This is an update of an article that originally ran in 2015.
Advice on School Work and Time Management
Helping your middle schooler manage his or her time is no small task. At this age, kids need to be moving toward greater and greater independence; however, they are still young and need parental guidance.
Finding the balance between being a helicopter parent who basically does everything for them and being a parent with a total “hands off” approach is tricky. Hopefully this article will help steer you (and your middle schooler) in the right direction.
BEING ORGANIZED STARTS WITH MOM AND DAD
As is the case with most parenting topics, my #1 piece of advice is to be organized.
I myself am what I like to refer to as a “selectively organized” person. On one hand I have a very neatly organized and labeled pantry, and on the other I have a huge pile of stuff completely blocking the door to our storage area downstairs because I apparently think it’s all going to put itself away. I share this embarrassing little tidbit to reassure you that we are not aiming for perfection here, but you do have to provide some structure for your child. In most middle schools, students are given a planner and also a list of supplies.
Make sure your kids have what they need at the start of the school year.
Then, it’s up to you to come up with a system for checking planners and homework. At our house, we try to take care of all of that before dinner so we can hopefully avoid the I’m-already-tucked-in-but-oh-crap-I need-to-make-a-little-house-out-of-recyclables-for-tomorrow problem.
Also, make sure your son or daughter has a good place to do homework that is free of distractions. It makes a whole lot of sense to have backpacks packed up and ready in a designated place at night to avoid the morning craziness of trying to find everything they need for their day.
Molly Guikema, teacher at Riley Street Middle School in Hudsonville AND parent, shared this advice:
“As parents of these middle school people, it is important for us to help them establish a realistic routine that keeps them on track. In my house, some of the routines are the same (the non-negotiables) while others are different from kid to kid (because of personalities, academic needs, or outside-of-school activities).
“Eliminating distractions during established times (to help kids focus) is important, too. All of my own kids have to charge their electronics–phone and tablets– at 7:00 so that they can unwind. Different days of the week look different for different kids, but the kids know what to expect.”
Trust me, this lady knows what she’s talking about!
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
PLEASE don’t ever get in the habit of getting into your kids’ backpacks and taking out all of their things for them. In middle school, teachers will expect students to be more and more independent. It’s kind of a good life skill, too. Make sure your kids know that is their responsibility. If they forget, ask them. Think of yourself as more of a coach– you’re not going to do things for them, but you are going to guide them through.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
Extracurricular activities are great, and in middle school there are often more opportunities than the elementary years. We parents need to determine how much is too much for our kids. In all honesty, a lot of this depends on the personality and needs of your child.
For instance, my daughter can go-go-go all day at school and be ready to jump into something else when she gets home. My son requires more down time or he gets really tired and cranky. Know your kids, know their limits, and be selective with their extra activities.
As a 6th grader, my son needs to devote at least an hour to school work every night (20 minutes of band practice, 30 minutes of reading, plus any other assignments in his other four classes). Make sure that schoolwork is a priority.
SLEEP AND NUTRITION
I think some parents feel like these basic needs are not quite as important in middle school. I would argue that they are even more important now! Their bodies and brains grow at an amazing rate through adolescence. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, healthy eating and sleeping are linked to academic success.
Make sure your middle schooler has a healthy breakfast (ideally something with protein, whole grains, and fruit- NO sugary cereals!), drinks water throughout the day, and makes good choices for lunches and snacks, too.
Through the age of 18, kids should continue to get about 9 hours of sleep at night. According to Kristin Avis, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics Division of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, “Lack of sleep can lead to problems with attention and memory in the classroom and affect impulse control and mood regulation.” Go to bed!
UNPLUG–ALL OF YOU!
I am not going to lie—I use my fair share of technology. (I am a little ashamed of how determined I am to beat the next level of Candy Crush.) But kids MUST have limits. We are holding out on buying our kids their own devices as long as possible. My husband and I both have iPads that our kids are allowed to use, but it is not very often, especially during the school week.
If your kids have a phone or tablet, please make sure you set limits. Make a rule that responsibilities have to be done before they are allowed to play on it. Have a place on the kitchen counter where devices go at a designated time each night. Check their devices often. Have conversations about being a good “digital citizen.” Treat electronics as a privilege that can be taken away if needed. I could go on and on…
So there you have it—my two cents on managing the mayhem of middle school. This is a fun, exciting, and somewhat awkward stage of life for everyone involved. Encourage your child’s independence, but remember that they still need you—whether they show it or not.