Sending your child off to Kindergarten for the first time is a day most parents will never forget. It’s a day mixed with nervousness and excitement, but in hindsight, most parents probably recall it fondly, remembering how their “baby” was “all grown up,” ready to be a big kid. How exciting!
But the next major school transition doesn’t bring about such warm feelings, does it? Indeed, most parents don’t tip their heads and smile at the thought of … Middle School.
The truth is middle school makes a lot of parents – and their children – quite nervous. A combination of increased responsibility, fear of the unknown and growing social pressures can make parents worry for their children, and rising middle school students anxious about braving this new world.
Rest assured, these fears are common and normal. Many middle schools have strategies in place to help ease a students’ transition and Richmond Montessori School is no exception. While we find students transitioning from a Montessori elementary education to middle school may experience some nerves, as any young student might, the Montessori method built into their elementary education makes the transition much easier. Below we’ll take a look at how Montessori elementary serves as an excellent tool to prepare students for middle school.
Fear of Environment Change
Probably the first thing rising middle school students fear is the change in their environment. It’s a simple, yet very real, worry, as movement from one campus to another takes them from a place of comfort and plants them in a place of confusion. They wonder how they’ll find their way to class, who their teachers will be, if their friends will be in their classes, how they’ll open their locker, who will they sit with at lunch and much more.
At RMS, our elementary and middle school campuses are separate but within easy walking distance which help students ease into this transition. In fact, our middle schoolers have the advantage of making the adjustment to a new physical location when they are still elementary students. Upper Elementary students move into the North Campus, which houses Upper Elementary, Middle School, the Performing Arts Center and the STEM Lab so they have the benefit of exploring these environments before they are actually deemed officially in middle school.
Students enrolled in the Richmond Montessori middle school are together for all classes, except for Spanish and independent studies, and the same few teachers guide students through lessons each day. This frees students from worrying about what friends will be in their classes or what teachers they’ll have, worries that often serve as distractions from learning.
Amazingly, by simply removing the prospects of a change in location and the shuffling of teachers, RMS rids distractions and enables students to focus on learning and growing their individual talents and confidence.
As students grow anxious about a change in environment, many fear being surrounded by an entirely new sea of students. Often, exaggerated horror stories fuel most of their fears, sadly in some school setting there are true accounts of older students bullying younger students, and introverted students having painful times finding their footing in a new social hierarchy.
Fostering a true sense of community is not just something that RMS promotes, but it is a cornerstone of our approach to education. Just like our Toddler, Primary and Elementary programs, our Middle School program weaves collaborative learning throughout its curriculum. This helps students learn to work together as a team, respect each other’s differences, value each student’s contributions and prepares students for life beyond Montessori. Often, students help each other work through difficult concepts, which adds to a spirit of camaraderie in the classroom.
Contrary to a traditional school, where students’ social development is largely left out of the curriculum, RMS guides its students through this process, helping them work together in a respectful, cooperative environment.
In middle school, students expect to receive more homework, take harder tests and master more difficult concepts. They also expect to have numerous teachers throughout the day, making it nearly impossible to develop a meaningful student-teacher relationship with all of them. This is a stark contrast from their cozy Elementary School classroom, and it can cause many students to feel overwhelmed.
At RMS, we can’t say that Middle School won’t present more difficult concepts. But, we can say that the Montessori method carefully prepares students for added responsibility – not in a forced way, but learned through throughout their elementary education.
RMS Elementary students gain steam as they move toward middle school, practicing research and study skills that culminate in a year-long research project, known as the Expert Projects, conducted by our sixth graders. This gradual acceleration prepares Elementary School students for the more challenging work of Middle School, making the transition to RMS’s interdisciplinary Middle School curriculum a natural evolution.
Finally, rising middle school student know as they enter this new phase, they will have to juggle many new responsibilities. They must manage time between school, homework and sports, as well as perform well academically. And students know that they – not their parents or teachers – must manage it all. This can cause a lot of anxiety for many students.
While this expectation might seem like a natural progression, or even a good wake-up call, the “culture-shock” can become quite a distraction from learning. RMS is able to provide a seamless transition for its rising middle school students as the expectation to demonstrate self-reliance has been something they have been practicing and nurturing, in many cases since they began in RMS toddler classrooms.
RMS’s middle school program is the capstone of our school. It takes the heart of Maria Montessori’s philosophy – to provide child-centered education – and engages Middle Schoolers in an interdisciplinary curriculum that prepares them for life. They cooperate in projects with their classmates, work independently and participate in two multi-day field studies. The curriculum is thoughtfully designed and integrated so that students gain independence and confidence, all while building a strong sense of community with their classmates.
While the transition to middle school might present some bumps in the road that Kindergarten did not, consider the unique accommodations and curriculum Richmond Montessori can provide. You might be surprised to see that, not only will they smooth out some of those bumps, but they will pave the way for a bright future you hadn’t pictured before.