Back-to-School in 2020 has been one for the history books. The COVID-19 pandemic that swept the world in March last school year profoundly impacted schools in ways parents, children, teachers, and administrators could never have imagined. In a turn of events that shocked the world, schools closed alongside shops, malls, amusement parks, and restaurants in the biggest societal shutdown most people ever experienced. Gone are school activities like carefree recess, school dances, field trips, and literally anything that could involve close contact. And instead of seeing your teacher in school everyday, you might see them or their avatar on the screen. Virtual preschool even became part of the 'new normal.' After school, clubs and sports teams have been mostly cancelled to minimize the exposure of different groups to one another.

sending your kids to school 2020
Going to school during a pandemic. Source: Pexels

With so many unwanted changes, it’s important to look on the bright side and see how innovation and technology are transforming the way we learn. Sure, being around others at a distance can be hard, but with so many ways to communicate and share information, we are closer together in many ways. New learning technologies have been improved to accommodate the scores of online learners, and most kids and adults alike probably have an appreciation for the outdoors that they haven’t before. There are few things more enjoyable than taking a walk, going to the park, or hitting the trails for a hike after a long week of working from a computer screen.

Adjusting to so many pandemic-related changes are tough, but today’s teachers, professors, custodians, and administrators are creative, tech-savvy, and committed to creating learning environments that are as safe as possible. Students and parents also play a key role in making sure going back to school is as great as it can be given these less than ideal circumstances. Let’s take a closer look at the complexities and changes that students of all ages will encounter as they go back to school: from school supply shopping to morning routines, we have got it covered.

Parents: read our 10 tips for getting your kids ready for back to school!

Options for School in 2020

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made it essential for schools to make major changes to teaching and learning: the first day of school was noticeably less hectic, with so many families choosing alternative options. Changes were so drastic that many regions like Toronto made changes to their school calendar. Elementary schools, middle schools, and secondary schools in Canada (private and public) typically offered the following options: in-person, virtual, and hybrid. Boards have also offered the choice of changing from one model of learning to another at different points throughout the year. Check your school calendar for important dates.


In-person learning follows the traditional model of school where kids attend class in a building with teachers, with some modifications. First, kids attend school in ‘co-horts’, classes or groups that attend school together and do not mix with others. Co-horting can mean different things in different schools and school boards. Elementary co-horts, for example, stay together the whole day and do not mix at recess or lunch breaks, while high school co-horts may take turns going to school every other day. 

Routines are very different for in person schools this year as well. Students must wear a mask and sanitize when they enter the building, and sanitize their hands before entering during the day. Outdoor learning is an essential part of the day, as a way to get a mask break and for activities like silent reading and discussions. Be sure to check the rules and processes for students that have symptoms of COVID-19 or are in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.


Virtual learning is a popular choice for families that prefer not to send their kids into school buildings during the pandemic. In virtual learning, the entire day of school takes place online with a teacher setting up a digital learning environment on platforms like D2L or Google Classroom. Students logon to their classes for live, synchronous learning sessions and may use a variety of apps to show their learning or take pictures of their work to send to teachers for assessment. 

Virtual school is an option many parents are choosing to take. Source: Pexels

Hybrid or Blended

In a hybrid or blended model, students participate in both virtual and in person learning experiences throughout the year. In some cases, especially in high schools, groups may take turns going into school one day and learning remotely the next. The purpose of this model is to limit the amount of students going into the school at a time, while also limiting the amount of time students spend on a screen. 

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

Back-to-School tips for Parents and Guardians

Given all these changes to learning, parents and guardians play a critical role in getting kids back to school safely this year. Here are 3 of our top tips for getting students ready for school this year:

  1. Establish Routines: arguably the most important thing you can do for your kid is to set up a familiar school routine. Structure keeps your kids grounded, organized and ready when there are so many new things to adjust to. Make sure your kids go to bed at a time that gives them the right amount of school for a day of learning. You will also want them to get used to regular processes of checking symptoms, masking, and sanitizing. 
  2. Be Technology Ready: for better or worse, technology has become an essential part of education. While this may mean more time on the screen than you’d like for your kids, it can also mean innovative options for learning in almost every subject. Make sure you and your child understand how to use different apps, online safety, and access to a good wi-fi connection. If you don’t have enough laptops in your home, inform your school and they may be able to lend out a device.
  3. Hire a Tutor: whether your child is enrolled in virtual or in-person learning, you may find that the experience is not quite what it used to be, or that your child has significant learning gaps from the lapse in schooling caused by the shutdown in Spring 2020. A great solution to help your child stay focused on curriculum is to get a tutor that can meet safely in a one-to-one environment or online. Check out sites like Superprof for a tutor near you.

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

Advice for Kids Going Back to School

Many students are excited to re-enter classroom but need to practice appropriate distancing and masking when in the building. Source: Unsplash

While schools and parents/guardians set up the learning environments and guide students. kids must also do their part. To stay on top of learning and stay healthy, kids need to focus on developing new learning skills and enhancing some new ones. 

First, students need to relax and take care of themselves. Virtual students may find it can be overwhelming to adjust to being on camera, use new apps, and listen to teachers while staying in one place. If it gets to be too much, let your teacher know that you need a break and make sure you spend some time off the screen reading a book, stretching, or exercising. Parents and guardians can support their kids by checking in on them and watching for signs of fatigue.

Students at in-person school can practice self-care by setting reasonable expectations and, like their virtual counterparts, inform their teachers when they need a mask break or feel restless from sitting at a desk. Your teacher should be able to help you by taking the class outside for a walk or calling a support teacher to help out. Finally, make sure you monitor your health and those around you, practice physical distancing, and check your mask to ensure it is covering your nose and mouth.

Be Prepared For Every School Day

Preparation, though it takes time, can be the antidote to crazy mornings and forgotten assignments. Adults and kids will do themselves a world of good this year by practicing preparedness on school days. Reducing stress is more important than ever, and planning ahead for the smallest things can set the stage for a smooth school day.

The most minor of adjustments, such as having shoes, bags, and jackets in the same area, ensuring extra masks and sanitizer are in your child’s backpack, or having a home office for your kids tidied and set up can make a huge difference. 

Empower your kids by getting them in the routine of preparing their lunches the night before, equipping them with all the supplies they need in a school day as they likely won’t be sharing, and have a clear and consistent schedule at home if they are in virtual school. You’ll have your home running like a well-oiled machine in no time. Here is a list of things even your little ones can do to help prepare for school.

  • choose clothes the day before
  • put shoes and backpacks in a designated place 
  • choose snacks and fruit for lunch the day before, and put in lunch bag
  • tidy up home workspace
  • unpack lunch containers and put them by the sink; older kids can wash them
  • make sure dirty masks are in the laundry

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

The Most Important School Supplies for 2020

Your child needs to be extra prepared with supplies this year: virtual students will be limited to using the supplies in their home environment, while in-person students will not be allowed to share things like pencils or art supplies as they did in the past. So what are the most important supplies to have in school everyday this year?

Laptops and other E-learning Tools

Laptops and tablets are essential school supplies, particularly for students participating in virtual learning but also for students who attend in-class school. Teachers, both in-person and virtual, use internet platforms to teach at nearly every grade level. In many cases, 

laptops for learning
Laptops are an essential school supply this year. Source: Pexels

Having a laptop enables students to create writing assignments, check homework, and download assignments independently. When students have their own laptop, they don’t have to use the school resources, which in many cases is insufficient for the amount of students. While not ideal for creating writing assignments, a tablet or iPad can be useful for younger students who play math and language games as part of their learning. Tablets are also useful for creating media or researching topics: if it fits into your back-to-school budget, technology is a good investment to make.

Nervous about sending an elementary student with an expensive computer or iPad to school? Check out the reasonably priced Chromebook: a small, easy to tote computer that makes it quick and easy to use Google suite tools. Don’t forget to get a case for your child’s device!

Writing Tools, Binders, Paper and More

Despite so much learning taking place online, having pens, pencils, art supplies, erasers, paper, dividers and binders are still important back-to-school purchases. Writing by hand is still a basic element of school: it is the easiest way to brainstorm, take notes, and journal. Solving math problems is much better with a pencil and some paper for drawing out ideas and calculations. On that note, calculators (scientific and regular) are great to have for checking math work.

Get lots of colourful Crayola markers, crayons, and coloured pencils for your child to use to colour maps and diagrams; they are also useful for art class as well. Highlighters are also an important supply to have on hand for marking up texts. With the pandemic, most students are prohibited from sharing supplies in class to limit shared surfaces, so it’s actually important that your kids have their own writing and drawing supplies to use. Glue sticks and glue will also be needed to complete art activities.

Binders, dividers, folders, and notebooks are also important supplies to have, especially for students grades 4 and up. It’s not uncommon for teachers to pass out photocopies, and your child will need a handy place to store their work. Find out what your child’s teacher recommends and shop accordingly!

Health Supplies for School

It's funny to think about having to bring supplies to keep one healthy at school, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made health and medical products a basic part of your supply shopping list. First, make sure your kids have a mask that fits them well as well as spare in their backpack. Students that arrive at school without a mask may get a disposable one or be sent home. Cloth masks are great for protecting others from germs, though disposable surgical masks are also a popular item. Children also should bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer as a quick method of hand hygiene. A reusable bottle of water will be key to staying hydrated (students will be asked to move around the school less), and older students may want to carry a packet of disinfectant wipes to clean unfamiliar areas.

If your child isn't feeling well in the morning, simply keep them at home and review your province's COVID-19 guidelines. Students that arrive at school with symptoms will be sent home or placed in an isolation room until parents pick them up. With cases going up every day, you will not want to take any chances with your family's health.


While it may seem funny to have a tutor on the list of supplies, its worthwhile consider tutoring as a back-to-school expense as having a tutor can make big difference in your child’s academic life. Many students need help in class, particularly in areas like math and writing. Students get frustrated easily when they don’t understand new concepts, and it can be hard for teachers to provide the one-to-one time it takes to fully help or remediate. A tutor can review and re-explain complex ideas across all subjects, and help your child plan and edit assignments. A tutor can work with your child at a convenient time either in-person or online. They can focus on what your child needs and look at their work closely to identify areas of improvement. Finally, a tutor can take a lot of pressure off parents who want their child to succeed but lack the time due to career obligations.

Check out sites like Superprof for tutors near you at an affordable rate.

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