Each new school year brings out a range of emotions in parents and kiddos alike. We are anxious, excited, nervous and frazzled but we also feel pride in seeing our children embark on the challenge ahead. As a seasoned middle school teacher and parent to three school-aged kiddos (including one seventh grader), I wanted to share some of my personal tips to ensure a successful school year. These are middle school focused, but many of these tips could translate to other grades as well. So as you pack those lunches, clean out backpacks, and find the perfect first-day outfit, may the force be with you. Supporting your child in the classroom is not always easy, but if you commit to being involved and invested in their education, the end result will be worth it.
Do send basic supplies
It’s okay to skim through those crazy long lists, but plan on sticking with the basics. Most teachers have classroom supplies on hand and usually have extras for kiddos that can’t afford any. The necessities are pens, pencils, binder paper, erasers and a pencil sharpener. Keep replenishing these throughout the year as needed. It always makes me laugh when my students don’t have anything to write with but they do have the newest iPhone. Let’s change that!
Do stay nosy
Ask questions, constantly. Be that annoying parent. Get on the parent portal often to see how things are going grade wise. Bookmark teacher websites and google classrooms. Check-in during your car rides when you are forced to share the same space. Ask about school work, friends, school events, lunch happenings, sports, all of it. They may not always provide long responses, but they should come to expect this daily conversation.
Do give emotional support
Being a tween or teen is hard. Middle school is hard. Kids need a soft place to fall, be that place. Give them those awkward hugs, steal those kisses, and yell “I love you!” in the dropoff line. They will say they hate it, but they will secretly love it. And if you find that they need extra social or emotional support throughout the year, consider contacting your school counselor. They are magic when it comes to helping kids; they’ve seen and heard it all. Don’t hesitate to lean on their expertise.
Do get the full story
Typically we as parents only get parts of the story and we end up having to place pieces together as it unfolds. This is normal. There will be times that your kid is struggling with something and they will likely tell you a slanted version from their point of view. Don’t assume it’s 100% accurate. Check in with the teacher or other parents to get the full scoop, then work together as a team to move forward.
Do get involved in school activities
There are many ways to do this. If you can show up in person to field trips or event days, great! We often need extra help with those things. Can you participate in a school committee or PTA, do it! Wanna help from home wrapping those dreaded shoeboxes for diorama projects, awesome! Is it easier to send in money or snacks for events, fabulous! The bottom line is, do something. Do whatever works for you. Your kids will see that you are investing in their school and that in itself is really valuable.
Do send snacks and a healthy lunch
True story: I had an 8th grader who brought in a bag of dry cake mix and was literally pouring it into his mouth during our morning break. And that’s not even the worst of it. If you are having your kids pack their own snack/lunch (which I recommend), try to at least know what it is. Give them healthy options if you can along with a reusable water bottle. Flaming hot Cheetos and Takis only result in red fingers and crazy kiddos. If they buy a hot lunch, they should have some good options as long as they actually eat it. I see so many students who don’t eat at all during the school day and they are fading fast when they show up for those last few periods of the day.
Do check the backpack
Another true story: I had a student who unzipped their backpack in class and an actual moth flew out. I can’t make these things up. Backpacks are black holes. They are dark, destructive and mysterious. I sometimes close my eyes when digging through my own kiddos backpacks because the contents are often frightening. But, here’s the thing, IT HAS TO BE DONE. Make this a weekly occurrence. I call it the backpack dump. My rule is that everything must have a home. No loose papers, no loose items, no random crap hanging out at the bottom.
Do encourage active participation
Teach your child to be their own advocate. This is hard but so important. Encourage them to check in with their teachers when they have questions, either by email or face to face. Make them return those dang permission slips, don’t do all those extra tasks for them. Make them have the hard conversations when things go awry, they need to experience that. Don’t take on their issues and let them off the hook. Keep them accountable for the things they can control and support them along the way. Teachers are more receptive to students who show up for themselves versus emails from parents demanding answers.
Do review the homework
I’m the first to admit that I hate homework. I just do. I don’t assign much homework and I stress about my own kiddos homework completion. Just saying the word is causing me stress. Nonetheless, homework exists. My biggest piece of advice is for students to use the planner or some system to write down daily homework in each class. Yes, some teachers post it on websites, but it’s really useful to have it all in one place. If your student’s school does not provide planners, I recommend getting one with sections for each subject area. Read through their planner every day. Let them know you mean business. Some kids need more or less support than others, but doing something is better than nothing.
Do limit technology
I’m one of those cell phone haters. Knowing that most middle schoolers probably have their own cell phones, my number one request would be to highly limit their access after school. Let me patrol the during school access, and support me when I confiscate phones that are out without permission. Don’t let them fall into their phones and hide in their rooms. Create a space where they can unplug and let go of the drama. Yes, they will protest, but I’m telling you, this is the best thing you can do for them. Be their excuse, be that mean mom, sometimes that’s all they need to escape from the social media prison that they live in 24/7.
Soon enough our sweet (and slightly awkward) tweens and teens will be on their way to those big bad high schools. And shortly they will be driving themselves to school. I can’t even. But for now, let’s keep those little loves on the radar and be as
annoying involved as we can. This way they will totally be able to do high school without us, right?!