Summer is winding down and the few weeks that families had off to relax from worrying about their child’s schooling is once again on their minds. From social media posts to online surveys, parents are asking questions such as, “Do I want to send my child back to school?” “Will my child (or I) be able to manage another year of possible online learning?” or “How safe will school be this year?” This year, more than any year, we need to know how to prepare children to return to school during Covid-19.
Various schooling options
Deciding if and how children will go back to school is not an easy decision for parents to make. Some parents have no other choice than to send their child back to school, while others are investigating private schools and even homeschooling. There is no “perfect” solution that fits all. Regardless of what a family chooses, it is critical to support a successful transition back to school.
Barriers of distance learning
While families did their best to maintain academics during school closures, there were many barriers children and their families faced. This included hectic home schedules, lack of access to technology and the internet, schoolwork confusion, and the demanding role of parents. Not to mention the mental health struggles of losing the structure and routine of school.
The learning plunge effect
For many students, this return to school marks more than two months away from learning. In general, there can be about three months of a learning plunge over the summer. To help support your child’s successful return to school it is best to prepare before the first day. There are several ways parents can help their children transition back to school, regardless of what format they choose.
Re-establish routines and structure
Summer often means later bedtimes and being able to sleep in. The last few weeks of summer is the perfect time to slowly get back to a consistent bedtime and wake up times. It is also important to help avoid any possible technology battles by beginning to set boundaries and reducing your child’s screen time. Planning out the days’ activities (with the flexibility of course), bringing some sense of routine and structure into the day leading up to going back to school will help ease the transition. School is highly structured, and children benefit and thrive from this structure.
Re-introduce academic activities
We all needed a break, especially after the unexpected impact of Covid-19. For many families that meant not touching any type of academic task with a “ten-foot pole.” If you placed reading, writing and math on the back burner for the summer, you may want to consider preparing for the return to school by slowly reintroducing these activities back into the day. Set a reading time for the whole family or snuggle up and enjoy a book together. Bring writing activities into the day in a fun and engaging way. Your children can write notes to friends, create a story, or make a memory book about summer. Many kids love back to school shopping, so why not work on building their writing skills by creating lists for back to school? Use math language throughout the day and build in some basic math practice. This can be through skip counting practice, playing math games, or asking questions using math language. For example, “Can you divide the cookies equally between you and your brother?”
If your child is motivated to learn using technology, there are several great games and websites that can get kids back into practicing their academic skills. Some of these include Starfall, ABCmouse, Prodigy, Dance Mat Typing, IXL, Greg Tang Math, etc. When distance learning took over, many schools sent some useful resources, so go back and look through your emails.
Be mindful of the transition
No one knows what to expect as we return to school, so it is particularly important to be mindful of the impact that returning to school may have on our children. They may be feeling overwhelmed by the expectations of the day, news about health and safety precautions or even from the actual schoolwork. Take your child’s concerns seriously and do not wait for them to become a bigger issue. Set specific times to talk openly and positively with your child about what to expect. Help them understand what they can and cannot control. Brainstorm strategies for coping with different feelings around the return to school. You may even want to consider creating a calm box with your child that they can use when feeling overwhelmed. Expect some hiccups in the first few weeks as parents, teachers, and students grapple with the new expectations.
Create a positive home-school communication
Parents may have questions or concerns about what school will look like for their children when they return. Many children require extra assistance to support their needs. It is never too early to get in contact with your child’s school. Clear communication and planning are ways to reduce anxiety and ensure individual education needs will be met.
Motivate them to learn
When your child returns to school you may need to up the ante to keep them motivated to learn. Encourage them by checking-in frequently and giving direct praise. Some kids need additional motivation in the form of tokens that can be cashed in later for a desired activity or object. At this point, we can all benefit from a little motivation!
Regardless of what school will look like for your child, it is important that parents do what they feel is appropriate, comfortable, and safe for their entire family.
Thank you to Robin Bacher, Educational Consultant at Bright Lights Psychology Clinic for her contributions to this article.
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