2020 has brought novel challenges around the world, as COVID-19 has confined families to stay indoors and work remotely. Parents learning to juggle working from home while homeschooling children report feeling overwhelmed and concerned about the possibility of their children falling behind academically. To parents struggling to understand “new math” or explain the parts of speech, it may be comforting to remember not everything children learn in school is academic. In fact, parents looking to make sure their children are prepared for returning to school in the fall may want to consider putting down the books and engaging their children in conversation, board games, or an old-fashioned game of Simon Says.
Research has repeatedly shown children’s social skills and executive functioning, or self-control, are at least as important as their academic knowledge in determining school success. This is because in a classroom environment, children cannot learn if they are unable to regulate themselves enough to pay attention to their teacher and work independently. Schools often formally teach and reinforce these essential executive functioning and social skills. You may remember walking down halls in silent single file lines, or may be aware of tools your child’s teacher uses to reward good behavior. Parents can teach behaviors at home to help prepare for your child for success upon returning to the classroom. In order to ensure children are ready to start or return to school in the fall, it is important they continue practicing the executive functioning and social skills they would typically be using in the classroom. Below are six strategies to use at home to keep your child “school ready:”
1) Play games which strengthen your child’s listening, planning, and self-regulation skills. Examples for younger children include Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, Statues/Freeze, and any turn-taking board game. Older children may enjoy Jenga, Uno, charades or fishbowl, chess, and strategy games such as Settlers of Catan.
2) Strengthen your child’s communication skills through games and conversation. Younger children can strengthen their memory, ability to sequence events, and reading comprehension by retelling you the plot of books or movies. Engage older children in conversations that require critical thinking skills. This can be a good teaching opportunity and a chance to foster your child’s self-expression. During COVID-19, for example, you may wish to teach your child about science and government policy, while asking your teen to share thoughts on how current events might impact the future of schooling and technology use. Conversation starter card decks like Table Topics can give you ideas for questions.
3) Use structures, including a daily schedule and behavior reinforcement system, to help regulate your child’s behavior. Particularly for parents who are seeing unprecedented poor behavior from their children at home, it may important to try to replicate the structures your child had at school in the home setting. You may be able to ask your child’s teacher what systems they had that worked. Try to stick to a consistent routine every day, with scheduled wake up, school, play, and bedtimes. State expectations clearly and redirect misbehavior immediately when it occurs. Honor your children’s persistence and success with verbal praise, stickers, or points they can save up to earn a small reward.
4) Model prosocial skills through compassion and consideration. It can be difficult to tell children “no” or make them share and take turns, but these are essential for school readiness. In addition to providing consistent behavior reinforcement, model your own use of these skills by pointing to your child when you use them, such as waiting in line or doing something to help a family member. During the pandemic, you may teach your child how people staying at home can keep others healthy or engage them in a community service project.
5) Make sure your child stays connected with friends and family. In order to keep up their social development, it is important that children engage in interactions with a variety of peers and adults despite physical isolation. Many have discovered creative means other than video chat and phone calls, including using walkie-talkies, sidewalk chalk, signs, and letters. Your child should also spend some time in collaborative play every day. If playing with your child, do not always let them have their way, but require them to negotiate and adapt to changes.
6) Model coping skills. Current events are stressful for everyone and are expected to have lasting economic and psychological effects. You can model effective coping skills by talking to your children about feelings (both yours and theirs) and how to handle anxiety, disappointment, anger, and loneliness. Lepage Associates is available for in-person and teletherapy appointments if you or your child need assistance coping.
For more resources on strengthening your child’s executive functioning and social skills while at home, see:
Harvard University Center on the Developing Child (2014). Activities Guide: Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). Positive Parenting Tips. Retrieved from
De Los Reyes, A. & Kazdin, A.E. (2005). Informant discrepancies in the assessment of childhood psychopathology: A critical review, theoretical framework, and recommendations for further study. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 483-509.
Denham, S.A., Warren-Khot, H.K., Bassett, H.H., Wyatt, T., & Perna, A. (2012). Factor structure of self-regulation in preschoolers: Testing models of a field-based assessment for predicting early school readiness. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 111, 286-404.
Flaccus, G. & Gecker, J. (2020). ‘I Just Can’t Do This.’ Some Overwhelmed Parents Are Opting to Abandon Pandemic Homeschooling. Retrieved from https://time.com/5824855/parents-overwhelmed-homeschooling-coronavirus/