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Tips to Help Students Transitioning from Elementary to Middle School

Parenthood is full of transitions. The change from being a person without children to being a parent, the first day of childcare, the first day of preschool, the first day of kindergarten, and more. But going from elementary to middle school can be a profound and intimidating transition for both parents and children.


Transition to Middle School – Challenges for Parents:

Transitioning from elementary to middle school can have a big impact on a family. The location of the child’s school, the cultural influences around the family, and economic factors will all have bearing on how big a challenge this change presents to parents. So how is middle school different from elementary school? Here are some changes that will affect parents of students transitioning into middle school

1. School location:

In some school systems, the change from elementary to middle school might simply involve moving to a different hall in the school or a different room, but in larger districts, your child is likely to be enrolled in a different school. When this is the case, there could be challenges with getting your child to and school, and getting him or her back home again. It could mean a change in the neighborhood through which he or she will need to walk to and from school, raising potential safety considerations

2. School Supplies:

Parents will notice a definite change in the type and cost of school supplies required. Students might be asked to provide a calculator, specific notebooks for a variety of classes, colored pencils, or markers instead of crayons. School supplies at the middle school level can include items such as index cards or even document sleeves.

3. Communication with Teachers:

Throughout elementary school, students spend most of their day with one specific teacher, even though they might attend special classes such as art, music, or physical education with other teachers. At the middle school level, different teachers will focus on a specific subject area. Parents will need to meet with each teacher individually for parent/teacher conferences.

Pete Lorain, former middle school principal and former president of the National Middle School Association, recommends that parents attend any Parent Nights hosted at the school in order to establish relationships with teachers. When contacting the school for information about grades or other matters, parents will need to be very specific about which class they are asking about. If the child is sick, parents will need to request homework from multiple teachers.

4. Communication with the School Administration:

It is always a good idea, as a parent, to attend Open House and to read all notes that come home from school. Pete Lorain recommends that parents attend school meetings to familiarize themselves with issues or concerns their children may have. Since middle school children tend to become less communicative, occasional unannounced “check-in” visits or phone calls when nothing, in particular, is going on will establish a pattern of partnership with the school leadership. If your child has special needs, make contact with the middle school counselor, and make sure that he or she knows anything about your child that may need their attention at some point. This is particularly important when the special consideration involves medical needs, or if your child participates in ongoing therapy of any kind.

5. Emergency plans:

Set up a plan for what to do in the event of an emergency. This can range from your child becoming ill while at school, to all-out disasters. Make arrangements with a family member or friend to be available to your child on those occasions when you are too far away or too busy at work to be there. Develop a plan for how to find each other in the event that your local government infrastructure is interrupted.

6. Expanded curriculum choices:

Middle school students will continue to refine reading, writing and math skills, but might have additional course choices. For example, a student might have a choice between band, choir or fine-arts as an elective credit.

7. Extracurricular Events:

More extracurricular events become available to students at the middle school level in most school districts. These create a need for added planning. They can involve transportation, club dues, special uniforms, craft supplies and more. In addition, most parents enjoy attending sports events or performances where their child is involved.

8. Clothing:

Unless the child attends a school that requires uniforms, clothing expectations sometimes change. Before buying a fall wardrobe for a middle school child, parents are well-advised to request and read the school dress code policy for students. Furthermore, some parents might need to become creative when dealing with clothing requirements for some classes, such as physical education. You may also need to provide safety gear for some classes.

9. Portable electronics:

Cell phones, tablets and other small electronics can become problematic in the school setting. Learn what your school’s policy is on such items before supplying them to your child or allowing them to go to school.


Transition to Middle School – Challenges to Children:

1. Personal Change:

Middle school encompasses the years from age eleven through age thirteen. Girls grow a lot while in middle school, and most will experience the girl issues that every parent dreads at some time during these years. Most boys will experience their growth spurts later, but they also are beginning to have physical changes. For a brief time, girls might be taller and heavier than their male classmates. Both become excruciatingly self-conscious as they experience changes in their bodies and in their ways of thinking. Be prepared.

2. Multiple Classrooms:

As noted previously, your elementary-age child spent his or her days with a primary teacher. Now, he or she will change classes multiple times during the day. This will require your child to be able to either quickly access a school locker or to carry multiple items to and from classes. In order to manage this efficiently, he or she will need to develop new organizational skills. Part of Gradeleap’s mission is to help kids become better at organization with school assignements.

3. New Friends, New Enemies:

The school environment is like a little community. Leaders rise to the top, groups develop, friendships are made, and even feuds happen. Affiliations that were innocent in elementary school take on a new significance as students reach puberty. Personality conflicts that were once resolved through a teacher or counselor can now spill over into extracurricular activities or even into the world at large. Middle school students are old enough and big enough to cause actual damage during physical altercations. They also have full command of language that can either support or hurt classmates.

4. Online threats:

If your child is attached at the thumbs to the greater community, he or she can come directly into conflict with school authority. Furthermore, children who are electronically connected through social media are at risk for inappropriate or even dangerous contacts. On the flip side, texting can be a great family communication method and a solution for staying connected in emergency situations.

5. Academic Changes:

Teachers are fully aware that middle school students are experiencing many internal changes. Therefore, much of the curriculum taught at this level is repetition and refinement of material presented in elementary school. However, it is presented differently. Students might be more involved in projects and be expected to take greater responsibility for their completion

6. Greater Expectations at Home:

Parents might begin to expect a middle school child to take more responsibility for home chores. He or she might be expected to wash dishes, keep an area of the house clean (in addition to their personal space), or even do their own laundry.


Transition to Middle School – Help Your Child Make the Change:

The hardest part of helping your middle school child make the change might be accepting the changes in your child and in your relationship. He or she might have emotional outbursts or retreat into silence. It is important to accept that pre-teens’ bodies and thought processes are changing.

  1. Plan Ahead:
    1. Check with your school to see if they have an Open House or even if they have a day in the spring when your child can visit the middle school to see what it will be like. If you are not moving, many school districts now have a day when elementary students visit the middle school as a group and have a chance to meet teachers, see the classrooms and eat in the cafeteria.
    2. Set aside extra money to deal with added school supplies and unexpected expenses. Budget a small, but reliable, allowance for your child to cover incidentals such as club dues, charitable collections, and fundraising events. Explain how the money is to be used, and that once it is gone, there will not be any advances or loans before the next allowance.
    3. Buy the school supplies that are requested by your school – no more, no less. Added supplies can actually cause problems within the classroom. Lack of a particular item, such as a pencil, appropriate notebook or calculator can make it difficult for your child to complete the required work.
    4. Visit the school with your child during Open House. The Open House at the beginning of the school year is one of the important transition activities for middle school students. Help your child learn how to open the school locker. Take some time to let the student practice opening the locker quickly. Tour the building so that you and your child have a good idea of where the classrooms, library, gym and cafeteria are located.
  1. Practice the art of letting go:

Encourage your child to do as much for him or herself as is practical or possible.

    1. Provide an alarm clock to help with self-starting mornings
    2. Set up a bulletin board where all family members can leave notes.
    3. Minimize rules, but make them clear and practical.
    4. Respect your child’s emotional response to situations. Remember that he or she is becoming a young adult, and treat him or her as such.

Transition to Middle School – Maintain Awareness and Communication:

Read all communication from your child’s school, and be proactive in inquiring about your child’s well-being if you have not had any recent communication. Many schools now provide students with planners, and require parents to sign off on homework, field trips, and disciplinary notes. Keep up your end of this type of communication.

Pete Lorain advises that parents learn about pre-teens and young teens and their developmental stages. Pre-teens can be moody, but be alert to sudden mood changes, sadness or anger that seems to continue past a reasonable amount of time. Lorain recommends that parents emphasize the positive aspects of middle school to their children, while also watching for any signs of depression.

Transition to Middle School – Remember that this is your beloved child:

In spite of moods, homework, grades and chores, this is your child. He or she is unique, individual and only young this one time. Celebrate this milestone in your child’s life.


Lorain, Pete. “Transition to Middle School.” Rss. NEA, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.


How Parents Can Help Students Write the Way Teachers Want

Grammar Errors and StudentsTeaching English to English speaking students should be easy. Linguistic scholars say that youths who have reached twelve to fourteen years of age have developed excellent internal grammar in their native language, whether it is English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese or any other language for that matter. But if you are a teacher who deals with persuading students to write in formal style, then it all becomes a little more challenging.

Consider this story: A home-school mom contacted a retired teacher – who just happened to be her mother. “Mom,” she asked, “What do you think of Cindy’s paper?” The retired teacher mulled over the child’s work. It wasn’t a bad piece of writing coming from a thirteen-year-old author, but it had many mistakes that needed to be addressed when turning in the final version. The draft was riddled with punctuation errors, typos, and misspelled words. “It is a good first draft,” the retired teacher said. “But mom, that’s her final draft, and I think she is done,” the home-schooling mother replied.

The home-schooling mother was faced with a dilemma frequently encountered by English teachers: Do you praise the creativity and the organization, letting the grammar, punctuation, and spelling go? Or do you discourage a budding author/writer/researcher by insisting that the errors be repaired? That’s tricky.

As with many things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle because creativity and enthusiasm are essential to encouraging young writers to write and to enjoy their topic of choice. Squelch that, and you have possibly squelched the next generation of talent – or at least alienated student and teacher.

However, somewhere in the learning process, writers do need to learn how to write – and that means learning how to spell, to punctuate, to correctly construct a sentence, and above all, how to proofread.

Amazon.com’s policy of allowing authors to self-publish has made available excellent books of both fiction and non-fiction that might otherwise have never survived the brick-and-mortar publishing house process. Some of these books have even been picked up by established publishing houses, creating further opportunities for the authors. However, this revolution has also given rise to a plethora of less-than-stellar published works. Some of them are simply first efforts that have a good chance of becoming better, while others are hastily created works of garbage that deserve every bad review they get. They are the literary equivalent of the “bad” singers who audition for American Idol.

One could argue that self-published books have been put together in the heat of the moment. Author/blogger, T.S. Paul, wrote, “I just pressed the publish button. That book should be along in a minute.”  It should be pointed out – in all fairness – that Paul is a good writer. His stories move along at a decent clip, the characters are well developed, the “ordinary” days highlight fun moments in the characters’ lives, and the action scenes are cogent to the plot.

However, the speediness of getting his books finished might hurt the overall experience in reading them because of errors. The reader encounters phrases such as “She just freaked out,” or “Tom and Jerry meet up,” or a personal favorite for that finger-nails-on-the-blackboard feeling, “He or she was looking to.” It makes a reader want to send the writer a link to thesaurus.com.

Too picky? Perhaps. But the great authors who write well don’t make those kinds of mistakes often. And to be taken professionally, one should make an effort to write professionally.

Where should the line be drawn?

Not so many years ago there was a call for legal documents to be written in “plain English” so that those who are not cognizant of the meaning of certain Latin phrases would be able to understand the intent of the document. People would get lost in legalese because of phrases like “party of the first part” and “party of the second part” scattered among the “whereas” and “fore to” references. Or they would be confounded by the differences implied by similarly written terms such as “ad hoc” or “ad hominem.”

Language is intended to convey meaning. If people do not understand the point of what is written, by definition that makes it pointless. When blatant errors plague writing, it makes the manuscript harder to read. Too many errors and it becomes like reading legalese.

For that reason, it is important for students to learn the standard spelling of words and the accepted ways to punctuate and construct sentences. It is not difficult to understand the need for this by using the classic example of the need for correct comma placement: “Let’s eat Grandma,” vs. “Let’s eat, Grandma.” The first sentence implies cannibalism, while the second invites the grandmother to lunch.

When one is seeking to appear well-versed in rhetoric or the art of communication, they should avoid many of these easy-to-avoid mistakes. It takes a bit more time, but the payoff is worth the extra effort.

Why Extended Family is so Important to Childhood Development

Family Tree ConceptModern families have enormous time constraints. Nearly every family member has an unimaginable array of obligations – work, school, organizations, friends outside the family, and so on. And while this high level of activity can produce young adults who are well- connected and understand the making and keeping of appointments and time schedules, there is also something valuable that has been lost: Extended family.

When we look back in social history, we see families who are more connected to each other than to the outside world. Cousins knew each other well. Kids knew and felt comfortable talking to their grandparents. These family relationships translated into social, well-adjusted adults. Today, the normal family dynamic has become the non-normative family, with divorced parents and matriculation all over the country. Our society favors the individual over the family, with children often growing up and placing their parents or grandparents in an assisted living facilities, knowing their basic needs are taken care of by someone else. But what about their emotional needs? What needs to change in order for our children to recognize the needs of the extended family?

As a society, we are more connected and yet also less connected than ever before. Think about the way we typically interact with others today: One simple look on Facebook and we can see what our Facebook network of Friends did today, what they had for dinner, and where they visited…but we barely even interact with these people. Not closely. We don’t engage in deep one-on-one conversations over Facebook. It is similar to being a Jack-of-All- Trades, Master-of-None; we know little bits about a lot of people at the expense of really knowing a few. This problem also concerns the lack of connection to the extended family.

If the connection to your extended family sounds like an issue you are struggling with in your own life and you want to expose your children to more of your extended family, continue reading for some insights into how to foster that relationship within your own family.

Benefits of visiting grandparents often

There are many benefits to fostering a relationship between children and their grandchildren. When kids are not exposed to their grandparents and do not feel comfortable chatting with them, a valuable teacher is omitted from their life. We all learn from our mistakes, and grandparents have been around long enough to make most of them. This makes them a phenomenal source for learning, “What not to do!”

If kids are fortunate enough to have healthy, living grandparents, trying to visit them as often as possible should be a priority. Try to make visiting a grandparent a normal, scheduled event—even if they live in an assisted living facility or if they live far away.

To facilitate connecting with grandparents in nursing homes, many facilities have lunch rooms or public areas where residents can meet with family. While this might impose some constraints (it will be a fairly public venue), it does offer a chance for children and grandchildren to gather with their elders without the difficulty of transporting them. For family members with medical constraints, this can be important. Bringing a picnic lunch or a pile or board games can offer a shared experience to bond with relatives who are surely overjoyed for the company.

For more mobile family members, restaurants, community rooms, public library meeting rooms, and public parks can make great places for families to gather. These venues also work well for large family reunions, which for some families can be a necessity as the extended relatives can add up into the hundreds. No matter the difficulty, however, the connections made during these meetings are priceless.

For grandparents who live too far away to visit in person, Skype or FaceTime offers a simple way to connect. Try having a tea party over Skype, where the child and the grandparents both share a cup of tea and a cookie, or a coloring session via FaceTime. Thanks to technology, bonding over an activity together in this way can help children bond with their grandparents even if they live out of town.

Some families are also fortunate enough to have supportive, healthy, and active grandparents living close by. To build upon these close relationships, you can plan time for the children to visit their grandparent’s house or for them to come to yours. In this personal setting, families can enjoy a host of activities including sharing a meal, a game night, or even a grandparent babysitting night where the parents can enjoy a night out!

Grandparents have so much to teach. According to a survey conducted by the American Grandparents Association, 72% of grandparents “think being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in their life.” You aren’t burdening them. You are enriching them—and they are enriching you.

Benefits of a relationship with aunts, uncles, and cousins

Beyond grandparents, many families have other extended members that they probably don’t see as much as they could. With multiple generations on Facebook now, it is easier than ever to “keep up” with family via social networking, but again, we are more connected and less connected than ever. Facebook profiles and posts will never replace actual visits.

Plan real time with aunts, uncles, and cousins. As a family, plan a vacation, go to an amusement park, plan to share a meal, or send the kids on a visit for a week with their cousins. The opportunities to stay connected to our extended family members are there. Only our habits and self-imposed barriers prevent it.

Helping children foster bond with other adults is also important. Dr. Susan Bartell, a nationally recognized child and parenting psychologist, acknowledges the benefits of a closer relationship with extended family members: “Aunts and uncles are important, because they offer kids the chance to have a close relationship with an adult who doesn’t have the same set of expectations as Mom and Dad.” Aunts and uncles may become a go-to person for kids to confide in if they don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents. Ideally, we want our kids to know they can tell us anything, but that doesn’t always happen. Involving extended family in a child’s life allows them to have another outlet.

When we expose our kids to other perspectives, we help them become their own person. There is only so much a parent can teach. A parent might be the most important person in a young child’s life, yet without extended family, a significant component in your child’s development is lost. Aunts and uncles may become a go-to person for kids to confide in if they don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents. Ideally, we want our kids to know they can tell us anything, but that doesn’t always happen. Involving extended family in a child’s life allows them to have another outlet.

A simple story about a family gathering

Family gatherings are a time for sharing memories that span generational cultures. Envision this story about a multi-generational family sharing time together over a meal at a local restaurant, exemplifying how important it is to connect the younger generation with their extended family members.

During a recent family gathering at a restaurant, the smartphones came out up and down the long table where four generations were represented. However, these devices were not separating them; rather, they were bringing them together. Pictures were taken and funny events were shared live, rather than on Facebook. It was just an informal get-together, where the four-year-old traveled from lap to lap, being exposed to one new face after another, and everyone at the table shared impromptu stories.

During the dinner, two of the middle-aged sisters tried to resurrect the sibling rivalry which had once existed between them. “He’s LOOKING at me, Mom,” the daughter joked when her brother wouldn’t stop staring. Responding to the quip, the great-grandmother in the party smiled and said, “Do I need to get out the duct tape and make a line between your seats?” Everyone laughed at the inside joke.

Further down the table, the grandfather reminded a newly-adult son to take off his hat inside. The great-grandmother passed a napkin to the daughter (who is also now a grandmother) to wipe the four-year-old’s face, then turned to look at a Facebook post on her twelve-year-old granddaughter’s phone. The visiting daughter-in-law was snapping pictures on her smartphone.

The point: A lot was going on. It was a friendly, relaxed event where sharing and caring for each other were the examples being set. A sense of passing from one stage of growth to another were
 clearly seen among the generations. And the whole event was spawned because one family decided to travel into town from out-of-state and decided it was worthwhile to visit.

Then, it became a memory.

Families offering a connection to history

Another great way to interact and connect with extended family members, particularly those in older generations, is to gather together and share or record memories. These conversations are priceless, as the memories and wisdom carried by older family members will one day be gone.

For example, consider memories of the infamous terrorist attack on 9/11. For Americans present on September 11th, 2001, the shock and disbelief of that moment will brand that morning in our minds forever. However, one day soon, many Americans will not have vivid memories of the day. Once, a teacher who had gotten into the habit of asking her college classes, “Where were you on the morning of September 11th, 2001?” realized she was going to have to take that question out of her curriculum plans when one young lady raised her hand and said, “I think I was in Kindergarten. And they sent us all home for the day.”

Soon, it will be our responsibility to share the memories of these historical events with our children and grandchildren, who are growing up in a world that is undoubtedly changed by these events. In a similar way, we need to record the memories of our grandparents and other older relatives to hear their experiences with and perspective on events like Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam War, former Presidential elections…the list goes on. Personal stories and family memories are also important to hear and record, as their memories of family life are invaluable. Talk to these elders and hear what they have to say. Their responses could influence the history—and the future–of your family.

Family connections improve parental support in times of crisis

Families who have relationships with extended family members also thrive in times crisis because of their familial connections, a fact that undoubtedly contributes to their children’s development and emotional well-being. According to a 2011 study conducted by Cangrands, a national kinship support network for extended family caring for children in Canada, family relationships are integral to supporting parents in times of personal, familial, or economic crisis. Grandparents often become a family’s first source of support during an emergency, offering financial support, care giving, or even advice With many parents reporting that they regularly turn to their mother or mother-in-law for advice or information about child development and parenting, having a strong connection to extended family is essential (Cangrands, 2011).

Establishing social bonds with extended family members not only allows parents and children to develop close connections to these family members, but it also provides a close source of support in times of crisis. Children will naturally benefit from this reliance on family members when their family is in need of assistance.

Tips for staying in touch with extended family

Ideally, try to visit frequently. If family-members happen to live nearby, make it a priority to see them. Make it a habit and an expectation to visit for monthly dinners or other outings so that kids know seeing their family members is a priority. Figure out a way to make it fun for everyone. Try a new restaurant together, or go explore a park. Make family time enjoyable so the experiences are positive for everyone.

Vacation together. Vacationing together as an extended family is easier than ever. AirBNB, VRBO, and other websites allow users to rent rooms or even entire houses for vacations and have opened up a world of vacationing that wasn’t available before. We can plan memorable vacations with extended family and even split the cost of doing so. For everyone involved, the vacation will surely be an unforgettable experience. When you really think about childhood memories, you likely are able to recall several that involve places you vacationed. Doing this with extended family is a fantastic way to connect!

Use technology to stay connected. When face-to-face gatherings are not possible, email, social media, and VOIP–in various flavors–provide opportunities to share joys, triumphs, disappointments, sorrows, and even plain, ordinary day-to-day living. With modern technology, communication with family members is easily accessible. No more waiting for weeks for a letter to make its way across the Atlantic or over land from one coast to the other. In this hyper-connected age, children have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be limited to a phone that is attached to a wall, let alone one that can be listened in on by every aunt and cousin and neighbor on the local party line. Taking advantage of technology can strengthen the connection and bond between extended family members. Even with obstacles or disadvantages to using technology, it is important to make being connected to our extended family a priority, and technology is a great tool to utilize.

Take lots of photos. Pictures get processed by our brains about 1000 times faster than text. Photos evoke emotions, inspiring thoughts and memories about the event captured. Beyond sharing photos with extended family members, a thoughtful way to stay connected would be to create an online photo page that everyone can access and share their photos. This can be a fantastic way to stay connected and share memories with each other.

Perhaps in today’s society, we are so inundated with our own lives to realize how disconnected we have become from our extended family members. In spite of the difficulties, we should strive to stay connected with our extended family and make their relationships more of a priority. Only good things can come of it!


Anderson, Jeff. “10 Reasons Grandparents Matter More than Ever.” 10 Reasons Grandparents Matter More than Ever. A Place For Mom: Connecting Families to Senior Care, 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 16 May 2016. <http://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/10-22-13-reasons-grandparents-matter-more-than-ever/>.

Durham Health Connection. “Parents & Family: Extended Family.” Introduction to the Roles of Extended Family (n.d.): n. pag.Parenting and Child Development. Region of Durham. Web. 19 May 2016. <https://www.durham.ca/departments/health/family_health/parenting/positiveDiscipline/toolkit/extendedFamily.pdfhttps://www.durham.ca/departments/health/family_health/parenting/positiveDiscipline/toolkit/extendedFamily.pdf>.

Koutsky, Judy. “11 Parents Reveal Why Their Kids Can’t Do Without Aunts & Uncles.” P&G Everyday. Proctor & Gamble, n.d. Web. 19 May 2016. <https://www.pgeveryday.com/family-life/parenting/article/11-parents-reveal-why-their-kids-cant-do-without-aunts-and-uncles>.