Going back to school in 2021 is going to look different, but in some ways, it’s going to look the way it did in 2019. Parents will still rush to fill lunch boxes and backpacks with the essentials. New and old students will experience first day jitters as they wonder how they’ll be able to handle their new workload. Yet, in the midst of the familiar, we still battle the same fears that plagued us last year:
Mask or no mask?
What about the vaccine? Will it help?
Is social distancing still a thing?
Should we go in-person, virtual, or some type of hybrid model?
These questions and concerns are on everyone’s minds. Students are unsure about what’s going to happen and parents do not have the answers. In some cases, the schools do not have the answers, either. They may not know until the day before school starts. And chances are decisions could be made and changed last minute or later in the year.
Starting school is stressful enough, and with these unknowns, it can be completely nerve racking. But yet, in the midst of all the fear and anxiety, there is still hope. Here are my suggestions on how to prepare your children and yourself to get ready for going back to school this fall during the pandemic.
Start by talking with your children. Be curious about what they know, what they understand, and what they may be missing to help them navigate this new school year.
“Going back to school may be different, what do you think?”
“Tell me your ideas of how you think school will be.”
“Do you have any questions about school?”
Stay positive, and remember, your kids feed off your energy and your reactions. If you are angry and mad at things beyond your control, they will feel the same way. Even if you do not agree with the school’s or state’s decision, stay positive in your reactions.
Practice setting expectations. Helping your child make connections to things that are the same and things that are different this year will help them cope. Compare this school year to things they remember in the past, so their expectations can be managed.
“Your teacher will try everything to get to know you.”
“They will explain procedures of the classroom and teach expectations.”
“It’s third grade, you will be learning cursive.”
“Aren’t you excited to continue Spanish class?”
This school year may be different, so you will want to make sure both your expectations and your child’s expectations are manageable. The goal is to be open and accepting when things shift and change. We may start without masks and then we may be asked to wear them. We may start in-person and then shift to virtual. No one really knows. The unknown can be scary for kids (and some parents) to understand. I have found the best reaction is to say, “Yes, this is unknown/frustrating/upsetting. What can we do about it?” Problem solving together on how you can live with the new rules, restrictions or expectations will relieve stress for everyone.
Play more. Playing is so important for child development and brain development. Make sure your children get enough outside, unstructured, gross motor time to play. Play time comes with so many benefits. Moving our bodies is great for relieving stress, strengthening our mental health, and helping us develop long-term memory. And unstructured playtime is a great way to hit on all of these benefits.
Having play be unstructured means your child decides what they play and how they are playing it. It’s not about coaches, teaching a skill or game. It's not about PE class. It’s not about parents saying, “Let's play this game or go on this hike.” It’s about kids not having anything scheduled, so they have 1-2 hours a day to play what they want and how they want. The act of decision making helps them develop executive functional skills, problem-solving skills, and imagination.
I’ve heard many families talk about “what they’ve learned from the pandemic”. One thing I've heard over and over is the idea that they realized that their families were overscheduled. Kids were going from school to activity, to homework, to dinner, and to bed without any downtime. Yet, when activities were halted in March 2020, families found that their children had a lot of unstructured time.
At first, it was hard to do “nothing”. But eventually, we all got used to it. Then once things started opening up again, I heard many families, including my own, say, “I'm going to be very intentional about what we choose to do with our time.” I hope people follow through with their new outlook on life. I hope they do not say yes to everything. Remember, it’s okay to say no to signing your kids up for everything they want to do. Instead, be intentional with how your family spends their time together and apart. This will help you leave your child with enough unstructured play time for their overall wellbeing.
Maintain a healthy home. When we go back to school, we are going to continue having the same conversations:
“Some people are vaccinated, some are not.”
“Some are masked, some are not.”
“Some are homeschooling or working virtually, some are not.”
Reminding your kids that different families do different things will help them understand free will and independence. However, with a virus spreading easily from person to person, we still need to practice a healthy lifestyle, no matter what our beliefs are. In the interest of public health, it is helpful to remind our kids of ways to stay healthy throughout every school year. Below is a list of things that will help reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses that can create health concerns within our schools:
- Washing hands for the recommended duration to kill bacteria and viruses.
- Eating healthy by meal planning with tons of fruits and vegetables and drinking lots of water.
- Moving our bodies by going for walks, having dance parties, and playing outside.
- Getting enough sleep through consistent bedtime routines.
- If your family uses essential oils, start diffusing to support nerves, stress, and sleep.
Another piece of having a healthy family is to talk about how things will be shifting in preparation for the school year:
- “During the summer, we stayed up late and slept in. Now that school is starting, we will be shifting our bedtimes to getting ready for bed earlier.”
- “We’ve had lots of free time this summer. When school starts, our schedules will be shifting back to structure and routines.”
- “We’ve eaten a lot of snacking and fun food this summer. Starting next week, we're going back to meal planning.”
- “We’ve been pretty loose on the chores this summer. This weekend, we’re all going to have to pitch in to keep the house clean.”
Going back to school during a pandemic is something none of us has done before. But remember, no matter what happens this year, you can control how you react. You can control your emotions and behaviors when something happens. And our reactions can be great models and teachers for our children. So, take a deep breath and lead by example because your kids are watching you.
For more tips on how you can help support your child’s vision this school year, visit WhosLearningNow.com
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