Educational transitions can be stressful for parents. We worry if our child is ready for school at age five or ready for college after high school. Over the past 20 years as an educator and administrator for middle and high school students, parents often ask me, “How can I help prepare my child for the transition from middle school to high school and beyond?” It’s certainly a question with more than one answer and is often dictated by the needs and development of individuals. That said, one critical 21st century skill, which most children need to develop, is self-monitoring. By this I mean the evolving ability to eliminate distraction and drive the focus on the task at hand, completing that task with intention, pride, and best effort. The middle school years aim to develop a deeper love of learning while “learning how to learn.” Parents and teachers can support and enhance this development, with a balance of structure, independence, and autonomy, which lays the groundwork for good habits in high school and beyond.
Access to high stimulus distraction has increased exponentially over the years. Middle school-age children have a hard time pulling themselves away from social media, gaming, and YouTube. At Sewickley Academy, we value the parent/teacher partnership to help our students develop the necessary skills to learn without distractions. Here are six tips to consider how families at home, and educators at school, can complement the building blocks of self-regulation.
1. Limit Screen Time
Set up a “parking lot” device station at home. When it’s time for high focus or concentration in order to complete school work, household duties, or practice a skill, children are more productive when their devices are not near them.
2. Create A Daily Routine
Find a location in your home where your child can work productively and consistently, and with adult oversight nearby. Bedrooms are frequently not the place for middle school students. Completing school work at the same time each evening supports their routines and habits.
3. Limit Breaks
A 10- to 15-minute break between tasks should give your child enough time to recharge and refocus. Children often want to take breaks for an hour or more to nap, play a game, or use their devices for entertainment. These lengthy breaks tend to make it harder to shift back into gear to get started again. The risk of losing track of time during the break is also greater.
4. Support Good Sleep Hygiene
Children who nap in the afternoon have a more difficult time getting to sleep at a reasonable bedtime. Exposure to “screens” close to bedtime can interfere with the ability to fall asleep. At bedtime, “park” cell phones and other devices in the kitchen or your bedroom. If your child needs a rest after school or activities, try to limit it to 30 minutes.
5. Involve Your Child
Have a conversation with your child about how to set up home-based routines suggested above and add your own refinements together. Kids are more likely to “buy in” to a new program if they have a voice. Make sure to notice their efforts, i.e. “I noticed how you really stayed focused on your Mandarin homework earlier. Do you feel good about the time you spent?”
6. Praise The Good Work
Success will mean that your child is developing habits that support self-monitoring such as eliminating distractions and following routines, including when and where to complete tasks, taking short breaks, and developing good sleep habits. These habits will certainly lead to heightened productivity, motivation, and success in high school and beyond.