Back to the Classroom: Tips for Preparing Students to Return to School

k-12 talked to University of South Carolina Department of Educational Studies Assistant Professor Melissa Duffy about how to best prepare students for a return to school.

Tips for Parents with a Student Returning to School

Before the words pandemic and COVID became household names, the idea of returning to school after a long, lazy summer was already a source of anxiety for many children. Those struggles tended to center around what to wear on the first day or who might be in your classroom this year.

But now, the world looks different. There is a significant uptick in mental health challenges for children living through this historic moment in time. As a parent, how can we best support our children as they return to school under highly unusual conditions?

The team sat down with University of South Carolina Department of Educational Studies Assistant Professor Melissa Duffy to talk about strategies and tactics to prepare students for a return to school during the pandemic.

With a PhD from McGill University in Educational Psychology, Dr. Duffy's research focuses on the intersection between motivation, emotion, and cognition in learning and performance across a variety of educational environments. Her research often involves mixed methods and the use of learning technologies to support and measure learning.

Dr. Duffy is an excellent resource for best practices and shared a wealth of information for parents to draw from, and we have curated a range of ideas for you to select from below:

How can parents help prepare kids to return to the classroom?

  • Set aside some time to calmly discuss with your child both of your expectations for a safe return to the classroom.
  • Share information from the school administration and teachers about the plan to safely return to school.
  • Ask your child to share questions or concerns they may have about the upcoming return to school.
  • Discuss strategies to cope with the coming changes, and make a plan together that works for both of you.
  • Do you need to navigate possible challenges related to social skills and learning strategies? If so, take some time to set learning goals with your child for the year, and create a plan to check on progress at various intervals.
  • Prepare for possible changes to the school schedule and remind your child of the life skill of flexibility. For example, moving back to online school could recur. This is an ideal time to remind your child to search for the silver lining of the pandemic. Learning to work through new challenges and situations are important skills both now and for the future.
  • Model a positive attitude, but also acknowledge that it's okay to not have all the answers right now. Tolerating uncertainty is also a life skill.

Are there methods parents can use to help ease anxiety about transitioning back to school?

  • Try using emotional regulation strategies to help manage negative emotions, such as changing the way we think about the situation. Can you reframe it in order to think about the positive side?
  • Practice non-judgmental acceptance. Can you recognize that it's okay to feel nervous and this is a normal reaction to uncertainty or change?
  • Try some problem-solving. What strategies might you employ to help your child manage the change?
  • Speak to your student about the changes they will encounter in the classroom. This can help to navigate changes. This may require patience as they adjust and process.
  • Keep in mind the child's developmental level when communicating information. Try to be aware of their level of concern and anxiety about returning to school. Talk about the wide range of support available to help manage challenges, such as parents and teachers.
  • Help your child to remember that everyone is navigating change - even their teacher! For example, teachers are likely to have increased demands as they help to address differences in learners after an unprecedented period away from the classroom. One suggestion is to ask the child if there is something they can do that's constructive. ''Can you think of something to brighten your teacher's day?''

What steps can parents take to help kids who don't want to physically return to school?

  • If your child is not enthusiastic about a return to school in person, a good strategy is to make time to reflect on the positive benefits of physically returning to school. Remind them of what they enjoyed about school prior to the onset of the pandemic. Some good examples to draw from include friends, teachers, and opportunities to play and learn with others. See if your ideas catalyze some memories for your own child to share in return. Can they recall unique and fun experiences they had at school before COVID? Conversation starters might include field trips, group activities, and sports teams.
  • It might help your student to remember that they are not alone: each child will be experiencing this transition, too! It is likely children have similar feelings and can help one another as a community through this challenging time. Supporting one another is also a fantastic life skill to develop now.
  • Be sure to connect with others to forge new communities and enhance current social networks. Talk to peers, teachers, and other parents to discuss ideas for re-building a sense of belonging and community at school together.

If your child is thriving with distance learning, how can you help your student continue to thrive?

  • Encourage and recognize accomplishments in distance learning, and talk about how learning can add to your child's toolkit in becoming an adaptive and self-efficient learner.
  • Reflect on what worked and what didn't! Identify ways to continue cultivating similar learning practices and environments at home and at school.
  • What worked best for your child when working on homework? Should your child continue using quiet space with limited distractions? Is taking breaks or changing activities when feeling disengaged or needing to recharge helpful?
  • Have you tried spacing your student's learning and breaking content into manageable units? What motivated your child?
  • What helped to stay engaged and focused when learning at home? What resources, tools, and study strategies were working? Can some of these activities and methods be continued at home or in the classroom?
  • Communicate with teachers to discuss what worked and whether certain aspects could be implemented into classroom learning.
By Evan Jacoby
March 2021
k-12 parent tips

Never miss an update