Preparing Children to Return to School: A Developmental Approach
Whether you want the in-person school option or the digital learning option, taking time to prepare children for a return to learning is essential. The typical end of the summer blues that children experience before going back to school will, this year, be exacerbated by the extended time at home with minimal routines in place. We are all trying to deal with the day to day changes and strong emotions that go along with that.
Since there is so much uncertainty, many parents feel apprehensive about making the wrong decisions, and children feel it.
However, we must find a way not to completely dwell on the situation while also continuing to respect its significance. Since children thrive on stability, steps must be implemented to help them feel safe and secure, no matter which school decision is made.
To start, be honest with children that there will be changes but do not focus on what they will be losing. Instead, empower them to accept the modifications and help them understand how these things are to keep everyone safe.
For example, giving them practical tools to navigate new school procedures and strategies to rebuild relationships within social distancing parameters will ease some of the fear.
Planning and preparing can lessen uncertainty while also supporting children in their physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development. Being patient and flexible and utilizing positive reinforcement will create a sense of control and stability.
It is difficult, however, to know where to start when preparing our children for the new school year and the changes that will come along with it.
Accessing community resources, such as the SKILLZ program, can help with this.
Since SKILLZ is an innovative child development approach, it utilizes an age-specific methodology that fosters growth in the areas of physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development.
Also, the Parent SKILLZ supplemental practices assist parents with the most effective means to connect with their children as they work through these uncertain times.
As we move forward with modified educational procedures, we must find ways to help ease the transition for children. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were unprepared for what was ahead of us. Although there are still undefined processes being worked through, we have a better gauge for what we may be presented with.
Within the realm of child development and education, while we still don’t have all of the information as to what the new school year will look like, we can prepare our children starting today. As John Wooden stated, “Confidence comes from being prepared.” Let us afford our children more confidence and prepare them for a “new normal.”
A Physical Approach
We are currently faced with all sorts of unknowns, most of which, are completely out of our control. And while we cannot dictate how others choose to move forward, what we can do, as parents, is prepare our own families for what may lie ahead.
Currently, the most pressing matter is preparing children to return to school.
As school districts layout the various options that parents can choose from, the American Academy of Pediatrics is backing a return to brick and mortar. But jumping back into this option has some parents nervous about their child’s health, so accurate preparation for physical safety is essential.
Over the past few months, children have had varying experiences with the outside world, depending on how their family chose to respond to the pandemic. Because of this, their feelings in reaction to returning to school will be different. To give them the best advantage for a successful and safe return, parents should have age-appropriate conversations with their children, and practice the following four tips to prepare children physically for what to expect.
1) Wearing Masks
While “to wear or not to wear” a mask is one of the most debated topics currently, schools requiring some level of mask use is inevitable. And since children rely on faces to give them cues of safety, faces covered by masks can make them more cautious and scared.
It is vital to practice wearing the masks and make them a routine, and fun, part of a child’s world.
Letting children pick out or decorate their masks can be helpful as well as having them put a mask on one of their stuffed animals. Teaching more concrete things about masks such as how to take them on and off and the importance of not playing with them is key.
2) Proper Hygiene
Parents have always taught their children to use a tissue, cover their cough, wash their hands, and not touch their faces. For children, especially younger ones, this is a lot to remember.
But now, more than ever, it is especially important for these things to be top of mind. The more parents role model these behaviors and have children practice them, the more second nature they will become.
Having age-appropriate conversations will also help to teach children why these things are important. The good thing is, having to wear a mask in school will help to reinforce some of these behaviors.
3) Social Distancing
This is probably going to be one of the most significant challenges children will face. Children are, by nature, very hands-on, especially when learning and socializing.
While most parents typically encourage their children to maintain personal space, 6 feet is much more than they are used to.
Keeping this distance from peers and teachers may prove difficult, but the more these things are reinforced and practiced, the better children will get. Parents can help children understand how big 6 feet is by measuring the distance for them and giving them a visual representation of it.
4) Healthy Habits
Over the past few months, regular routines have fallen to the wayside, and unhealthy habits have taken over. However, children’s immune systems and overall health habits must be top-notch when heading back to school.
Getting back to a school-year sleep schedule and eating healthy foods will help children be focused and ready to learn, and their immune systems will be more prepared to ward off any potential threat. Also, keeping children physically active each day will also help with these things while also counteracting stress.
Until school starts, the SKILLZ program offers socially distanced, small-size classes to help children return to social settings but in a more limited capacity. And since the Skillz Child Development program is a more individualized activity, children can get safe training that builds skills they need while also having fun.
As we continue through the day to day changes of what the new school year may look like, it is difficult for anyone to know the best option. What we can do, however, is to create familiarity and consistency in our approach to helping our children feel safe. While some may choose the online option for their children in the fall, all children will eventually return to school and be faced with a completely new experience so we must prepare now.
An Intellectual Approach
Over the past few months, we have been inundated with information that seems to change almost daily, making it hard to resolve what should and should not be done. Everyone has their thoughts and feelings about varying current debates, especially regarding starting school.
While there will be no answer that satisfies everyone in the short term, we must remember that children will return to some form of school, either online or brick and mortar, so it is essential that we prepare them intellectually for what will lie ahead to counteract any learning loss already exhibited.
Because “Summer Slide” happens during the summer each year, it is no surprise that most children have experienced even more learning loss when coupled with the “COVID slide.”
The abrupt switch to online learning created a disrupted ability to focus for a lot of children, and lack of resources at home caused even more achievement gaps for many.
As we approach a new school year, students will return to the learning environment at varying levels of proficiency, and most will need extra support to get back up to grade-level work.
However, school teachers will likely be mindful to avoid “cognitive cram” since this will lead to more stress and anxiety. This counterproductive approach to remediation can be even more detrimental to children’s ability to learn and retain information as it stimulates the stress hormone cortisol, which inhibits learning and memory formation.
Instead, teachers will likely offer a different approach by providing a safe way to ease back into learning. More positive neural connections will be made by advancing this way, which will lead to better retention of learned material.
Making learning fun will get the brain warmed up and primed for learning. This will be key in getting children back to their current grade level.
And yes, this is a big undertaking for teachers and parents, so they must reach out to community resources for help. A collaboration with youth services and enrichment activities will increase the chances of children recovering their learning loss at a quicker rate.
The SKILLZ program is a progressive child development method that uses cutting-edge brain training to help make the neural connections necessary to gear up the brain for learning. By starting now in a program such as this, parents can take a more preventative approach to any additional learning loss their child may experience in the weeks left of summer.
In addition, children engaging in the SKILLZ program will build connections in the brain, but they will also release dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. These positive brain chemicals help alleviate anxiety and depression and give children a more optimistic approach to dealing with the pandemic’s current state.
As children prepare for a return to learning, it is essential to start taking preventative measures to reduce further learning loss. By engaging in programs that sharpen their skills before school starts, children’s brains will be ready for learning and recover faster. And since an engagement with online learning was unbalanced, parents need to ensure that there are plans to make all education and development a priority. As they do this, plans that get students back on track academically should make space for social and emotional learning.
An Emotional Approach
As back to school plans continue to change almost daily, children’s emotions will remain unpredictable. One day they are thinking about returning to their friends and teachers at school, and the next, they are told they won’t be returning for another few months.
Because of this, our children’s emotional needs have never been greater. Since the uncertainty can set the stage for a wide array of emotions, we must prepare our children emotionally for a return to school, whenever that may be.
For those that return to a brick and mortar school, they may experience some separation anxiety from their parents. For those who go back to digital learning, they may continue to be unmotivated and feel depressed.
To help children adapt to the constant shifts, parents must stay attuned and connected to their children’s ever-changing feelings and implement ways to support them and reassure them. Here are three ways parents can help:
1) Create Dialog
Strong emotions have been running high for everyone during the pandemic, and managing these tough feelings is a challenge for children.
To help them, parents need to create an open dialogue that allows children a safe place to identify and express their emotions.
When parents understand that sadness and fear are normal feelings in relation to our current situation, allowing children to talk about them will bring about a more proactive approach to managing them. Since children take emotional cues from their parents, being mindful of your reactions and talking about your feelings will help children work through their emotions more constructively.
2) Excite and Empower
As these conversations help work through the intimidating feelings of the unknown, the next step is to build excitement and empower them.
By assisting our children in embracing a new regimen and having a say in planning for it, children will start to develop confidence again. Allowing them to be part of the process, such as setting up a workstation for themselves at home or creating a fun, colorful schedule for their return to school, will get them excited. Keeping a positive tone is key in helping children transition more confidently.
3) Provide Support
To keep children on a productive path with a positive outlook, they must have a network of support from their teachers, counselors, and other adults.
Adults must be even more observant now and watch for strong emotions and disruptive behaviors. Addressing these things with a flexible mindset while utilizing referrals systems will create a better approach to resolving issues.
By ensuring that teachers, staff, and other resources are prepared for these things, children will reap the benefits of a stronger support system.
SKILLZ implements an innovative child development approach that focuses on the whole child, supporting a child in all areas while also providing resources for parents. Instructors are educated and trained to provide classes that meet the needs of children, on age-specific levels, in a way that keeps them motivated, confident, and safe.
This methodology fosters a positive outlook, which leads to more efficient coping skills, while also taking some of the stress and burden off the parents. Parents can also utilize the Parent SKILLZ curriculum to help them meet their children’s emotional needs.
Over the past few months, children have faced a considerable amount of disturbance in their lives. Much of this has led to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and fear. As they face the day-to-day changes of how they will return to school, children are on even more of an emotional roller coaster. But no matter how school starts for them, children’s emotional well-being needs to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds to help children start the new school year with success.
A Social Approach
Over the past few months, interactions have been minimal, and our social skills are rusty.
Since prolonged school closures have a negative impact on children’s social development, we are now faced with learning how to regain skills while moving forward with new skills.
Though some children will return to a brick-and-mortar school, others will virtually engage with teachers and classmates. No matter how they attend school in the beginning, all children will likely return to in-person classes eventually. We must prepare them now so they can feel confident as they re-engage with friends, classmates, and teachers when the time comes.
The extended time away from school, in conjunction with periods of isolation and the summer break, have exacerbated feelings of uneasiness when it comes to social interactions for children. While they may be excited about seeing their friends and teachers again, the anxiety that they are feeling may deter them from regular social interactions in the beginning. Children need a refresher course in age-appropriate social interactions that will restore their social skill set.
To help children navigate through any social anxiety and apprehension, parents can begin building their child’s social confidence again by implementing the following three steps.
1) Identify Social Concerns
Just as any new school year generally brings on a little anxiety, this year will bring about slightly more. Even for children that have been able to interact with extended family and some friends, concern about meeting new teachers and classmates will be heightened because interactions will now look different.
By opening a conversation and being attuned to children’s behaviors, parents can begin identifying what children feel will be their most significant challenges about facing social situations again. Being supportive and nurturing will be key in working through this.
2) Refresh Social Skills
As children have regressed in some age-appropriate social skills and have been unable to develop any new ones, parents must now help them regain momentum in their development.
However, since social exchanges now require a different approach, we need to be creative with our “no-touch” greetings. Anything from air high fives, to elbow bumps, to giving a peace sign, everyone is learning a new way to interact.
Children who are still developing these skills, especially younger ones that are more hands-on, will need to learn to communicate differently. As they move forward, encouragement, and reminders of age-appropriate and pandemic-appropriate social interactions are essential.
3) Role-play Social Scenarios
As children talk through their anxiety and refresh their social skills, it is vital to put them into action in a safe space.
Engaging in role-playing scenarios will help children work through a new way to socialize while still asking questions when they are unsure. Simple things such as saying hi with a wave or a foot tap can be practiced, which will create consistency and instill a sense of normalcy for new ways to interact.
Remember to make good use of older siblings and other near-peers who can help set examples that your kids may find more relevant to their situations.
Additionally, using this time to come up with different ways to play while socially distancing can also make children feel more confident in interactions.
An effective way to help work through these three steps is by utilizing the SKILLZ program. This fun, game-based approach to developing the whole child creates an environment where children can interact with others their age, whether in class or virtually. Since the instructors create an entertaining and supportive environment, children feel more secure with interacting socially.
In addition, the Parent SKILLZ supplemental information helps parents learn ways to connect and be attuned to their child’s emotions and behaviors while giving them ways to enhance the parent-child relationship so social development can flourish.
As we work through helping children regain lost social skills, it’s important to remind them that things will eventually go back to normal. But for now, engaging them in creating ways they can socialize with others is important. Remind them that they can still smile and wave, they can still talk to others, they can still play with their friends. We just have to be at a greater distance.
To learn more about the powerful Skillz childhood development program that uses elements of martial arts training as the vehicle for growth, or to get your child started at our Patchogue location, click the button below:
4GK MARTIAL ARTS & SKILLZ OF PATCHOGUE
380 East Main St
Patchogue, NY 11772