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As you consider ways to support your own child during this transition from summer to the school year, it’s equally important to take your own wellbeing into account. These are unusual times, but the point remains true: you need to take care of yourself in order to care for someone else.

Before we jump into ideas for your child’s learning, let’s take a look at ways to help you adjust to, process, and plan for this new school year.

How to Support Yourself as a Parent or Caregiver

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every system in our world. As parents, we have spent the last 18 months trying to navigate the impact on our children, our financial circumstances, our relationships with family and friends, and our community lives, while living with the anxiety of the potential health impact of the virus. It is important to acknowledge the impact of these stressors on our ability to function in all the roles we play as adults and to pay even more attention to our self-care. It is true we need to put on our own oxygen mask first, in order to be of help to those we love.

  • In times of uncertainty, it is natural to want stability and security.  We want things to “go back to normal.” One of the ways we experience ‘normal’ is by having our children in school. The rituals of late summer and preparing for the new school year support this feeling of normal. The challenge this year is the uncertainty of what will happen throughout the school year. It is important we acknowledge this is hard for everyone and work toward focusing on what we can control, while adapting as best we can to what we can’t control. What children need most from parents is to know we love them; we will do our very best to protect them; we will support them in their learning; and we believe in them.
  • Children take their cues in responding to situations from their parents. For example, when parents approach challenges with a focus on what they can do to meet the challenge, versus staying focused on the barriers, children will learn to do the same.
  • In preparing for the new school year, assess what worked in the past and what needs to change. Include older children in this assessment, and make a plan for what you can do the same and differently.
  • Work with your child to set up learning zones at home. These should be areas of the home that, during study periods, are set up to support learning. Minimize distractions, and hold firm limits on non-school-related screen time.
  • Support your child’s reading. Ensure time for reading together, independent reading, and reading a chapter book together (depending on your child’s age).

Now, with a framework for your routine in place, consider some of these additional ideas during this new school year….

Supporting Your Child Through Play

Learn Through Play: Play fosters executive function, especially flexible thinking, which is the foundation for all learning. For children eight and under, play is mostly pretend. As children get older, play may be organized games, sports, or hobbies. The important factor is that they are fully engaged in the activity. If possible, each day should include play with siblings/friends, as well as independent play. If your child will not be attending school in person, is there an opportunity to form a play or learning pod with a neighbor or close family, so you can continue to interact with minimal exposure?

Set aside time to play together: Aim for at least 15 minutes of interactive play with your child. Your to-do list is long enough, but by prioritizing even a small window of time to play together each day, you can help ensure your child’s needs are being met and that you get a moment to reconnect with family when the boundaries between work and life are so blurred. Here are a few activity starters to try:

  • If it is pretend play, have them choose a role for you and follow their ideas.
    • Only ask questions if it furthers the play (“How do I use my magic wand?”).
    • Don’t ask questions to which you know the answer (“What color is this?”).
  • If you are making (building, drawing, etc.) something, use the same materials in a similar way. 
    • Build a similar block building as they’re making.
    • Draw at the same ability level as them. (Use your non-dominant hand if needed.)
    • Then you can comment on what you see. These comments usually lead to the child telling you more. Simply repeating the statement can often lead to the child going further.

Remember, these are unusual times, and you are doing the best you can for you and your family. Be kind to yourself, and know we are here as a support to walk alongside you in any way we can. If you encounter periods in which your child is away from school and they demonstrate strong emotions in response, here is a sample of how to start to discuss what they are feeling, depending on their ages.

  • Up to three years: “You’re sad you won’t see your friends for a few weeks. We’ll get to be at home together, and your friends will be with their families.”
  • Up to teenagers: “I see you’re frustrated that you won’t see your friends for a few weeks. I’m frustrated, too. What are ways you can stay in touch with them?”

Keep in mind that you’re doing the best you can. Also, know that we see you, parents and caregivers! If you have additional questions about helping your child and family with transitions or the stress and anxiety of this coming school year, please reach out to our CORE team.

For activity ideas to help encourage calm during times of stress or anxiety, click here to read.

*Note: This post was modified from an earlier post. To see the original post, click here.

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