Preparing for Back to School during a Pandemic

by Courtney Christensen

With the school year quickly approaching, many parents (and teachers!) are struggling with the choices that lay ahead. Because of the global pandemic, schools and classrooms look a little different these days. Between the physical classroom, distance learning, or homeschooling options there is no doubt that your kids will get the education they need. However, no one option feels like the right one, and no one option feels like the wrong one.

Most schools are providing two options, but there’s a third that many parents are considering, too. Should your kids go back to the classroom, stay home and attend school virtually, or should you take over their schooling altogether? It’s a tough choice, and it’s important to remember that there isn’t a “right” answer. Only you, as a parent, can make the best choice for your family. Remember, no matter how you choose to send your kids back to school, you are doing the right thing.

However your kids go back to school, make this transition easier on yourself and them by doing some prep work.

Prepping for Homeschooling

The best way to prepare for homeschooling your kids is to create and maintain a schedule. This is often difficult to accomplish with kids used to a willy-nilly summer schedule, but it will help parents (particularly first-time homeschoolers) to create structure and set boundaries during the school day.

While planning specific times for teaching and learning different subjects is important, it is just as important to designate times for fun. This is important for you, too, parents! Giving you and your child short breaks throughout the day will help all of you stay focused longer.

Just as classroom teachers, you will also need to review your subject material on a nightly or weekly basis so that the information is fresh in your mind for the next day. Not only will this help you keep your schedule, but it will also help keep you more focused on help your children learn instead of trying to teach yourself at the same time.

It is also important to set aside a place for your school room – even if it’s not actually its own room. Having a specific place for learning means you and your kids will be less likely to get distracted. Leave household chores or playtime for your scheduled breaks, and come back to your school room solely focused on learning and teaching.

Lastly, there are numerous organizations and groups related to homeschooling. Get involved in one of these support groups. Your school system may have one in particular for all homeschooling families in the area, but you can find dozens online as well. This is particularly useful for homeschoolers to have communication and contact with their peers. During a pandemic, you may not be able to schedule play dates or field trips, but you will be able to use video chats to encourage communication with children your kids’ ages.

Prepping for Distance Learning

Similarly to homeschooling, distance learning requires a lot of support from parents. Most schools will provide you with an hourly schedule which will help you create routines for your kids. Even though your kid’s education will be handled by their teacher, it’s still on you to make sure they follow the rest of the schedule. Make sure they get lunch on time, make sure they spend time outdoors (if possible). Help them unwind and relax during their breaks. Additionally, make sure they keep their class schedule and make it to class on time.

Just like homeschooling, your kids need a special place for school activities. If you have several kids, it may be best to create multiple places in order to keep them from accidentally interrupting each other’s lessons. Bedrooms may work for this, but if you think focus may be an issue, set them up in an office or the kitchen instead. Wherever you choose, remember your kids need quiet for distance learning. They need to be able to hear their teacher and other students as well as speak to them clearly.

Find out from your school what you need to provide for your kids. You will need an internet connection, of course, but is your school providing laptops or tablets? Ask your kids’ teachers for a list of supplies they may need for the school year. Investing in a good, comfortable headset may be a good idea to help your kid to listen and speak clearly to their class.

As with the regular classroom, you should stay up to date with what your kids are learning. Keep an eye on your email or on your school’s online portal. Not only will this help you stay connected, but it will also help you make sure your kids are progressing how they should.

Just as you would during any normal school year, check in with your kids at the end of every school day. What did they learn today? What homework do they have? Do they need help with preparing something? Just because they aren’t in a traditional classroom doesn’t mean they need any less support from you.

Prepping for Going Back to the Classroom

As both the most familiar and the most unfamiliar option on this list, preparing for going back to a physical classroom won’t be easy. First is the most obvious: your kids need protected from COVID-19. Of course, your school system has implemented many changes to keep your children safe. They are cleaning more often, disinfecting surfaces, and are likely adhering to social distancing and face mask guidelines suggested by the CDC. So, make sure to do your part in helping with this. Provide your kids with face masks, educate them on hygiene and social distancing practices, and be sure to disinfect frequently touched items when they get home (backpacks, phones, lunch boxes, etc.)

Protecting your kids physically isn’t enough, either. You need to prepare them mentally for this big change. School isn’t going to be like they remember. They may have to sit far away from classmates, they may have classes outside, and most of all, everyone will be wearing masks. This may be harder on young children, but education is key! Informing your kids of the changes happening around them, and talking with them about their concerns is the best way to prepare them.

Plan ahead for frequent and sudden changes to scheduling. School may be unexpectedly canceled or suspended for everyone for several days, or even weeks. You may have to pull your kid out of school due to illness for 2 weeks. Speak with your partner, your workplace, and child care helpers about the possibilities. Make arrangements ahead of time when you can, and prepare for surprises.

Your kids need to be healthy to attend school (whether we are in the middle of a pandemic or not), but these days it’s extra important to keep an eye on their health. You should check every morning for a fever and symptoms like cough, trouble breathing, vomiting, and diarrhea. If they have these symptoms, or any others listed here, keep them home from school. If necessary, visit a COVID-19 testing center.

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