As summer winds down and we head into the new school year, this back-to-school season may look and feel quite different for many families.
You and your children may feel both nervous and excited to “get back to normal.” With some planning, patience, and a positive attitude, your family can navigate this new year safely and smoothly. To help your family, we have compiled a few suggestions to kick off the new school year from toddler to teen.
Toddlers: Big Changes for our Littlest Ones
Set Up for Success. Do you find your new office space consists of a laptop, coffee cup, sippy cup, and crayons? Many work-from-home parents are juggling the demands of their job with the demands of a toddler. While squeezing your workday into the hours they nap, you may also be sharing your office space with your toddler. Consider moving your desk into a well-lit corner of their playroom or centralizing your office space to keep an eye on your kiddo. Give them a small desk and ask them to “help” mom or dad by sorting pencils, gluing magazine images to construction paper, working on their tablet, or making calls on their toy telephone. And take your lunch break outside at a teddy bear picnic or under a blanket fort together.
Encourage Independence. Independent play is critical for toddler development, and this is the perfect time to encourage this behavior. Playing on their own will give mom or dad (or school-aged siblings) more time to get work done! Busy bags are a great way to organize and entice your toddler to explore and keep them (as the name indicates) busy. Busy bags can include themes for learning, like sorting items by color or identifying shapes, letters, or numbers. Create several busy bags to rotate throughout the week, which can be inspired by nature, transportation, animals, or includes tasks that encourage fine motor skills. Etsy is an excellent source to create or purchase pre-made busy bags. Pinterest is filled with creative bag ideas. And you can also find free printables to download (like these worksheets) to keep your bags fresh with ideas, themes, and games.
Parents can also encourage independence at breakfast, lunch, and snack time with finger foods and small bites that your children can feed themselves. Prep food into baggies before your day begins and keep in a place where your child can easily access them, like the lowest refrigerator shelf or a snack bin. Right now is the perfect time to take a step back and allow them to explore their independence.
Elementary: How to Make Back-to-School Cool!
Create a Workspace Just for Them. Help your child personalize and decorate a comfortable, private space where they can study from home and curl up with their books. Make it fun with scented erasers, sparkly crayons, colored pens, fun charging cords, cool headphones or soft fleece headband earphones, and an accessory box to organize everything. Instead of a chair, use a large bouncy ball to relieve excess energy and get the wiggles out. For variety in their day, a lap desk can be used to study on the floor, outside, or another place in the house. To limit distractions, make a trifold screen to keep them focused. Customize the screen with their favorite colors, or the alphabet and math equations to help with learning.
Prepare a Special Lunch. Children may not be eating together at a table, so make lunch a special surprise with their favorite, comforting dinner leftovers and a funny joke or note written on their napkin. Try to create a lunch in one color like sunny yellow to brighten their day, include yellow peppers, hummus, lemonade, corn chips, lemon yogurt, applesauce, or dried mango. Mix up a typical sandwich lunch with kebabs loaded with vegetables and cheese with ranch dipping sauce or roll up a pinwheel sandwich made with a tortilla or try breakfast for lunch with mini pancakes, yogurt, fruit, and a hard-boiled egg.
Mask Up. The new back-to-school accessory this year, whether your child is in school or out in public, is a facemask. To keep busy families organized, purchase five masks for each child. In an indelible marker, write the first letter of each day of the week on each mask. Collect their mask each day in a mesh laundry bag to be washed, so they don’t get lost. For more than one child, use a mesh bag for each. This system will keep you organized and masks always ready to go. Crayola offers a color-coordinated mask set for children, teens, and adults with a calendar card to track usage and washings. And hang these fun fillable hand sanitizer bottles on their backpacks!
Teens: Have an A+ School Year, Whether Online or IRL
Volunteer to Feel Helpful. Teens may be feeling negatively impacted by the effects of social distancing on their emerging social life. With the cancellations of normal school events, sports, parties, and extracurricular activities, they may feel anxious or bored with more free time on their hands. Suggest that they use that extra energy to focus on helping others. Can they make a grocery run for an elderly neighbor or mow their grass? Can they help someone while keeping at a safe distance, like volunteering to tutor via Zoom or helping a younger sibling with their homework? Can they commit to calling their grandparents every week? Or offer to help a stressed-out teacher? In a situation that feels overwhelming, being useful (at a safe distance) can feel empowering for a teen.
The First Day & Beyond. Make the first day of school a celebration with a tasty breakfast before they head out the door. With a full stomach, they will concentrate better throughout the day. Or celebrate with a special dinner that night with their favorite meal. The first day back can be hard under these circumstances, so gathering around the table as a family can be comforting (even if they don’t want to admit it). You can use this time to celebrate the new school year ahead and acknowledge how difficult the first day can be for a teen. Throughout the year, use the dinner table as a safe place to talk and reconnect as a family.
Rewards to Motivate Learning. Some teens may feel less motivated with remote learning. These unique times may call for extraordinary measures. Consider implementing a reward system to encourage studying and good grades. Some might think this is bribery, but you could also see this as an investment. However their school year is modified, there is value in talking to your teens about this unique learning situation and making a deal with them for the coming school year to keep them on track. Determine what subject(s) they struggle with, identify goals (for example, B or higher on a test), and what the reward will be for each accomplishment. The reward could be monetary, or it might be a later curfew, a favorite meal, or use of the car. Even a small reward can be an incentive to help them to reverse bad habits and push through difficult or tedious material.
Don’t Forget! During these uncertain times, it’s important as a parent to take good care of yourself. Carve out time for your personal needs, build up a support system, get a good night’s sleep, commit to exercise, and take breaks. When your needs are met, you can better care for your loved ones.
Share your back-to-school photos on Instagram. Tag @dreamdinners. We look forward to seeing your smiling family photos!