Transitioning from elementary to middle school 

Lockers. Class blocks. Puberty. At around eleven years old, your child will make the sometimes scary but often exciting transition from elementary to middle school. Also called “junior high,” middle school spans grades six through eight

How does middle school differ from elementary school? 

The middle school years are tremendously transformative. Your tween will experience healthy growth opportunities as well as complex logistical, academic, and emotional challenges.  

Middle school provides more independence than elementary school because it comes with less structure. Your child will have harder classes that require more intellectual horsepower and they’ll start taking more work home. They’ll confront social pressures while navigating physical and mental development.

Your child’s transition can be broken down into four categories.  


In many instances, your child will have to attend a new physical school when they enter sixth grade, requiring them to adjust to different classroom locations and rules. This new school might come with a different timing for pickup and dropoff as well. 

In terms of classes, your teen will likely start “block scheduling,” which means longer, rotating classes with specialized teachers for each subject. This will require that they keep up with a slightly different schedule, various assignments each day, and potentially different teacher expectations. 

With so much class shuffling, they’ll have to start using a locker (often with a tricky combination lock) to store their things. Many middle schoolers have fun decorating their lockers to reflect their personality! If your tween attends a school without lockers, finding a large and well supported backpack can be helpful.


Schools vary widely when it comes to curriculum, but here’s the general idea.

Whereas elementary school focuses on learning facts, middle school calls for more creative, big-picture thinking. Your child will consider how factual information merges into real-world concepts through open-ended assignments. They’ll be asked to form opinions about what they’re reading and they’ll explore new concepts in all their classes.  

In language arts, your child will read nonfiction books, conduct research, and create bibliographies. During math and science, they’ll use calculators to solve word problems, and learn about probability and statistics. In history and social studies, your child will consider historical events through different perspectives, comparing them to current events. 


Oftentimes a few elementary schools will funnel into one middle school, which means your child will foster new friendships, while maintaining previous ones. They’ll meet and adjust to new staff members and interact with older, more advanced students. It can be intimidating to be the youngest ones in the school, but they’ll get their bearings in no time. 


As if all these changes weren’t enough, your child might start undergoing puberty around this time. Puberty can spark growth spurts and other physical developments such as menstruation or voice changes. Given their hormonal shifts, your child might feel more insecure or vulnerable than they had in elementary school. Continue your conversations about what to expect during puberty, so they know it’s all normal and that you are always there to help them with challenges.

Guiding your child’s middle school transition 

Encourage your child to be independent and responsible while still providing structure and security. Learning organization is also called “executive functioning” and it can take well into adulthood to master. Helping your child make lists or charts to get ready and pack their own bag and lunch (an independent morning!) is a place to start.

The most important thing when it comes to your relationship with your child (or any relationship!) is communication. When you talk to your child, do your best to validate their feelings and avoid passing judgment or minimizing their emotions. 

If they’re having a particularly hard day, it will likely make the most sense to just listen to them, rather than trying to solve anything. By doing this, you show them that you’re a soft landing place and that you’re really on their team. 

When it makes sense, encourage your child to see the positive aspects of any challenges they’re facing to build their self-confidence. For example, if your child is struggling at sports, take a moment later in the day to celebrate all the amazing work they’re doing in art class and tell them how much you admire them and their hard work. 

The below tips might also help your tween take on middle school. 

  • Tour the middle school with your child and consider making a school map together. 
  • Read through the student handbook together. 
  • Create a daily routine for your child with designated times for study, play, chores, and extracurriculars — or even better, ask that they draft one. 
  • Attend as many parent-teacher conferences and open houses as your schedule allows for. 
  • Keep track of the usernames and passwords to your child’s technology platforms. Limit their time on all devices and make sure they log on in public areas of your home instead of their bedroom. 
  • Focus on family meals when possible, everyone can take a tech break at these times.
  • Take the embarrassment out of puberty by talking about it early and often, respect their needs for different personal products and privacy. Make sure they have access to personal care products in their bag or locker.

More tips for the middle school transition

In the spirit of raising more independent middle schoolers, your maturing tween can also smooth their transition to junior high by…

  • Using an agenda to track assignments. Keeping an agenda doesn’t have to be boring! Bring on the sticky notes, colored pencils, and stickers to help get your child excited about staying organized. 
  • Participating in different extracurricular activities to meet new people and try new things. 
  • Arranging weekend gatherings with friends outside of school. 

Middle school presents a great opportunity to transition from the familiarity and comfort of elementary school before entering high school. With a balance of parental security and personal autonomy, your child can grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team


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