past.
- Encourage students to discuss problems and solutions with teachers on their own, but be ready to step in and help as needed.
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 upon entering middle school. If this is the case in your family, don’t panic! Avoid overreacting to grades, particularly in the early weeks. Instead, talk to your son or daughter about what’s happening, 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.
Help your child transition to independent learning.
Middle school is the time to teach students to work more independently while supporting them enough to give them confidence.
- Help your middle schooler learn to prioritize. Work together each morning to identify the top few tasks that need to be done that day. Assign a specific time to each task, if needed.
- When each task is completed, have your child draw a line through it to show accomplishment.
- Break projects into small parts. Middle schoolers can get overwhelmed easily by complex or long-term projects—and may tend to give up rather than dig in. Help them conquer intimidating tasks by dividing the work into smaller, more manageable chunks over several days or weeks.
- Encourage use of a daily planner. Have your child begin keeping track of his or her due dates, appointments, sports practices, and other time commitments.
- Continue with reminders. Don’t hesitate to prompt your middle schooler about upcoming appointments and due dates.
Allow your preteen some 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. You may also want to be prepared to redefine your limits of control over your preteen’s life as he or she starts to think and act more mature.
Prepare to be challenged.
Although choosing to enroll your child in virtual school may help sidestep some behavioral issues associated with peer pressure, there will still be plenty of adjustments! During the middle school transition years, it’s normal for kids to begin exercising independence and testing boundaries, so you should be prepared for at least occasional conflicts.
In the interest of maintaining good relations with your middle schooler, you may want to “choose your battles.” Consider ahead of time what rules you are willing to negotiate and which are absolutes. Is a crazy outfit or hairdo as important as doing schoolwork? Isn’t curfew more significant than having a perfectly clean room? Establishing your priorities now will help you keep a clear head when your child (inevitably) challenges you.
Support your child’s social and emotional needs.
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; shoot hoops, read, cook, talk, sit, walk, play cards, anything. This time tells children that you find them interesting and worthwhile, which will boost their self-esteem. This is also the prime time when kids will ask parents questions.
- Keep those kids talking! Encourage your child to open up—but don’t interrogate, and give advice only when asked. Be a good listener, so your preteen realizes he or she can count on you.
- Encourage children to try new things and to regard failure as a necessary part of learning and growing.
- Help silence your middle schooler’s harsh inner critic. Adolescents almost universally seem to believe they are unattractive, unpopular, and unlovable. Bolster your kid’s self-esteem with praise for accomplishments and reminders of his or her many good qualities.
- When your child’s friendships falter, your role is to empathize and keep listening. Counsel your child if he or she seems open to it, but don’t take sides or try to intervene.
During these transitional years, it’s critical to remind your children that you are on their side! Provide frequent reassurance 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, middle schoolers need to be reminded often that you love them—and believe in them—no matter what.
What strategies do you recommend for helping kids adjust to the challenges of middle school? Share your fun or insightful ideas in the comments.