If you’re a parent of a school-aged child, you’re likely full of a mix of emotions as you think about what this next school year will look like. I want to acknowledge how hard all of this is and provide a few strategies to help you ease your child into the school year if they will be learning in a virtual or hybrid format.
The transition back to school is typically a frenzied and stressful time in the best of scenarios. But in the past at least there has been a clear delineation between school and non-school environments. This change of scenery, while difficult for some children, typically eases the transition from summer (home) to school (not home).
For most of us this year that transition is going to look very different. I anticipate it to be much harder, so I’m planning to make a concerted effort to create that delineation. Pre-COVID, our time had gotten overscheduled and overly structured. I’m all for my kids having increased freedom and flexibility, in theory. But if I’m honest, this summer has been hard for my husband and me to be as productive as we would like in our jobs, so we are focusing on how we can get back some of that productivity with the start of school.
To avoid the shock and confusion of an unprepared transition, I have a few ideas for ways you can make this transition easier for your child, and hope that they won’t dread it...and may even look forward to learning from home or in a hybrid format.
In a previous blog I wrote “5 Tips to Increase Work-from-Home Productivity,” I suggested creating a defined workspace for each person, setting up a functional system for paperwork, implementing a communication system, and designing a visible (and viable!) schedule for everyone. Check that blog post out and download that schedule if you haven’t already.
Having a schedule is crucial, but so is having a plan for the transition back to school. So, let’s talk about that transition.
Before I talk about what to do to prepare, I thought you may want to know what to buy. I put together a product printable with suggestions for your in-home classroom and products to help your child if they are going back to a physical school.
Spend some time counting down to the first day of school. Explain what “online” or “hybrid” learning means, and create a schedule that you plan to follow each day and each week. Kids thrive on structure. And if that structure can include some free play time, walks outside, or exercise in between classes, all the better. Click here for Lockdown Kids Schedule and Tips
Consider including favorite activities as a part of your schedule, and opportunities to talk about experiences and feelings throughout. You could even secretly schedule some surprises that may get your child through a tough moment or encourage them for a job well done. I’m talking about little “treasure chest” toys, favorite candies, or a new movie to watch together at the end of the day.
This may change over time, but try to determine how much of your day you can (or want) to spend engaging in online learning with your child. Considering writing this into your schedule, too, so you can plan accordingly.
For little ones, prepping them too far in advance can backfire. But, of course, for older kids, oftentimes the more time they have to prepare, the better. So, let them know the plan at least a week in advance. Go over the schedule, explain what online or hybrid learning will look like and feel like. If your school is hybrid, explain the ways in which being in the school will be different. A few ways in which school may feel different are: Everyone will be wearing a mask, you’ll be asked to stay six feet apart from everyone, and lunch will be in your classroom. Yes, that will be hard. But it will be less hard if your child knows it’s coming and why.
If your child’s classes start early in the morning, consider putting them to bed a bit earlier every night for a week. Consider waking them a bit earlier, too, so they are adjusted to the new start time before classes begin. This is especially helpful if your school is hybrid. You’ll want to get them used to waking early, getting ready, and out the door in time!
With the cancellation of most “back to school” nights and orientation events, there is a void for fun events that can excite your child and get them ready to go back to school. But, you could fill that void by creating your own. The night before school starts could be a really special, memorable one for you and your kids. You can plan for their favorite dinner, a movie night, a game night, or all of the above.
After the celebration and while they’re in bed that night, you could set up their home classroom/designated learning space. If you have an older child who may be particular about what this looks like, consider setting it up the day before with them. Examples of things to add include educational posters, new school supplies, congratulatory stickers you’re ready to put on their outstanding assignments, a copy of the new schedule, the calendar, and anything else that connotes learning and fun. Perhaps log on to the student portal so that they can see what class is going to look like the next day.
Start this day like you plan to start every future online school day for the rest of the semester - with one exception! Don’t forget to take those “first day of school” porch photos! If you’re going to have breakfast at 8 am, do that. If you’re going for a walk each morning, be sure to start on day one. You could even walk to the bus stop and back with your child’s backpack on! Kids thrive on structure. Going to school online is going to feel unusual. But you can mitigate that to some extent by creating a routine and sticking to it.
Reveal their new classroom to them with great enthusiasm. Fake it until you make it, friend! Try to log in early if you can, so you don’t miss out on the first minutes of class. Maybe have some water (in a sealed cup!) near them. Try to keep snacks out of the equation until breaks, though. It’s tougher for them to participate and concentrate if their mouth is full!
For those of you with a hybrid format, you will have lots of transitions to prep for. Creating a visual for your kids of what that will look like each month will help. And if they can cross off the days, even better!
That first day of school in the classroom may create some jitters in kids, and you! But, you can ease some of this by being totally prepared. I go into great detail about preparing for the first day of school (in a pre-COVID-19 era) in a blog wrote last year called “Back to School Prep: 6 Organization Tips for Parents”. Here’s a summary of what I included there: Ask them to lay out their first day of school outfit the night before. Pack their lunches, prep their backpacks, and set out shoes. The morning of, they’ll probably have to wake up earlier than usual. Allowing for plenty of time in the morning will help create a calmer morning routine and ample time for breakfast. It will also prevent you from rushing out the door.
Make sure you send your child with the necessary masks and hand sanitizer that they’ll need. Since masks can get wet throughout the day - from breathing into them and sweating - buying several child-sized masks can be great. My son prefers to use these disposable masks. My daughter prefers cloth masks so I ordered two of these sets for her so she’ll have two per day and I can wash them over the weekend.
I know that this is a tough time for everyone. I see how hard you are trying to keep it all together - for yourself, for your kids, for your whole family. There really are no good choices. But since this is our new reality, we need to make it as palatable and functional as possible. I hope that this provides some helpful guidance to you as you prepare to go back to school in a pandemic. If you have any other ideas you’d like to share, I know our community would love to hear!
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