Wellness During COVID-19

Back to school during COVID-19

kid at school with mask

This year, social media posts of “first day of school” will look a little different. Instead of smiling students surrounded by friends at bus stops, pictures will likely feature kids in masks standing 6 feet apart from friends, or families sitting around a kitchen table as they kick off another season of virtual learning.

Even as parents, children and adults settle into the “new normal” COVID-19 has brought, we still find ourselves adjusting expectations and managing new situations.

“Whether your child is back in a physical classroom or starting the year from home, there are a few steps you can take to have a smooth, successful year for everyone,” encourages Rebekah Sensenig, M.D., Infectious Disease Specialist with Riverside Health System.

Advice for all learners and families

The best way to help ensure success this school year is for parents to share a positive attitude about whatever learning option they’ve selected.

“There is no wrong answer when it comes to deciding what’s best for your children and family this school year,” explains Dr. Sensenig. “Try to be positive when discussing the plans for your family this school year and be sure not to say that one choice is better than another. All families are working to do their best with the limited and imperfect options provided.”

Dr. Sensenig shares more tips to help families prepare children for a great school year.

  • Set expectations. It will be a different experience this school year, whether it’s happening in a classroom or at home. Have an open and honest conversation with kids about what the school year may hold. And, most importantly, listen to them when they share their hopes and goals for the upcoming months.
  • Keep lines of communication open. As kids start the school year, it’s important to touch base regularly. Ask specific questions, like “What was your favorite part of today?” or “What’s one thing you would want to change?” Spark an interesting discussion with one of these 63 questions to get your kid talking.
  • Take care of yourself. Juggling work, household chores and new school routines is a lot for anyone. Recognize the time that we’re in and the added stress it brings. Find ways to escape and focus on yourself, whether that’s a solo walk in your neighborhood, a new craft project or splurging on a new book. It will help keep you refreshed so you can lead your children through this unusual time.
  • Start fun, new traditions. One of the hardest things for kids (and parents) is the loss of family traditions. It can be tough to miss out on football games, pumpkin patches and other traditions we look forward to each year. Try starting new traditions that help take the shape of the activities your family enjoys each year. Start a ‘Family Friday Movie Night’ or explore a new part of town each weekend (while social distancing and wearing masks, of course).

Success in the classroom

Heading back to the classroom may bring some normalcy back to children, but it won’t look like it has in years past. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests guidelines to help students and teachers stay safe. Parents can prepare their children for these changes. That may include:

  • Practice wearing a mask. It can be hard for kids (of all ages) to get used to wearing a mask. Have them wear a mask before they head back to the classroom so they can feel a little more comfortable.
  • Discuss the importance of social distance. Kids want to be close. Remind your children why it’s important to try to stay 6 feet apart from friends. Younger kids may need to have more specific examples than just “6 feet.” Encourage them to stay far enough apart that they can’t touch their friends.
  • Teach proper hand-washing hygiene. Did you know most people don’t wash their hands long enough to get rid of germs? Follow the advice from the CDC on the right way to wash your hands.
  • Keep kids home if they are sick. If your child has a fever of 100.4 or above and/or has symptoms of a cold, flu or any other illness, keep them home to stop the spread of illness. It helps your child recover and keeps the community healthy and safe.
  • Be flexible. This school year will be different from any other. Keep an open mind and be understanding when things inevitably have to change.

Success for virtual learning

Some parents and schools have opted to start the year learning from home. Other families may find themselves managing remote learning if schools have to close for increases in cases. When that happens, there are steps parents can take to keep things running smoothly.

“One of the hardest things about last spring was that we were all new to remote learning,” explains Dr. Sensenig. “Now, we have the advantage of a little experience with online platforms and know what struggles our children may face. We can plan accordingly.”

Dr. Sensenig recommends parents keep the following steps in mind when supporting kids learning from home:

  • Create a routine. Routines and schedules are critical for young children, as well as older students. Keep children of all ages (even those high schoolers who want to sleep in) on a schedule.
  • Be flexible, but make sure your family knows what’s expected of them. It can help create a smoother, more calm learning environment.
  • Give everyone a break. Adults can’t sit at a computer for eight hours straight during the workday. It’s unrealistic to expect kids to sit for extended periods of time, too. Work in breaks to help kids get up and move. Take a walk around the block or do a few simple stretches. It’s a great workout for the mind and body.
  • Connect with resources. School is more than a learning environment. It also provides important services like physical therapy, speech therapy, counseling and free or reduced cost lunch and breakfast. If you have a child that benefits from these services, stay in touch with your school. Many districts still offer these programs, even during COVID-19. They can help connect your family with the support your child needs. Public libraries, pediatrician offices and community organizations can also help support your family during this time.

This can be a difficult time for everyone. If you’re struggling or notice that your child needs a little extra support, please reach out for help. Your child’s pediatrician or your primary care provider can be a good resource as you navigate the back-to-school season.

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