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August 13, 2020

Regulating the Irregular: Tips for Going Back to School During a Pandemic

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The time has come for many of our teens to go back to school. On top of existing stresses, ranging from outfit choices to homework loads, we can now thank the year 2020 for adding a pandemic to the list. Unfortunately, it only takes one glance at the differing opinions and approaches on how schools should deal with this rapidly-spreading virus to feel overwhelmed. You may find yourself asking questions like “Should our children travel to school or take classes online?” “Is our school district taking enough precaution?” or even “How will our family be affected by sharing the same workspace 24/7?” Don’t worry, you’re not the only one! This post will offer some helpful tips on how caring adults can confidently tackle this upcoming school year. 

What is the right decision for my teen? 

Although Corbett admits to projecting his feelings on the situation, his tweet resonates with how many teens are also feeling. Academic environments are already difficult. Adding a global health crisis only complicates them further. 

It may feel like all we can do is try to pick the lesser of two evils for our teens as we navigate a tricky, new school year. If you’re having trouble deciding the best course of action for your teen, we recommend checking out the CDC’s school decision-making assessments here.

What to expect 

Many schools that are resuming in-person learning are limiting their class sizes, making masks mandatory, and splitting/rotating their schedules. Remote learning will most likely require the school to send each student the appropriate technology for online classes and require them to spend extended hours of screen time. On top of that, parents will be expected to serve as a learning guide behind the scenes. Easy enough, right? 

So how can we most effectively prepare for the upcoming school year? Whether your kids are going back to school in person or staying virtual, here are some tips on how to stay sane during this hectic time.

Virtual classrooms

  1. Switch up your settings. If quarantine has taught us anything, it’s that being stuck in one place day after day can be tiring. Encourage your teen to spend time outside of the house, like doing classes outside on the porch, going on walking breaks, studying at coffee shops, etc. (If you’re working from home, use these ideas for your own mental well-being too!)
  2. Set up a productive work environment. This can look like an office space or simply a nice corner of the dining room table. Work with your kid to dedicate a space where they feel comfortable and productive.
  3. Create a master schedule for everyone in your household. Navigating through multiple schedules is hard enough with normal school hours. So start a master work/school schedule to track important events! Does your teen have a big test that they need peace and quiet for? Note it on the schedule so they won’t have any disruptions.
  4. Respect each other’s space. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, especially when you’re under the same roof for most of the day. Time alone is just as necessary as time together! So be sure to create as much time/space as possible for alone time in your home. 
  5. Have meaningful interactions. This time may be stressful for your family, but don’t let it slip away! Every moment has the potential to be special. Battle the urge to reply with one-word responses, and have good conversation. Tell your children that you love them, and be ready to listen to what they’re going through as COVID continues to throw us curveball after curveball. 
  6. Focus on hobbies. Need more solitary activities? Great! Need more family time? Also great! Find enjoyable hobbies like cooking, working out, and DIY projects that are fun for yourself and the family.
  7. Try tutoring programs. Many teachers may be new to online education, and will require time to acclimate to this new style of teaching. Tutoring programs can act as a buffer to ensure that your teen is understanding their course material. 

In-person classrooms 

  1. Know the symptoms of COVID-19. If your teen is going back to school in person, it’s more important than ever to be familiar with the symptoms. If they start to show any of these symptoms, reach out to the school and consider remote learning. 
  2. Stay stocked up. Add hand sanitizer, thermometers, and masks to your list of essential school supplies.
  3. Stay informed. Research your school’s new guidelines and keep open communication with teachers and school administration about the measures being taken to protect students. 
  4. Be safely involved. Get your teen involved in afterschool programs that utilize virtual platforms and outdoor activities. Encourage them to join things like outdoor track, virtual concerts, seminars, and virtual movie nights with friends. 
  5. Be flexible. Unprecedented times mean unpredictable changes. As more information arises about COVID-19, school policies and plans are subject to changes. Holding our plans lightly can help these changes be more manageable when and if they arise.

Family-focused tips 

  1. Stay positive. Start or end the day with uplifting devotionals, either with the family or individually.
  2. Make memories. Make each week special by scheduling regular activities for the family to participate in together. Create weekly themes, movie nights, game nights, bible studies or whatever your family would enjoy!
  3. Check in with your kids. Keep open communication with your kids about how they’re feeling both emotionally and physically. Be a safe space for them to express themselves.
  4. Work together. Divide up the house chores, prepare meals together, or help out with tough homework questions. Our sense of community has suffered greatly during the pandemic. What better way to combat this loss than to connect with the community in our own homes? 

Taking time to balance self-care with caring for our families is a full-time job, especially in these stressful circumstances. The most important thing we can do for our children right now is to be intentional in loving them well while the world turns itself upside down. Yes, the future is uncertain, but God is with us through every season. As it says in Isaiah 41:10:

“So, do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” 

Discussion questions: 

As we continue this journey with our teens, take the time to discuss these questions about this unusual chapter in their lives. 

  1. How do you feel about returning to school this fall? 
  2. What do you feel most excited about? Nervous about?
  3. Do you think that your school made the best decision health-wise for this school year? Why or why not?
  4. What are some practical ways in which you can integrate God into your daily decision-making process? 
  5. How can you better manage stress during uncertain and even chaotic times like this? 
  6. What are some advantages and disadvantages to remote learning? What about in-person learning? 
  7. A question for parents: Can you remember a trial that you went through during your school years? How did you get through it?

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