Middle school is the hinge between childhood and adolescence with students swinging back and forth depending on the day. It can be a confusing time for parents. “He doesn’t let me read to him anymore,” laments one mom. “The answer to every question I ask her is “fine,” says another dad.
While distancing a bit from their parents, middle grade students often study the other adults around them for models of how to be in the world. I often sometimes feel like a specimen under a microscope with the kids eyeballs glued to the lens. “Where did you buy that dress?” they ask. “Who did you vote for?” “How old were you when you had your son?” “How many different countries have you lived in?”
The shifting ways that parents and students relate to each other influences what I do on parent night. I want to give parents and students a touchstone from the childhood they are leaving behind. To do this, I have students think of an word (object, action, person) from an important childhood memory, translate it to Spanish and draw it on a pair of large index cards. Then I have them write a letter giving their parents clues to the meaning of the word. I hang the pictures around the room and when parents come in, they must match the word in their letter with their child’s picture. It is a kind of subterranean communication where students can reach back to the security of the past as they launch forward, and parents can see how important those formative experiences still are to their family identity.
Second, I have students leave questions for their parents on the whiteboard. The questions are to the whole group and I give parents the opportunity to write back answers if they wish. I always get the most interesting questions: “What would my name have been if I were a boy instead of a girl (or vice-versa)?” “What subject was hardest for you?” “What do you most regret not doing when you were in Middle School?” “Which Middle School teachers do you remember most?”
With this activity, I am prompting students to study their parents as they study me. And I am asking parents to remember what it was like to be contemplating adolescence. It gives the parent roadblocked by the the answer “fine” a pathway back into the conversation.