The past two school years have been like no other. A global pandemic, remote or hybrid learning, and wearing masks. Students have spent more time out of school than in school. This school year will bring a new set of challenges, schedules, and activities.
Let’s explore what the start of the 2021-2022 school year will look like and how you can prepare your child(ren) for success.
What determines how children will go back to school? The simplest answer is the option that’s safest for everyone involved. This will rely heavily on the number of COVID cases, variants, and what can be done to keep the kids healthy.
Here in Ontario, some kids will be going back in person while some will continue to be virtual. Others will return to school with hybrid schedules or in cohorts to limit numbers. Your child’s district should be in close communication with you regarding these changes.
- In-Person Return: For families returning to school in person, it will be much like years past. But there will be safeguards in place surrounding masks and social distancing.
- Cohort Return: Some schools will be returning in a different way than they have in the past. Cohorting is defined by The Science Table: Covid 19 Advisory for Ontario¹ as “separating a population into smaller groups (cohorts) in order to minimize their risk of infection, to contain an infection, and to easily trace close contacts in the case of infection.”
- Virtual Start: Students are now familiar with remote virtual learning. The start of this school year will be the same as it was last year.
Kids have spent significant amounts of time away from their friends. For young children, this often means they have “forgotten” what it’s like to appropriately interact with other children their age. For some older children, they may feel anxious about seeing their peers face-to-face on a regular basis.
There will be an adjustment period, and as parents, it is best to be aware of this and be ready to handle things that come up along the way.
Everyone is looking forward to school opening as close to regular as possible. This isn’t to say there won’t be a higher level of anxiety during this transition. Every child is different and how they move through this transition will be unique.
Keep in mind during this time, helping your child prepare for change can be extremely helpful. You can also admit there everyone has anxieties and acknowledge and validate their feelings.
When the pandemic hit, there was an unprecedented change to working and learning from home. It was surrounded by anxiety and worry. Eventually, it became more “normal” and everyone settled into the new way of doing things.
Now that is going to be “undone” as things are starting to shift back to in-school scenarios. This means changes in your home life as well.
Younger children have gotten used to being home with a parent and other siblings. They are now used to this comfortable environment of being surrounded by people they love–and who love them. Breaking away from this and shifting back to school, or into school for the first time, could raise some uncomfortable feelings in them.
Practice spending time apart from your kiddos by being in different rooms of your home for periods of time. Get a sitter or family member to spend time with the kids while you have a night out with friends or date night. These may not seem like a big deal, after all, you used to do them quite often, but it will help build your children’s tolerance and independence.² These small amounts of time apart will help them adjust to being with other people.
Because activities and life as we knew it basically shut down for over a year, setting new routines and schedules will feel a little different for a bit. Keeping a family calendar to communicate with everyone what will be happening, who is going where, and how they will get there is critical. Being predictable and consistent with schedules and routines removes much of the worry and anxiety during the transition.
Both in your home and in their classroom, having clear, realistic expectations for children will help them transition. Here are a few tips from Karen Stephens³, a child development instructor:
- Be specific. Crayons are used for coloring on paper.
- Explain your reasoning. I want you to hold my hand so you are safe because cars drive in the parking lot.
- Describe the purpose of an item. Your bike is for riding outside, not in the kitchen.
- Empathize. I know it’s hard/scary/frustrating/exciting…
- Respectfully share your feelings. I’m scared/embarrassed/disappointed when…
The last thing she points out works with all age groups,
“Communicate expectations, offer choices, and then move on without haggling.”
As an adult, knowing what others expect of you makes life much easier, so you can only imagine how important it is for children.
Ask any parent and they will tell you they truly are a better parent when they take care of themselves. Ensure you take some time for yourself. It can feel selfish to do self-care activities but preparing and returning to school this year is going to need solid parenting as well. Please take good care of yourself so you can continue to take good care of your children.
Here are a few ideas that aren’t time-consuming, but will support you:
- Sit alone for a few minutes. Just sit.
- Order out dinner.
- Read a book or a magazine for 10 minutes.
- Watch an episode (or two) of your favorite show.
- Crawl into bed a few minutes early.
- Take a nap (or just lay down and rest).
- Listen to your favorite songs.
- Pick or buy some flowers.
Try to do something each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You deserve to have time to recharge, decompress, or distract yourself.
It’s easy to get caught up in the unknown and worry, but kids deserve to get excited amidst the chaos. Back to school traditions historically are a fun and exciting time, so let’s shift our mindset to help ease their anxiety.
Build their excitement by:
- Getting new school supplies
- Buying a new backpack
- Giving them a choice for a special breakfast, dinner, treat – or all of them!
- Planning a playdate or two
- Decorating their bedroom door after they go to sleep the night before
- Creating a homework nook⁴
- Getting a fresh, new haircut
- Creating a special playlist for their walk, drive, or bus ride
There are many small things that can make a big difference in raising your child’s energy for school. Try to incorporate some of their favorite things into this time. It will elevate your spirits, too!
Living with uncertainty and knowing that things can change at any moment is hard. I have a teenager and a child early in her college career. I know how frustrating, scary, and uncertain, this situation is. I am living this with you.
Please know, I am here to help create a new schedule for you and your family, organize or reorganize home office and learning spaces, and help you maximize your time management. Let’s make the start of a new school year the best it can be!
Organized MD – treating the ill elements of your time and spaces!