Distance Learning Tips for Students in Transition Years

students in graduation caps and gowns
The class of 2019 from Ansbach High School in Germany. (Amy Stork/DVIDS)

Your child's school year has come to an abrupt halt. But like many parents, you are not just facing a sudden end to the 2019-2020 school year -- you're also facing a major change next year. Your kid is transitioning from one grade block to another -- perhaps to middle school or high school.

You weren't really worried about it before, but now you've got lots of concerns and questions about what this will look like.

Transition years are kind of a big deal. It's a major milestone, marking the next level of maturity and academics for students.

The major transitions in traditional K-12 school are:

  • Elementary (grade 5 or 6) to middle school (grade 6 or 7)
  • Middle school (grade 8) to high school (grade 9)
  • High school (grade 12) to college, the military or employment

With many K-12 public schools closed for the remainder of the academic year, students and families will be navigating these big changes without in-classroom time to learn and prepare. Learning is now taking place mostly at home, which means parents are responsible for laying the groundwork to transition smoothly.

Since we're not all teachers, use these tips to help you get started!

Moving from Elementary to Middle School

This is the first big change for kids. Responsibility for learning is starting to move from the teacher to the student.

In middle school, students will be responsible for managing multiple passwords and accounts; taking notes; tracking learning, assignments and projects; and asking for help.

To help your child start to move in this direction during your distance learning time and over the summer, try these things.

  1. Make checklists of tasks and academic or household responsibilities; put your child in charge of ticking off each item with daily check-ins with you.
  2. Using the academic checklist, remind your child of their daily tasks and then let them go.
  3. Let your child fail in small ways by letting them try to manage their school responsibilities and chores on their own.
  4. Allow your child freedom of choice in reading materials, with oversight and veto rights held by you.
  5. Encourage them to pursue their interests and passions through projects, reading and research.
  6. If you're worried about academics, work with a tutor or grab a few summer review workbooks.

Moving from Middle School to High School

At this point, learning will be 95% your child's responsibility. Those middle school years have been spent building up the skills needed to manage their own education.

To make the transition easier, try these ideas during distance learning and over the summer.

  1. Release responsibility for academic learning to your child, with weekly check-ins to monitor progress.
  2. Let your child create their own learning schedule for their weekdays.
  3. Step up their chores and make each one a job that they earn money for; check their work to determine whether they rate the full amount.
  4. Help them create a budget based on their earnings.
  5. Use Khan Academy, if their teacher isn't already, to review material before high school begins.

Moving from High School to the Real World

Whether your child will be going off to college, getting a job, joining the military or something else altogether, it's a big next step into adulthood.

No matter what, it's important to send them off on this journey prepared to fend for themselves.

This spring and summer, do these things to help them get ready.

  1. Set up a checking and savings account with a debit card.
  2. Work together to track income and expenditures.
  3. Teach them to do their own laundry.
  4. Make basic meals and recipes together to cement the essentials.
  5. Help them schedule their time in order to meet their obligations.
  6. Create bigger household responsibilities -- they're going to be cleaning their own space soon!

Mostly, this is about making sure that your child can and will be as independent as possible once that next step comes.

For students heading off to college, use online learning tools like Khan Academy to review and get ahead.

What are your questions or concerns about your child's school transitions, given the widespread school closures?

-- Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey.

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