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Tips for getting ready to return to in-person school | Ask the Pediatrician

A doctor weighs in on managing kids' worries and keeping them safe.

Many people have asked how we can best support our children prepare for the transition to in-person school. It starts by acknowledging that the return to school will represent another major shift in how our kids all work and learn.

Start talking about in-person school

Even if your child’s school is not opening yet, talking about what a return to in-person learning will be like is a great conversation. This can be a casual chat while on a walk, in the car or at dinner. I am always amazed by the hilariously frank questions my kids ask me when we are driving. We know school will continue to be different this year. Ask your children what they think will be different and what will be the same. As you get closer to return to in-person school keep an eye on the school website to stay updated.

Do a feelings check: Different kids will have different feelings ranging from excitement to anxiety at the thought of returning to in-person school. Ask them how they feel about going back to school. Living through a global pandemic is truly an exercise in flexibility. Praise your kids for being flexible and remind them they will need to remain flexible. It is possible that there will be a mix of distance learning and in-person learning. Some children will feel fine and excited. That is great and you may not need to spend a lot of time on this. Other children will feel very anxious. If you have concerns you can always discuss this with your child’s health-care provider. Remember to try to avoid transmitting your own worries.

Get ready for in-person school

Have a dress rehearsal: It’s been a minute since we went to school. This is a great time to do a dress rehearsal and visit the school. For some children the return to in-person learning means a return to a school they know, for others it is a new school. Visit the campus, walk around and find the dropoff and pickup points. Everything is better with a treat! Have a picnic treat in the school yard to help keep it relaxed and positive.

Back-to-school rituals: Routines help children feel calm and prepared for the day. The “back to school ritual” is a great way to set the stage and help with the transition to in-person learning. Every family has different rituals, but they can include organizing learning space, setting up a favorite outfit, gathering school supplies, etc.
• Plan morning and evening routines, homework time and school transportation.
• Remember “back to school” will also mean packing an extra mask, and coming prepared with hand sanitizer and a water bottle that doesn’t get shared. Decorate your child’s water bottle so it’s easily identifiable and choose or decorate a back-to-school mask.

More tips for in-person school

Also, even though your child is back in school, they will still need to follow COVID safety measures. Remind them to continue wearing masks, washing their hands and maintaining social distance.

Avoid over-scheduling: Kids have gotten used to a slower pace. Take time for them to get used to being back in school before signing up for lots of afterschool activities. Kids may feel a little overwhelmed and need some home downtime.

Celebrate: Whenever you return to school, mark it with a celebration. Praise your child and let them know you are so proud of them for being flexible, resilient and strong during this pandemic. This was a really hard year and the return to school is a milestone.

This was originally published on March 28, 2021.

Read more:

Dr. Block: Keeping kids healthy during remote learning

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About the Author

Susanna Block

Dr. Susanna Block, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente in Seattle and lives with her family in Queen Anne.