If you own a television, you know that major stores refer to this time as “the most wonderful time of the year”. On any given year, this is usually the time that children get excited to go back to school to see their friends, back to school shopping is the biggest stress during this time to make sure you have supplies for school and that your children who hit major growth spurts have fall clothes that fit them. We all know that commercial with the dad dancing down the aisles of a Staples looking store with the unimpressed children. Whether you were THIS excited about back to school in the past, your emotions might be a bit different this year.
This year, feelings are a bit different heading into September. Shops are opening up, people are returning back to work and social activities, but parts of the world are seeing huge spikes of Coronavirus cases again and people are getting worried. Sending kids back to school means that your small bubble is suddenly growing hugely, especially with class sizes still quite large, and bringing sickness home is a huge concern. September brings a whole new kind of planning this year, as schools are opening despite rising cases. With the unknown being worrisome for most people, the choice of sending your child back to school or keeping them home for online learning is a stressful one.
In the last little while, the government emphasized the option of online learning, which might be possible for some families, but with businesses opening back up, and CERB ending in September, might not be an option for many. Whether you choose to send your child back to school or to attempt online learning at home, it might take a little bit extra effort to get back into the learning/homeworking mindset after such a long time out of school.
I talked to a few teachers, and other occupational therapists, and we brought together a few tips to help set kids up for success this school year.
Setting up a workspace
Whether your child is heading back to school for the fall or staying at home, setting up a quiet space for your child to do their work/homework will be extra important this year. Your child has had many months at home to play and exist in their home, and reminding them when it’s time to do work might be challenging.
Highlight a physical space in your home that is quiet and will be where work will be done. I used to do my homework at the kitchen table as a child which helped me focus, but some children might need a space away from distractions. If you are lucky enough to have a separate room away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the house, set up a desk here. Try to minimize distractions, perhaps limiting pictures in front of the desk and the amount of items on their table. If you are living like I am in a small space with quite a bit of foot traffic, do the best you can – find a space that maybe won’t be as busy during homework time or during online school hours. It might be helpful to add headphones to the back to school supplies list, to make online learning more pleasant for you, and to muffle some of the background noise for your child to reduce distractions. White noise youtube videos, or calming piano might be a nice way to help your child focus around day to day noises around the house.
Organize all the homework/school work supplies into one space to reduce the distraction of having to collect items throughout work time. Having a drawer at the workspace filled with everything they might need, or a pencil case/caddy that can be moved around the house, can prevent interruptions as they won’t need to search the house for that ruler or calculator mid math problem.
A visible wall calendar might be helpful to keep you and your child on track – planners are good, but often deadlines can be missed because you can’t display the whole month at once. As deadlines for assignments or even small chunks of homework are shared with your child, sit down with your child and fill in the dates so that everyone knows what is being worked on next. Getting your child involved in picking the calendar, writing down the dates and even decorating it (if there is space) might get them more eager to use the calendar as a tool throughout the year. Displaying the calendar somewhere that is seen often (such as the refrigerator or entrance way) can be a good way to ensure noted dates are being remembered by children AND parents.
Keeping on task
Focus and attention is one of the areas that Occupational therapists work on quite often with our clients. Keeping focused on a task, especially after months of being away from our typical routine, can be a challenge for many people!
Having a visual timer at your work space to signal the start of homework time, and perhaps to encourage working for a small chunk of time can be helpful! Decide on a small chunk of time to do work (young kids often have between 10-30 minute attention span), set an alarm and then when the alarm goes off, encourage your child to take a short movement break like walking, stretching or a fun dance party! Exercise can help shake out the sillies and refocus the brain.
Try to use positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement when encouraging your children to do work – using play time as a positive reward “you can go play after you finish this worksheet!” rather than taking something away or using a negative phrase like “you’re not going outside until all of this is finished!” can be more productive. While children don’t want to “lose” activity time (or whatever the exciting thing is), sometimes this can cause emotional reactions and resistive behaviours. If you’re working from home while your child is doing homework/online learning, perhaps set up their work station near yours so you can model some of your hardworking behaviours!
Creating a schedule and time management plan
It sounds pretty intense to create a time management plan, but if you didn’t realize already that your child (and most likely yourself) are able to focus and function better with a routine/plan for the day, you probably learned that through COVID-19 quarantines. Whether you are someone that likes to be able to check off what you’ve done during the day to feel successful, or like to have a full plan laid out of what you need to do that day, routines can be very helpful.
Some people (including children) also find that they are less anxious about the day when they are able to see what they should expect from the day. Being able to see when there is time for food, work, relaxation, movement etc, allows us to be assured that we know what will happen. If your child is staying home for online programming, work out a schedule for the day with built in breaks for snacks, movement, class work and chosen activities to keep up motivation and focus. Some children might like to have a visual schedule that they can see while they are doing their work as a reminder of what is to come. This schedule can be put together before school starts and then modified as you start to understand what the online learning programming looks like for each week.
If your child is heading back to school in person, consider making a similar schedule but for after school. Make sure to add some time for snacks, relaxation/play time in addition to study time and dinner. Be aware, that getting back into an after school routine might take a little bit longer than the transition into the classroom will take, because your child might feel exhausted after a full day of learning and social interaction after so much time at home.
As mentioned in my last post , remember, as a parent, teacher and student, we are all heading back to school with our own fears, anxieties, and needing time to transition back into our “typical” routines.
What have you been doing to help prepare yourself and your children or clients to head back to school this September whether in person or online?