In just a few weeks I’ll be sending my children back to school. My children are going into grade 5 and 7 and while they tell me they don’t really want to go back I know that they are craving more structure, more social interaction, and they are excited to go back to school. My kids went back to school in June so they have a sense of what it will look like, but September will bring new challenges and perhaps a few worries for many families, especially those who did not return to in-person learning in June. Here are a few strategies and ideas that you might consider to help get ready for back to school.
Start with re-establishing school routines. Bedtimes, early mornings, getting dressed, making lunches! There have been a few days where the kids and I have enjoyed staying in our pajamas and even on the days we do get dressed and go out it often is not until late in the morning. If this sounds familiar, it might be helpful to get your family back in the habit of getting dressed, eating breakfast, and heading out the door a bit earlier. Getting the kids back to a bedtime routine is also important during these few weeks before school gets started.
Encourage and reassure. As a parent you might be nervous about back to school or unsure about some pieces of the safety plan, but when talking about this do not do so in front of your children. Stress can be contagious and often our children can feed off our anxiety. If your child is nervous or anxious, do spend time talking about what they are worried about and answer their questions. Here is a great resource for parents about talking about COVID-19.
Same but different. Talk to your child about what school will look like. A great framework for this is the phrase, “same but different.” Depending on the age of your child here are a few examples.
- * You will still line up for school, which is the same, but you might have a different spot to line up in.
- * All your school supplies will be the same, but you won’t be able to share them which is different.
- * You will still have friends in your class which is the same, but you won’t be able to hug and high five them.
- * Recess will still be the same, but the games you play might be different.
- * Your teachers will be teaching the same subjects, but some of them might be wearing masks.
Practice good hygiene. I have discovered that I touch my face a lot, my son puts his fingers in his mouth often, and when we are out in public, my daughter touches EVERY surface. We have been practicing how not to do these things and we have turned it into a little game. Each morning for a week every family member received five paper clips and we put them in our pocket. If we caught each other touching our face, putting our hands in our mouth, touching objects we shouldn’t, then that person had to give one paper clip to the person that caught them. At the end of the day the person with the most paper clips won. The winner then got to choose an activity for the family to do (jump on the trampoline, walk the dog, play a board game, watch TV, etc). We have gotten much better at policing ourselves and hopefully this helps us stay healthy when we head back to school. I have also made sure that my kids actually know how to wash their hands and that they understand they absolutely can not share food or school supplies. We are also practicing keeping our distance when interacting with friends and neighbours.
Have a plan. This one is more for me than my children, but I am starting to build a plan for when my children get sick. In the past when my kids have had the sniffles or a bit of a cough, I have sent them to school; we all have. This year will need to be different. So I’ve started talking to the neighbours who are stay at home parents, my husband has checked on his company’s work from home policy, and we are trying to build a plan for what our family will do when one of us becomes sick and cannot go to school. Having a plan reduces stress and anxiety.
Reduce the bubble. We are all on a spectrum for how comfortable we feel doing different activities. Many of us enjoyed going out to restaurants when they reopened while others have stuck to take out only. Some families have gone camping together while others continue to see friends virtually. Wherever your family feels comfortable is ok. Now that three members of my family are returning to school, we have made the decision to reduce our bubble in different ways. We will not be seeing grandparents now until the winter break. We have also had some difficult conversations with our children about prioritizing our social interactions. School is important and comes first for us. We spoke with our children about how much we have enjoyed having more family time and not feeling so rushed to get to numerous activities. We asked our children to think about which activities they really valued and enjoyed most and then we helped them to whittle down the list to one activity outside of school. We will not be signing our children up for ski lessons this year but will still choose to ski as a family. My daughter will not be signing up for Girl Guides despite many great experiences, my son will not be participating in mountain biking camps on the weekend and instead will bike with a few close friends. They have both chosen to continue with their hockey teams as they felt that was their favourite activity that we couldn’t do in the same way as a family.
Get excited. This year more than before we are getting excited about school by doing some back to school shopping. I’ve let my children get new backpacks and lunch kits. We did not order school supplies so we are going through the list and trying find everything we already own and then will order a few of the missing items. We then labelled EVERYTHING! We have also been walking around dog around the school and reminiscing about fun school memories. If you have been away it might be fun to set up a few virtual meetings or playdates on the school grounds. Come peek in the school windows or play in the forest.
(If you are looking for a great way to label your children’s items West Bay is pleased to partner with Mabels Labels. The West Bay PAC receives a portion of all sales. https://mabelslabels.ca/en_CA/fundraising/support/
This has been a challenging time for families, and we have all experienced the COVID pandemic in different ways. I am very optimistic about the fall and the return to school. As both a parent and an educator I am so glad that our schools will be welcoming students back full time. A lot of work and effort has gone in to make sure our students will be safe here at school so that the most important aspect of schools, the teaching, learning and joy can continue.