With August here, many of us are thinking about the school year ahead and what that will look like. Many school districts have already announced decisions and most are offering options for in-person, online, or a combination of the two. Regardless of what the choices are, the 2020-2021 school year will look much different for our kids, and for us as parents. As you prepare for the upcoming school year, we hope to help with our 10 tips for navigating the school year ahead.
Practice. In-Person school for most children will require or encourage additional safety precautions that weren’t in place before: masks and/or face shields being the most significant. Kids will transition easier if they have practiced this ahead of time – not simply tried on a mask/face shield, but really worn it for an extended period. This will help identify an ill-fitting or uncomfortable item ahead of time, and minimize discomfort/fitting issues at school. Talk to your kids about how the teachers and staff will look different with their PPE on to help ease the fear and anxiety of seeing that reality on the first day. Practice and encourage proper hand washing and using hand gel. Discuss the possible spacing guidelines that may be in place, such as colored circles on the floor to mark social distance, one-way halls, or dividers between desks. The more you talk to your child about the possible differences they will experience in school, the less overwhelming it will be when they walk into a school that looks very different from the one they went to last year.
Designate a Space. For those who will be experiencing online school, it can be challenging to create the best possible environment for learning at home. The first step is to designate a space just for school. Keep it separate from the “relaxing” area, such as a bedroom or play room. This way they will have an “in school” area, differentiating it from the rest of the home where they don’t have to be in school mode. Think about the long term impact when choosing the ‘school’ area – you may not want to set it up on a table where you eat meals regularly, since it will be difficult to do both in one space. Think about the possible distractions around your ‘school’ area, and try to minimize those. Find a chair that will be conducive to sitting and learning in (ie: not a bean bag and maybe not a rigid dining chair).
Technology. Think ahead about what type of electronics your child will need. Will they be working on a laptop? A chrome book? An ipad? Make sure the software is up to date and there is enough space to download any school required programs. Investing in a comfortable pair of headphones might be a good idea, especially if you have more than one child who will be participating in online school. Think about a charging station for all the electronics. You may want to purchase an additional surge protector, just for your ‘school’ area, and plug all school related electronics in there for continued use throughout the day.
Dividers. Consider a divider if you have more than one child who will be doing online school at home. If your children tend to distract each other or if they do better with their own space, purchasing a tri-fold display board might be a good idea. They can be used when needed, and folded up and stored when not in use. The child can use the display panels to tape up their schedule and their various online platform login and passwords.
Contain the Clutter. Consider purchasing baskets/bins (or using what you have) to contain school work before it gets out of hand. Designate a bin or basket for finished work, and another for ongoing items. Just like in the classroom, if there is a designated spot for it, then the expectation for tidiness is set. Consider getting several pencil holders for pencils, pens, and markers, and place them in a spot easily accessible to each child. If each child prefers their own, an individual school supply case/box would be ideal.
Plan for breaks. Keeping the ‘school’ area separate from other areas creates separate spaces for being ‘in school’ and ‘out of school’. Carve out time for down time and an outlet for energy. Could you set up some beachballs in the backyard? Maybe purchase a new basketball for the driveway? Map out some new routes for bike rides together? Purchase new art supplies? Look up a few kid friendly recipes for you to create together? Make a list of structured ways to take a break from online learning, and incorporate those with unstructured down time.
Stick to a routine. Before Covid, when the school year started, we all had a weekday morning and evening routine that ensured that kids got to school on time and were rested enough to succeed in school. Talk with your child, and set the same expectation for at home learning. Eating a healthy breakfast, getting dressed, and taking time to set up for the day will help your child do their best academically, whether in-person or on-line. Once you have a schedule for your on-line curriculum, schedule in the fun activities, down time, and meals and set a time for the “end of the school day”. This will help set the tone for the day and the expectation for learning time versus home time.
Plan ahead for meals and snacks. Let’s face it, online learning at home is going to take a lot of work for us as parents. Make it easier for all by stocking up on snacks that are easy for kids to grab on their own. This could be individually packaged snacks or doing some prepping, cutting, and bagging on the weekends. Whatever works for your family, make it easy for yourself (and help create independence) by setting it up ahead of time. Taking some time to think ahead about meals can save a lot of stress later, too. Maybe it would be easiest for your family to pack sack lunches for each child, just like in-person school. When lunch time rolls around, each child grabs their own lunch and heads to the table. Maybe it’s time to look into that insta-pot you’ve been eyeing for a while, and stocking up on easy insta-pot meals. This might be a great time to learn how to meal prep! Many people plan and prepare (slice, chop, measure) an entire week of dinners on the Sunday before. This makes it easy to prepare a healthy meal after a long day of managing online school. The goal is to think ahead about what would work best for your family while minimizing stress and extra work.
Plan social time. If your children will be participating in online learning at home, consider setting up some opportunities for them to socialize. This could mean facetiming friends or playing online video games together. If you know other families who are in your same situation, perhaps you make plans for outdoor play dates together. During this time of covid, we are all making the best decisions we can for our families, and that includes how socially distant we choose to be. Keeping that in mind, brainstorm ideas that allow your child to socialize with friends and peers, while maintaining guidelines that you’re comfortable with.
Give grace. This one is the most important. Give grace to yourself, your kids, your friends, your kid’s teachers…. Let’s all give grace to each other. We all deserve it. We are all navigating a new norm the best we know how. Each family is different – some families have medical issues to consider, some have elderly family members who rely on them, some are struggling with severe anxiety or depression with the current situation. You just don’t know what others are going through. Our teachers are facing a whole new way of teaching and are doing their best to step up and figure it out. Our kids have fears and are not used to learning in this type of environment, whether in-person with new guidelines or on-line at home. As parents, we are trying to plan ahead for a year that has so many unknowns and may change in an instant. So…. Grace. Lots of grace and love and respect and flexibility.
School is fast approaching, and now is a great time to start thinking about what that will look like for your family. Start planning and preparing so you can minimize stress and hopefully ease into this new norm with a plan in place to help things run smoothly.