As a parent, what is my role, and what can I do to best support my child’s education?
Page 9: How can I help prepare my child for in-person learning?
Most students will be returning to in-person learning at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. Your child may have gone back to school in-person for part of the past year, or he may not have stepped foot into a classroom since March 2020. Whatever your family’s personal circumstances, learning this fall will look and feel different for everyone.
One of the best ways you can help your child during this time is to plan for some of the challenges he might face. The list below includes some concerns you and your child may have about the new school year. Click on each for possible tips.
Note: Some tips will help you prepare before the school year begins. Others can be useful if a new challenge arises later on.
Keep in Mind
Each child is different, and their feelings will vary as they return to in-person learning. You know your child best. If you notice small (or big) changes in her behavior, be sure to talk to her, to her teacher(s), and to others at school. It’s more important than ever to work as a team to make sure your child feels supported.
For well over a year, your child has gotten used to wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and being careful about the very air she breathes. Some younger children have never even experienced school without the presence of COVID-19. Whether or not she can communicate it, your child might worry about returning to crowded hallways or a classroom full of students. Remember that, like adults, children may worry about their health and safety as they return to in-person school.
Talk to your child: Doing this can help you understand her thoughts and feelings.
- Ask your child what she feels nervous about.
- Listen to your child’s concerns. Let her know it’s okay and even normal to have those feelings.
- Answer questions about things your child finds confusing (e.g., updated mask mandates, vaccination policies).
- Discuss school health and safety procedures (e.g., mask-wearing, handwashing, social distancing).
Staying home with a parent or family member during the day is quite different than spending it in a classroom with classmates and teachers. If your child has become more attached to you this past year, it may be difficult for her to give up your daily time together or simply the comfort of knowing you are in the next room.
Practice being apart: Don’t make the first day of school the first time your child is away from you. Schedule some time apart a few weeks before school starts (e.g., arrange for your child to visit a relative or friend).
Make goodbyes special: Create a special way to say goodbye to your child each day. A silly handshake or phrase can make it easier for her to go to school with a smile. Also, keep your goodbyes short and sweet.
Plan special time together: Once school begins, set aside time to do the things that may have been bright spots during distance learning (e.g., eating meals together, taking walks, playing games).
See the “Helpful Resources” box below for tools to help track and manage your child’s anxiety.
Your child may not have seen his friends or classmates face-to-face in quite some time. He might be worried about making friends or interacting with his classmates in-person. Younger children may not have had a chance to practice social skills (e.g., playing together, sharing, taking turns). Though older children may be looking forward to seeing their friends again, they also might be worried about how those relationships might have changed.
Prepare: Talk about situations that make your child feel nervous then help him brainstorm how he might handle them.
Practice: Role play situations that your child feels unsure about. Take turns practicing skills like asking a friend to play, starting a conversation, or joining a group.
Ease back in: Schedule small get-togethers with close friends. Start with shorter activities and increase the length of time gradually.
For Your Information
Early planning and practice with new schedules and routines is even more important this year. Keep this in mind if you have a child that is:
- Attending in-person school for the first time
- Starting a new school level (e.g., middle school, high school)
- Beginning at a new school
Some children might have a hard time getting back into the swing of in-person school. This can include home routines (e.g., waking up to an alarm, getting dressed, catching the school bus) and school routines (e.g., organizing materials, working in small groups with classmates, moving from class to class). Some schools may also have new procedures for keeping your child safe and healthy (e.g., using water bottles instead of water fountains, mask-wearing, handwashing).
Prepare early: Predictable routines can help your child feel less stressed. Learning and adjusting to new routines takes time and practice.
- A few weeks before school begins, gradually shift bedtime and morning alarms to prepare for the new schedule.
- Practice the morning routine of getting ready. Drive by or visit the school if possible.
- Plan for new health and safety requirements. This might require buying masks or water bottles, for example.
For more tips on getting ready to go back to school, read Back-to-school: A 4-week plan for a great start.
COVID-19 has disrupted learning for many students. You may be worried that your child has fallen behind academically in the last year and will need extra help to catch up. This is expected: Many students will be missing some of the grade-level skills needed due to the changes and challenges of the last year.
Support learning at home: Involve your child in meaningful learning opportunities. Read together, play learning games together, and continue to use resources like Khan Academy and Wide Open School to help her develop needed skills.
Stay aware: Communicate with your child and his teacher(s) regularly about his academic progress.
Seek help if needed: Most children will need to work on missing skills this year. However, if you notice your child is becoming increasingly frustrated or continuing to struggle, talk to her teachers or other school staff about what additional supports might be available (e.g., tutoring).
Children who experience extreme stress may not complete their schoolwork and might even refuse to go to school at all, a sign that your child is anxious or is struggling academically or socially.
Dig deeper: Your child might not be able or willing to tell you why he is avoiding school. Keeping track of his behavior and looking for patterns can help identify what’s going on. The “Helpful Resources” box below includes some simple tools for doing this.
Work as a team: If your child refuses to go to school, ask for help. Talk with your child’s teacher to create a plan to get him back to school. If needed, the teacher can put you in touch with other school professionals (e.g., school counselor) or community resources (e.g., healthcare providers).
Remember, it’s normal for your child to be anxious during times like these. The reasons for this anxiety and the way it looks will vary based on a child’s age and his learning needs. If you are concerned about your child’s anxiety, check out these tools from Understood to help you track patterns and identify some ways to help:
Anxiety tracker: Use this log to keep track of when and where your child gets anxious. You can also note what the anxiety looked like and what helped your child calm down.
Anxiety pattern finder: Once you have two or three weeks recorded on the anxiety tracker, use this worksheet to help identify patterns in the timing, frequency, signs, triggers, and outcomes of your child’s anxiety.
Calming strategies worksheet: Based on the patterns you find, try some of the ideas on this worksheet to help manage your child’s anxieties. Your child may be able to help you fill it out, and it can be useful to share with your child’s teacher or doctor as well.