The start of the school year is almost here, and the pandemic is still in full swing in most parts of the country.
If you’re the parent of a school-aged child, you know that this school year will bring with it many disruptions, extended remote learning time, and/or the imminent threat of closures and quarantines when students and staff inevitably test positive.
In the early months, back in March and April, many of us braced ourselves for the school closures, and reminded ourselves that this untenable situation was only temporary – that next year the kids would be back in school, and that we could hang on until then.
As we well know by now, that’s not the case in many places. Some districts are planning for in-person openings, but many others are beginning the school year with either a fully remote or a hybrid model. The painful reality is that we may be dealing with school closures until a vaccine arrives.
There’s no getting around the fact that this is an extremely stressful time for all of us. The chaotic school situation, relentless parenting demands, lack of child care, and need to work while managing kids are all causing significant distress in families everywhere.
The ripple effect of the Coronavirus is vast, and it will keep impacting our daily life in profound ways over the coming weeks, months and years. Our children’s schooling is major collateral damage right now.
My background as a social worker with children and families has given me some thoughts on how to navigate this situation (although as a mom of three I feel the stress like everyone else)!
It’s important to begin to wrap our brains around the fact that we are indeed in a marathon right now, and to come up with some strategies to cope with the inevitable stress.
Here are my thoughts for preparing for a likely chaotic school year ahead:
Adopt the attitude toward the school year that you want your child to adopt.
This is a highly uncertain time on a massive scale, and our kids are picking up on our anxieties.
And I don’t think I’ve ever seen more anxious adults, en masse, than there are right now. The entire country needs a Xanax. We’re all going to need to take a deep breath here.
You should talk to your kids about what to expect next school year. But this can be done without being overly dramatic, and without spilling to your child every fear you have about what lies ahead.
I’m constantly seeing posts from parents who are SURE that their kids are going to have a terrible time in the new hell-hole that is school.
The masks! The distancing! They can’t even share crayons! It’s like jail!
I know, it’s not ideal. Nothing is ideal right now.
But I suspect that we may be pushing some of our own anxieties down the line onto our kids here. Will some kids resist the masks, or really struggle with them? Sure. But I’ve also seen countless kids in stores, at the park, at camps – all in masks. Without any fanfare at all. Even my 3-year-old has been able to wear a mask, and I can’t even get him to eat fruit.
School is going to look different, and it’s good if kids understand that so they’re not surprised. But if your child will be attending school in-person, even part-time, doesn’t it make more sense to try to build up a positive outlook heading in to the year?
Kids internalize our feelings on these things, so the more we’re able to project a sense of confidence that things will go well, the more emotional stamina we’re sending our child into school with. Emotional fortitude is always something you want to try to pack, along with snacks.
Kids do better on routines
Children need routine and predictability in order to feel safe. This is especially important during a time of crisis.
It’s one thing to be off of your routine for a few days over the holidays. It’s quite another to be off of your routine for an extended amount of time. And our kids have, in vast numbers, been off of their routines for about 5 months now.
That’s a long time.
As September approaches, a re-set is in order. Kids who have grown accustomed to keeping odd hours, snacking at random times, and watching movie marathons in the middle of a weekday are going to have to adjust to a school schedule that, even if it’s done remotely, will require more of them.
So treat the “return to school” in September just as you would any normal school year.
Buy the school clothes. Pick up the notebooks and pencils at Target. Start building the momentum in your home that we are indeed about to begin the school year, even if it looks different.
Start adjusting your child to the routines that you know they’ll need to be keeping in a few weeks. If your child has been staying up extra late and sleeping in, slowly start the re-adjustment process now. Most schools are launching much more developed remote learning curriculums than what we saw in the Spring, and your child will need to prepare for that.
What this looks like:
Set up a schedule now that involves regular times for bathing, eating, school-work/learning activities, and socializing.
Re-establish a set time for going to sleep, and a bedtime routine your kids will be able to follow in the fall.
If it’s been the Wild West at your house, it’s a good time to re-establish order. In doing so, you will be creating the structure and normalcy that your child will need to have a successful start to the school year.
Team up with a neighbor
I’m not referring to a fancy “pod” where you need to hire a teacher (although I know parents with the means to do this might find themselves doing this!). I’m just talking about making the most of the “village” you have at your disposal.
If there are a few neighborhood parents with kids the same age as your kids, and you can find a way to share the load, it could be a win-win.
One really great thing about this pandemic has been the re-emergence of that old-school 80’s style of neighborhood we always wax poetic about- you know, the kind where the kids stay out in the streets until dinner. I’ve seen this type of free, unstructured play come to life in my own neighborhood during the pandemic, and heard from countless other parents who have noticed the same thing. The community feeling is alive and well in lots of neighborhoods right now, so if you can use that as an asset, it’s a real gift.
Create a setup for remote learning
In the spring, nobody (teachers or parents) had time to prepare for remote learning. The result was, predictably, a chaotic mess.
But now it’s……still a chaotic mess!
Kidding. (Ok I’m not really kidding).
But this time we know what we’re facing, and there’s still time to organize a workspace for your kids in an intentional way.
Choose a location for schoolwork
Ideally it will be a well-lit and comfortable space, but not everyone has that luxury (our at-home classroom is going to be in the basement, which doesn’t have great natural light, but does offer a large and quiet space).
You have to consider not only the look and feel of the spot, but also the practicality – will you be close enough to assist your child easily? Is the space away from major distractions, like the TV? If you don’t have a designated room, is there a small corner of a room that you can set-up nicely for your kid?
Make the most of the space you have
You can do a lot with even unspectacular rooms. Get some good lighting, cozy up the room with rugs, make sure to have comfortable seating, and use cheerful artwork. In fact, think ahead and be prepared with ways for your child to hang up their artwork or other assignments that will soon be coming your way. A cork board can go a long way!
The more chaotic and haphazard the space feels, the harder it will be for your child to be able to sit down and focus on work. Set yourself up for success by designing a work area that works for your family.
If you’re working from home, set up a space that allows you to get things done while your child studies
We all know it is REALLY HARD to work from home when you have the kids with you. It can feel nearly impossible. Add to that the higher expectations on “accountability” for the fall, and the stress could get high very quickly. Not only will you need to show your boss that you’re on top of things, but your child will also need to demonstrate that they’re keeping up with academics from home.
If you’re not working a formal job, you still have things to do at home – whether it be chores, caring for babies or toddlers, etc. And those things all become much harder when school is now at your house.
So do your best to create a space that works for you.
I’m in the process of setting up a combo workspace right now – a designated school room for my son (and a neighbor or two) in our basement, along with a work station set up for me and an adjacent play area for my toddlers.
I’m putting a big effort into setting up the space, because I really need it to function well for my family this year.
Cut your kids some slack
If you’re going to be in the role of “remote learning proctor” (or homeschooler), it’s likely that you’ll meet with some resistance from your kid.
They’re not used to you in this role. And pushback is common. This probably already came to your attention in the spring, eh?
For many of us, this is an unusual new relationship we’ve entered into, and one that lots of parents wouldn’t generally choose.
So if you’re in the ever growing number of parents who will be remote schooling either part-time or full-time come fall – cut your kids and yourself some slack.
This isn’t the time to be on top of every annoying behavior. Give your kids some grace. They will need it. Plus, it’s been shown that sometimes the best way to deal with an irritating behavior from a kid is to simply look the other way. Not for the really egregious stuff, but for the small stuff.
Try to ignore what you can ignore, and save your interventions for when you really need them (which, let’s be honest, we’re gonna need them).
You need to work to establish a rapport with your “student,” and harping on them for slouching in their chair or biting their nails probably isn’t the way to do it.
Don’t be on top of your kids all day
You will need space from them and they’ll need it from you. If you can create pockets of the day for alone time, or quiet / independent time, please do.
Depending on how little your kids are, you’re going to need to help them access their online lessons. But, presumably, teachers are much more prepared to run remote lessons than they were 6 months ago. So when a teacher is engaging your child – even though it may be through a computer screen – try to step away when you can.
Parents of older kids – I’m sure you’ll be able to step away a lot more! But for those of us with little ones (my oldest son is only 6) – this is more of a challenge.
Try to get outside
If at all possible, find time during the day to do “school” outside; in your yard, at a park – anywhere out in the open.
This is not a natural disaster or war – we’re just trying to create social distancing here.
So get some fresh air when you can. You might be surprised at how much more alert and engaged your child is outside.
Find a way to make school (at home) special
As weird as it sounds, there are actually some good opportunities here to make special memories with your kids.
We are in uncharted territory now. I’m almost certain that we will remember this time – and how we came together, or didn’t – decades from now. So do your best to find some way to create special moments.
- Make special snacks for the school week that you and your child share between assignments.
- Try reading together in a tent with a flashlight, to create a sense of adventure and camaraderie rather than drudgery or frustration.
- Maybe on Friday afternoons you have “early release” days and do something fun together, out of the house.
You get the idea.
Kids love and appreciate anything that seems “special” or out of the ordinary. So do something to acknowledge that this time is different – and to allow a new, special tradition to take root in your child’s mind.
These are the things childhood memories are made of, and despite the anxiety and frustrations many of us feel, we do have an opportunity here.
This is going to be hard
But we can do it.
In fact – we have no other choice! It’s like being in labor. You can’t exactly skip it, and it’s going to hurt, but….well, it is happening. As luck would have it, our lifetimes coincided with this pandemic. This is the hand we’ve been dealt.
So as best you can, step into the role you’ve been given. Every generation faces hardships, and right now, today, we are in the midst of ours.
Reach out to your friends to commiserate, laugh whenever you have the chance, and remember that this won’t last forever. And let’s help each other out whenever possible.
It’s going to be OK.
Need more camaraderie in your day? Follow A Mothership Down on Facebook!
Want A Mothership Down delivered to your inbox? SUBSCRIBE HERE.