For more than six million kids, back-to-school means back to the virtual classroom, as most of the country’s 50 largest school districts have started the school year with fully remote learning.
As a mom, educator, former associate state education commissioner and CEO of the nonprofit Colorado Education Initiative, I understand deeply the severe stress and anxiety this crisis has caused moms.
Parents call me daily, panicked about how to handle the pandemic’s colossal disruption to their child’s education, while also trying to work and care for their family’s health. We are parenting from a place of fear, which is so easy to do, even when we know it’s not good for our little ones. We forget we are a more powerful force in our children’s lives than teachers, daycare workers or babysitters.
Schools pivoting to virtual learning presents real challenges. But there are thoughtful actions almost any family can take to set children up for success this fall and to be a positive force in their child’s growth.
Encourage an environment where your child’s teacher gets to know them. Relationships are a required ingredient for learning. Ask your child’s teacher if they would be willing to start the year with a short socially-distant visit, or even keep it virtual. This kind of one-on-one interaction helps children learn how to be seen and known by seeing and knowing others, and research shows such visits strengthen school-family relationships and improve student outcomes. Enlist other trusted adults in the child’s world. Aside from teachers, who else can build or deepen a positive relationship with your child? Don’t forget it really does take a village. Is there an aunt, coach, or spiritual leader who could visit weekly or take a midday video call? Encourage independence in children. The best and most frustrating thing we did this spring was support our preschooler as she learned how to fold laundry, make a sandwich and feed the dog. Quarantine orders gave her time to try, fail and try again. Activities that are a stretch of your child’s independence are a great use of those empty afternoon hours. Practice self-regulation and self-awareness. Noticing our own mental state is self-awareness and positive intervention is self-regulation. Helping children develop these skills will help them succeed when things are hard and choose beneficial activities and behaviors whether it’s a snack, nap, fresh air or play. Explore learning opportunities through academic or other projects. One of the risks of virtual learning is students receiving information but not completing enough work to actually have it make an imprint. Start with projects kids produce, whether written, video or art, rather than simply backfilling basic skills. Find a learning buddy. When kids lack socialization, they also miss collaboration—one of the most critical future-ready skills. Is there a relative, friend or classmate with whom a child could partner on a project of shared passion? Be honest in age-appropriate ways. Kids are intuitive and they know when scary things are happening around them. Speaking to them honestly and giving them tools to manage fear and uncertainty is one of the most important things we can do as parents.
With these suggestions, parents can form a plan that sets a positive tone for the school year, offers a sense of certainty for our kids and bolsters their learning. We can parent from a place of purpose and use this time to learn more about our children’s unique gifts, talents and interests.
Rebecca Holmes is the mother of two young children, a former middle school teacher and Associate Commissioner at the Colorado Department of Education, and is the CEO of the Colorado Education Initiative, a regional nonprofit serving visionary schools and districts.