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Back-to-School 2020

Whether you started a few weeks ago or are about to start, it is definitely back-to-school time for everyone in the country.  Are you virtual, hybrid, or in-person?  We are 100% virtual for the first quarter.  That takes us until about Halloween.  Quick shout out to whoever invented wine.  Many thanks.  I don’t know what happens after the first quarter; we definitely aren’t under any delusions it will be back to “normal.”  We will just have to wait and see.

No matter what style of learning you are diving into this semester it is still Back-To-School.  And with that comes excitement, stress and new routines.  So, let’s talk about things we can do to take any amount of stress (no matter how infinitesimal) out of the equation.

Masks
Whether your kid is learning in-person or not, they will be in-person at some point (fingers crossed). And at that time, they will have to wear a mask. Masks stink. We all know it. They are hot, sweaty and uncomfortable. But, we all have to deal with it. I was watching the Today Show last week and they had some great tips. Granted, some of these are for smaller children but I think that is who will need the most help. Here are some tips:

1. Find the most comfortable masks for you/your family. There was a local discussion on our elementary school FaceBook group about the “best” masks for children. The consensus was Old Navy and Athleta. I just bought Old Navy but have not tried them myself yet. If you have a mask you swear by (for your child especially) please share with the rest of us.  We like these masks best!

My mother-in-law first gave them to my girls.  She bought them at Kroger.  We don’t have Kroger but I did find some similar in our local grocery store chain, Dierbergs.  I like these the best and my kids definitely do too!

2. Let your child choose their own mask pattern. They have no control over anything right now. Just this small choice gives them a little bit of power.  And hopefully that little bit of power turns into a little bit of comfort and calm.

3. Have your child wear the mask at home while doing screen time. This will get your child used to wearing the mask a bit at a time. Then, when school starts it won’t be such a shock. Imagine if you can get them up to a couple hours before in-person school starts. That would be a huge hurdle!

Parental Guidance For Virtual/Hybrid Learning*
Everyone chill out! If your child was at school you would not be sitting next to them reminding them of every single thing they need to do. This is why parents don’t go to school with their children. I would be all over my kid(s) and it would destroy our relationship. So I’m not right next to them now.

Obviously, if you have very small children they will need guidance. If you have a kindergartener, I’m sending you all the positive vibes I can! But these kids are much more capable than we give them credit for. They pick things up fast! Let them go to school without you, even if you are at home.

I understand that every child has different needs, period. But as for general rules:

1. Help the youngest before the older children.

2. Remember if you do the work for your child or are constantly reminding them what they need to do,  they will have a MUCH more difficult transition once they do go back to school. Is your help really helping?

3. I stay at home until they are supposed to be online (9am here).  If I don’t hear anyone yelling about technical issues I go about my day as if they are at school.  I say by 2nd grade, after the first week of school they should be fine on their own.

4. At lunch and dinner every night ask how things are going. Any trouble? Anything I can help with?  Remind them to ask for your help if they need it. Let them know you are there to help without hovering and suffocating.  This will let them know you trust they are capable and competent.  (If they aren’t you will find out soon enough and it will be their consequence to pay.  Another good lesson. One of my daughters is late to almost every Zoom and it is making me CRAZY.  But I have been keeping my mouth shut, which is very difficult and completely shocking.  I honestly hope she gets in trouble for it at some point or it shows in her grade.  It may sound harsh to some of you but that is the only thing that will make this particular child take notice.  By now she needs to be responsible for knowing her schedule.)

5. Remind them that mistakes are ok. Mistakes show that they are trying. Mistakes are a great way to learn. As long as they are really giving it their all, it will be ok. Help is always available if they need it.

6. Check your local resources! I know our St. Louis County Library is offering free online tutoring for school age children. I don’t need it yet but if I do I’m thrilled to know it is there. See what is available in your area. If you find out, share it with other parents. Especially households with a single parent or two full-time working parents. I don’t know how those households are doing it but you deserve all the accolades in the world!  I hope you all win the lottery.

7. Don’t forget your personal relationship with your child is a very important part of this. To me the most important but everyone has different priorities and that is fine! I will struggle if I have to help my children and it starts to cause friction in our relationship. School is very important to me. I was a very good student and I expect the same from my children. That being said, I don’t want them to be good students at the expense of our relationship. If I cannot help my children I will find a way to get them the help they need. I realize this may add a cost that is a struggle for many to afford. I will cut expenses somewhere else. This situation is stressful enough as is, I’m not adding to it if there is an alternative solution.

8. Your mental health is important. Don’t ignore it! It will make you a better parent. I try to go for a long walk every day. A friend just told me the entire family knows she gets 1 hour to herself every morning. She gets to do whatever she wants for that hour, it’s hers!  And I saw a pic on Instagram that said this, “If you don’t make time for your wellness you will be forced to make time for your illness. Read that again.”  That resonates!

*Disclaimer- I do not have any background in psychology, this is all my opinion.

Meal Planning
This is something I do feel qualified to discuss. However, this entire plan is my sister’s. She came up with it for convenience but said the benefits are even more than she realized. First, her plan:

Can we all acknowledge how brilliant this menu plan is, please?  I’m very impressed!  In my house, every breakfast would just alternate between fried eggs and cereal.  Every lunch would be a sandwich.  I would not have all these options.  Speaking of variety, look at all the opportunity for variety this plan provides.  There are 1,000 different kinds of soups and they are a great way to include vegetables for a picky eater.  Tacos Tuesday! Fish, chicken, beef, bean? Are you making them or ordering from your favorite taco place? Pasta… from beef stroganoff to lo mein to ravioli, the options are endless.  You get the point.  It may seem like it would get boring but it really is anything but!  Plus you have the weekends to do whatever you want.

If you want my sister’s exact plan click this link and print it out School Week Menu

If you want a blank template to come up with your own try this one School Week Menu blank

Here is what my sister said about how great this is working for her family,

“Here is my seemingly simple school week menu…but it has actually been a humongous game changer:)  Easier shopping list and have noticed a decrease in amount of store runs and money spent, one less thing to decide on each day, one less thing to “discuss” (a.k.a argue about) with the kids…anyways, it’s working :)”

She also said she polls the kids when deciding what to assign daily so everyone can look forward to the meals.  I used to do this sometimes.  E pick out Tuesday night dinner and A pick out Wednesday, etc.  I don’t know why I stopped because it did really make everyone happy.  This is what we have come up with in our house Vannoni School Week Menu.  I’m excited to get going with this!

Pro Tips
Here are some tips from other parents (all moms) that may help us out. I would love to hear your tips, dads too. And teacher tips! What do teachers think are best practices for parents “guiding” from home. Let’s face it, we parents have to be driving teachers crazy. Please enter them all in the comments below so we can help each other out! #InThisTogether

From a home with two full-time working parents,
“Hello Fresh has been a total life changer for me.”

From a mom with three elementary school kids,
“We start our mornings with a one lap bike/scooter ride with neighbors.”

“Hiring someone to oversee learning 3 days a week… absolutely worth the money!!! We have her M, Th and F.” (I know this mom has a “pod” so she is able to split the costs.)

“I’ve played fun music in the morning for the kids during breakfast. It works sometimes to get in the right mindset for all of us.”

“Please, please remember how blessed you are and have grace.”

From a mom of 4 kids all learning virtually,
“Hiding out in your bedroom and secretly smoking out the window.”

From a mom with a Kindergartener and 2nd grader,
“Pick out their snack the night before so it is ready on the counter and when one child has a break, they can go get what they need – if I am helping the other, I know it’s healthy.”

From a mom with 4 kids; two in elementary, one in preschool and one toddler,
Tell the kids to “Go away and find a snack.”

“Opportunites for gross motor (mini tramp, swing, jump rope, pull-up bar in the doorway, etc. is helping mine.”

“Diffusing aromatherapy oils.”

From the mom of an only child,
“I would say encourage them to check in with their friends daily- just so they don’t get in a rut and isolate. FaceTime with their friends, zoom and do homework together. Encourage meeting for a quick lunch or bike ride with friends. Encourage them to make plans with friends on the weekend. Older kids (6th grade and up) do this on their own for the most part. But the younger ones need help!”

From a mom with high schoolers who are learning virtually,
“Make sure they move frequently. Teachers are giving longer breaks. Make (a) sticker chart with simple exercises they can do. Run around the house or hula hoop, whatever. Just get off your f’ing phone.”

From a mom with high schoolers who are in-person learning,
“I make sure to check in with each of them individually every few days. Sometimes they say everything is fine, sometimes they want to talk about something that’s bothering them. It keeps the lines of communication open and helps me to remember that they view this from a different perspective than adults do.”

Another mom with four kids from elementary to high school,
“I let mine switch spots – sometimes in my room or desk or kitchen. Work with friends. Work outside on a blanket. Bottles of face spray to wake up when tired. Oils on wrist and shoulders… Lemon or other citrus to activate the brain…I set up a coffee or hot chocolate station for them sometimes. They think it’s fun.”

“I think the best way to reduce stress in this environment is to lower your expectations.”

From the mom of an elementary school child learning virtually who is also a full-time elementary school teacher:

“Set a schedule- wake up at the same time, always get dressed, never in pj’s, (so it feels like their job, not lounging), a set place to work each day as free from distractions as possible. Utilize the “free time” (not face to face with teacher) to work on all assignments… instead of watching a show or playing and then trying to do them in the evening.  Learn a family dance to celebrate the end of each day of school… we are learning the cha cha slide at my house. Q can’t wait to dance so she stays focused and finishes her assignments.

Even standardized assessments will be given this year from home with parents as proctors. Even though tempting, don’t help kids with answers… we need the data to be as authentic as possible in the circumstances. Try not to “do” any of the work for your kids, including logging into meetings, logging out, navigating/finding assignments, etc. They need to gain the independence of doing all the work.

In our district, it counts for attendance if you do the work, even if you don’t show up for a live meeting… so (husband) is taking Q hiking one day a month and “ditching” school. She has to do her assignments when she gets home so she is counted as present. … Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the extra family time and the value of learning something real life and enjoying the fresh air.”

So there you have it! A lot of advice from a variety of households. Everyone has different needs but hopefully you will find one or two things that will work for your family and reduce your stress level just a smidge. Please feel free to share this with friends and ask them to comment with any and all ideas they have to help navigate this crazy school year.

Wishing everyone all the best!  Take it one day at a time and we will get through this!

4 thoughts on “Back-to-School 2020

    1. Thank you! I think all parents with school aged children are just trying to get through this in one piece.

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