The new school year is a time filled with excitement and hopefulness for some of our kids, and uncertainty, confusion, and stress for others. As we navigate this new academic year we will all need to be prepared to “roll with the punches.” Although these months will require significant flexibility from you and your child, here are some steps to help your child be successful during these topsy-turvy times. 

Prepare yourself and be able to answer your child’s questions and establish good communication with school staff.

  • Attend school activities and meetings. During these meetings, your school will be disseminating information, answering questions, and soliciting feedback. 
  • Clarify how your child’s teacher/school will be communicating with you. Stay up to date on emails/websites/texts so you know what your child is supposed to be doing. 
  • If your child is having trouble staying focused and motivated, consult with your teacher and be creative to incorporate more hands-on activities.

Arrange a home “classroom” to help your child stay productive, engaged, and focused throughout the day.

  • Have all the supplies necessary in one space to limit your child’s need to get up and down during learning time. 
  • Limit distractions in this area by removing extra electronics, games, and toys. 
  • Having a space designated for “school” allows the child to differentiate between school/home time. If space does not allow for a separate area, identify a designated workspace with all their supplies in a tub or laundry basket nearby. Ideally, this should be an open space where you can visually check in with your child to ensure they are engaged in their learning. Your child’s workspace should not be in their room if possible (though for some older kids/teens this may work fine – it depends on your child).
  • Keep usernames and passwords readily available.
  • Have a water bottle and snacks (fruit, almonds, etc.) nearby to limit the ups and downs throughout the day. Having healthy choices readily available will improve your child’s overall functioning and provide them with the fuel they need throughout the day. 

Provide structure. Consistency is key. 

  • Create a schedule. Your school may provide you with a schedule, noting times for check-ins with teachers and peer-to-peer group learning opportunities. If your school does not provide a specific schedule, creating one can help your child stay on track. It allows your child to establish a routine so they understand expectations and can work more independently. 
  • Include both movement and brain breaks throughout the day (put them in the schedule). Some great ideas are doing three yoga poses between academic tasks or drawing a picture. To foster independence you can write each activity on a popsicle stick and put them all in a cup. When a break comes up in the schedule, your child can pick one and do it! (FYI- TV, video games, etc. can make it difficult to re-engage in school activities.)

Learn to be an “Assistant Teacher.” 

  • Be prepared to help. If your child is struggling, they will likely quickly become frustrated and unmotivated. After a couple of independent attempts, try doing a practice example together and then move on to the next problem/question. 
  • Help your child organize tasks. Assist in breaking down large tasks. Prioritizing tasks helps them become less overwhelmed throughout the day. 
  • Do regular check-ins. Whether or not your child is working independently throughout the day, plan a check-in at the end of the day (or multiple times throughout the day depending on your child’s level of independence) to make sure your child is on track with learning and teacher expectations. This allows you to ensure they do not fall behind and provides an opportunity to teach them life skills about organization, procrastination, and asking for help when needed. 
  • Create a reward system, particularly for younger children who may be less intrinsically motivated. Based on your child’s age you can provide rewards by the day or week. Rewards can range from a special desert if all school tasks are completed during the day to a bigger reward such as a new game for completing their work throughout the week. Relationship-based non-monetary rewards are even better! Such as choosing a family game to play or movie to watch together, choosing what’s for dinner, or an extra book at bedtime.
  • Create visual signs to maintain boundaries. When you are working from home and your child is doing schoolwork, there are times when you cannot be interrupted. Setting up signs can help give visual cues to teach your child when they can ask for help and when they need to wait. For example, you can put a stop sign up at your workspace when you cannot be interrupted and take it down when you are available. You can similarly create “Help” signs for your child that they can put on their workspace. 

Plan transitions (hybrid learning, working with pods in the neighborhood, or sharing time between two homes). 

  • Coordinate with those sharing responsibility in your child’s education to create as much consistency across environments as possible. (Examples – scheduling, expectations, use of reward systems, etc.) 
  • Share successful strategies with teammates. 
  • Help your child to create checklists to ensure needed materials are successfully transitioned between locations so your child has the supplies they need each day. (Depending on your child’s age, you may be responsible for the entire list.)

Support your child’s emotional healthy by keeping the balance and boundaries between “home” and “school.” 

  • Be ready to manage stress…for yourself and your child. Make sure you are allowing times for self care, individual recreational activities, and family activities. If you and your child are experiencing conflict surrounding school, it is very important to balance them with positive experiences unrelated to “school” to maintain a healthy parent-child relationship. 
  • Include transition activities at the beginning and end of the day. The trip to and from school previously provided this allowing your child to “gear up” for school and “wind down.” It is important to keep these transitions for your child. It may be as simple as cleaning up, organizing, and preparing the space for the next day. The point is that it creates closure and separation between various areas of your child’s life. 
  • Establish expectations surrounding screen time. Given screen time will naturally increase with virtual learning, it is important to limit additional screen time. The neurological and emotional impacts of screens can occur regardless of the content. 
  • Keep the social connections. This can be virtually or in person with distancing. Ongoing peer interactions will foster healthy social and emotional development. 
  • Exercise. Get your child moving and get them outdoors. 
  • Schedule family game night/movie night/basketball night, etc. 

Practice for Returning to In-school Learning: If your child has remained at home, these may be new behaviors you need to introduce or reinforce. Eventually kids will return to the classroom and we want behaviors to protect their safety to be second nature. 

  • Practice wearing a mask. This includes washing your hands before and after you touch your mask.
  • Model social distancing. Increase your child’s awareness of their personal space and space of others keeping 6 feet apart. 
    • Point out one-way signs and floor tape indicating directions to walk. 
    • Point out floor markers showing spacing while waiting in line.
    • Show your child what 6 feet is with a tape measure or piece of string.
    • Identify items in your child’s environment that are 6 feet long (their bed, the width of the dining room table, two hops, etc.). 
  • Teach and practice coughing/sneezing etiquette. Reinforce coughing and sneezing into your elbow or a tissue, then immediately washing your hands.
  • Avoid touching your face. Some tips to help kids do this include keeping their hands in their pockets or sitting on them. 
  • Model and practice proper hand washing. Use soap and warm water, singing “Happy Birthday” twice, using a paper towel to turn off the water (not their clean hands). Create a habit of all family members washing their hands as soon as they return to the house.
  • Be on the lookout for hand sanitizer and use it frequently. 
  • Teach your child about lunchroom practices for their school which may include eating in the classroom, eating with their pod, or eating in individual spaces in the cafeteria. Their lunchtime structure will likely look significantly different than it has in previous years. Being prepared for change helps.

Remember, if you or your child are struggling with the “new normal” you are not alone. Seek out personal and professional supports to help see you through these challenges and pave the way for smoother transitions ahead.