This blog is a companion piece to a recent media engagement with WDBJ7, Montgomery County parenting blogger shares advice for starting the school year off strong.
As a family we have navigated the disappointment of an abruptly cut-short school year. We have weathered the realities of missing our cousins, friends and extended family. We experienced a summer at home, without the expected camps. We have learned how to be a strong family unit, fully leaning into each other and choosing to make it wonderful — even if it is not perfect. And now, we are beginning to prepare for yet another milestone along our family’s Covid-19 journey: the return to school.
I have been considering what steps we will take to ensure we are creating conditions for success, as the kids return to school for the first time since March. They will be attending partial days with one full day out of the classroom, to allow teacher’s time for planning and cleaning. Because I have a dynamic job outside of the home we had to arrange care around the partial-schedule. And no, we don’t have a solution in place if we were to end up all online (but really, let’s hope that doesn’t happen!).
I don’t have all the answers and am not without my own anxieties as we settle into the school year. However, I remain steadfast in my commitment to embrace the complexities and make it wonderful! I’m hoping that by sharing my approach I will be able to encourage other parents. Also, I hope it prompts you to share great tips with me! Remember, we are all in this together and it truly takes a village and collective community to navigate these surreal times.
Intentionally keep your schedule light the first few weeks back to school.
Your kiddos will likely be emotionally and mentally exhausted after having to re-learn what it is like to follow the normal school rules plus the Covid-19 school rules. By creating margin in your schedule you will give them the time and space to unpack their feelings and perhaps even fall apart in a safe place where they are surrounded by love. Anticipate this need and plan accordingly!
Have a plan for what will keep you well.
It is going to be challenging. There is so much extra to consider this back-to-school year. Do you need coffee each morning to start off in the right place? If so, drink it. Will catching up with your friend refresh your spirit? If so, make time for that phone call. Will packing backpacks the night before keep your mornings less chaotic? If so, do it! Create a frame work and conditions for everyone to succeed.
Get their buy in!
Kids have amazing ideas and if we pause to listen well then we may find a great solution in their contributions. Ask for their input on how your family can create a plan for success as you go back to school. Ask them to make specific suggestions so they have ownership over the path forward and will be more likely to contribute. Ask them to help pick out masks — I expect they will like them more if they select the prints. Get their input on lunch ideas they may enjoy. Involve them and engage them as your make your preparations!
Consider the tone you are setting.
It is going to be overwhelming at times. It is going to be frustrating. You are going to be annoyed. But — you have little eyes watching! How can you be honest with your kids about the challenges, in an age-appropriate manner that also leads well? Setting a healthy tone does not mean it is fraudulently positive. It means it is honest and open to seeing opportunities. For example, you can acknowledge that wearing a mask all day is not your preference either but if it means being back with friends then it is worth the annoyance! As a parent, you have such a critical role in helping frame and contextualize what your kiddos are experiencing. Recognize the responsibility.
Go out of your way to encourage someone else.
We all have a tendency to turn inward and have a pity party when things are challenging. When you feel that desire creeping into your demeanor I challenge you to stop and think beyond the end of your own nose. Is there an educator you can thank? Can you compliment a stranger’s shoes? Could you simply express your genuine heartfelt thanks to the Starbucks barista for helping you start your day caffeinated and with a smile? Do not lose yourself in the challenges. Keep your eyes raised and remain on the lookout for opportunities for positive impact. The amazing reality is that the joy will have a way of circling back around and blessing you in the process.
Be kind and supportive.
No matter what decision another family has made it has challenges and likely a fear of doing the wrong thing. So, let’s encourage each other no matter the decision. All online? Great! Switching to private schools? Good for you! Embracing what the school system has decided upon? Excellent! Each family is so uniquely constructed and has individual circumstances to consider. No energy should be invested in being judgemental — channel it only into kindness and support. We’ve got this — together!
You are not alone!
As you anticipate the first day of school please do not be discouraged and do not feel alone. It is a wild time for everyone and we are all doing the best we can to persist through the unthinkable. Create a plan — consider your strategy — operationalize your desired outcome..