By now you’ve probably received notification from your child’s school that they are starting the 2020-21 school year online. Or that your child will begin the school year as per the usual, with 100% in person classes. Or that the school has decided to offer a hybrid of online and in-person classes.
Your head begins to swirl, more than it already has this year, because let’s face it, 2020 has been, at best, chaotic and uncertain in every way. You wonder what all these changes means for your child and how you can seamlessly navigate the back-to-school transition given these unprecedented circumstances.
Every school year has difficult moments…but you got this.
Children all over the country struggled through the end of last school year due to a myriad of reasons, including:
- a lack of engaging lessons or teaching methods,
- classes that are not long enough or are too short,
- not having enough support in the environment or having too much support,
- inadequate technology or access to the internet, and
- the inability to sustain the level of focus needed to transition from direct environmental feedback to a flat computer screen.
Yet none of the above reasons come from children’s inability to achieve and learn. When set up for success, most children will rise to the challenge. Children will learn if the material is engaging, relatable, and introduced in interesting ways. That said, this can be difficult even in the best of circumstances—throw in a pandemic, and it’s even harder.
The fact is, educating children is about knowledge and timing. Whether at home or in-school, well-run classrooms and effective educators know their children and are flexible with timing of daily activities. The same is true for parent-teachers facing a new school year.
How can you best prepare for the school year ahead given the unknowns?
1. Learn if and how your child’s school’s policies have changed.
How will they be handling sickness, teacher coverage, refunds, and transitioning between online and in-person? How about classroom set up, pick up and drop off or arrival and dismissal procedures? You’ll want to know should you decide to switch your child’s learning for any reason.
2. Decide what you want for your child.
Struggling with deciding whether you’ll be doing virtual, in-school, hybrid, or homeschooling? A Pros Vs. Cons list can help clarify or justify your decision. Be honest and realistic, and take your time.
Ask your child what they prefer. Remember consistency is key at every level of a child’s learning. Choose the model that you feel will work best for you, your child, and your family, in that order. Nothing will work if it does not work for you. Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time.
3. Create a space for learning.
If you are like me, most NYC apartments are not working with much space. Finding a clear area to dedicate to your child’s learning can be difficult.
If you are recycling space there is a way to make it easier to transition in and out of. For younger children (3s, preschoolers, and kindergarteners), smaller spaces tend to keep them focused for longer periods. To give all children the best environment to succeed, their learning space should be clear of things not used for learning; make sure they have a designated chair and table or desk where they can complete work.
Keep areas for play and learning separate. If this is not possible, make sure all play items are out of sight as much as possible. You want to create a space where your child can focus without wanting to play. You want their brain to associate the learning area with learning and focus not recreation and play. It will make it easier for your child to stay focused.
4. Create a pod of trusted parents to share academic and recreational schedules.
Creating learning pods is tricky. In order for it to work you need to find grown ups you trust, who have a different work schedule than yours, who live in your area, and who are physically moving through the pandemic at a level that you are comfortable with.
That may sound hard, but it is possible: I know parents who are sharing the duty of watching over their children during key times in the day based on their work schedules. One parent helps during the online school day. Another parent picks the children up for afternoon time outside of the household. This is rotated between who is available. Fridays and weekends are arranged to give each caregiver a weekend or Friday “off.”
Mom advocate Graeme Seabrook shared a collective parents can join for support: “The Parallel Learning and Nanny Cooperative is a Facebook group where local parents can connect with families that may need support and can share resources,” she writes.
5. Get organized.
If you’re anything like me, getting and staying organized can be an uphill battle. But if you are organized, it’ll be easier for your child to stay organized or maintain focus. There are calendar and organizational apps that make scheduling and managing your household easier.
You should also establish a system for the school day. Children benefit from a visual schedule. If you have a child with special needs a daily schedule is even more important. If your child is not reading yet, use pictures. Search for schedules that might work for your household. Pocket Charts are great and reusable, or you can create your own!
But it can’t always be work, work, work. So give your kids break passes: Break passes allow your child to take a break from the computer for an agreed amount of time. This works great when used consistently and the amount of break time is maintained. These passes also give children with shorter attention spans a chance to feel more responsible when needing to take a break. Incorporating break passes into your day is a proactive way to avoid meltdowns or overwhelmed children.
6. Find a support group and resources.
Even if the group is online via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, find a group of like-minded individuals that you can share with. You can start a text thread with friends and/or family.
If you have children with special needs, take a look and see what your state offers. Every state has programs to assist families with children with special needs. (In New York State, The Arc New York offers special needs services that may include respite care, advocacy, training, and support groups.) Care.com offers solutions to childcare including children with special needs.
If you’re looking for educational support, there are SO many resources available to you. These sites make it easy to find content to use whether you’re homeschooling or supplementing the work being sent home from your child’s school.
- AlphaKey Club: Literacy based program that offers live online classes, tutoring, and academic materials for PreK to 2nd Grade.
- Out School: Live and pre-recorded courses across a variety of subjects for PreK–12.
- K12: This site “offers one of the largest online K–12 curriculums in the industry for those who want to homeschool, featuring more than 240 courses.”
- Nickelodeon Parents: Free activities and printables.
- PBS Kids: Online content, games, shows, activities and printables.
7. Learn compassion, empathy, and patience for yourself, your children, and others.
This can be one of the hardest things on the list. Human beings are flawed. It’s ok to not have it all figured out. It’s ok to mess up, forget, overlook, underplan, or feel like nothing will work.
Learning to breathe through mistakes, setbacks, accidents, mood swings, illness, and more is the hardest thing for us to do as humans and as caregivers. But the overwhelming days are sure to come and knowing how you will manage your behavior through them is key. Know that you will make it through the moment and take each day one at a time. Think of the moment, not next week, month or year, just the present moment.
Know that children inherently want to do the right thing and are doing their best. Children learn through observation. The way you want them to behave, you yourself will have to model for them. Learn ways to support yourself and your child will learn to support themselves too. You can say affirmations—they can be powerful when written, recorded in your phone or viewed daily.
YouTube is great for finding free resources to move, stretch, or meditate. Yoga with Adriene is a great channel to search for absolute beginner movements that provide de-stressing techniques for mind and body. (It’s child friendly too!) And make sure you’re getting sleep—listening to relaxing sounds before bed can help.
Learning how to show yourself compassion on your worst days can help your child rise from challenges faster, stronger with deeper understanding.
Every school year has difficult moments and this year may prove to be one of the most difficult. But you GOT THIS.