If you’re the parent of a new or soon-to-be middle schooler, brace yourself for some major changes. Middle school is more intense and has a heavier workload, with most middle school curriculums including five core subjects and two electives. Children are expected to do more, question more, and think more critically.
Above all, middle school demands that children function as independent students. But how can you encourage your child to engage in the activities that promote greater independence? Here are four tips that will encourage independent learning and significantly benefit your child:
Establish a good routine. Middle school is a time when children must take ownership of their academic responsibilities, and there’s no better way to encourage this than to promote a solid nightly homework routine. At the beginning of middle school, parents should help children establish good habits: laying out a homework plan at the start of each study session, studying in a place that fosters their productivity, and embracing an organizational system that works for them. It’s fine to keep tabs on this to make sure children are staying on top of everything, but it’s essential that parents put their children in the driver’s seat.
Promote goal-setting. Setting goals is a powerful exercise that encourages children to think about school more intentionally and narrow their focus on what they want to achieve (and how they will do so). Parents and their children should spend time setting goals at the start of each new semester and writing down the obstacles and to-dos to overcome them. It’s also helpful to get children thinking about what each goal really means to them personally by dividing them into short term and long term. For example, your child’s goals for math class might be to stay up to date on all homework assigned (short term), develop and follow a weekly study plan (short term), and improve his or her attitude about math in middle school (long term).
Encourage self-monitoring. In simple terms, self-monitoring is a strategy that helps students check their own work for mistakes or areas that need improvement. As students become more independent, they should be able to uncover clues when reading for information or recognize when something—a series of steps in a math problem, for example—doesn’t make sense or seem right. Self-monitoring strategies can strengthen this ability. When children do homework for each of their classes, parents can encourage them to ask these types of questions along the way:
Are all steps in the directions clear to me?
Does this make sense so far? If not, what part is confusing me?
Do I recognize this problem as a similar type of problem that I’ve done before?
How confident do I feel about what I just read?
I got that problem wrong the first time—what can I do to get it right next time?
How would I restate what I just read in another way?
Step up the planner usage. Many children start using planners in elementary school, but middle school is when this becomes essential. With seven or eight classes to keep track of, children must stay organized, and it’s hard to do without some sort of organizational system and a planner. Explore whether your child’s school has a class or program dedicated to helping students create a binder system for all classes and use planners effectively. At a minimum, make sure your child has a weekly planner and is keeping track of:
Test and quiz dates
Homework assignments each day (and upcoming deadlines)
Other important dates for school (such as parent-teacher conferences)
Middle school is a major time of transition in large part due to the elevated expectations for students. Help your child be successful by nudging him or her toward increased independence—and follow the lead of his or her teachers, who have this goal top of mind as well. Lay the foundation now and by the time your child reaches high school, he or she will be ready to face any challenge with confidence.
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