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Coronavirus Disease 2019

What to Tell a Child Who’s Starting Kindergarten in Fall 2020

How to provide the reassurance, encouragement, and honesty they need.

Source: Christian/Flickr

Little children thrive when their circumstances are safe, stable, and predictable. They like lots of time to get used to changes that are coming up, but right now, in the midst of a pandemic, that’s impossible. Nobody knows what we’ll be facing this fall. Nonetheless, it’s time to think about what to tell your child so they’ll be as prepared as possible.

I asked two 5-year-old friends of mine what parents should tell their children about kindergarten. These two—a boy and a girl—were unhappy when their junior kindergarten classes stopped suddenly in March this year, and they’re looking forward to getting back to school in September. They know all about the coronavirus but haven’t yet realized that school might not reopen in the fall, or what it might look like if it does. So their ideas were all about school as usual, and that’s probably the best place to start with your child.

1. Reassurance. “There’s nothing to worry about,” was the immediate answer to my question about what parents should tell a child entering Kindergarten. It shows an implicit understanding that kids, like adults, do worry about the unknown. Honour the predictable worries your child might be having. Make space for your child to express their concerns. Reassure them that you’ll be available to help if they need you.

2. Encouragement. “It’s fun!” The kids started rattling off all the wonderful, amazing things they did at school every day. Games, activities, playtime, a building centre, crafts, stories. Tell your child about the rich environment they’ll be spending time in, a place with a variety of activities and possibilities, and teachers who want them to thrive.

3. More encouragement. “And you learn stuff!” These two children were enthusiastic about all the learning opportunities in their junior kindergarten. Letters, numbers, shapes, science, and reading buddies. Talk to your child about the world of learning that will be gently opening up for them. The teacher won’t expect them to know or do anything more than they already do, but, as the kids told me, they will be learning stuff.

4. Honesty. Tell your child that because of the coronavirus, nobody knows what school will look like this year. It’s highly unlikely there’ll be a vaccine by September, so some families will opt to keep their kids home. Schools might be fully open as usual or open for fewer hours. Children might be attending school one or two days a week, or four or five mornings or afternoons, or maybe their classes will be held outdoors. Nobody knows yet what September will bring.

5. More honesty. Talk to your child about the safety precautions they might see in their classroom. They might be asked to do daily temperature checks and to follow rules about physical distancing, mask-wearing, and frequent sanitizing of hands and surfaces. They might enter a classroom with spaced out desks instead of lots of small-group activity centres. They might experience play restrictions or some combination of online and face-to-face classroom activities.

6. Openness to ongoing conversation. Be warm and confident as you talk to your child about all this. Ask if they have any questions, and take the time to think about your answers. Tell them they’ll probably have more questions, and that you’re always glad to talk with them about all this. Acknowledge that this is a big deal in their life and that you’re there to make sure it all goes well.

7. More reassurance. Tell your child that one way or another, you’ll make sure they are happy and healthy and that they get a good education. Whether or not school this coming year is normal, you’ll make sure they do some learning and are ready to go back to school when it resumes.

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