It’s been a long time since school was normal, right? A long, long time. Our kids—whether they went back in person last year, stayed fully remote, or did something in-between—missed so many of their usual school interactions, from seeing their teachers’ unmasked faces to gathering around tables for group work and sitting on cozy classroom rugs for reading time. Many students missed out on important academic content, but even if they kept up with their math and reading, they all missed out on something.
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And now, most of them are gearing up to go back to...at least something closer to normal. It’s impossible to know exactly what this year will look like or what challenges we’ll encounter along the way, so the best we can do is prepare our kids—and ourselves—for reentry. Here are some strategies we’re using with our own families to get everyone ready for this fresh school year:
Check in with the whole family. How’s everyone feeling about going back to school? That’s a useful conversation to have every year, but this year it’s more important than ever. We’ve all been through a lot in the last 18 months, especially our kids. It sounds pretty obvious, but create some space for that, and for the different ways family members may be coping or processing it. Give each person a chance to share anything that’s making them feel nervous or excited (or something else entirely) about school. The things on their minds might be different from what’s on your mind. If you can, problem-solve together for the parts that feel scary. For example, if your child is particularly anxious about getting sick, remind them that more than a year into the pandemic, the evidence still shows that children are generally at very low risk for serious illness from Covid-19.
“It’s impossible to know exactly what this year will look like or what challenges we’ll encounter along the way, so the best we can do is prepare our kids—and ourselves—for reentry.”
Talk about safety at school. What Covid precautions will still be in place for your child at school? Talk about when they will and won’t be wearing masks and what social distancing rules will still be in place (if any). For students 12 and older, having a discussion about vaccination may be useful. For example, what activities are you (and they) comfortable with if they’re vaccinated but their friends are not, or vice versa? For those families who do plan to vaccinate their younger children this year, keep an eye on updates; the latest news suggests that approval for under-12s is expected this winter.
Get the right gear. School supplies this year will probably look more like pencils and paper than laptops and headphones. But you might want to refresh their mask collection if the old ones have gotten grimy (check out our recommendations for kid-friendly, high-quality masks). And if their backpack is harboring crumbs circa late 2019, no need to toss it—you can actually throw the whole thing in the washing machine.
Connect with their new teacher. As soon as you can, set up a meeting or call with your child’s new teacher to introduce your family and child. Make sure to share any areas of concern you might have, especially in light of last year’s disruptions. Share the best ways for communicating with you, too; for example, if you prefer to continue video conferences instead of in-person ones this year, you can ask if that’s an option.
Get your growth mindset on. Going back to school this year might be harder than normal, especially if students missed out on a lot of learning time last year. Remind your kids—and yourselves—that it may take everyone a little time to get back on track. To get a sense of where your child might need academic support, you can take a look at the Learning Heroes Readiness Check for their grade level.
Reset routines for healthy bodies and brains. Any chance your family’s bedtime and meal routines have gotten off-kilter during remote learning, and even more so during the summer months? (Raises hand sheepishly.) Give the whole family some time to readjust to school-year routines. Inch bedtime earlier by 15 minutes per night if you need to, and check out our resource on how to help your kids get As by getting zzzs.
Practice school for newcomers. This is especially helpful for younger students who are either new to school in general (hello, kindergartners!) or new to their buildings because they were in remote school last year (hello, first graders!). Talking about school routines, going over their daily schedule, and even taking a drive or walk to school to check it out can help them feel more comfortable. Encourage them to play school at home, too. All of this will help just as much as—if not more than—any kind of academic preparation. (Of course, by all means, keep reading with them every day, too!) This week’s Ask a Navigator has a few more ideas on this, too.
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