Well, this is certainly a Back to School Season unlike any other. Returning to school after summer vacation can be nerve-racking and stressful for children and educators under “normal” circumstances…let alone during the chaos, uncertainty, fear, and isolation that have come to define 2020. States and school districts are starting to announce their “official” plans for the fall – with “official” in quotations because as COVID-19 cases increase or decrease, these plans can change at any moment. Some schools will offer in-person learning, others will offer only distance learning, and others will follow a hybrid plan that combines the two. My fear (among many!) is that just as our students get comfortable with one form of learning, they may have to quickly and abruptly transition into a different one. In my home district, for example, if there is a COVID-19 case in the building or .5% of the population or higher tests positive for coronavirus, schools will close.
For many kids, school is the most stable environment in their lives, but this year they could face a constant and sudden open, close, open, close pattern that instills instability, chaos, and fear in their little hearts and minds. As a mom of two little boys and a former elementary school counselor, I worry most about our youngest and most impressionable learners who, lacking foundational school experiences, may grow to believe that things like school closures, masks, not sharing, and social distancing are normal. I am afraid that they will start to fear closeness to others which will breed social anxiety, difficulty making friends, poor social skills, and more.
While there is so much debate and controversy surrounding the sensitive topic of school reopening, I do think there are three things that we can all agree on:
1. Children need to hear honest information about what coronavirus is and how it is affecting our world.
When COVID-19 first hit in March, if you would have told me that schools would be closed indefinitely and coronavirus will grow to affect just about every part of our lives, as an eternal optimist, I wouldn’t have believed you. As parents and educators, our nature is to shield children from negative or traumatic experiences as much as we can. And although we don’t want to instill worry or fear, we do need to make sure that children have a realistic and honest understanding of what COVID-19 is and why it has drastically changed so many parts of their lives. This doesn’t mean having the news on TV all day long, or constantly talking about COVID-19 in front of the children. Instead, it means finding kid-friendly resources that explain the pandemic in terms they can understand. I wrote a little story to help explain coronavirus to children and it is available download in my Free Resource Library. You can also check out a preview of the story below:
Here are some more FREE resources that I have found to explain coronavirus to children:
- “My New Normal” a story by Kari Bolt and Paula Beckerman, available in both English and Spanish
2. Foldable comic created by Malaka Gharib based on an interview by Cory Turner on NPR.
3. “My name is Coronavirus” by Manuela Molina
4. “What is the Coronavirus?” by Amanda McGuinness
5. “My Hero is You” by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings
2. Students need to learn safety tips for coping with COVID-19.
For adults and children alike, learning safety tips for coping with COVID-19 can truly save a life. I created a series of posters that educators can display in the front hallway, front office, or on bulletin boards in their classrooms. The safety guidelines and protocol will likely be different from school to school, and may change at different points throughout the school year as COVID-19 cases go up and down in the community. So, schools can choose the posters to display that best fit the current guidelines that they are following. These posters make these somewhat scary and limiting rules more kid-friendly and easily understood for our young learners. The safety rules that I included in my posters are:
- Wear a mask.
- Wash your hands.
- Cover your cough and sneeze.
- Stay home if you feel sick.
- Stay 6 feet apart from others.
- Don’t touch your face.
- Use your own toys and supplies.
As you can imagine, these rules may make in-person school feel like a cold, unfamiliar, and impersonal place for children who are used to openly sharing and playing closely with their friends. Enforcing these rules will be no easy task for educators and students are likely to have many questions and worries that we will have to be prepared to answer:
- “When will things get back to normal?”
- “How can I play with my friends if we have to stay apart?”
- “Why can’t we share?”
- “Why can’t we use our playground?”
- “Do I have to wear this mask all day?”
- “I can’t see your face – I don’t know how you’re feeling with the mask on!”
- “It’s distracting for me to learn with this mask on.”
3. Children need to identify, process, and express their feelings and experiences surrounding the pandemic.
During this pandemic, our medical workers have been on the frontline fighting for us day in and day out. But, it is easy to forget that our children have been fighting a battle of their own. Families have been torn apart, schools have closed, birthday parties and vacations have been canceled, loved ones have been sick and lost their jobs, and over 100,000 Americans have died. Trying to explain to my 3-year-old son why there was caution tape around our neighborhood park, why he couldn’t go to his Amma and Pop Pop’s house, and why he wouldn’t see his beloved teacher Miss Linda anymore has been truly devastating for both of us. This pandemic IS. TRAUMA. It is traumatic for all of us, young and old. We are isolated, scared, paranoid, germaphobic, fearful of the future, and desperate to return to life pre-COVID. If these feelings are overwhelming for adults, imagine how our children are feeling. As parents and educators, we must keep in mind that our attitudes about COVID-19 and the 2020-2021 school year shape our children and students’ attitudes. Our children and students are always watching us! Although it is challenging, we must try to express our anger, fear, and disappointment in private, away from our children. We can set them up for success by having a positive attitude and being a safe, strong, and confident person that they can turn to with their worries, fears, and disappointments.
To help identify students’, parents’ and teachers’ needs during COVID-19, I created a set of digital and printable needs assessments. Educators can use the Google Form version to collect data digitally (and Google summarizes it in pretty graphs automatically for you!) or the printable version for a traditional paper and pencil survey. These needs assessments are a quick and simple way to gauge how members of your school community are feeling, what experiences they have had during the pandemic, and what their current needs are. Then, you can plan and implement supports for them according to this data.
I also created a series of printable and digital activities to help children:
- Learn critical safety tips
- Process their feelings, thoughts, hopes, wishes, and worries about life in a pandemic
- Feel more comfortable wearing a mask
- Process how their lives have changed since COVID-19 came
These printable and digital activities can help students cope with this COVID-19 world we are living in and the many changes taking place in their schools, homes, and communities.
I hope that this post provided some helpful resources to you and your students during this trying time. If there is anything else that I can do to support you, or anything that I can create to help, please don’t hesitate to reach out! I am here for you always.