Return to School

August 25, 2020

As a parent of school-aged kids, I have been pulled in so many different directions.  Pivoting on a dime—like enrolling my kindergartner in February in a well-researched school, then accepting an entirely new reality for the fall—homeschooling—has, at times, left me dizzy and uncertain.  And if that wasn’t enough…. another major change is that my 17-year-old son is now skipping his high school junior year entirely and has started community college full-time as a dual credit homeschooler in an all-virtual environment.  (He graduates in summer 2021 with an associate of arts degree).  I never thought I would be homeschooling my kindergartner and learning how to help my older son adjust to an entirely virtual education!  And I have been so concerned because everything is so different!  I bet I’m not alone 😊

Even so, I have found some bright spots along this odyssey, including learning about how we can find joy as a family in being together.  In fact, as a career educator who reads and writes extensively about social-emotional learning, the importance of relationships in educating kids, and the necessity of routines for kids to feel safe, I remain worried—but hopeful—about this school year.  I have also come to terms with feeling (and managing, often simultaneously) both anxiety and anticipation for my children returning to “school” in unique learning environments.  It has been a humbling experience for me—thinking I have got it all figured out—then realizing I do not.  I have had to change the way I think about education, instruction, what matters most to kids and…what matters most to me as a parent.  But changing my mindset from fear and concern to expectation and joy has been a personal, cathartic, emerging process.  I want to share those experiences with you as a mom, but also as an educator, in the hopes I can help you become—or remain—more optimistic this school year.  
Here are some ways I have learned to see positive aspects about this school year and I hope you find some connection to these ideas that can support you in your journey.

    1.  It is okay to not have it all figured out already.  This is a hard one for me!  I want to have a concrete plan, one that I can rely on, to educate my children.  Education is so necessary and critical in a child’s life!  But what if a more organic approach to learning—a learning path that is based more on a child’s curiosity and daily experiences—might also be advantageous for her?  Researchers have pointed out for years that a child’s vocabulary, thinking, and reasoning skills are highly linked to parent-child interactions, including conversations, especially in young children.  Maybe having a direction mapped out for your child, but not a rigid set of expectations, this year might turn out better than we think, especially as many of us spend more time together at home.
    2. Children can learn in innovative and novel ways!  Now is the time to encourage innovation in learning!  Educators have known for decades that teaching through lectures is not always how children learn best.  When students can build on prior knowledge and learn ways to apply skills and information in relevant and thought-provoking ways, they often learn more.  Teachers can become facilitators and guides to help students learn and participate in different approaches to learning.
    3. Helping kids manage anxiety and worry can build resiliency.  Many children have experienced anxiety and worry about the changing world around them.  As much as we try to keep routines and patterns at home, our lives are also different and often unpredictable now (routines can change quickly as government officials dictate what places are safe for us to visit)!  Although there are many challenges still to help students overcome, we can support kids by pointing out how successful they have been so far navigating different learning environments, learning to protect others by wearing a mask, and appreciating essential workers and those in their communities working to keep others safe.  We can recognize that struggles and challenges do exist in life, talk about them with our children, and help kids overcome them together.
    4. Grace and appreciation for teachers’ hard work and efforts are important virtues.  Hopefully, we collectively realize how hard teachers have worked and continue to work to give students the best possible learning experiences.  Teachers have adjusted their methods of teaching, rewritten the curriculum to reflect virtual and in-person learning objectives (sometimes teaching in both environments simultaneously!), and focused on how to support students’ unique needs.  Those are tall orders for professionals who are often criticized!  Additionally, most teachers have made such incredible adjustments while also coping with political and personal critics who feel strongly about school policies regarding how kids should learn.  We can remind students to be forgiving and kind to their teachers as they are learning new things this year, too.
    5. Life is full of simple, overlooked pleasures; maybe we can help our children understand the beauty of a slower pace.  In times of unprecedented changes in our world, now is the time to reassure students that we care about their mental wellbeing.  We can encourage our kids to share their feelings, thoughts, and fears about whatever classroom environment they encounter.  We can also assure our children that although structured, academic learning may look different now, there are many opportunities in everyday life to learn more about ourselves, and that type of learning matters, too.  We can hopefully take more time to value our kids’ voices, needs, and concerns.

Dr. April Saint.

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