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You know when you say a word so many times that it stops sounding like a real word? I feel that way about the word “hybrid.” Hybrid, hybrid, hybrid. Right? A year ago, a “hybrid model” might’ve described a car, but not your kid’s school. And yet here we are. When life’s only kinda normal, we get kinda school.

With more schools across the country opening up their doors to students as the year goes on, many districts are opting for these part-in, part-out approaches, largely as a way to maintain adequate social distancing between students in the classroom. This means more kids than ever are switching between remote and in-person learning on a weekly or even daily basis, and that brings with it a whole new set of challenges—and opportunities—for families.


My kids, who are 11 and 10, have been back in school in a hybrid model for a couple months now. We feel lucky that they get some in-person time with teachers and friends. And it’s also been challenging to manage the shift in routines. In our case, the district is taking a half-day hybrid approach. My kids go into their buildings in the morning for a long stretch of in-person learning, then come home for lunch and spend the rest of the school day in remote classes. This schedule minimizes the amount of time students spend without masks on, since they don’t eat at school at all. But it also makes our days pretty hectic.


Based on our experience, here’s what I recommend families do to minimize the chaos and make your hybrid experience as seamless and safe as possible:


Safety first. This has to be the first priority, for your kids and your whole family. Start with making sure they have good masks: We’ve been hearing a lot about how much masks matter, especially as more contagious variants of the virus spread. We’ve got some high-quality mask recommendations over here. Whatever variety you choose for your kids, make sure it fits them well, with no gaps at the nose, chin or cheeks, and that it’s comfortable enough that they’ll be able to wear it for a good long stretch. If you’re feeling nervous about them being back in school buildings, here’s some more advice from one of our Navigators about connecting with school to learn about safety protocols—from what kinds of symptom checks you’ll need to do at home to what systems school has for isolating sick students (or teachers) and notifying families.


Practice mask use at home. Speaking of masks, if your kids aren’t already used to wearing them—and especially for younger kids—consider doing some practice sessions at home, with incentives. (Masks on for screen time? They’ll learn real quick.)


Have a really clear shared calendar (or two). I know we’re starting to sound like a broken record with this one, but having a shared calendar in a place where everyone can see it is particularly important when you’re on a hybrid schedule. Make sure you use a system that works for your family and your school’s model. For example, you might want a monthly view if your kids have some weeks in-person and other weeks at home, versus a weekly view if their schedule varies by day. And each child should have their own daily calendar, too, so everyone knows what supplies and assignments they need packed up and ready to go.


Create a “drop zone” near the front door. With so much coming and going, it’s easy to forget stuff. Have a dedicated space where the kids can leave their school stuff when they come in from school or finish their learning. Ideally, this is a place where you can stash backpacks, store and charge devices, leave completed assignments that are ready to be handed in, separate clean masks from those gross damp ones, and anything else. Your goal is avoid the “where the heck is my ____” moments as often as humanly possible. (Though let’s be real: It isn’t always possible.)


If they won’t be eating at school, rethink your daily meal plan. This one is mostly for the families whose schools, like ours, are getting rid of in-school eating. Our kids now have to go from 8:00 to 1:00 with no food intake, so we’ve had to strategize around both breakfast and lunch. In the morning, we load them up with a big breakfast, including enough protein to keep them full for a while (sadly, no more to-go cereal bars for us!). We still want to keep it easy, so we lean toward things like oatmeal with some nut or seed butter, Greek yogurt, or scrambled eggs. (Hard-boiled eggs are also a good choice since they can be prepped the night before.) And then we also prepare ample snacks and lunch in advance, so they can eat as soon as they get home.


Talk through the schedule ahead of time. We like to use dinner for this, but before bed works too. Check in about how today went, and talk through the plan and schedule for tomorrow. Are there any unexpected changes to the schedule? Anything in particular they need to bring with them? Is it already in the “drop zone”? (And if not, put it there while you’re thinking about it.)


Don’t send your kids to school if they have any worrisome symptoms. Kids can get the sniffles or a headache anytime in the midst of winter. Under normal circumstances, it may be our habit to miss school only as a last resort. But this is a pandemic. Schools can remain open only as long as the virus is not being passed around in them. Even if you are pretty sure your child does not have Covid, respect the symptom checklists schools are asking parents to look at each day, and keep your child home if you can’t confidently say your child is symptom-free. It’s a bit of an honor system, and it will only work if we all follow it.


Go to bed and get up at the same time every weekday. Even if they can roll out of bed and get to their remote lessons on time, try to keep bedtimes and wakeups the same every day. It’s just so much easier to be consistent, and everyone needs a good night’s sleep regardless of what kind of learning they’ll be doing.


What else have you found useful for your hybrid model family? Send us your tips so we can share your wisdom.

“More kids than ever are switching between remote and in-person learning on a weekly or even daily basis, and that brings with it a whole new set of challenges—and opportunities—for families.”

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