Preparing for back-to-school post-pandemic
After the lazy-hazy days of summer, by the time September rolls around, most parents wave their kids off to school, happy to know they are off to nourish their minds. While this is still true, no one can escape the reality that this September, after just having lived through the weirdest school year on record, and with the pandemic still unfolding like a breaking news story, many people are wondering what this school year will bring.
We spoke to some local families to get their tips and advice on how to navigate this school year so that everyone can adjust well to the return to old routines, and sleep well at night, too. Here are five ways that families can avoid family burnout as they return to school this fall.
Build a School Support System
Homeschooling three boys due to the pandemic worked so well for Jo MacDonald, that her family has decided to give it another go this September. A decision she is happy about, as two of her sons are too young to be vaccinated. She said the key to their success last year was having good support from her kids’ remote learning school, her flexible work schedule and planning the week ahead each Sunday night so they were organized and on top of stress before it arose. Jo shared, “Take time to talk to your kids. Reflect on what works and what doesn’t. The biggest thing to avoid burnout is to build a relationship with your child’s teacher, and have clear communication on expectations. You also need to set boundaries for your kids, especially around school work. Things like asking your kids to complete school assignments before having screen time helps them stay on task and manage their time. Clear rules agreed upon beforehand makes it easier, even if kids don’t always want to follow them.”
Learn to Schedule
Last September, Emily Kirkham chose distance learning for her daughter CeCe as she was worried that there were not enough pandemic safety plans in place for middle schoolers. Emily is also immunocompromised, so it was imperative that she minimized her chances of catching COVID-19.
Emily said it was a challenge in the beginning, but ultimately, they both got a lot from the year. ”It was definitely a learning experience for both of us, and initially it was quite overwhelming. But once we got into things, it went well. It really taught CeCe how to schedule her day and plan. She had to figure out how to pace her learning, structure her day, how long each project would take, timelines and deadlines. That is a skill that some adults don’t even have! I learned a lot too. We will definitely use those skills this year to reduce our stress levels as CeCe transitions to high school.”
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Last year, Erin Heinrichs had four kids at four different schools, plus she and her husband are both teachers, so they had their schools too! This coming school year they have the same busy schedules. Erin said organization is key. “One of the most important things is to take note of the school calendars. I screenshot them on my phone and keep them in a photo album. Then I add all the dates into our shared family calendar. Early dismissal days and Pro-D days are super important to note. The second main thing is meal planning. Each weekend, we plan our meals and grocery shop. Then everything is on hand, and whoever can get started on the meal first, knows what’s for dinner. We keep our meal plan and grocery list in “notes’’ which are shared on our phones.”
Take Things One Step at a Time
Madeline Russo homeschooled her child Riley due to COVID-19 concerns. Even though Riley is going back to school this year, it will be a gradual re-entry. That’s so Riley can get used to regular school again, and help their mental health. Madeline says this year she realized that doing what is right for your family and taking things one step at a time so that you and your child don’t get overwhelmed is critical.
“I have learned so much this year. Letting go of expectations is one big takeaway. It’s important to not put too much pressure on yourself or your child, because if you feel stressed, they are going to feel stressed. I also think it’s important to safe-guard your own mental health, as you care for your kids and help them on their education journey. Make time for yourself so that you can be there for them without feeling worn out.”
Get Your Kids Involved
Single mom Nancy McGee says last year was a whirlwind with three kids who all needed a ride to a different school. Factor in that last September she got called to her office (a 45-minute commute), which meant she drove for two hours before she even got to work. She shared, “Last September, I found the pandemic burnout I felt during the early days of COVID-19 returning. I was cranky with my family and nothing felt like fun. So I set up a simple schedule where each kid got a night to make dinner, and had a few chores to complete.” Nancy said involving her family was a game changer. “I explained to them why we were doing this and they got onboard. It made our school year way easier. Don’t get me wrong, we were not eating gourmet meals and the chores weren’t always done perfectly, but that wasn’t the point. Everyone tried. It made me feel like I wasn’t on my own, we were working as a unit. I felt less resentment and it taught my kids some great life skills. We will definitely be continuing this plan in the upcoming year—but hopefully with less frozen pizzas!”