September and the return to school often brings a sense of excitement and anxiety for families, and that is even more the case this year as there are still so many unknowns. What will learning look like this year? And how will it feel for kids, like mine, who have not been in a classroom in 18 months? As our family moves from pods and remote learning back to in-person school, we’re wary that our kids could feel overwhelmed. This summer, we’ve been calming any potential anxiety by listening, sharing and making space to support our kids through this big back-to-school transition.
It will be a steep learning curve for our kids, as my youngest has been in a preschool pod since March 2020, and my soon-to-be third-grader was online all last year. We’re hoping to ease the transition back by making school a point of conversation. We know our kids prefer us to bring things out in the open before big transitions, especially during this pandemic school time. While it seems strange to discuss getting dressed for school on a hot August day, it’s been helpful to lay the groundwork early.
With our youngest, we’ve discussed how days will go: what lunch will be like, where she will be playing, the plan for after-school pickups and how our fall bedtime routine will work. We've also been peppering in tidbits of information about the differences between preschool and kindergarten, not only because it's a different school and grade, but a different stage of pandemic reality. We've mixed humor and silliness to get her excited, but we also dispense the truth about wearing masks and keeping them on as we reassure her how great school will be this year. Different, of course, but great.
While it seems strange to discuss getting dressed for school on a hot August day, it’s been helpful to lay the groundwork early.
With our oldest, we’ve shared all the information that we have at the moment, to make her feel included. We’ve been talking through not only safety and logistics but things she’s missed at her school, such as playing basketball during gym time, having a teacher in front of her and seeing her friends in the hallways. She enjoyed learning at home but is excited about the social aspects of classroom learning.
We listen to their concerns and invite them to ask us questions. These include my kindergartener’s “What happens if I don’t make friends?” and other concerns about having to be nice to everyone in class. Mostly, we think she’s worried about her performance, and how to act in a larger group of peers compared to her small pod. My 8-year-old has more specific questions about teachers and schedules, and she mostly wants to know what’s changed in the past year and a half, so she doesn’t skip a beat in her peer group.
We discussed that they might feel a bit disoriented, even frustrated, the first few days of school, but they’ll quickly get the hang of it. We let them know it is normal to feel many emotions at once. To deepen our conversation, my husband and I have been sharing our memories and concerns about our first days of elementary school as a jumping-off point, hoping they’ll continue to check in with us, sharing the highs and lows of their school days over dinner.
The kids are generally excited about returning to school, as are we. They are looking forward to interacting with friends and having a routine. As the pandemic school landscape continues to shift, we know that everything can change at a moment’s notice, so it’s been good to dedicate time talking with everyone about backup plans. Of course, reading the news makes us nervous, but we’re hopeful that, with the right precautions in place, our community can keep everyone safe and learning, too.
We’ll continue to be transparent and flexible this school year, supporting our kids, and ourselves, as we navigate these uncertain pandemic times. We’re crossing our fingers for a successful September.
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