Life Skills

Getting Ready for Middle School

Middle school still feels like it’s a long way off when your child is a third grader, but the big transition is looming. Once they hit sixth grade, they’ll be asked to do so much more on their own, in and out of school. These are the years to build their executive functioning skills—so they’re able to manage their time and keep themselves organized as they grow.

Thinking ahead to middle school, it’s a time of huge leaps in independence: Your child may very well start changing classrooms during the school day on their own. They’ll have to manage assignments across different subjects with different teachers. They might have extracurricular or social activities that take up more of their time, so they’ll have to keep themselves organized so they can get everything done.

If that feels far from where they are now as an elementary school kid… it is! But time flies, so now is a great time to start building these skills bit by bit.

What types of executive functioning skills should your third, fourth, or fifth grader be working on now, to get themselves ready for middle school?


They’ll start managing their own time. A kid who can manage their own time will be able to complete assignments without rushing or missing the deadline, and you won’t have to nag them to get their homework done all the way up to bedtime. Doesn’t that sound nice? (Okay, there might still be some nagging required.) How do you help your kid learn to do this? For starters, get them a watch if they don’t already have one. Even though digital clocks abound these days, make sure they can actually read an analog clock (because they’ll need to at some point!). Instead of telling them it’s time to turn off the TV and do their homework, ask them to consider how many homework assignments they have, how long they think those assignments will take, and how much time they have to get it all done.


They’ll learn to plan ahead. As they have more to do in and out of school, they’ll need to learn how to plan ahead so they don’t get overwhelmed. Effective planning skills will mean your kid can make their own packing list for a trip, for example, or look at their to-do list and determine which items are the most important. To help them learn how to do this, start off with a simple physical planner where they can write their assignments and other activities on a weekly calendar.


They’ll start keeping themselves organized. If you have a kid whose backpack looks like a small explosion occurred every day, now is a good time to get them started keeping themselves organized. Encourage them to come up with a system that works for them: Do they need a folder for every class? Or maybe they prefer a folder for outgoing assignments and one for incoming assignments? They should develop a portable organization system that goes with them to school, as well as a system for use at home. Consider trying a “drop zone”—a space where they can keep the stuff that needs to come and go every day, put important papers from school that you need to review, and where they can charge any devices they need for school, too.


They’ll need to start taking more responsibility for their own actions. So your kid didn’t finish an assignment on time? Or they left something important at school? Part of becoming more independent is learning to take responsibility. To help them build this skill, you’ll want to start turning their mistakes into learning opportunities—and not bailing them out as quickly as you might have when they were smaller. Don’t ask the teacher for an extension or run back to school; instead, remind them that this is why they need to rely on their own checklists and organizational tools to stay on top of things. (And if those tools aren’t working for them, it might be time to brainstorm what they could do differently.)

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