School classrooms have certainly changed over the last few months, and they are not likely ever going to be the same. Change is hard. Children, especially, tend to struggle with the change of environments that they do not understand. A pandemic can be challenging for the smartest adults to understand, much less elementary-aged children. Returning to school this fall is a challenge for nearly every student who will be seated in a classroom or returning through online instruction. There are some things that you can do to minimize the stress of returning to class.
#1) Immersing in the New Learning Format
Of course, you are learning; this is school, right? However, you need to take the learning up a notch. We now have to learn about the new classroom rules, protocols, and precautions. For example, if you are returning to a combination of remote and in-person learning, what are the requirements for the remote learning sessions. Some schools are operating on an alternating basis. Students return to classes on an A day or B day schedule. Generally, A days being Monday/ Tuesday, and B days being Thursday/ Friday with a day for cleaning on Wednesday. These schools have protocols for how they are socially distancing students and what constitutes COVID symptoms. Learn your school’s new protocols before the first day.
#2) Respecting the New Protocols
The youngest students often have difficulty learning what to do and how to answer questions. For example, one set of school questions asks if the child has any new symptoms of COVID, but a five-year-old may not have any idea what this means. However, helping your child learn new protocols can save them time and frustration at arrival or dismissal times. Ask your child relevant questions about the new COVID reality just as they would be asked in the school setting. Talk about how they should answer these and the importance of honesty. You can also set up a “temperature” station at home to show them what it will look like for them.
#3) Washing Hands Often
We do not often wash our hands as much as we would in the classroom. Let your child practice washing hands and wiping down areas between activities. While it may be inconvenient to do this as a parent, the more practice your child gets with creating new habits, the easier it will become in the school setting. Another option is to provide your child with sanitizing wipes to put in their pocket if access to a sink and water is not available and accessible.
#4) Getting Used to Wearing Masks
Masks have become a harsh reality in many cases. They are hot, uncomfortable, and a nuisance, even if you are a willing participant. Schools have mask protocols that governing bodies dictate. The principal or dean is not likely the one making the rules for who wears a mask and when. They are not fun. Practice having your child wear the mask longer and longer to tolerate the new way of life. You may also notice that some masks are more comfortable for them to wear than others. Let your child explore what works best for them.
#5) A New Way to Socialize
While students may be excited about returning to the classroom and school grounds, social distancing and student interaction are not going to look the same. Work with your child to help them understand these new protocols. Lunchtimes may be taken in the classroom instead of the cafeteria, and even in the cafeteria, distancing will be mandatory. Noise levels will likely be monitored, but your child may be able to spend some time communicating. This time talking with friends may be minimized by requiring a portion of time to be spent eating so that masks may be worn in social periods.
#6) Managing Your Outdoor Time
A subcategory of time spent socializing is outdoor play. Your child may be permitted to return to using playground equipment and spending time with friends, but masks may be required for these activities. Your child may not understand why he or she needs a mask to run around outdoors. If masks are not required, social distancing will likely be in place. These protocols can be frustrating for students, especially since they have been missing their friends.
#7) The New Classroom Normal
Classrooms may be set up differently, and class sizes may be drastically reduced to maintain distance and mask protocols. Students may only be on campus a few days a week, so they may have the same teacher as another friend, but they are present on different days. In some places, there are three groups of students. One group is online exclusively, another is on A days, and a third is B days. This new format may mean that while your child has the same teacher as a friend, they are never in the same place together. You must help your child understand the balance.
Social distancing will also change how classrooms are set. There will not likely be small group instruction or groups at all, and students will be spaced from their classmates to minimize interaction and cross-contamination.
Moving to the socially distanced school format is not going to be easy for anyone. Elementary and middle grades students may find the most issues with making the changes. They will have the least amount of understanding and the highest expectations. Children want to be social beings, and understanding why they cannot high five their best friend in the hallway is not going to be easy for them. However, assure them that these protocols are not likely going to last forever. They may have to continue wearing masks for extended periods, or schools may periodically close for cleaning, but eventually, the pandemic will subside. You can help them practice the changes that they will see at school and prepare them not to be shocked.
The first few days are going to be exhausting and frustrating for most students. Be their soft place to land. If your child has a meltdown for the first few days, try to be a little more understanding. Let your child know that you understand their frustrations. You should never allow your children to flippantly break the rules but let them know that it is frustrating and try to be a little less rigid when it comes to whining and complaining. Help them learn to cope effectively while understanding that even that takes time.