Twelve months prior — begin a frank dialogue with your student
Communication is often emphasized in this column, and it is particularly crucial in this instance. Depending on your district, your child may attend middle school with students from one or more elementary schools. The building will likely be new to her, just as having a different instructor for each subject may also be new. Almost all students experience some trepidation about the middle school experience, but voicing these fears aloud can be a powerful step toward alleviating them. As soon as fifth grade begins, start to discuss middle school with your child. Share your favorite memories of this time, and direct her toward fiction and/or nonfiction books that reflect and address her concerns. An older sibling can also allay many fears.
Six months prior — pay a visit to the middle school
Your student’s concerns may also extend to the physical realities of her new school. If it’s larger than her current elementary school, for example, she may wonder how she will find her homeroom and her classrooms. Passing periods may be foreign to her, and she may have to adapt to using a locker. If possible, visit her middle school at the midpoint of her fifth grade year. While you may not be able to see her future homeroom or speak with her homeroom teacher, many schools offer tours for incoming students and their families. Your child may also be able to participate in activities or events specifically designed for future sixth grade students — all of which may ensure she feels at home come fall.
One month prior — purchase school supplies with your child
Perhaps you’re wondering, “How can buying school supplies possibly prepare my student for middle school?” The physical act of shopping for and purchasing such items may not directly aid your child in this transition, but compiling a list of the necessary supplies can. How? It can reinforce your previous discussions. For instance, what items will your student need to manage her classes? Will the organizational methods that she employed in fifth grade still suit the unique demands of sixth grade (i.e. multiple teachers)? Or should she exchange her current desk calendar for a more portable daily planner? Allow your child to independently research any school- or teacher-specific supply requirements, as well as to write a shopping list. Assuming such responsibility can help her begin to develop and hone the traits that will be necessary for middle school success.