Especially during this Covid 19 pandemic, parents can smooth the way back to school by helping students know what to expect in advance and getting organized before school starts. This will be more challenging in 2020. Your attitude counts. Big.
Going back to school creates a powerful mix of emotions. This year, our youngest new students may actually have an advantage because they aren’t accustomed to a school routine yet. But for returning students who were pulled out of classrooms into quarantine last spring, school will look much different this fall. Navigating change isn’t fun, but conventional wisdom is urging students back into the classroom. You can help.
Your message matters
If I were to summarize the sea of experts’ views into one common-sense approach, the message would be this. Be calm, positive, and proactive. As in all things, you set the tone. Explain that schools are preparing for all children to be safe and well; that wearing masks and leaving space between people helps keep everyone healthy when we’re getting to know a new kind of virus; and that your family and teachers are in it together — you will figure out what works best for everyone.
Then get ready. Make sure everyone in the family has a comfortable, breathable mask to wear and have everyone practice all-day wear and thorough handwashing at least once before school starts.
Get the lay of the land ahead of time
Schools may not be offering summer tours this year, so take a look at the web site together and be sure to read any procedural messages from the school and district. You can definitely locate the car and bus drop-off and pick-up locations, and discuss plans for lunches. Discuss any provisions for remote learning and set up a useful, well lit, dedicated workspace for each student in the house.
Supplies and packs
Find the school/teacher supply lists and take a fun trip to the store together. Put any general items (e.g. boxes of tissue, pencils, and looseleaf paper for teachers) in one bag. For elementary age students and older, set up a very basic binder/trapper. Students don’t need an entire ream of paper and a dozen pencils (seen it!)
Keep the backpack size manageable. Experts I interviewed for an Illinois Times backpack article in 2018 cautioned that carrying large, heavy backpacks creates musculoskeletal problems for children and youth even when worn properly with arms through both straps and the pack centered properly on the back. Instead, select a small backpack for a small child, and a medium backpack for everyone else. If your school still uses large, heavy textbooks, buy a used set online for home and sell/donate them next year.
It truly grieves me to say, clothes and shoes matter. If your child likes to make an alternative statement, affirm all reasonable and dress-code-conscious choices. Otherwise, find something affordable that fits in with the crowd.
Sincerely trying to help our kids build experiences, create positive peer groups, and graduate with a standout resume, families can run themselves ragged. According to published research, such as the sleep data from the Washington Post, most children and youth need about twice as much sleep as they get.
There are a lot of demands on families. Try, and don’t give up, to create a routine that supports ample sleep time on a predictable schedule, time to do the day’s homework and “chunk” larger future assignments, stress-free family time, and unstructured time to enjoy creativity, relaxation, imagination, and quiet spaces. The whole family will enjoy the rewards of improved communication, focus, empathy, and grades.
Eating and sleeping
Make meals count, especially breakfast. A big bowl of sugary cereal or syrupy French toast sticks will put your child right to sleep during morning math. Sadly, this is usually the first thing kids reach for in the school breakfast line. So serve protein at home. Consider toast with nut butter, scrambled eggs, or, for kids who don’t like traditional breakfast dishes, a baked potato with cheese, chicken strips, or breakfast burrito. Even vegans can work out protein-rich breakfasts instead of sweets, and will not miss that mid-morning sugar-crash headache a bit. *Anything you can make the night before will help ensure breakfast success.*
Too much screen time? You know what to do. Make the rules gentle, respectful and consistent, especially half an hour before bed.
Our grandmothers said it, and it will always be true. Accentuate the positive. Be grateful. Affirm accomplishments and improvement, not just A’s and wins. Eliminate negative self talk. Count your blessings aloud with each other. Cheer each other on. You’re in it together, so be The Team for one another.
Have a good year!
UNICEF offers back-to-school guidance for parents including this encouragement published in June. “As children often take their emotional cues from the key adults in their lives – including parents and teachers – it is important that adults manage their own emotions well and remain calm, listen to children’s concerns, speak kindly and reassure them.”
Note that signs of more than new year “jitters,” says Johns Hopkins’ Courtney Keeton — such as prolonged anxiety for a few weeks into the new year, stomachaches or fatigue — may be ‘red flags’ (that) indicate the child’s anxiety should be evaluated by a child psychologist or psychiatrist.”
Above all, become as familiar as possible with new routines. And, as UNICEF says, “When in doubt, empathy and support are the way to go.”
Photos courtesy of Pixabay