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Elementary school to middle school: What moms need to know

There’s a big difference between elementary school and middle school. In fact, many moms will tell you that middle school (or junior high) was harder than high school. (Puberty, mean girls, boys…)

So what should you tell your child to be prepared for? What are the biggest differences? Read on for the information you should arm your son or daughter with as they get ready to make the big leap to the bigger school.

Most likely, for the better part of the past six years, your child has been in the same school. He knows his way around. He’s used to the teachers, the classrooms, the procedures. And now, as he prepares to head off to middle school, it’s important to realize he is about to experience some huge changes in his school experience. Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the book, Teenage as a Second Language, says the best way to understand the transition from elementary school and middle school, is for parents to first understand the main differences between them.

Elementary school

Classes: One main class, often one main teacher

Supplies: Cubby/hook in classroom

Organization: Teacher assistance with organization

Changing classes: Teacher escorts student to specials in school

Development stage: Steady development and growth toward puberty

Homework: Some homework — parent participation recommended

Size: Smaller school

Middle school

Classes: Individual classes for each subject, no main teacher

Supplies: One locker somewhere in school

Organization: Student responsible for organization

Changing classes: Student expected to find her own way

Development stage: Pre-puberty/puberty

Homework: Increase in volume and level of difficulty of homework. Independent work with some parent support recommended

Size: Larger school — often several schools combine into one school

The challenge: Staying organized

Experts agree that in middle school, one of the most important things your child will have to learn is organization. Up to this point, your son or daughter has likely had a lot of help from his teachers to stay on top of assignments. But in middle school, the responsibility will start to fall on him more than ever. “If you have a child who is less organized than other kids, the adjustment can be more difficult. Especially because the kids change classes and, as such, tend to have multiple binders and folders,” says Powell.

“This is the time when children must learn to balance their time with school work and the demands and expectations from several teachers, as well as their friends,” says Ali Lorio, former middle school teacher and author of Champion Parenting, Giving Your Child the Competitive Edge.

How you can help: “Work with your child to label each subject folder and create notebook sections for each class. If organization does not come easily to your tween, a color coding system can be quite helpful: one color for each subject including a separate notebook and folder. These visual cues can do the trick for even the most disorganized tween,” recommends Powell.

Former middle school teacher Sheila Kreditor Lobel also offers this advice to help kids avoid getting buried in papers. “Many students get into the habit of stash-and-dash at the end of the class period, which means by the end of the week they’re buried in papers. If you make it an expectation that Friday is paper filing day, your child will be very happy to start each week organized and able to find what she needs. Help her at first, then wean your child as she shows she can be more independent.”

Up next: More challenges and solutions >>

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