While it may be summer now, school will begin soon enough. For students who said goodbye to elementary school earlier this year, this fall represents the start of a critical transition to middle school.

Middle school means new beginnings, experiences and challenges. And while these changes —new friends, new teachers and new school environment — can be exciting, they also can be a bit unnerving for new middle-schoolers.

“These transition years can be exhilarating and full of promise, but they also can cause some measure of anxiety,” says Richard E. Bavaria, Ph.D., senior vice president of education outreach for Sylvan Learning.

“Research and common sense tell us that the first year in middle school is critical,” Bavaria says. “During this single year, a new middle-schooler must assimilate, make new friends, set goals, establish new habits and attitudes, take tougher courses, discover talents and interests, learn new skills, and begin to build confidence in this new environment. Making sure a child handles this transition year well should be an important goal for parents. In fact, a primary indicator of a successful middle school experience is a positive transition from elementary school. And the key to that positive transition is good preparation.”

Here are some of the most daunting changes students will encounter during this year of transition — and some tips from Sylvan Learning on how to work through them successfully.

Challenge: Negotiating the New Environment

The Locker Scare: One of the biggest concerns incoming middle-schoolers have is the locker. Instead of lugging their stuff around in one bag, students now have a place to store everything safely. The best part about the locker is being able to personalize it with photos, drawings, magazine clippings, and anything else that makes it feel comfortable. Ease locker fears and purchase a combination lock and practice before school starts.

New Campus: If your student has to go to an entirely new school, it may seem overwhelming at first. Explore the school’s Web site with your child and better yet – explore the new campus. The better your child understands the school layout and rules, the more at ease she’ll feel on the first day. Ask the school if there are any campus tours or orientations available to parents and incoming students. Get a map of the campus and take your child to explore. Be sure to check in with the school office to get an OK for your explorations.

New Schedule: With different classes in different rooms on different days, middle school schedules can seem confusing and scary at first. A few weeks before school begins, check with your school to see when schedules are ready so that your child can have some time to get comfortable with the new routine. If your student needs help finding something or keeping track of where he has to be, encourage him to ask a teacher or other school staff for help.

Challenge: Acquiring New Academic Tools

Time Management: Work together on a schedule and develop an organizational system with your student. Acknowledge and make allowances for her anxiety; at first, she may need to carry everything for all classes all the time in order to feel prepared.

General Skills Preparation: Summarizing, paraphrasing, and identifying main or important ideas and details are three skills that are essential in all content areas. After reading a book or watching a show/movie, have kids summarize what happened orally. Or have them recount the most important events.

Note-Taking: The workload and pace really pick up in middle school, so note taking is going to be critical for them to keep up. Start encouraging your child to develop a method of shorthand to prepare for note-taking. Writing grocery lists and directions are simple ways for kids to practice. Show them your own writing shortcuts. Note-taking is not automatic; the more examples kids see, the quicker they’ll acquire the skill.

Build their Problem Solving Skills: Common Core State Standards outline the knowledge and skills K-12 students need to acquire for post-high school success. Included in the CCSS are Standards for Mathematical Practice, many of which focus on academic behaviors and attitudes such as perseverance, constructing viable arguments, critiquing others’ arguments, and paying attention to precision. As a parent, you can do your part to help a student acquire these key behaviors and attitudes. Encourage perseverance by having your child work through problems — rather than you stepping in to fix them. Encourage your child to formulate opinions and back them up with sound reasoning. Encourage your child to do things correctly rather than just finish them.

Challenge: Addressing Social Concerns

New friends: One crucial area of worry for middle-schoolers is the social scene. You can help ease their trepidation by opening lines of communication and providing a sympathetic ear. Kids’ worries and concerns about fitting in and making friends may seem trivial to adults, but for kids, these worries often trump worries about academics. Listen to their concerns and advise them on basic social skills. Encourage your child to join group conversations. Discuss how to join in without interrupting, to add something relevant to conversation in progress, etc.

Socializing Online: Online use of social media will ramp up during middle school. In fact, the average teenager sends over 3,000 text messages a month[1]. Make sure your kids understand that what they say and do online may come back to hurt them — or hurt others. Be aware of and set guidelines for use of social media on both computers and hand-held devices. Make sure you are able to regularly monitor your child’s access to text messaging and social media sites like Facebook. Increased awareness allows parents to step in and talk to their children before issues spiral out of control.

By starting now, you can help your rising elementary student prepare for these key challenges before they transition into middle school. Helping them know what to expect in terms of the social, academic and physical dynamics of middle school — and how to deal with this new environment — will do a lot to ease the anxiety every kid feels approaching this year of transition.

For additional resources, visit us on the web at www.sylvanlearning.com or call 1-800-31-SUCCESS.

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About Sylvan Learning
Sylvan Learning is the leading provider of tutoring to students of all ages, grades and skill levels with over 30 years of experience and more than 800 centers located throughout North America. Sylvan’s trained and Sylvan-certified personal instructors provide individualized instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, study skills and test-prep for college entrance and state exams. For more information, call 1-800-31-SUCCESS or visit www.SylvanLearning.com.