Students may hear all sorts of stories about middle school from older siblings and friends, whether they are well-meaning or intending to scare. Help them to know their own experience will be unique and to keep an open mind about the transition. They may hit it off with that teacher everyone warns them about, or they may find their own niche in a new activity. I’m sharing five ways you can help ease your students’ worries about their transition to middle school.
- Visit your local middle school(s).
Plan a field trip (or walk, if close enough to campus) for your rising middle schoolers to visit the middle school they will attend. Coordinate with the middle school to select a time when your students will be able to visit areas throughout the building and actually see students in class (but not the locker rooms — if your timing is off by just a minute, it could get awkward, trust me!) If your students feed into multiple schools, make separate trips if possible so students can see the actual school they’ll be attending.
If possible, request that older students, especially your own former students and/or older siblings of your current rising middle schoolers be the tour group leaders (e.g., 8th grade ambassadors). Ask that they be available to greet the buses as they arrive.
Make plans to tour the gym, locker room, cafeteria, music room, exploratory/elective classes, and other important areas of the building. It’s always fun to hear a demonstration from the band and to listen to different instruments. Our band director hosts a “band night” in conjunction with Parent Night, where students have a chance to try out all the different instruments.
Pro tip: While you’re there, take a picture of a bank of lockers so that you can show next year’s students what they will look like. My students always want to know how big the lockers are (and whether someone will try to stuff them inside!)
- Invite the middle school counselors to visit your school.
In addition to visiting the middle school, the middle school counselors make a special trip to our school to talk with our students about electives, exploratories, and band options. They also help them register on-the-spot, in the comfort of their own classrooms, after they’ve had a change to talk with their families about their decisions.
- Normalize their questions and worries.
It’s so helpful for students to hear their peers express the same worries and questions they have about middle school. I’ve compiled lists of commonly-asked questions by 5th graders and sorted them into categories in this helpful presentation we explore during my middle school transition unit. Before the presentation, I also gauge their feelings about middle school with these short writing prompts.
- Practice opening combination locks.
My fifth graders’ favorite classroom lesson each year is when I bring a class set of combination locks to practice opening. Pay attention to their efforts, and if you notice students struggling with opening a combination lock, suggest purchasing one to practice over the summer, or offer time during their lunch when they can practice in a small group with you. While middle schools typically provide the combination locks, the basic steps to open them will be the same, so they will build up muscle memory by practicing with you or at home.
Reassure your students that it may take a few days to get it, and that faculty will most likely be available to assist, especially at the beginning of the year and after extended breaks. I bring a class set of locks, purchased on Amazon and from Wal-Mart, and I use this Opening a Combination Lock presentation to facilitate a discussion about lockers, show directions for opening the locks, and even play a game at the end of class!
- Involve the entire family.
Look into whether the middle school will offer a Parent Night or Open House in the spring/summer for your students and their families. It helps for a student to picture themselves in the school and begin to recognize faces of teachers and faculty there.
Don’t forget to collect data from your students before they head off to middle school! I do this by giving exit interviews to them on our final class together. I also ask for their advice for rising 5th graders, and videotape their messages to share to next year’s group the following August, when we return to school. You can find many of the activities I mentioned, as well as a few others, in my Middle School Transition Bundle available in my store, Counselor Station.