Limiting COVID chaos during the school year

By | September 9, 2020

Child: “Will I go back to school this fall?
Parent: “I’m not sure yet.”
Child: “Do you know when we’ll find out?”
Parent: “I also don’t know that yet.”
Child: “Will school be the same for the whole year?”
Parent: “I don’t know that either.”

Sound familiar? If the only thing you do know is that plans are in flux, you’re not alone. School plans seem to be changing frequently — before the school year even has started in some places! With so much uncertainty, how can families limit the potential chaos that may unfold from last-minute decisions and changes? Below are four tips that may help.

Develop a plan for each school setup

Schools seem to be deciding among having all students return, all students attend school remotely, and a hybrid plan of the two. Although you can’t prepare for everything in the future, you can contain some of the mayhem by creating a plan for your family based on each of the three school scenarios. Because there is the possibility that schools may change their decisions throughout the school year, it may be helpful to develop all three now, in case any of them might be needed.

For example, when planning for a hybrid school year, have all caregivers in the house map out a schedule of child care coverage for the days when children would be home. For the remote learning days, creating a structured daily routine may help if the remote education doesn’t fill the whole school day.

It’s also important to talk to children about how school plans may change throughout the school year and what to expect from each plan. It can be helpful for children to understand why shifts in plans may happen, so explain that the goal of the changes would be to make sure schools can continue helping children learn while keeping them as healthy as possible.

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No matter what school plan is in place on a given day, try to keep children’s schedules as consistent as possible. Keeping wake-up, meal, and bedtimes the same each day can help make children less vulnerable to the stress of other changes that may happen for them.

Plan for health and safety, too

If your children will have in-person classes, talk about healthy and safe hygiene practices while they’re in school: wearing masks, washing hands often, and paying attention to staying at a safe distance from others. Also share what you want your children to do when they return home. Where should they put their backpacks? When and where should they wash their hands when they get home? Decide how your children will get to and return home from school if you determine that needs to be different this year. For example, if your son used to carpool with other families or walk to school with other children, that plan may need to change to keep your son six feet apart from peers.

Check with your school for information about whether testing will be involved. If so, how and when would the school want a child to get tested? Also, ask about what steps the school will take if a teacher or student tests positive for COVID-19.

Make a family calendar

With so many plans in flux, a visual reminder of what the upcoming week will look like can help children keep track of the changes. Put a weekly family calendar in a shared space like the kitchen. Review the upcoming week when you’re together, such as Sunday around dinner time. You might find that it’s useful to review the next day’s schedule each night at dinner, too, to remind children what’s ahead for them. For younger children who are not of reading age, try using images, such as pictures of a school or a house, to illustrate where the child may be that day.

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Create a space to share reactions

You might feel exasperated one day, sad the next, worried another, and hopeful the following day. Your children also may have a range of emotions as they navigate these trying and ever-evolving times with you. Talk to your children regularly about how they’re feeling about the plans, the changes, and more, to give them space to share their experiences and receive support. Perhaps the weekly calendar review time also could be when you check in and see how everyone is feeling about the school plans. None of you chose for this to happen, and you’re making the most of the situation by offering support and some predictability.

Harvard Health Blog