03 March 2021 (updated)

5 Back-to-School Tips in the Time of COVID

School's going to look pretty different this year, whether you're doing virtual school, homeschool, or heading back with masks and social distancing. But the following tips will help you get back-to-school ready for the first day.

Back-to-School During a Global Pandemic

Going back to school is often an exciting time for both parents and kids, but this year, the spread of COVID-19 has filled many parents and kids with extra fear. If the virtual schooling last spring was any indication, school will be more challenging than usual this year.

General social norms like running around the playground or even attending school assemblies just aren't happening in most places. Screen time, which was often a negative word in educational settings, might be the only option for student-teacher interactions.

Each school district is offering different options or hybrid versions of school. So you could have one kid going to school Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and another one on Tuesday and Thursday. Even within one district, your family might have kids in private, public, and homeschool, so establishing a routine is a little bit trickier.

But whether you choose a virtual school, homeschool, or attending school, you can still help foster your child's love of learning. Whether your children are in elementary school, middle school, high school, or college, the following tips will help you and your family enjoy back-to-school time, even during all the craziness of the world.

Back-to-School 2020

In a typical year, the academic components of school take the forefront, but this year, the physical and emotional needsof your family are going to take priority. Parents and educators are going to do all that they can to make the students feel safe-- and a sense of safety is going to look different for everybody.

You need to make the right decision for your family, whatever that looks like. And if you realize your initial plans for the school year aren't working out, it's okay to change your course. Give yourself and your kids, an extra dose of grace in the process!

We can't control the external world, but we can help lift our kids' spirits at home to make the back-to-school transition as smooth as possible. Here are 5 tips for back-to-school 2020.

1. Set the Right Back-to-School Expectations

The transition from unstructured summer to regular school schedules can be a difficult adjustment for many students. Some children, especially the shy ones, might be afraid of the new school situation, even in a year without a global COVID pandemic!

So talk about the new school plan and situation, so your kids know what to expect. Listen to any concerns and fears. Take them seriously and try to mitigate them.

Ideally, they should have some familiarity with their new class- perhaps at a school orientation or open house. That should help to familiarize them with the new school. Try to give as much information as possible, e.g. the name of the class teacher, the number of classmates, and any friends who might be in their class.

If you're doing in-person learning: 

  • Make sure the students understand that this school year won't look like last year.
  • Practice mask-wearing whenever possible so your kids get comfortable with wearing them during the school day.
  • If you have a hybrid schedule of virtual and in-person school, make sure you go over it with your kids.

If you're in a pandemic podhomeschool co-op or micro-school:

  • Give your kids an opportunity to get to know any students or teachers who will be learning with them this year.
  • Make sure you and those in your school pod are all on the same page in terms of social distancing and masks.
  • If possible, have your kids visit any buildings or houses where they might be learning this year.

If you're doing virtual learning or homeschooling:

  • Talk with your kids so they understand the difference between "school time" and "summertime".
  • Structure the day with a school schedule.
  • Set aside a specific school place or learning center in your house.

2. Include Your Child in Back-to-School Preparations

There's so much to do to prepare for school, like buying a backpack and various school supplies. This year, if your child is going to in-person classes, you'll need to get some fun masks and face coverings in addition to shoes or clothes.

Basic shopping is a great way you can involve your child in planning for the next year. Most children enjoy being able to choose things a specific style of lunch bag or the perfect back-to-school outfit. Even if your child isn't going to a physical classroom, a great self-selected dinosaur or princess backpack might help your little one look forward to school even more.

If your first day back is in a video call, help them design a great backdrop for their classes. Or if you'll be hosting a pandemic pod in your house, have your kids help you set up the classroom.

3. Prep Some Healthy Back-to-School Food

Children love finger foods and sometimes having a great after school snack is the perfect brain food they need. Especially in the age of coronavirus, eating nutrient-packed snacks can help boost your immune system, too.

But don't be too aspirational in packing your child's lunch. If the healthy carrot slices come home untouched every single day, you might want to mix things up!

Here are a few favorite healthy snack ideas:

  • Veggie spears: Sliced bell peppers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, or cucumber slices are refreshing and taste great with a dip like guacamole.
  • Fruit: Cut apples to slices or pack bite-sized fruits such as strawberries. For an added dose of extra healthy fat and proteins, dip your apples in peanut butter.
  • Hard-boiled eggs: They provide a perfect protein boost, but have a really unfortunate smell, so be forewarned if you open one at school.
  • Popcorn: Crunchy and delicious. Pop a small.
  • Nuts: Cashews, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, etc. provide a healthy, filling dose of protein and fat that's great for growing kids.
    • Note on Nuts: Many schoolchildren have nut allergies, so you might not be able to bring them to school. Several classes are "nut-free zones" as a precaution, so if that's the case, save nuts for home.
  • For an added boost, combine a fruit/veggie type of snack with a protein or fat so they stay fuller longer. So try dipping carrots in hummus. Eat celery filled with peanut butter. Add either hummus or peanut butter to a rice cake . . . you get the drift!

4. Encourage Safe School Transportation

Many grandparents fondly like to tell stores of "walking to school five miles in the snow." Today, students are far more likely to ride a bus or car to get to school. This year, some students will have no commutes, whereas other school districts might offer extra bus routes to ensure social distancing. There will probably be more parents than usual in the carpool lines this year, too.

But whether your kids are walking or biking to a neighbor's house for class, or driving a bus with kids, make sure you talk about getting to school safely.

5. Take Time for Back-to-School Relaxation

Relaxation looks different for everyone. Some children prefer to relax with a nice movie or painting, other children recharge their batteries when they are out in nature or playing around with friends. Let your child set the tone for relaxation, and be sure to mix things up, too.

Especially if your school district has canceled athletics, make sure you give your kids much-needed physical outlets. This might be your year to try cross-country running, swimming laps, or golf. Make an effort to have a few last-minute family adventures before school starts up again. Go for a swim at your local pool, take a picnic at your local park, or have a water balloon fight in the garden.  Whatever you do, be sure to enjoy less-structured time to ease into the new school year.

The relaxation time together might also give your kids an opportunity to talk about any fears or dreams they have for the upcoming year.

How do you get ready for going back-to-school during COVID-19? What are your children looking forward to for the 2020-2021 school year, what are they afraid of? Talk it over with family and friends on FamilyApp!

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