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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

July 30, 2020, Sandoval, Ann, M Ed ,
11 (Virtual) Back-to-School Tips

When schools shut down in March, most of us hoped the closure would be brief. Five months later, we’re still battling a global pandemic – and children are now starting the school year online.

Instead of back-to-school shopping and meet-the-teacher events, families are ensuring their kids have reliable technology and a strong internet connection. It’s not what anyone wanted or hoped for (least of all our kids), but this is our new normal – and it’s up to us to prepare our children for the year ahead. Here are 11 tips for school success amid COVID-19:

Know the plan. First and foremost, check in with your child’s school district on a regular basis to ensure you’re up to date on the plan – especially with plans changing frequently. Your district’s website should include information on needed services and support, like how to access classroom materials, how to check out a device or where to pick up school breakfasts and lunches.

Set the tone. Parents, it’s time to put your game face on. This is much easier said than done – especially since many of us are anything but thrilled about online learning – but your kids will model your attitudes about school (and life in general). A positive outlook will soften any bad feelings about virtual learning and help them get off on the right foot.

Continue the tradition. A major part of setting the tone is continuing the back-to-school celebration of years past. Buy the backpack. Pick out a first-day-of-school outfit. Take the photo at the front door! Continue to create excitement wherever you can.

Include your child in the planning. Just like adults, kids are experiencing huge losses right now – including the loss of any control over their day-to-day lives. Give your child a voice in decision-making for the year ahead, like what the school-day routine will entail. Do they want to take recess before or after lunch? Providing even a small measure of control will go a long way in gaining their buy-in and making the path smoother.

Create a space. It’s important for kids to have a designated space for school – ideally somewhere other than their bedroom. Some families may choose to decorate this space Pinterest-style. For others, it will mean clearing a corner at the kitchen table. There’s no right or wrong way as long as your student is involved in the planning and has a bit of elbow space to work.

Routine is everything. Every parent knows that a regularly scheduled bedtime, wake-up time and mealtime make life easier for everyone. With the added stressors of online school (and online everything), the stability and comfort of a routine are more important than ever.

Disconnect. Kids love their technology, and with online learning, they’ll be getting an extra dose. Pick a time each evening where everyone checks in their device to enjoy a family dinner, play games, read your favorite books or take a bike ride together.

Address social-emotional needs. As an educator, my biggest concern about online learning is not academics – it’s about kids missing out on lunch with friends, building special connections with teachers and other such opportunities. Now’s the time to get creative in meeting their social-emotional needs. Consider arranging virtual meet-ups, planning a game night (try Pogo, Facebook Games or Pokemon Go), or delivering a treat to a friend’s house (even in a mask from six feet away, your kids will be thrilled).

Be vigilant about mental health. Anxiety, depression, stress and other mental and emotional issues are skyrocketing among kids and adults alike. Stay in tune with your children. Talk with them and listen to them. If you have concerns about their mental well-being, connect with your pediatrician to determine next steps.

Access special education services. A child who receives special education services through an Individual Education Plan (IEP), is homebound as a result of a health condition or is newly diagnosed with a chronic illness (504) should continue receiving services and accommodations through the school district. If this includes your son or daughter, contact your district to ensure continuation of these services. Online learning without accommodations is not the solution.  

Take advantage of available resources. Organizations across the country have created resources to help your family navigate education at this time, including:

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