Preparing Kids for Back to School and Beyond
The Parents' Role
What will school look like this year? What will it mean for students, teachers and parents? At the time I’m preparing this column, new calendars are just now being released. We are still uncertain about how things will actually look when we do go back. We will either be returning to the classroom, revisiting distance learning, or some combination of the two. Regardless of the plan, we face some unique challenges this year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. If we return to school buildings, how should parents address safety concerns with their children? If we return to distance learning, how does the role of the parent shift?
Preparing Your Child to Return to School
When preparing children to return to school buildings, one of the most important things parents can do is to convey their messages calmly. Parents need to share facts about how COVID-19 is spread without instilling a sense of panic in their children. This might be done in a similar manner as sharing water safety measures before spending time at area lakes. Children need to understand the importance of water safety, but you still want them to enjoy their time at the lake. We want students to enjoy returning to school, but they need to be aware of necessary safety precautions.
If children will be wearing masks at school, parents will need to instruct them in how to use them properly. As a teacher, I see children touching their faces all day long. They wipe their noses, pick their noses, and put all sorts of things in their mouths. A mask is not likely to eliminate these behaviors. Parents should provide education and instruction on these things prior to returning to school. Explain to children what they should do if they need to sneeze, cough or blow their noses. I suggest practicing at home before children return to school buildings.
Parents will also need to talk to children about maintaining social distance in the classroom, cafeteria and on the playground. Most elementary students haven’t yet developed a good sense of personal space. Many are also very affectionate, particularly toward their teachers. As teachers, most of us love all of the hugs. Sadly, it may be wise to avoid the physical contact this year. Parents may wish to discuss alternative ways for children to express their affection.
Preparing Parents for Distance Learning
We learned a great deal about the implementation of distance learning during the fourth quarter of last year. However, the learning that took place during this time was not nearly as effective as it would have been in the classroom. I was instructed to provide about an hour and a half worth of assignments per day and a 45-minute live session for my third graders. It’s clear that a full day’s worth of work can’t be squeezed in to this time frame. Yet, even with the decrease of instruction, families struggled.
Parents must recognize that their roles change in the midst of distance learning. Their roles become much greater. Parents will need to provide much of the support that teachers deliver in the classroom. The teacher is there to help guide you through the distance learning process.
One of the main things parents can do to support their children during distance learning is to become very familiar with any platform being used, such as Canvas or Google Classroom. My class used Google Classroom because they were already somewhat familiar with it. Some students would click the button to indicate that an assignment was turned in. I would quickly discover that the assignment wasn’t done at all. However, when parents did a cursory check on Google Classroom, it would appear that their children had no missing assignments. This is one reason it’s critical for parents to understand the platforms being used. One of my students did this for every assignment throughout the six weeks. Unfortunately, because the parent wasn’t familiar with the platform, she didn’t understand what was happening.
During distance learning, parents should look over each assignment. If it’s an online assignment, sign in to the website to see how your child did and if she needs assistance. If it’s a paper and pencil assignment, look it over before your child turns it in. This not only gives you the opportunity to confirm that the assignment was completed, but it gives you a chance to see if your child needs additional support. Your child’s teacher is not present to walk around the room or to ask if there are any questions about the lessons and assignments. This will require extra effort from parents.
We remain uncertain about how school will look in the fall. It’s possible that we might begin the year back in the classroom, but need to shift back to distance learning, or vice versa. There is even a hybrid model being discussed. Parents need to be prepared for both learning environments this year. Prepare your child for the classroom by providing information and instruction about COVID-19. Be sure not to instill a sense of panic as you do this. Parents need to prepare themselves for the role shifts required to make distance learning successful. Learn the platforms being used, check student assignments, and provide the individual support your child may need. Teachers and parents both want children to have a successful school year!