Can you believe that a new school year is upon us already? If I’m really honest about it, I can’t wait and have been counting down the days….literally. But, that’s for two reasons: The first….Covid19 has certainly derailed all our lives and even the summer days have been running together. So, I’ve implemented a countdown system with my daughter (5 years old) to help get her (and me) ready. The second reason is totally selfish because I see a bit of normalcy on the horizon, although I’m still defining what exactly will be the “new normal” for my family and I. If you’re like me, you won’t know that until you get there, so I’ll happily embrace the endorphins that my brain releases when I countdown the days until school begins.
OK! You’re here for the tips, so let me get to it.
For the last few weeks I have been intentional about inserting some Back-to-School lingo in our day-to-day interactions. Back-to-School time normally creates a range of emotions for kids. Anything from eager-beaver to hiding under a rock. Getting butterflies or general worry is all normal during this time….ask any school counselor. However, the new health and safety protocols thanks to Covid19 may add a level of anxiety that wasn’t there before. That’s why talking about what will be expected is super important. If your child has already started school, some of these tips won’t be beneficial to you at this time, but some of them can be used throughout the school year to reinforce the school mode.
In no particular order, here’s what I’ve been doing to get us in Back-to-School Mode:
1. Casually mention that school is beginning soon
This may seem really simple, but you’d be surprised how much conscious effort it takes, especially if school is still the furthest thing from your mind. I’ve used it as a conversation starter to see how my daughter is generally feeling about it and I’ve also plainly stated it while we are doing something that she wouldn’t be able to do while school is in, like eating snowballs at any given weekday after lunch. We’ve enjoyed a lot of freedom during this Covid19 summer, so my aim is to slowly ensure she understands that it is coming to an end.
2. Begin to limit screen time
In the spirit of transparency, my kids have been getting more screen time than ever before (especially during lock-down, but I had to choose between my sanity and never leaving my bedroom in fear of the work-from-home, teach-from-home, cook-from-home, clean-from-home, wife-from-home, doctor-from-home mode we were all in). If your kid is anything like mine, cold-turkey doesn’t really work for her, so I give fair warning before I impose certain restrictions….especially if she’s already gotten used to it. Now, usually in the mornings I tell them they only get x amount of screen time today and remind them no TV after 7pm. If they’re on the Kindle Fire on the drive to or from camp, I let them know that the time gets deducted from their total allotted time for the day.
3. Reestablish the school mode routines
I think it’s safe to say that most of our “routines” might still be non-existent, but I’ve heard it from all the experts that routine is an important factor during transitional periods. My kids have enjoyed sleeping in until 8ish and going to bed 9ish, but that all has to change in less than two weeks. Here’s where I’ve been doing a lot more talking than taking action, but we will be doing a “test run” of normal school wake up and bedtime hours starting next week (wish me luck – my two and half year old sleeps in like a teenage boy).
My ideal evening routine would be something like this….we all get home about 5:45pm, my oldest unpacks her lunch box and changes out of her school dress. I then get to have free play plus snuggle time with them for 30 minutes or so. Then they play by themselves while I make dinner. We all sit down for dinner at 7pm, baths by 7:30pm, teeth brushed and in the bedroom by 8pm for story time. Don’t ask me how many times I was actually able to pull that off. The point is to establish a routine that suits your family and try to stick to it. The kids will fall in line over time.
4. Introduce academic work
There have been so many creative outlets circulating the internet that offer fun, educational materials and DIYs to add to my day to day interactions. I try to include a math and spelling lesson while we play. Snakes and Ladders is a favorite board game in my house and I try to use more creative ways to get the spelling in like sentence building and reader books.
5. Go shopping together
If you’re like me, you get excited when you buy a new outfit. I think our kids (especially the girls) get excited too, although school clothes are not very exciting (hehe). Beyond the clothes, it also allows you to spend time together. Whether you’re buying school clothes or stationery supplies, it all reinforces for the kids that it’s almost time to head back to school.
6. Read books that talk about school
There are so many options out there, it really just depends on what context you want to introduce. Themes range from school spirit, to diversity and kindness, to being helpful to the teacher, to first day of school. Any theme with a positive message would do the trick. Again, the purpose of this is to prepare them for the transition. I read this one to my daughter
7. Discuss the new Health & Safety protocols
Once the school provides the physical distancing and Covid-19 protocols, share them with your child. I received my daughter’s last week and I’ve already mentioned the phrase, Social Bubble, to her a dozen times. We also talked about the temperature checks, physical distancing spacing in the classroom, washing hands more often and the fact that I won’t be able to get out of the car on her first day of “big school” (she was unbothered while I was all in my feelings). Hybrid teaching and learning models will be used in some instances as well.
8. Watch a kid-friendly Covid19 related video together
There are quite a few on YouTube, but I like this one and have watched it with my kids – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGNi0mEmwpI&t=8s
Visuals with the right content are always helpful. The goal is to normalize these major changes through conversation and through practice together.
9. Emphasize the positives of returning to school
Try to incorporate the elements of school that your child enjoys the most. My daughter is a socialite, so I’ve said, “it will be exciting to see your friends again.” P.E. is usually a favorite for the younger kids and if your child is in upper primary, you can pick a particular favorite subject to highlight.
10. Take notice of any stress indicators
Let’s be honest. A mama bear fiercely protects her cubs and if the thought of sending your cubs to school gives you a level of anxiety, you are not alone. We’ve been shielding our kids from Covid19 for months, so some nervousness on your end is completely understandable. Anxiety will present itself differently for different kids. Look for warning signs like lack of appetite, not sleeping, acting withdrawn and even headaches. Some kids are able to embrace change easily and adjust no problem. Others may find it very challenging, especially if they didn’t get introduced to Covid19 protocols during summer camp. Most of the schools around the world shut down in March.That’s 5 months without being in an academic environment with other kids. A level of anxiety is completely understandable, but you want to be able to talk about it so that your child understands that it’s OK to be a little nervous.
That’s it! That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. Thanks for sticking with me to the end. I know that was a lot, but my parenthood journey will not be the same as yours. We can all learn from each other, while at the same time doing what’s best for our respective families.
Don’t worry if you can’t get it all in prior to school starting. Kids are extremely resilient and adaptable. While these tips will certainly help with transitioning from “summer break” (not sure we can even call it that….thanks Covid19), they shouldn’t create any level of undue stress for mom and dad to introduce.
Wishing you and your family an exciting and happy start to the new school year.