Kids will soon be returning to school soon, but this year they face even more challenges to their physical, mental and emotional health than ever before. That sounds like such an ominous start to a blog post, but a reality for us in 2020. From talking with parents, educators, my family doctor and others over the past few weeks, I’ve come up with a few tips on how to prepare our children for the return to school – whatever that may look like for your family.
Get your kids used to and comfortable with masks by wearing them frequently. Let them build up to many hours a day so they get used to it. Have them do different activities with a mask so it becomes second nature. You can start by having them wear masks for screen time (kids get so absorbed in their games that they’ll quickly forget they have it on) and then move to wearing masks while in stores – a mall works great for practicing this because of the ability to socially distance in the large open areas, if you’re comfortable with that. Masks are new and different and it’s important for kids to know that masks are not scary, nor are they something to make fun of if someone is wearing a mask and you’re in a community where it isn’t mandated (frankly, I’d prefer it were mandated in every school but I digress…)
Demonstrate social distancing and keeping your hands to yourselves! Take a moment and look around your house. See your walls? Especially the walls on your stairways? I can see a line from little hands at about the same level as my 9 year old but I can also see a line on the doorway to the basement from my 16 year old. Kids, for whatever reason, like to run their hands along walls, railings, etc. and now is a good time to teach them that keeping their hands in their pockets (tricky with clumsy kids I’ll admit) or clasped together when walking is the best approach. Social distancing is new to kids and they may not understand how far apart 6ft really is (adults have this issue too). Show them at home, in the yard, at the park, how far apart 6ft is so they can get used to that space.
Role-play setting limits. This situation may increase times when other children aren’t respecting your child’s space. Some kids are not aware of how to socially distance and may need to be reminded frequently to physically distance. While teachers will surely be on top of this, there are many students in a classroom (unfortunately, overcrowded classrooms). Help your kids find the words to ask for space when they are in these situations. Practice doing this until they feel more comfortable.
Extra supplies for school to consider: Teachers are reminding parents that it’s important to use unscented products for others with allergies/asthma and this includes your hand sanitzer. Avoid the super-scented hand sanitzers you can buy at the mall and instead opt for unscented sanitizer. Many distilleries are selling big bottles of sanitizer (I got this great Family Pack from OutlawTrail Spirits Distillery gifted to me, and it’s just $20 to purchase!) Backpacks will be going to school daily, and you may want to consider keeping them in the garage and out of the bedroom when kids bring home school work. On that note, we’re opting for NO lunchkits this year and instead will be using paper bags that can be disposed of after lunch each day – I didn’t want to have a lunchkit from the school desk/table on my kitchen counter each morning. It’s not the best solution with the garbage aspect, but it’s the solution that works for me this school year. While not used at school, purchase laundry/lingere bags for washing reusable cloth masks that are worn at school. I bought mine from Amazon (linked here: https://amzn.to/39QfRuy)
Your kids will feed off your emotions and how you project your thoughts on back to school 2020. While we’re all feeling anxious and uncertain about what’s ahead, I think it’s important to ensure we’re giving our kids a solid footing this fall. Depending on the age of your child, you can have frank discussions about our own concerns and fears or just talk about how things may look different in the classroom but that the ultimate goal is to keep everyone safe and healthy.
One final note, teachers are busy preparing classrooms and following all the guidelines they’re given for education this fall. If you know who your child’s teacher is this fall, reach out to them directly (or even the general school email) and ask what you can do as a parent to help. Perhaps your teacher would really appreciate a box of disposable masks, or maybe an extra bottle (or ten) of hand sanitizer, extra paper towels for the classroom if you’re lucky enough to have a sink, etc. I know teachers will appreciate having parents willing to step up and help.