Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused; COVID-19 Topics
[This article has been published in dozens of media outlets across the country.]
School districts have several factors to consider as the 2020-2021 school year starts – how do they keep their students and staff safe? How do they ensure that students are getting a strong education? What about students’ social interaction with peers? Download this article and tips as a pdf.
Although many districts have their initial game plans ready, these plans may change and/or other schools may still be in the decision-making process. Given the uncertainty of how students will be participating in school in the fall and beyond (i.e., virtual/remote learning, in-person, or a hybrid model), as caregivers, you are in a unique position to help your child prepare for any of the three outcomes. This may seem like a daunting task, but let’s take it piece by piece. I will review the models and offer some key ways to help your child prepare:
What it is: Your child learning remotely (i.e., not in a school building) using technology such as a Google Classroom or other virtual learning environment and/or using work packets sent home from school.
What it is: Your child going to a physical school building to attend school.
— Remind your child that this is how school will be starting but that, at some point, they will may return to online learning.
— Check in with your child regularly (see previous section).
— As much as possible, learn about the different procedures that might be in place at school upon your child’s return. An excellent resource is your school’s (or school district’s) website. These procedures may include mask policies, hallway policies (e.g., “one-way” hallways), lunch/snack routine alterations (e.g., lunch in the classroom), and changes in recess, amongst others. By knowing more about these changes, you can help communicate them to your child – the ultimate goal and your caregiver mantra should be: “The fewer surprises the better.”
— Keep as many beginning-of-school routines as “normal” as possible. This year, back-to-school shopping may look different, but you can still make it fun for your child. For example, rather than physically going to stores, go online with your child and shop for school supplies with them.
— For school supplies that may have a worrisome context to children (items relating to health/safety such as masks or hand sanitizer), give them as many choices as possible when selecting these items. For example, “Do you want to use the blue mask today or do you want the mask with flowers?” This simple gesture will give them a valuable sense of control during this challenging time.
— Incorporate fun objects that help them feel and be safer while at school. For example, have them choose a fanny pack to use at school or – even better – make one. It does not have to be anything fancy, just a pack that wraps around them. This can be their special space where they keep extra masks, hand sanitizer, or other calming supplies (like a special supportive note from you!).
— Even though your child may initially be going to school in-person, it is a good idea to consider having an at-home learning space ready to go in case schools need to switch to another model (remote/virtual learning or a hybrid model). Prepare your home environment to increase the likelihood of a successful online learning experience (see previous section).
What it is: Your child attending some school remotely (i.e., not in a school building) and some school in-person. The amount of time spent in-person and in remote learning may vary depending upon the guidelines adopted by your child’s school or school district.
An example of a hybrid schedule could be for half of the school’s students to have in-person learning on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesdays set aside for a deep cleaning of the school. On the weekdays they are not physically attending classes, students would participate in online learning.
The hybrid model requires a great deal of flexibility from everyone involved – school administrators, teachers, students, and their families.
— The tips in the Remote/Virtual Learning and In-Person sections are also applicable for this model. In addition, I would recommend that you remind your child that this is how school is currently taking place but that, at some point, they might be returning to school full-time or return to remote learning full-time.
— Make a schedule. Having routines disrupted can be very stressful for everyone in the family, especially children. Making a schedule can help provide the consistency your child needs. Details for making (and keeping!) a schedule can be found here in the Make a Schedule section.
By Whitney L. Kleinert, Ph.D., LP, LABA, BCBA-D, former Director of School Consultation at May Institute.