Going back to school can be exciting, anxiety-inducing, and stressful, no matter how old you are.  Whether you are starting junior kindergarten or a high school senior, there are so many worries that come with entering different environments, meeting classmates and teachers, starting new routines, and taking on learning challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has added an additional level of anxiety, making many parents question whether or not they should enrol their children in virtual school or the in-person model.

Regardless of how long we have been in school, it seems that the summer break always makes us forget about the routines established from September to June. Because of the Coronavirus shutdown, most of us stayed at home for spring in addition to summer - making the return to routine even harder. After a stretch of late mornings, days in the park, cottage trips, and indeterminate bedtimes, it’s not easy for parents to face a sudden return to packing lunches, checking homework, and managing and childcare. Returning to school is a big deal for children too, who stress over making new friends, keeping up with their subjects, getting used to new teachers, and possibly adapting to new virtual tools. 

What can parents do to help kids cope with school in 2020? Here are our top 10 back-to-school tips for parents who want to make September as smooth and safe as possible.

Learn more about going Back-to-School in 2020.

child going back to school
Source: Pexels

1. Stop the Back-to-School Jitters

Eliminate as many of your child's anxieties as possible to secure a smooth first day of school. If your kids are in elementary school, start by bringing them to school even before the first day to explore the playground, field, and outside of the building. This will help your little ones to familiarize themselves with a new environment, or get pumped for a new school year if they have been attending school for some time.

High school parents face a different challenge altogether, as their children are likely more anxious about things like social circles, wearing the right outfit, bullying, or getting high grades so they can get into the university or college of their dreams. Alleviate your teen’s anxieties by bringing them shopping for new clothes, supplies, or sports gear. If it's in the budget, upgrade their tech; if you are trying to save money, shop at a secondhand store or see what you can find on Kijiji. You can also take them out for dinner or make their favourite meal to celebrate another year.

2. Establish Routines

One of the most effective ways to set your child up for success is to establish routines that keep them organized and grounded as the transitions begin. Bedtime is the best place to start, since getting the right amount of sleep is critical to having a good next day. Make sure your kids are off the screens a good hour or two before bedtime, that their showers are scheduled (critical if you have multiple kids), and have rituals like reading a book or having a light snack before bedtime.

You will also want to have a tight morning schedule to ensure that everyone gets to school on time. Have quick and easy breakfast options like cereal and toast ready, lunches fully or partially packed the night before, and set specific lengths of time for each task. If you must have your kids out the door extra early for before school childcare, consider letting them eat breakfast bars or sandwiches on the commute.


masks kids school
Help your kids get in the habit of wearing a mask at school. Source: Pexels

Make sure you also get your children in the habit of wearing masks at all times indoors, physical distancing and practicing hand hygiene. Remind them that their family's health is in their hands and ensure that they understand health is a top priority. Check your children for any symptoms: it is important to the the COVID-19 assessment every morning to ensure the virus does not spread.

Find out more about going back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If your kids are in virtual school, practice logging in to their virtual learning environment and using applications like Google docs. Set a routine for a day of learning at home and make sure they get time outdoors and away from screens daily.

After school you will want your children to have routines in place for washing hands, having snacks, doing chores, and tackling homework - especially if they are home alone. Allocate time for outdoor play or treat them with time for video gaming or Netflix after a long day.

3. Get to Know Your Child’s Teachers

Your child’s educators will play a significant role in their lives for 10 months, so get to know who they are and how they communicate important information. Most schools will have a meet-the-teacher event, and teachers will often have a digital component like SeeSaw, Google Classroom, or Brightspace that you can check to find out what is happening in the classroom.

Most kids have rotary teachers for classes like Gym, French, or Art, so be sure to keep in contact with those staff members as they can also give you valuable insights on your child’s behaviour, strengths, and needs. 

4. Be an Active Part of Parent Council

Ever wonder why some schools have better outdoor equipment and resources than others? The answer usually lies with the Parent Council. Every school has a Parent Council that meets regularly to plan fundraising initiatives, special events, express concerns, brainstorm solutions to problems in the school community, and receive news from the Principal and Vice-Principal. Strong parental involvement can transform school amenities.

Getting involved with your kids’ schools will help you to ensure that they have the best possible learning experience. You can give direct input on what you feel the school needs most, get to know other parents, and make a lasting impact on your community. 

Check out our back-to-school supplies shopping list!

5. Check out the Curriculum

Helping your kids with homework can be hard if you don’t understand what the expectations are. Thankfully, each province’s curriculum is posted on the internet, making it easy to understand what your children are learning in school. By having an understanding of what your kids are learning and how they are being evaluated, you will be in a much better position to help them succeed in class and ask questions of their teachers. Curricula has also changed drastically since you have been in school: for example, there is much more attention being placed on technology, problem solving, and collaboration in school. Keep abreast of these documents, and you will find it much easier to support your child in their learning. 

6. Get the Right Lunch Gear

Nutrition is an essential part of your child’s life, and is particularly important when they are in school for a day that includes multiple recess times and gym class. And let's not forget that your little ones and adolescents are growing - they are hungry all the time! As more schools shift to litterless lunch policies, it’s critical to make sure your kids have a nice lunch box or bag and resilient, reusable containers that hold all the food it takes to keep you kid fueled. So add lunch gear to your back to school shopping list and be ready for lots of dishwashing!

Shop for high quality bento boxes, thermoses, sandwich boxes, containers, and lunch bags that keep food fresh and organized. Let your kids pick out the colours and designs they like: it will get them excited for school and is a fun way to empower your child in decision making. Get your kids to help pack and choose their snacks the day before: it helps them to develop a sense of responsibility and creates a good opportunity to think about healthy eating.

7. Check out Sports & Extracurricular Programs

What would school be without sports and clubs? Get to know the sports and extracurricular programs offered at your child’s school and encourage  them to participate. Why? Sports and clubs give students an organized environment to learn and socialize without the stress of being graded, and may introduce your kids to new friends to play with. It enables them to develop their interests and hobbies, many of which they will take into young adulthood or even their careers. They also help build your child’s confidence, teamwork skills, and provides an opportunity for them to meet new friends. 

READ: Advice for students returning to school in COVID-19.

8. Establish a Work Space for your Child

Your child’s learning doesn’t stop when they exit the school. In many cases, they will have homework or projects they are expected to complete at home or with research. Creating a dedicated work space for learning will help your kids to feel organized and focused when working at home, where there can be plenty of distractions. If your children are in virtual school, having a work space will be even more important as they will be spending much of their day there. Another bonus is that it will keep your home in order: you will definitely want to keep their books and art supplies at bay! Don’t forget to have fun creating a homework office for your kids: check out Pinterest for some great inspiration.

9. Get the Right Technology

Technology has become an integral part of education as it offers new and exciting options for learning. A laptop is arguably one of the most important school supplies today, especially in the context of the pandemic. For students in virtual school, having a updated and functional computer or laptop will be fundamental to success. In the event that your children's school closes down, you will need to have the tech ready - so save yourself a lot of stress by setting them up with the right technology from the start.

laptops e-learningFind the best laptop for your child's virtual learning. Source: Pexels

Young children will benefit from having a tablet for math games and other learning apps, older students will need a laptop or desktop computer for accessing their digital classroom, participating in live sessions, writing assignments, researching projects, and creating digital submissions. 

Make sure your child has access to these tools: if personal computers are not in the budget, seek secondhand options or request a loaner from the school. Help children use tech safely by talking to them about cyberbullying, internet safety, and how to use apps like Google Meet, Zoom and Microsoft Teams if they are attending class virtually.

10. Find a Tutor

Having a tutor is an excellent way to enrich and support your child’s learning. In many public schools, class sizes are on the higher end, making it difficult for your child to get targeted and intensive support in key learning areas like math and language. Online learning can also pose learning challenges for the pupils in your home as they are missing the context of the classroom and teachers cannot observe them in person. These issues can be intensified for children with ESL consideration or an IEP. Getting a tutor on board to help your child with homework can alleviate you from the stress of figuring out lessons and struggling with a reluctant learner. For teenagers, a tutor can support them in getting the grades they need to get into university.

Sites like Superprof give parents access to a wide range of tutors that specialize in a variety of subjects and understand how to explain new concepts in age-appropriate ways. They understand how children learn and will push your child with additional exercises and examples. Check out Superprof to find a tutor near you!

For more information about going back to school read our article Are You Ready for School in 2020?

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Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.