Back To School 2020

Good Morning! This week is the start of a new school year for my kiddos. They will be starting their 8th grade and sophomore year learning remotely from home. I know that this year will look different to everyone depending on the ages and learning needs of your children. Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every family. I am trying to prepare the best I can to set our family off on the right path this year using some of the lessons I learned while assisting my children learn from home last spring as well as from my years spent as a teacher. I thought I would share the tips I have found most helpful in case you can benefit from them too.

Be Positive

Our children will definitely follow our lead. I have found that little ears are always listening and taking their cues from us. On more than one occasion I have heard my kids repeat my opinions as their own in conversations they are having with others. This is an especially important time to lead by example with patience, flexibility and forgiveness. Everyone is trying the very best they can with the tools they have been given.

Tip: The night before school starts this year play a dinner table game where each person shares a benefit to learning from home. You are out of the game when you can no longer come up with something new to share. The last person left in the game get to pick dessert that evening. Its amazing how many benefits your child will be able to come up with when getting to have their favorite treat is on the line.

Schedule a Routine and Set Expectations

Kids love having a routine and knowing what is expected of them. You may have noticed that most classrooms have a daily schedule posted. As a former teacher and more recently a substitute, I can tell you that if the teacher deviates from the schedule at all, the students immediately point it out. Kids will find stability and comfort during these unexpected times in having a set wake-up time and daily responsibilities.

Tip: Let your kids help come up with their schedule. My son’s first class starts at 8:15. I let him know what he would be responsible for completing prior to that time. He responded that he could get everything done in 45 minutes and therefore planned to wake-up at 7:30. We can always amend the schedule later, but it’s a good starting point.

Responsibilities such as brushing teeth, washing faces and getting dressed every day (even if it is just putting on a clean pair of PJ’s or sweatpants) are important because they can provide a mental boost. Making the bed, especially if a child will be doing school work in their bedroom, can put them into a more productive mindset and an organized space can help them stay focused and feel less overwhelmed.

Since we don’t know yet what each day will entail, setting a time to check in with middle school and high school students at the beginning and end of each day is an opportunity to make sure they have the tools they need and see the quality of work they are producing. As a teacher, I found that starting a routine on day one helped cement good habits moving forward. It is much easier to scale back a routine over time than to make additions.

I’ll have each child’s daily to-do list and bell schedule posted where they work. They will be responsible for writing down their class assignments (read more below) and sharing what they need to do each day with me during our morning check-in.

Here is a free printable of our Daily Remote Learning To-Do List. I laminate the paper and we use dry erase markers to check off tasks and fill in the blanks.

Click here to download

If everything on the Daily Remote Learning To-Do List has been completed, my son and daughter will be able to enjoy a privilege. Finding a reward that appeals to the individual child is key. My son would love to be able to play video games and my daughter would rather stay up later. They know that if they don’t complete their responsibilities they shouldn’t bother to even ask about gaming or going to bed late.

Have Your Child Write Down Their Daily/Weekly Schedule

Research has shown that the act of writing helps us remember things better. Our district posts assignments online and gives students a daily planner to write down their assignments. Before remote learning my son would come home from school without having written anything in his planner and rely purely on the online posts. I noticed that things were being overlooked on a regular basis. Remote learning this past spring offered me the opportunity to sit down with him on Mondays and write out his assignments for the week in his planner. The act of writing down each assignment and then being able to physically cross it off helped his grades improve because he was no longer missing assignments.

He was recently asked to share his middle school tips with incoming 6th graders. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he advised them to not copy his bad example, and use their planners from the very beginning of middle school. It was gratifying to know that he has a realization of how important applying his organizational skills will be to his academics moving forward.

I also ask my children to write down friends that they would like to connect with and the physical activity they are planning to accomplish each day in their planner. This sends the message that their social and physical well being is just as important and should not be forgotten. My daughter prefers to write down her daily responsibilities on a white board calendar because she can easily glance at it while she is working. If your child hasn’t had a lot of experience keeping track of assignments, have them try a couple different methods and choose the one that best fits their needs. The most important outcome is that they are more fully aware of their responsibilities because they have taken the time to write them down, not where they wrote them.

Encourage Meaningful Interaction Among Peers

Kids tend to gravitate towards friends that they share classes with each year because it doesn’t take a lot of extra effort to hang out. We have been having discussions in our home about the fact that while we are socially distancing we have to work harder to maintain friendships that are important to us.

I asked my children to both think about which friends they most want to sit with at a lunch table once school resumes. We talked about working to maintain those friendships while we are at home so that they don’t unintentionally slip away. We brainstormed ways to connect outside of video gaming and social media and tried to put them into practice with a different friend daily.

Their favorite socially distanced activities with friends are bike rides, FaceTime calls, backyard crafting sessions, and meeting at the park for a game of spike ball, baseball or just sitting on the grass and chatting.

Compliment Before Offering Constructive Criticism

When looking over a child’s assignment it can be so easy to immediately recognize the spelling mistakes, lack of grammar or messy writing. I have to remind myself often to pause and look for the good before all else. Once I have pointed out a concrete example of something that has been done well, I can offer advice on what needs improvement. Better yet, I try and follow a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative comments.

No matter how indifferent our kids seem, they value our opinions and strive to make us proud. Starting off a discussion with a critique can cause them to get defensive and eventually cause them to not want to share their work with us at all. Focusing on the positive is something I really struggle with because it can be easy to take all the little things for granted and put emphasis on the mistakes. When I make a concerted effort to point out the positive, the results are so rewarding. Kids will make a point to repeat the behavior that has garnered praise. If you find yourself battling over school work or nagging your child during the upcoming weeks, I challenge you to take a step back and point out three positives before saying anything remotely negative. It gets easier with practice and your interactions will change for the better.

Example: 1.”Thank you so much for putting the cereal box away without any reminders.” 2. “I really appreciate that you gave me a hug first thing this morning.” 3. “I love the outfit you put together this morning.” 1.” You forgot to put your dishes in the dishwasher, can you please do that now?”

Free 1st Day of School Printables

Although our kids won’t be getting dressed up for the first day of school this year, I am still planning to document the occasion. Continuing our tradition of taking photos by the front door gives just a little bit of normalcy to the new school year.

Wishing you all a successful school year ahead. It won’t be without its challenges, but our ability to pivot and persevere may be one of the greatest gifts we receive. Hang in there! 🍎

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