Plugging in when your middle-schooler wants to cut the cord

I’m always looking for opportunities to stay involved in my son’s educational experience, which has gotten a little trickier since he moved up to middle school.  In elementary school, there were more ways for me to feel plugged in to his experience, as well as to engage with teachers and staff.   Now there are no more apple picking trips, family dance nights or in-class birthday/ Halloween/ Valentine’s Day/Thanksgiving  celebrations (that I’m allowed to attend, anyway).  The elementary school felt like an extension of home – my son would run up to me and give me a hug if he saw me in the hallway while dropping off books for the book fair or volunteering in the cafeteria on pizza Fridays.  Although I have a wonderful relationship with his teacher and staff at the middle school, sometimes I feel like an  interloper; kids I’ve known since they were in kindergarten look at me like an alien life form if they see me anywhere in the vicinity of the middle school.  I feel as though they think that the anti-bacterial dispensers stationed in the hallways should contain parent repellent instead of Purell.  And (sniffle) I’ve seen my son do a double-take if I show up unexpectedly in the hallway, like “uh, what’s she doing here?”

I found some great suggestions for staying actively involved in your child’s school while he or she is trying mightily to pretend that you don’t exist in  10 Tips for Middle School Parents via SchoolFamily.com:

  1. Get to know the teachers. It’s a good idea to meet each of your child’s teachers.  Ask about their expectations. Find out how much time your child should spend on homework each night. Find out whether there will be regularly scheduled tests and if so, when. Ask about the best way to get in touch if you have questions. If the teachers use email, be sure to get their addresses.
  2. Find a niche for yourself at your child’s school. Unlike in the lower grades, middle school classrooms don’t need extra adults on hand. But you can volunteer in other ways.  Serve as an adviser for an extracurricular activity such as the school paper, chess club, or science fair. Help out in the computer lab. Being in the school is a great way to get a feel for what goes on there.
  3. Do behind-the-scenes work. If you can’t be in school during the day, ask teachers and other school personnel to pass along some work that you can do on your own. Photocopy homework assignments; collect recyclables for a science or art project; serve on a parent-school advisory council; join your middle school PTO or PTA.
  4. Volunteer to chaperone school dances and drive kids to school sports competitions. You’ll meet other parents, school staff, and your child’s classmates.
  5. Go to school meetings and events. Attending concerts, plays, assemblies, meetings, and other activities is a good way to become familiar with your child’s school community.
  6. Find out about homework assignments and school tests. If your school has a website where teachers list homework assignments, get in the habit of checking it regularly. If not, contact your child’s teachers and ask them to alert you when there’s an important project or test coming up.
  7. Talk to your child about school. Ask specific questions to draw out your child. Ask “How do you think you did on the math test?” “Did Mr. Phipps say anything funny today?” “What games did you play in PE?”
  8. Give your child a quiet place to study and do homework. Find an area in your home that is free of distraction where your middle schooler can concentrate on homework. Be available to help if your child has a question.
  9. Check your child’s homework, but don’t do it for her. Offer to check math problems, proofread written papers, and look over spelling words. If you find a mistake, point it out to your child and help her figure out the correct answer.
  10. Post a family calendar in a central place. Write down important school dates, including parent meetings, due dates for projects, and tests. Encourage your middle schooler to add to the calendar and to check it daily. 
Middle school can be a confusing time for everyone, so  I’m all in favor of anything that keeps me in the loop in the most unobtrusive way possible.  I know it’s healthy and inevitable for our middle-schoolers to start asserting some independence but, whether they realize it or not, they need us now more than ever, right?  Someone validate me, please (I don’t think my middle-schooler is going to)!

plug in!

How do you check in with your middle-schooler and stay involved in the school scene?  All suggestions are welcome!

time for mom button

Photo courtesy of Mom Meets Blog

Tips to Streamline Those Hectic Mornings

What mom hasn’t gotten that frantic phone call from their kid at school – “Mom, I forgot my ________!”  You can fill in the blank with any variety of items – homework, lunch, violin, lacrosse stick, glasses -whatever can get left behind usually does at one point or another.

If the same crazy chaos keeps happening day after day, like “Groundhog Day” for the school set, planning ahead and establishing some routines can streamline those manic mornings and help to better organize the day.  Get the kids to assist in the prep work – let them “earn points” redeemable for extra computer time or whatever else might motivate them to take part in setting up a plan of attack and sticking to it.  It’s just as easy to love a good routine as it is a bad one, so check out some tips to help you get started:

  • Pack it up the night before – as soon as homework is completed, pack up all papers, books, folders, etc. into the back pack, zip it up and leave it in a centralized location (by the door, in the kitchen) every evening so it’s easy to locate in the morning.
  • Lay out clothes the night before.  It’s easier to let your child have a say in this the night before than fighting about it 5 minutes before you have to head out the door.  Everyday items like a watch or jewelry, wallet, or cellphone should also be included with the wardrobe.  And how many times have I heard “where are my glasses”?  Check out this cute glasses holder from The Container Store.  My son hasn’t misplaced his glasses since I put this on a shelf by his bed a few months ago.
  • Breakfast hassles? While multigrain cereal or some whole fruit are nutritious options, some mornings my son likes a hot breakfast.  He loves pancakes, so I make a batch on Sunday, freeze them, and then microwave them during the week for a hot, homemade breakfast any time.  Since I’m making my own, I can add bananas, walnuts, flax seeds – it’s healthier and less expensive than the frozen store-bought kind.
  • A calendar outlining activities and events for each day (math test, sports and club activities, music lessons, etc.) is a visual reminder of what items are needed to complete daily tasks – and gather them ahead of time.  It’s also a good place for writing down a to do list – charge cellphone, get lunch money, etc.  If kids can see what’s coming, it’s less overwhelming and easier to manage for everyone.  I use this erasable calendar decal from PBTeen.

These methods have cut down on my morning chaos and have helped my son stay organized – what strategies do you use to reign in the madness?  I’d love to hear about them and learn something new!