Moving from elementary to middle school is a big step, and can be especially challenging for foster children. The security of spending most of the day in one classroom is often replaced by the need to switch classes and teachers throughout the day. Students typically are expected to become more independent learners and may have assignments which require them to use organizational skills which are not well-developed.
The middle school years are a time when young people go through the physical, emotional and intellectual changes that will bring them to full blown adolescence. This can be a bumpy journey, especially for youth whose earlier years have been difficult.
There are things you can do to help your foster son or daughter adjust. Preparation is key: If your foster child is entering a new school provide him with some basic information about how things will work. Will he have a locker? How often will she switch classes? What will a typical day look like?. If possible, arrange for your child to have a tour of the school before starting classes.
Organize, organize, organize: Help your child handle the increased demands for independent work by providing a variety of basic organizational tools. Using an assignment notebook and having separate folders for each subject will help with staying on track with homework. At least once a week, help him clean out his backpack and remove anything that is not needed.
Make a homework plan: Work with your foster child to make a homework plan, including where and when it will be done and what role you will play in monitoring it. Be prepared to advocate with school staff if your foster child has special needs and requires adjusted homework expectations. No one benefits from spending many frustrating hours on homework each school night. Your child needs time to relax and rest, as do you!
Connect with the school: Foster parents know the importance of having an alliance with school personnel. Teachers and administrators want to work with foster parents. This may be more challenging once your child is in middle school. Figure out who your child’s “go-to” person will be if he or she is in distress.
Help your foster child connect to an anchor activity: The social whirl of middle school can be brutal. Being part of an organized activity helps most kids find their place. The nature of the activity actually matters very little as long as your foster son or daughter enjoys it. Prepare for the inevitable questions: Every foster child needs to have a comfortable response to the common questions such as “Why don’t you live with your parents?” or “Why weren’t you in school here before?” Help your child figure out how he wants to respond.
Finally, expect a period of adjustment. It will take a while. But with your guidance , your middle schooler can have a successful year.