This summer has been like nothing we’ve ever experienced, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the many uncertainties and unknowns looming ahead of us this fall. The anxiety that has been building throughout the ever-evolving pandemic is oftentimes crushing. So, during this time of so many restrictions and cannots, I wanted to take a moment to share some of the things you can do to prepare your child for the fall semester regardless of the learning model they’ll be adopting.
Practice Wearing Masks
Now, I’m not suggesting that your children aren’t already spending plenty of time donning masks. I know, personally, that after months of quarantine and social distancing, grabbing a mask on my way out the door has become as commonplace as grabbing my keys. But since masks aren’t going away any time soon, it’s important that children get some targeted practice wearing them for progressively increasing periods of time prior to returning to school in September. Helping our children normalize mask wearing is one concrete action we can take that will play a tremendous role in easing some of the executive functioning burden in the fall. So many things about school will be novel this year, so let’s take just one thing off our students’ plates by helping them master this in advance. I suggest you start by having them wear their mask at home for 20-minute intervals as they engage in indoor play and activities. As this becomes manageable, increase the time. Because students engaging in blended learning will be wearing masks for about three hours during classes, aiming for three-hour periods of mask-wearing at home is a great goal to hit this coming month. An added bonus is that during this period, you will have plenty of time to troubleshoot any issues your child may experience with mask-wearing, and you may even be able to help them determine a mask preference. And if you find that wearing masks really isn’t working for your kid, this is the perfect time to try out alternatives like a face shield or a buff-style covering.
Practice Tech Skills
No matter what model your child participates in during the fall semester, we know that technology will play a large role. Summer is a great time to help your child build foundational tech skills in a low-stakes environment. Have them practice typing games online or learn to use a mouse or trackpad by playing a popular video game in short bursts. You can also inspire them to be creative with technology through photography, film, and even drawing. Video playdates through Zoom or FaceTime are also a tremendous way for students to learn those platforms without the pressure of being in a class setting. Throughout the course of our remote instruction, children will interact with technology and devices in myriad ways. Coming into the year with some newly minted technological literacy will empower them to hit the ground running with confidence and to focus on their class community and academic content rather than stressing over tech issues.
Practice Socially Distanced Greetings
Greetings are going to be drastically different during this upcoming year, and they will require extensive previewing. Prior to this, the norm has been for students to burst into school, run to their teachers, and jump into their arms at the start of their day. EPIC days are typically peppered with friendly hugs, enthusiastic high fives, and plenty of hand-held walks down the hallways. This year, we’ll be doing everything in our power to limit physical contact, so greetings that rely on touch will be a big no. You can spend time this summer helping your child come to terms with socially distanced greetings by practicing them at home, discussing and brainstorming fun new greetings, and even role-playing greeting their friends from a distance. Some fun, socially distanced greetings include peace signs, heart hands, and air hugs, but be creative and inspire them to have fun with it!
Practice Opening Containers
This one might sound a bit silly, but plastic containers and resealable bags are going to play a big role this year in keeping student supplies separate and clean. As teachers, we spend a lot of time helping our students open things. The more independent your child can be in opening and accessing their supplies, the fewer physical interactions they will need to have with staff. Of course, depending on the age and motor planning limitations of your child, there will undoubtedly be containers they can’t open on their own yet. However, every bit helps! Try putting some of their crayons or art supplies in a plastic pencil box and help them learn the steps to open and close it independently. You can also start giving them the snacks you anticipate they will eat in the fall in their usual lunch containers to see if there are areas where they can build some independence. You don’t need to sit down and take part in specific container-opening lessons, but rather introduce new containers slowly into their usual home routines so they become familiar with interacting with them.