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Getting ready for middle school

Prepare your child for the changes and challenges of middle school with these tips.

By GreatSchools Staff

As your child gets ready to enter middle school, both you and she both probably have some concerns. As a parent, you're concerned about her learning enough to be prepared for high school. She's worried about finding her way to English class. You want to be sure she's safe as she travels to and from school by herself for the first time. She's worried about whether she has the right haircut. You both hope she'll fit in, make new friends, and not be too overwhelmed by middle school homework.

As a parent, your concerns are likely to be about the big picture, such as whether middle school will prepare your child for a successful future. She's probably more worried about basic concerns, like knowing how to open her locker on the first day of school. Recognizing this difference in her worries and concerns will help you support her while keeping your eye on her overall progress. Here are some tips to get you both ready for this new adventure:

Help your child get oriented

Call the school to see if there is an orientation for new students, and encourage your child to attend. If there's no orientation, ask if you and your child can go look around a day or two before school starts. Together you can locate important places like the office, his locker, the cafeteria and restrooms. Lockers often top the list of middle schoolers' worries. Buy a combination lock for your child to practice with over the summer. This will keep your child from fumbling with his locker the first day and help him get to class on time!

Practice getting to school and plan for emergencies

If your child will be getting to school on her own, practice the route a few times before school starts and talk about places she could get help if she needed it. Businesses, bus drivers, or homes of people you know are good possible spots for help. Be sure you and your child are both confident in her ability to get to school alone.

Encourage the buddy system

If your child is worried about facing the first day of school alone, encourage him to call a friend from elementary school who'll be attending his middle school and arrange to meet before school or at lunchtime. Making plans for lunch will calm fears he might have about facing a crowded cafeteria alone.

Practice wardrobe wisdom

Shopping for school clothes with middle schoolers can be difficult. Striking a balance between setting limits and giving your child some autonomy can make it easier. First, check with the school to see if there is a dress code. Many middle schools prohibit tank tops, short shorts or clothes of particular colors. Then let your child consult with her friends to see what everyone else will be wearing. It's also a good idea to not buy everything before school starts; this gives your child a chance to see this year's must-have fashions before the clothing budget is exhausted. Give her as much freedom in selecting her wardrobe as you can, but reserve the right to have the final say on what is appropriate.

Learn about school rules

Before the first day, check with the school about policies regarding dress codes, cell phone use, and whether there is an open campus at lunch time. This will help your child avoid accidentally breaking the rules. And knowing ahead of time how the school manages behavior problems like bullying might help your child feel more secure right off the bat.

Help your child get organized

Help her start a to-do list in a day planner or small notebook. This will get her organized for the new responsibilities of middle school. You'll also want to check in with your child about her assignments fairly frequently. She may have more long-term projects or assignments than she did in elementary school or have several tests to study for at the same time. She might need your help at first to figure out how to get it all done in time. This doesn't mean you should do your child's homework. She needs to learn to own her work but may need advice about how to approach it.

Comments from readers

"This is a gr8 site just bullying really bad at my school "
"I think this is a great way to find the right school for my child "
"I'm 11 yrs old and Im starting my first yr of middle school in a NEW STATE AND NEW SCHOOL. Im not used to the school.I will be walking into the school alone and wont be able to find nothing.Im scared.these tips kind of helped but Im SCARED!!! "
"Bullying. It is cruel. Not enough is being done about it.I am very disappointed with the schools tolerating this kind of behavior.If they can't do there job then fire them."
"Its great that all kids are helped."
"I have been going to Middle School since 6th grade. I have switched schools and am now going to Junior high. Being in school is so much fun!!!!! i love the basketball games and all my friends just hanging out. No advice. Just try to keep up while having fun!"
" This sounds like it can be very helpful. Adjustment to a better level of learning."
"I am a 5th grader and going into middle school next school year. I am excited yet anxious. Actually I've been dying to go to middle school. My friends say take the time to enjoy all the easy fun stuff now they also say your first year will be tough. Because in 6th grade you have to study more in order to ace test and many of my A student friends did not get A's on their first report card so I have to focus. But I think this site prepared me more for what I didn't already know."
"Excellent website! Thank you all!"
"I am a fifth grader and don't think that a girl like me will have to worry to much about middle school. But I do want to be prepared for whats ahead. This website gave me a heads up on the future. I wont know where it takes me but i will have a bit of an idea at least."
"i love this website but i wish it had more results"
"I have a sixth grader that has been held back for his maturity level is low. I also want to mention he is on medication for his condition and finally we have a combineation that works. What can I do to help him play ccatch up? It seems he missed the basics from 3rd grade to 5th grade. His comprehintion is below and math skills are below. With that and his maturity level low I want to help him through the summer. What work books could you recomend that I get to help him. "
"Practical points for parents headed into the middle school years. The issue of bullying and now cyberbullying has many parents worried. As you suggested the 'buddy system' works well when kids have the option to connect with a friend. Often though, kids find themselves facing bullies either while alone in the halls or when they return home at the end of the day. Cyberbullying (bullying through text or instant messages or through threatening messages on a social media site like Facebook or MySpace) now comprises a growing number of bullying incidents. In addition to the ideas presented here I would suggest, 6 Signs of bullying: 1. Reluctance to leave home. If your normally social child chooses to stay home rather than go out with friends, it may be because of a bully. Bullying can occur at school as well as at off campus social events. 2. Missing activities. Declining to attend extracurricular activities may be a sign that your child is being bullied. 3. 'Drive me, please!� A child who pleads with you to drive him to school rather than taking his normal bus route may be trying to avoid confrontations on the bus. With a load of twenty-plus middle schoolers, bullying can easily go unseen on bus trips. 4. Unexplained cuts or bruises. If your child can’t offer a reasonable explanation for the appearance of any unusual marks on her body, it’s time to investigate. 5. Increased sadness or anxiety. Adolescents tend to be moody; however, a sudden increase in crying outbursts and anxiety levels could be the result of a bully. 6. Steadily decreasing academic performance. A dip from 95% on one test to 85% on the next doesn’t warrant a full-scale investigation. But repeated low scores, missed assignments, or comments from your child’s teachers about declining performance are signals that may mean there are bullying issues at play. Even if you suspect your child is being bullied, the question of what to do about it can be a difficult one to answer – especially if your child hesitates to communicate with you. Yet there are three things you can do to unearth a problem that don’t require a flood of details directly from the child: Joe Bruzzese"
"Wow This Really Helped Me Alot...Thanks So Very Much I Hope That When I Go To 6TH. GRADE I Wont get into trouble but i will make alot of new FRIENDS.THANKS AGAIN"
"My son will be starting Middle school in August and I am worried about bullying and my son being overwhelmed at a new school. Please help me feel reassured."
"I have not been able to find any info on schools other than academic info. I live in a suburban area known for it's good schools, but in trying to find a good middle school I am more concerned with the extent of violence, drug and alcohol problems and teenage pregnancy (because the academics are already covered). In spite of the good academic standing of my daughter's school, I hear that there are frequent police visits and many behavior problems. The profanity I hear is shocking and I believe that many, many of these kids are sexually active. It's my understanding that the other jr. high schools in the area are just as bad. We have an open schools district and I believe I can even take her to another district, but how can I find out about the social problems of a particular school? Thank you, Susan "
"My child has been attending this school and the way they are treating us is like a remarkable way. The schools give my child many education and homework. My child once said this, ' I LOVE every school and homework!!!! I'll say, is the BEST WAY to find SCHOOLS!!!"
"This is really good but is there any way that you are able to make a page or two for the middle-schooler and how to get from class to class in uder 4 mintues or what ever most schools give a child to get to and from a class. Tank-you very much but other than that it is really good and by the way I am a child that is in 5th grade about to go to middle school. But thank-you very much."
"Thank you so much for such a great website! It's very reassuring to have Great Schools to inform and connect us with other parents with similar concerns. Now that I've found you I don't know what I would do without you! Your tips for Middle School, which I have just read, are fantastic. My son will start Middle School next year. I did not go though the American school system myself so I didn't know what to expect. Your tips have helped me have a little insight. It's very reassuring to be able to find answers on your website whenever I need them. Again, thank you."
"Well it did help alot since i am going to middle school in 2 weeks "
"This information was very helpful Espesially the parts about bullying and things like that. Thank you very much, now i know how to keep safe in Middle School!"
"I thought this info on middle school is pretty outstanding!!!"
"Excelent article. Good tips that help overcome the nervousness of going to middle school."
"Great article -- good review for upcoming changes. However, it would be even better if sent out a little earlier, before school has actually started, to allow time to actually DO the things mentioned. ;.) "
"I am a first year middle school parent. This article prepared me in ways I hadn't had time to think about. I printed a copy to send to school for my daughter's homeroom. I'm certain it will be a blessing for others as well. Thanks for your insight and abundance of information."
"The article was very helpful. my daugter is in middle school. Thank you."
"Great article, thanks for your constant 'reading my mind articles' - although my daughter is in PRE - K, already on my mind! "
"im mariah mansfield im 11 yrs old and going into the 6th grade nervous and excited at the same time.Im frightened of being bullied and scared if i can keep up with the middle school work. I need some advice and please, quickly!"