Guest Writer: McKinley Ingram, Fifth Grade Teacher at KIPP Nashville College Prep Middle School
Is it already time for your baby to leave elementary school? Are the adorable book character dress up days over and the reality of lockers, class schedules, and teenage years upon you? It can be an intimidating transition, for sure. But it’s one that you can support your student in preparing for and set them up to have an amazing middle school experience.
We are grateful to be on this journey with you and your student. We know the impact that a great middle school education can have on a student’s love for learning, sense of self, and understanding of the world around him/her. We don’t take lightly the trust you place in us to see your baby through to high school!
From my perspective as an educator at KIPP Nashville College Prep, here are some game-changers when it comes to getting you and your student ready for middle school.
- Support Reading Comprehension | In elementary school, your student will spend a lot of time working on both reading comprehension and decoding (this includes phonics and sight words – which I imagine you’ve had your fill of since your student was in Kindergarten!). In middle school, that focus shifts largely to comprehension of rigorous and deep texts. This can be a challenging shift for students, but certainly one that they are equipped to tackle with your support! Some resources & ideas include:
- While your student is reading at home, periodically stop and ask them questions about what they’re reading. Readers who are comprehending text will be able to share a brief summary of what has happened, as well as answer Who, What, When, Where and Why questions.
- Head over to the library and pick out a book for you to read together – ideally a chapter book so your student can continue building reading stamina. Here’s a list of books from the Nashville Public Library that will be great reads for rising 5th graders: https://library.nashville.org/books-movies-music/5th-grade-reading
- Blooming identity of themselves and the world | With a new school comes new people, new environments and – inevitably – new social scenarios for your student. The newness will help your student be able to respond to diverse experiences and people, and there’s conversations that you can have with your student to equip them with the skills to successfully engage in the new. Here’s what I’ve seen some families do as their student transitioned to and through 5th grade:
- They pushed their student to handle small problems on their own. Can’t find your backpack? Send them to look for it then, if they’ve exhausted their options, go to support. Get in an argument with their sibling? Give them sentence stems to handle conflict on their own without your direct mediation.
- Teach them how to introduce themselves to new people! As you’re out and about, give them opportunities to practice introducing themselves – whether it’s practicing with a beloved family member or someone new to them – so it’ll feel less awkward for them when they do it at their new school.
- Talk to them about their identity (what they like, don’t like, where they see themselves in 20 years, your family’s values, their grandparents and great-grandparents, etc.). When students better understand themselves, they’ll be more confident in new situations.
- Understand the world around them | You should also talk to your student about people and communities that are different from them. Our school is a racially and culturally diverse place, so there’s a good chance they will meet someone who doesn’t look like them, speak the same language as them, or do the same things on the weekend. We celebrate and honor the identities of our students, so help them cultivate that same love for diversity. Some resources & ideas include:
- Read books about different cultures. The public library will have suggestions if you’re not sure where to turn.
- You can get a head start by reading our first book of the year – “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. It’s about a boy who, in many ways, seems different than his peers, but throughout the book he begins to realize that humans are more alike than they are different and that everyone is important.
- Talk to them about current events. Different people will have different understandings and views of the same event, so learning how to listen to other perspectives and respectfully back up their own opinions is important.
- Personal organization & accountability | Many parents come to us at the beginning of the year stressed about this – we hear you and you’re not alone. Personal organization is a hard skill for adults to build, nonetheless for 10- and 11-year-olds. That said, it’s important that they start to build a sense of organization because the rigor of their classes and workload will only increase in the years to come. Some resources & ideas include:
- They have a folder that they take home every day – check it with them. Make sure that all papers that need to be returned to school are in the right place and they’re neatly tucked where they should. Take out papers that don’t need to be returned to school to practice de-cluttering. It can be tempting to just do this for your student, but I recommend either doing it with them (both of you physically organizing the materials) or giving verbal directions on what to do (asking guiding questions and breaking down what to do into steps).
- Check their homework every night! It’s small, but that since of accountability becomes internalized. Make sure that it’s done, but also ensure that it’s neat, organized and – as many of children forget – make sure it has their name on it.
- Lean on your student’s teachers | Your student will grow like crazy in middle school – physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. Some days will be a breeze and others, especially in those teenage years, might be hard. That’s okay! We’re here with you and want your student to grow into the best version of themselves, just like you do. Lean on your teachers to best support your student. Some resources & ideas include:
- Email your student’s teachers to introduce yourself and ask them the best way to get in contact with them. You never know when you’re going to have a quick update or unexpected request, and it’ll be helpful to know how they prefer to be reached. Some teachers prefer email, while others prefer to talk on the phone or text; though there’s really not a wrong way to do it.
- Ask how you can help your student and celebrate alongside teachers when your student reaches big goals. Being a student is a full-time job, so treat them to something special every now and then to celebrate their hard work. Plus, you work really hard and deserve a little something, too!