Preparing for back to school when you don’t know what to expect

It’s the season of barbecues, pool parties, and sunny skies! While you and your family are surely having a blast this summer, remember, time flies when you’re having fun. Before you know it, the back-to-school season will be upon us! Preparing for this normally consists of activities like shopping for supplies and clothes, but surely things will be different this time with the ongoing pandemic. Some of your preparation will look very much the same, like checking your child’s summer assignments, but other aspects will be new, like packing masks with your child’s lunch money and library books.

Many states and local school districts have yet to decide between the stay-at-home “click” learning and the in-person “brick” learning; however, there are still ways you can prepare, even for the possible mix of both types of learning!

“Click” Preparation
The hallmarks of the 2019-2020 school year were virtual classrooms and the burden of “educator” falling on the shoulders of parents; this may very well continue into the new school year. While there wasn’t much time to prepare last time, there is plenty of time to prepare for the coming months!

Here are some tips on handling a digital classroom environment:

1. Set up a separate study environment for your child.
It can be harder for your child to focus when in the comfort of their own home, especially as it’s hard to mentally transition from school to after school with no physical movement. Make sure you set up an area in the house your child will recognize as a space and time to focus on school. It should be a quiet location void of distractions with a good connection to the internet and other devices, like a headset and printer, if necessary.
2. Prevent distractions, both on and offline.
Even with a good study environment, your child might sign off mentally. It can be trickier to engage in a lesson without physically being there. Not to mention, the internet offers a lot of distractions. Consider blocking some websites or putting up parental controls during school hours. You could also make sure they do not have other devices like a phone, tablet, or television nearby, as well as provide a headset with a mic so that your child won’t be distracted by other noises.
3. Minimize screen time outside of classes.
Because of online classes, your child may be staring at the screen for longer than normal. To give their eyes and mind a break, suggest that they step away from the screen as often as they can outside of school hours and necessary assignments. Digital breaks are highly encouraged to counteract an overstimulated mind.

“Brick” Preparation
Some schools may be planning to start the new year by inviting students back into the physical classrooms. However, there will be new protocols in place. Schools may prepare by limiting the number of students in the classrooms, rearranging desks, installing protective shields, and checking temperatures.

In case your kid does head back to school, here’s how you, as the parent, can prepare:

1. Read up on all guidelines and protocols.
It’s important to stay well informed. As schools prepare to open their doors again, they will likely provide all parents with guidelines and precautions that you and your child should follow. Make sure you understand how the school will be keeping all of their teachers and students safe during this time. If you have any concerns, such as your child is at high risk, address the school and/or a medical professional beforehand.  
2. Pack the bags with all the safety necessities.
Along with the usual school necessities like pens and paper, your child should make room in their bag for safety necessities like masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves. Explain to them the importance of using these materials correctly. For example, they shouldn’t share anything with others or touch the outside of their mask. They should also wash or discard if disposable, masks after frequent use.
3. Make sure your child understands safety measures.
Reinforce the appropriate behavior and rules your child should follow during this time for the safety of themselves and those around them. Students should be able to socialize, but they should maintain a social distance of six feet and wear masks whenever possible. Your child should also perform good sanitation practices, like washing their hands for twenty seconds with soap as often as they can.

Hybrid Preparation for Both
In many towns, the school year is likely to be a combination of both “click” and “brick” styles of learning. Schools may flow from one type to the other based on the situation (e.g., start digitally then gradually move to the physical classrooms). There may also be staggered schedules, so part of the week is spent in school and the other at home.  

It may be confusing, but there are ways you can prepare for this hybrid learning style:

1. Set up a consistent schedule.  
Encourage your child to keep to a consistent sleep cycle to maintain good energy and focus levels. Your child may want to sleep in on days they do not have to get ready and commute to school. They may even sleep later the night before with this in mind. However, consistent sleep and wake times reduce feelings of exhaustion. That’s why it’s even recommended for children to wake up at the same time during the weekends.  
2. Make sure that the schedule is very clear.
Especially in cases when your child might go back to school on certain days and not others, keep organized to the best of your abilities to avoid confusion. This is extra important if you have more than one child whose schedule you need to keep track of. You should encourage your child to maintain their own schedule, but it helps that you double-check, especially if you need to arrange drop-offs and pickups. A good way to do this is to share an online calendar with the entire family or place a physical one at home where everyone will see it.
3. Help your child adjust to the changes.
Constant changes in the school structure will understandably be confusing for children. Talk to your child and explain the differences in how they might take notes, turn in assignments, or navigate their class schedules. More than anything, be there for them emotionally through this complicated time by showing patience and understanding. Soothe them whenever they show signs of stress and gently remind them to take care of themselves and be considerate of others.

The new school year will look different from previous ones, but you and your child can still prepare to the best of your abilities by following the tips above. Communicate openly with the school and teachers. Stay well informed, safe, and optimistic as you navigate a new and unconventional school year.  

As much as we miss our students, JEI Learning Center will continue to offer our State Standard-aligned programs through JEI Remote Learning for the time being. If you are not yet enrolled, call (877) JEI-Math or find a center near you to further enrich your child’s education today.

We wish that you all stay healthy during this time and continue to learn and flourish!