Traditionally, September marks a ton of back-to-school jitters, new pencils, backpacks, and the promise of another year of growth for our children. Each year, I prepare posts about how to transition out of the summer sunsets and into the September school groove. But not this year. This year comes with a newfound level of anxiety and questioning with the main question being, “Should I send my kids to school in September?”
We have been living with the fear of the coronavirus for almost five months. Five months?! Our new normal has set in and many of us find some glimpses of our old lives and relish it. I will never take any part of my freedom to leave my house, vacation, or socialize for granted. Ever.
Many of you have expressed concerns and worries over your decision to send your kids to school or to opt for virtual learning only. And as a parent myself, I realize that the plans being made right now by our school districts are subject to change again and again, and possibly again.
You’ve shared your questions and concerns and I hope this helps you to see that you are not alone. There is no right or wrong on this. It’s going to look and feel different no matter what.
Concern: My Child Will Fall Behind
“As a parent of a rising high school junior, I worry what ramifications another round of virtual learning will have on her year. From the rigorous academic schedule to the SAT prep, I am not sure that she will be prepared properly for all that come with junior year and beyond.”
Fortunately or unfortunately, all of our children are in the same boat with having lost instruction and preparation for the next grade or phase of their academic progress. I don’t believe that the same standards will be able to be maintained for our children as it is going to take time for the skills to be taught and developed post-COVID-19. The standards will change so that our children don’t have to be the ones to catch up. In other words, the system and its expectations will have to change in order to adjust for the time lost in school, in athletics, etc.
As parents, each one of us is worried that our child will be behind the others; however, in reality, all of our children are behind together.
For many of our children, we have the option to reach out to their teachers and gain direction on how to continue working on weaker skills. There are many apps and online teaching programs available so you don’t have to be the one to provide the instruction. If you are able, hire a tutor or a high school or college student who can read with your child or work on different math skills, for example. It is true that our children have lost a great deal of academic instruction between March and June 2020, but we can also continue developing those skills using resources and support around us.
Concern: My Child Will Suffer Socially and Emotionally
“I have anxieties about all of the social ramifications and its effects on my children for years to come.”
Children, teens, and young adults everywhere feel isolated right now. For many, creating a “quarantine friendship circle” or a “quarantine family” with whom to socialize has maintained our sanity. Yet, we are living during a summer that isn’t the usual way that we summer and many of us are very sad over it.
Once again, there is no right or wrong answer. By sending our children to school, they can see their peers but it won’t be the same. Kids won’t be able to whisper secrets in each other’s ears or sit shoulder to shoulder during lunch or recess. But they can physically see their friends and have a few conversations or just be around other children. No right or wrong, it’s just going to be different.
Another thing to consider is that each of our children has a different social need. Some are perfectly content with an occasional bike ride with a friend, and others need to see friends regularly. Think about your child’s need for social interaction and weigh that into your decision for each child.
Concern: Me or My Child Will Become Sick
“As a teacher, I fear that our schools cannot handle the cleaning needed to maintain a healthy environment. I fear that I may either get sick or bring home the virus to my family.”
“Returning to school means that my family is exposed to four different elementary/preschool schools, buses, before care, and aftercare. We are going from being exposed to about five households outside to over 100 inside.”
This is a huge fear and has been a huge fear as the statistics are being shown all over the internet and tv screen all day long. It’s painful to think that X number of people are becoming ill and X number of people are dying from the virus on a daily basis.
According to a communication from the CDC entitled The Importance of Re-Opening America’s Schools This Fall, “The best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children. Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults.”
This isn’t saying that children are immune to COVID-19, but it is suggesting that our children are at a lower risk, which comforts me as a parent. I understand that there is a fear that teachers and staff members will contract and spread the virus. I also understand that the risk is higher for this particular virus. The data also shows that the response to this virus can range anywhere from being non-symptomatic to being hooked up to a ventilator. However, there is a range and many people recover from this horrible virus. Having the right data, rather than the sensationalized information, may help you to put the virus in perspective and keep your anxiety from taking your thoughts to all of the dark places that anxiety is so good at doing.
Concern: My Child Will Become More Anxious If I Send Him to School
“I worry that my second grader’s anxiety will be through the roof when he sees what school now looks like. He knows there is a virus and we need to keep people safe, but I think seeing how much school has changed will make the virus more real and scary to him.”
Our children are resilient and can adjust to new situations within a week or so. Think about how quickly your children adjusted to virtual learning from March to June 2020. In my house, my husband and I took the longest to adjust and surrender to this new way of going to school and working, but our children (ages 14, 11, and 7) embraced their new school routine with greater grace than we ever did.
Your child will likely absorb new information about the virus only as he feels it’s relevant to him and your family. Answer his questions at home, help him sort through the incorrect information, and reassure your child that you, the parents, will keep your child/children as safe as you know how.
Concern: I Am Making the Wrong Decision
“My fear is I will make the wrong decision and risk impacting either my children’s physical or emotional health.”
If you decide to send your child to school, there is the guilt that you are risking their physical health hand exposing them to the virus. If you opt for virtual learning only, you worry that you are isolating your child at a time when you can send them to school. It’s a lose-lose situation in a mother’s head.
If you opt for virtual learning only and realize that you and your child are struggling with the academics or are becoming increasingly anxious, you will have the option to send your child to school with a few week’s notice. If you opt to send your child to school and realize that this is more frightening for your child than you imagined, then you can opt for the virtual-learning-only route.
In other words, your mother’s guilt isn’t going to let you sit comfortably with any decision. I encourage you to make a decision and sit with it until you have a good solid reason or two to change your mind. I guess what I’m saying is that your decision isn’t final and you can make a change. In the meantime, I encourage you to make an informed decision and then let that decision be your “final answer” for the time being.
Concern: My Child With Special Needs Will Not Have the Support He Needs
“I fear my sons with IEPs won’t get enough support and it will frustrate them to the point of not wanting to learn. I will help as I can, but I will be working from home, too.”
If you are not a teacher by training, as a parent, we are somewhat clueless about how to teach our children. When our children also have special needs, it is even more difficult to teach new concepts to our children in ways that are in line with their learning style. There are also additional stressors, for our children, of not being in the classroom with their teacher and following the routine of the school day.
Consult with your child’s special education teacher and gain guidance on how much time to engage your child in school work. Additionally, ask for one-on-one video teaching time, daily, with your child so that the teacher is providing the instruction and guiding your child through an assignment. That relieves you from the burden of having to teach and follow through on assignments. For the subjects where you are providing the instruction, use visuals, work for periods of time and then take breaks, and encourage your child to work in different places within your home. For example, stand at the kitchen counter and work on 10 math problems; sit at the kitchen table and write your essay 10 minutes; sit on the couch and read a book out loud for 10 minutes.