Prepare Your Child to Return to School

Girl with backpack in classroom with a mask

In a few weeks public school families in Seattle, WA will have the opportunity to send their Kindergarten through 5th grade students to hybrid in-person/distance learning. There are tons of emotions around this big decision. Some families and kids I know are elated. Others are very anxious about this transition. Most feel a bit of both.

Wherever you are on the emotional spectrum, there are several strategies you can use to help prepare your child, and your family, for this transition. I’ve written about how to ensure a smooth transition back-to-school in a typical Fall. But this return to school is anything but typical. Kids have been out of their school buildings for over a year. Distance learning has been a challenge for many students.

Learning in the classroom will look different than it did for your child before the pandemic. There will be no collaborative workstations. Students won’t be sitting at tables together. There will be no partners for projects. Teachers will be adjusting their curriculum so that it can be simultaneously administered to the students in the classroom and those online. Classroom set-up, rules, and even recess will all be radically different for your child than they were before the pandemic.

But different is not necessarily bad. There are clear benefits to social and emotional development, mental health, and learning to the return to the classroom, even it if it only hybrid.

They key to getting the most out of this transition is to take time to prepare your child.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do anything fancy. Small moments over the next few weeks will be enough. Doing so will make it a more positive experience for your child and the whole family.

I’ve put together a list of 8 strategies for you to ease the transition for your child into hybrid learning.

  1. Tell your child that it is safe to go to school. Public health officials have decided that it is safe for young children to return to the classroom, but some kids are still worried. It makes perfect sense – we have spent a full year telling them to stay away from other kids, and now we are preparing to send them into a building with a whole bunch of kids. Tell your child that scientists and doctors have studied coronavirus and they think it is safe for some kids to return. You have already made the decision to send your child to hybrid learning – so let your child know that you think it is safe as well.
  2. Talk about how school will be different. It’s important to help your child understand how the school day will be different. Your child will have to wear a mask the entire time. Your child will have to stay distanced from their peers and friends. There will be limits on bathroom time and going to the drinking fountain. The more you talk about this with your child, the more likely they will be prepared for the new rules. You won’t know all the information to prep your child for the new school rules. That’s okay. Talking about the different sorts of rules that might happen will be enough. Remind your child that their goal is to listen to their teacher. Tell them that you are confident they will learn the rules quickly.
  3. Remind your child that teachers are helpers. Your child doesn’t have to get everything right on the first day. There are going to be mistakes and new things to learn. Remind your child that their teacher and all the school staff are there to keep your child safe and learning in the middle of the pandemic.
  4. Listen to your child’s feelings. Ask your child how they feel about returning. Make sure to take time to ask and learn about the positive and negative emotions they have. Try to represent the point of view of other children. For instance, if your child only reports positive emotions, take the perspective of how some kids might feel worried. If they only report negative emotions, take the perspective of how some kids are excited to go back to school. Talking about the complexity of feelings (both good and bad), and how their feelings may be different than other kids will not only help your child develop better emotion regulation in the long run, but it also prepares them for suddenly feeling incredibly happy or very scared about the transition: They will already know from your conversations that it is normal to feel both ways.
  5. Make a visual calendar. Hybrid learning can be hard for kids. Our children are used to be done with school when they walk out of a school building or shut off their laptop. It’s going to be critical to a smooth transition between in-person and distance-learning in each day to help them understand that both are happening. Draw out the schedule and color code it (Better yet – have your child color with you!). Talk about the schedule using the visual you created. This will help your child understand what is expected of them and prevent emotional meltdowns between transitions.
  6. Do something special. Many parents do special actions for the first day of Fall school. We go back-to-school shopping for new clothes or shoes. We buy a special treat for their lunch that week. Do something special for your child to pump them up for this big change. Knowing that you have a new cool shirt, backpack, or that you have a special treat for your lunch between in-person and online learning gives kids something to be proud of and look forward to. School is hard! And it’s important to celebrate this moment for your child.
  7. Put them in bed early. Many kids do not get enough sleep for their age and sleepy kids makes for hard mornings with lots of emotions. As you transition into a more fixed schedule – that involves having to put on pants and leave the house – make sure to adjust your child into a good sleep schedule. Keep in mind it takes a few days to adjust sleep schedules, so starting early can make that first week back better.
  8. Be patient with your child and yourself. The return to school is not going to relieve us of all our worries and stress from the last year. But it is certainly going to let some pressure out of the cooker. You should expect an increase in exhaustion and moodiness for the first few weeks of the return to school. This is normal. Anytime kids experience a big change in schedule and expectations, they are a bit tired and cranky while they adjust. Expecting that this will happen can help you better weather the storm when it arrives.

This return to partial in-person learning has been a long time coming. It’s going to be a big transition in your family life, but one that will improve your child’s mental health and yours. Taking a few small moments prepare and support your child in this transition is going to help them excel.

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