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Easing the big step into junior high school

My son Joshua and his sixth-grade classmates are entering junior high school this fall. It's a big step, and suddenly they seem awfully young, at 10 or 11, to be going into such a large new world.

Their graduation from grammar school was touching and funny. Some of them approached the stage giggling, some stumbled, and some were more dignified than we parents had ever seen our children act. Diplomas in hand, all left the stage wearing serious expressions, evidence of their new feelings of responsibility toward their own futures.

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Five minutes later, all dignity evaporated as the graduates filed into the cafeteria for refreshments. Seriousness gave way to silliness. They had been "grownup" for as long as they could bear it -- which wasn't long.

Going to a junior high or middle school is as great a change as going to kindergarten -- even greater, I think, than going to high school. At this age, they are somewhere between being little children and teens.

My niece, Amy, explains: "Ten years ago, I was a baby who couldn't do anything for myself. In 10 more years, I might be in college or a mother. Sometimes I want to play with makeup -- and sometimes I just want to play with dolls."

Joshua, 11, explains his feelings about junior high this way: "It is exciting to start something new. It is also scary to start something new. I have decided to look at it as exciting right now. I'LL get the scary part of the first day of school."

I can guess what he means. The fifth graders at his school knew everyone and everyone knew them. They were the "big kids" who held all the responsible positions, from safety patrol to running errands for the office. They were admired by the other children, among whom were many younger brothers and sisters. It was cozy and comforting.

Now they will be going to a school two or three times as large. Instead of one of two teachers, they will go to a different room and have a different teacher for every class. The teachers won't know them. They will have to reassert their identities. And they will have to make new friends.

That will be the good part. They will be forced to enlarge their world. And although they might feel lost at first, they will soon be enjoying themselves. There might be new interests in sports or art or music which they didn't have before. Even without this it is, as Josh says, bound to be "exciting."

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There is not much you can say about this ahead of time. You don't want to make a "big deal" about it,and since children this age tend to underplay things which are important to them, they may not say much about it or want to talk about it.

It helps to remember yourself at this age. I recall sleeping fitfully on hair curlers, spraying myself with "pre-teen" perfume, and then helping my girlfriend with the chores at her farm before boarding the school bus for junior high. In the barn, I slipped right into a pile of manure and had to shower and dress all over again -- with straight hair this time -- and extra perfume!

My niece, Amy, gets me to tell this story often. It comforts her.

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