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The new plan from Governor Walz outlining the guidelines for this school year has left most families with one conclusion: for at least a portion of the year, if not all of it, their children will be attending school remotely. Beyond the planned hybrid model, which includes elements of in-person teaching and distance learning, there is the added unknown of when schools could fully close for a time if cases increase and when we can expect a “normal” school year to take place.

As you consider ways to support your own child during this transition and throughout the 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. Parenting is difficult under the best of circumstances, and these are not the best of circumstances, especially when our families can’t always access the routines, activities, and services that help us thrive and grow.

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 During Distance Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on every system in our world.  As parents, we have spent the last six 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.  In addition, our communities have been rocked by the death of George Floyd and all that has followed – highlighting again the real disparities in our communities. 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 attention to our self-care even more so.  It is true that we need to put our oxygen mask on 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 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 not only what will happen in September, but throughout the school year. We find ourselves preparing for the various types of learning, each with its own challenges in this time. It is important to acknowledge that this is hard for everyone and then work toward focusing on what we can control and adapting as best to what we can’t control.  For children, what they need most from parents is to know that 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 vs staying focused on the barriers, children will learn to do the same.
  • In preparing for the new school year, assess what worked and what needs to change. Include older children in this assessment and make a plan for what you can do differently.
  • Work with your child to set up learning zones at home. These should be areas of the home that, for the learning time of the day, are set up to support learning.  Minimize distractions and hold firm limits on other screen time.
  • Work with your child on developing a daily schedule, incorporating any school schedules.  Be sure to schedule in movement breaks, lunch breaks, and time away from screens.
  • Ask your child’s teacher for recommendations on how you can support your child at home.
  • Support your child’s reading. Ensure time for reading together, independent reading and reading a chapter book together (depending on child’s age.)

Now, with a framework for your routine in place, consider some of these additional ideas during this new school year. Keep in mind that you’re doing the best you can. We see you, parents and caregivers! If you have additional questions about returning to school, helping your child and family with transitions, or the stress and anxiety of this unknown school year, please reach out to our CORE team.

Continuing to Support Your Child During Distance Learning

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 importance 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 that 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 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
    • Draw at the same ability as them (use 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 that we are here as a support to walk alongside you in any way we can. If, during these transitions to and away from school you are seeing some strong emotions from your own children, 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 that 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?”

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

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