Middle School: New Challenges, New SolutionsWhen Chris started middle school, I attended an orientation for incoming parents where I was handed a flyer called, "Easing Your Child's Transition to Middle School." I hand it out now myself in my parenting classes for the parents of middle schoolers. It includes many of the themes in this book: Keep track of your student's homework, spend time together, know their friends. But the biggest message in that handout--and the biggest challenge--boils down to staying involved in your student's life and in the life of the school. Even when your preteen is acting out, pushing you away, and giving you a face full of attitude, they are still in just as much need of you as they always have been. Even though their adolescent attitude might put you off, you have to continue to participate at and around school.
When Chris was in the seventh grade, he had to write a report about mummies. A mummy exhibit featuring the Egyptian child pharaoh King Tutankhamen was running at Chicago's Field Museum. In an effort to give Chris an opportunity to make a really great report, Thomas and I decided to spend a long weekend in Chicago. We loaded up the family car, enlisted the participation of a few friends and their car too, and traveled the eight hours to Chicago.
We thought that finding a motel in Chicago would be a cinch. Wrong. This particular weekend was the first time ever that the Rolling Stones were performing in Chicago. We couldn't find a place to sleep anywhere. After several hours of looking, we happened upon a hotel in the heart of the city, one with plenty of rooms. That should have been an indication that something was wrong. After checking in at the desk and unloading all ten people's bags from the two cars, we opened the doors to our rooms and turned on the lights. Roaches dropped from the ceilings and ran across the beds as they scurried for cover. Stay here? Sleep here? No way.
After collecting our money from the front desk, we decided to spend the night in our cars. Ten people, spending the night on the streets of Chicago. The following day we contacted a relative of one of the friends we had brought along, and fortunately he let us spend the night in sleeping bags on his living room floor. The kids thought the roaches, the driving around not knowing where we would spend the night, and the sleeping bags on the floor were enough to make the trip memorable. But we weren't done yet.
The next day, our host treated us all to a fish fry at his restaurant in a seedy part of downtown Chicago, an area I would never have taken them otherwise, and it was by far the best fish any of us had ever had. We rode the El from one end of Chicago to the other, just so we could say we'd taken the El. Of course, we spent an entire day at the Field Museum getting an eyeful (and a notebook full) of information for Chris's report on King Tut and Egyptian mummies in general. On the way home, the kids pestered the adults to find out when we could all return to Chicago and do the whole trip again. They loved every minute of it. To this day, they all still refer to the trip as "the time we were homeless in Chicago." And, Chris received an A on his report. This story always gets a great response in my workshops.
I'm not suggesting that you have to drive across the country every time your student has a report to write. You can find and use resources closer to home. The point is to understand what is needed and help to provide it. These habits, like good study habits, are important to establish early, so when your student hits high school the homework demon will be easier to tame.
Other factors contribute to school success as well. Get your student to school on time and encourage regular attendance. Make sure you all get enough sleep. The best school in the world can do nothing with your student if he or she is not in a seat, alert and ready to learn.
I have to bring up again how important it is to make sure your student is reading at least up to his grade level. You need to continue to stress the importance of reading by continuing all those great reading habits you started when they were younger. Hang out at the library, develop your home library, and let your student catch you reading.