As the parent of a preschooler and middle schooler, our house is often like a flea market on a hot Saturday morning: active, exciting, surprising and full of negotiation. I often think about how different our two daughters are, but as they grow through various developmental stages, in reality they are more alike than different.
In watching our preschooler operate at home and in school, I am always amazed with how her life at this stage is all about questions: “How does this work?”, “Why does that happen?”, “Did Santa come down the chimney or through the door?” The life of a preschooler is all about discovery. Most experiences are new, generating genuine questions about how things work. Preschoolers explore unabashedly, play, experiement and try things without inhibition. Their lives are fresh, their minds are curious and their days are filled with trial and error.
In thinking about middle school students, we sometimes assume that they, in fact, have these questions about life figured out. Presumably, they know where ice comes from, why cars need gas and why the moon changes size (all things four-years-olds wonder about), but in reality they are still in a very similar discovery mode. Their brains are developing, their questions about life remain, though the topics change, and trial and error are still a part of life.
As Anya Kamenetz reported in a recent NPR article, authors Melissa Tooley and Laura Bornfreund of the New America Foundation write that “schools should focus on these same [preschool] skills, habits, attitudes, and mindsets with older kids.”
The challenge with middle schoolers is that they are older and living in bigger bodies. Therefore, we often forget that they surely don’t have it all figured out. In addition, the onset of puberty brings along physical, social and emotional changes that often get in the way of that unapologetic exploration we see in preschoolers.
As children grow, we must present high expectations for them, model integrity, and define structure and organization. When they do not meet those expectations, we need to find healthy ways to hold them accountable. Yet, we must remember that middle schoolers—just like preschoolers—are indeed trying to figure things out. It’s just that middle schoolers are grappling with more sentive and difficult topics such as relationships, empathy, identity, equity and social justice. These conversations are much more challenging than a conversation about why the sky is blue, but the concept of discovery remains the same.
As 2015 kicks into gear, my household certainly is already at max speed. Having two seemingly different kids with ostensibly different needs creates excitement similar to that of a night at the roller-derby, but—as I have come to see—they are not so different after all. For me, thinking about the life of a middle schooler through the lens of a preschooler actually brings some clarity to the sometimes cloudy, confusing, yet exhilarating world of adolescence.
Enjoy the New Year, and here’s to a happy, healthy year full of inquisition and discovery for your middle school child!
Kamenetz, Anya. “What Every School Can Learn From Preschoolers.” NPR, November, 2014.
January Book Recommendation from Kyle (for adults)
Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Knopf, 2012.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a vigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.