Conventional considerations still count, even in this most non-conventional school year

Never has “back to school” come in so many different varieties. Some districts started in-person early, others started later, and still others are online or have some form of hybrid combination. And for most, what’s in place today, could change tomorrow or next week.

How to navigate this bumpy terrain and foggy horizon?

Most everyone acknowledges that the challenges differ depending on age. Preschoolers, K-5, middle schoolers and high schoolers all have different needs, abilities, expectations, and levels of self-sufficiency. Talking to kids often—and really listening to their answers—is more important than ever.

Rachel Ehmke, writing for the Child Mind Institute, offers some great tips for dialogue in “Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus.”

But what about school itself? Whether fully online or hybrid, one consistent piece of advice is to establish a routine. That includes standard bedtimes and wake-up times, as well as scheduled learning periods alternating with breaks. However, it’s also important to remain flexible. Of course, that can be easier said than done, since adults’ routines have also changed.

Last week Michigan Public Radio Stateside staff did a report on school start-up titled “It’s Pretty Chaotic: Parents and Kids Navigate a Strange New Normal.” They talked to parents in a variety of situations, including Dustin Walsh, “a senior reporter with Crain’s Detroit Business, and the father of twin preschool-aged boys.”

He said their kids’ class meetings require “an all hands on deck” from him and his wife, adding that “We have twins, so each one of us has to be with a child to help them get through that meeting.”

In the same report, Nancy Kaffer, a Detroit Free Press columnist and mother of a fifth grader said her son’s district is using “the first few weeks” of the year “to gauge how students are doing following a disrupted spring semester and a socially distanced summer, as well as to try to establish norms for online learning.”

Parents can help with this, as well, by talking to kids about how easy or hard they are finding this fall’s lessons. Do they feel like they have forgotten some things or possibly never learned them? Do they understand what they need to be doing? And when? And why? While these conversations have always been important, the disruptions of last spring and uncertainties of this fall make them even more valuable.

And while It might be natural to think that kids spending more time learning at home might be good reason for spending less money on back-to-school clothes shopping. Slicing a percentage off the usual budget seems realistic, but multiple resources suggest that some cool new outfits can be just the motivation kids for getting out of the PJs, even for online school.

Earlier this month the NYU Langone Health News Hub published, “School’s Out: A Parent’s Guide for Meeting the Challenge During the COVD-19 Pandemic” The article quotes Richard Gallagher, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone, in saying that “it is helpful for parents to consider their child’s needs for structure, education, exercise, social contact, appropriate leisure time, and calm, rational explanation about the situation.”

Social contact can definitely be tricky these days, whether kids are learning at school or at home.

In August, the Denver Post published “Safe Ways for Your Kids to Socialize During COVID-19,” by Tiney Ricciardi. It says, “social-emotional learning is one of the most important things that schools provide to students,” adding that “kids may need to find different ways to fill the gaps in their social lives normally filled by daily face-to-face interaction with their peers.”

Perhaps surprising to some parents, video games can be one one to create and sustain social contact. The article mentions a mom whose 5-year-old son “uses the app Marco Polo to send videos back and forth with his friends. She called it ‘equivalent to texting, but for children.’”

One expert quote in the article notes that in “an ideal world” we’d be socializing on digital platforms but also face-to-face. And another mom in the article says her kids do that via “friend bubble.” The woman, Laura Cence, says, “We know the families really well, and we know that all of us have been very, very careful,” further nothing that “It’s been about trusting families.”

Even in a world where so many things have changed, some key things remain the same for kids: they need a safe and secure environment for learning; steady, predictable routines; frequent interest, support, and input from parents; and social-emotional skill-building socialization with peers.