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10 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Middle School
Parental support plays an important part in helping students succeed in middle school. But as they grow more independent, it can be hard for parents to know when to get involved and when a more behind-the-scenes approach is the way to go.
Here are 10 ways to keep your child on track for academic success in middle school.
1. Go to Back-to-School Night and Parent-Teacher Conferences
Preteens and teens do better in school when parents are involved in their academic lives. Attending back-to-school night at the start of the school year is a great way to get to know your child's teachers and their expectations. School administrators may discuss school-wide programs and policies too.
Going to parent-teacher conferences is another way to stay informed. These may be held once or twice a year to discuss your child’s progress. Some middle schools, though, only set up parent–teacher conferences if there's a need to address issues like behavior problems or dropping grades, or if a student might benefit from advanced class work.
For kids with special learning needs, other meetings with teachers and school staff can help parents set up or revise individualized education plans (IEPs), 504 education plans, or gifted education plans.
Keep in mind that parents or guardians can request meetings with teachers, principals, school counselors, or other school staff any time during the school year.
2. Visit the School and Its Website
Knowing the physical layout of the school building and grounds can help you connect with your child when you talk about their school day. It's good to know the location of the main office, school nurse, cafeteria, gym, athletic fields, auditorium, and special classes.
Most school websites have information about:
- the school calendar
- contacting school staff
- special events like dances and class trips
- testing dates
- sign-up information and schedules for sports, clubs, and other extracurricular activities
- grades and homework assignments
Many teachers maintain their own websites that provide access to textbooks and other resources, and detail homework assignments, and test and quiz dates. Other resources for parents and students are usually available on the district, school, or teacher websites.
3. Support Homework Expectations
During the middle school years, homework gets more intense and takes students longer to do than during the elementary years, usually a total of 1–2 hours each school night.
An important way to help is to make sure your child has a quiet, well-lit, distraction-free place to study that's stocked with school supplies. Distraction-free means no phone, TV, or websites other than homework-related resources. And be sure to check in from time to time to make sure that your child hasn't gotten distracted.
Talk with your child regularly about class loads and make sure they're balanced. It's also a good idea to set a specific start time for homework each night. Helping your child set a homework schedule and consistent homework routine sends a message that academics are a priority.
Encourage your child to ask for help when it's needed. Most teachers are available for extra help before or after school and might be able to recommend other resources.
4. Send Your Child to School Ready to Learn
A nutritious breakfast fuels up middle schoolers and gets them ready for the day. In general, preteens and teens who eat breakfast have more energy and do better in school.
Help boost your child's attention span, concentration, and memory with breakfast foods that are rich in whole grains, fiber, and protein, and low in added sugar. If your child is running late, send along fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt, or half a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Many schools provide nutritious breakfast options before the first bell.
Preteens and teens also need enough sleep to be alert and ready to learn all day. In general, preteens need about 9–12 hours of sleep each night and teens need about 8–10 hours.
Bedtime problems can come up at this age for a variety of reasons. Homework, sports, after-school activities, texting, TVs, computers, and video games, as well as hectic family schedules, can lead to students not getting enough sleep. Also try to prevent kids from napping after school to ensure they can fall asleep at an appropriate time each night.
Lack of sleep can make it hard for preteens and teens to pay attention in school. It's important to have a consistent bedtime routine, especially on school nights.
5. Teach Organization Skills
No one is born with great organizational skills — they have to be learned and practiced. Being organized is a key to success in middle school, as it's the first time that most students will have multiple teachers and classrooms, or do extracurricular or after-school activities. Students can benefit from parents helping with organizing assignments and time management.
Class information and assignments should be organized by subject in binders, notebooks, or folders. Teach your child how to use a calendar or personal planner to stay organized and schedule study times. Calendars or planners also should include your child's non-academic commitments to help with time management.
Your child should know how to make a daily to-do list to prioritize tasks and manage time. It can be as simple as:
- swim practice
- walk the dog
- study for social studies test (30 minutes)
- finish math worksheet
- read over science class notes (15 minutes)
- put clothes away
6. Teach Study Skills
Planning is a big part of helping your middle schooler study for tests now that they're juggling work from multiple teachers.
Be sure you both know when tests are scheduled, and plan enough study time before each. When there's a lot to study, help figure out roughly how much time it will take to study for each test, then make a study calendar so your child doesn't have to study for multiple tests all in one night.
Remind your child to take notes in class, organize them by subject, and review them at home each day.
Help your child review material and study with easy techniques like simple questioning, asking to provide the missing word, and creating practice tests. The more processes the brain uses to handle information — such as writing, reading, speaking, and listening — the more likely students will remember the information. Repeating words, re-reading passages aloud, re-writing notes, or visualizing or drawing information all help the brain retain data. Remind your child that it usually takes a few tries to remember something correctly.
In math or science, doing practice problems is a great way to review for tests. Your child can ask the teacher about online practice resources.
And remember that getting a good night's sleep is smarter than cramming. Studies show that students who skip sleep to study are more likely to struggle on tests the next day.
7. Know the Disciplinary and Bullying Policies
Schools usually list their disciplinary policies (sometimes called the student code of conduct) in student handbooks. The rules cover expectations — and consequences for not meeting them — for things like student behavior, dress codes, use of electronic devices, and acceptable language.
The policies may include details about attendance, vandalism, cheating, fighting, and weapons. Many schools also have policies about bullying, such as the school's definition of bullying, consequences for bullies, support for victims, and how to report bullying.
Your child should be aware of what's expected at school and know that you'll support the consequences if expectations aren't met. It's easiest for students when school expectations match the ones at home. That way, kids see both settings as safe, caring places that work together as a team.
8. Get Involved
Volunteering at your child's middle school is a great way to show you're interested in their education.
Some middle school students like to see their parents at school or school events. But others may feel embarrassed by it. Follow your child's cues about what works for you both, and whether your volunteering should stay behind the scenes. Make it clear that you aren't there to spy — you're just trying to help the school community.
Parents can get involved by:
- serving as a grade-level chairperson
- organizing and/or working at fundraising activities and other special events, like bake sales, car washes, and book fairs
- chaperoning field trips, dances, and proms
- attending school board meetings
- joining the school's parent–teacher group
- working as a library assistant
- mentoring or tutoring students
- giving a talk for career day
- attending school concerts, plays, and athletic events
Check the school or school district website to find volunteer opportunities that fit your schedule. Even giving a few hours during the school year can make an impression on your child.
9. Take Attendance Seriously
Middle schoolers should take a sick day if they have a fever, are nauseated, vomiting, or have diarrhea. Otherwise, it's important that they arrive at school on time every day, because having to catch up can be stressful and interfere with learning.
Middle schoolers may have many reasons for not wanting to go to school — bullies, tough assignments, low grades, social problems, or issues with classmates or teachers. Talk with your child — and then perhaps with an administrator or school counselor — to find out more about what's causing any anxiety.
Students also may be late for school due to changes in their body clocks. During adolescence, the body's circadian rhythm (an internal biological clock) is reset, telling a teen to fall asleep later at night and wake up later in the morning. Keeping your teen on a consistent daily sleep schedule can help avoid problems like tiredness and tardiness.
For students who have a chronic health issue, educators will work with the families and may limit workloads or assignments so students can stay on track. If your child has a chronic health issue, a 504 education plan can support learning at school. Talk to school administrators if you are interested in developing a 504 plan for your child.
10. Talk About School
Staying connected with preteens and teens as they grow more independent can be a challenge for parents, but it's more important than ever. While activities at school, new interests, and expanding social circles can play bigger roles in the lives of many middle school students, parents and guardians are still their anchors for providing love, guidance, and support.
Talk with your child every day, so they know that what goes on at school is important to you. When preteens and teens know their parents are interested in their academic lives, they'll take school seriously too.
The way you talk and listen to your child can influence how well they listen and respond. Listen carefully, make eye contact, and avoid multitasking while you talk. Be sure to ask questions that go beyond "yes" or "no" answers.
When preteens and teens know they can talk openly with their parents, the challenges of middle school can be a little easier to face.
- Helping Kids Cope With Cliques
- 10 Ways to Help Your Teen Succeed in High School
- 10 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Elementary School
- Helping With Homework
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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