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Academics, self care and social time: How to get your kids ready for the first day of (virtual) school

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VIRGINIA (WRIC) — The school experience will be different this year for Virginia kids as many school systems have decided on a virtual start or school year. With the upcoming changes, how should parents get their families ready to go back to school?

Dr. Zenia Burnett, an education specialist with more than 20 years of experience in the public school system, said it is important to develop a daily routine for students depending on their typical school day. The routine includes wake-up time, getting ready, meals, brain breaks, mindfulness breaks, some type of fitness activity and socialization.

Dr. Burnett said that on the first day of school, parents should lay out expectations for being online. Students should minimize internet surfing while learning and incentives are essential to keeping kids on track. She said it’s important to make it clear virtual learning is still school.

Students will be expected to learn online on their own, but socialization is highly important for kids during the pandemic, added Dr. Burnett.

“I think it’s important to stress that students still will need a social outlet,” Barnett said. “Therefore it’s important for parents to help identify those safe opportunities for peer interaction through youth development and organized community activities such as sports and volunteerism.”

Dr. Burnett suggested parents establish a strong relationship with their public school system if they haven’t already.

“It’s important that parents understand what youth development programs are still available during this time,” she said.

Children should connect with their schools as well, said Dr. Burnett. This will help them feel empowered and understand the steps to advocating for themselves when they don’t understand something.

Virtual learning will come with obstacles, but Dr. Burnett said this is a critical time to help kids develop problem-solving and troubleshooting strategies. Parents should expose their kids to troubleshooting opportunities and take time to explain how to work through problems.

Parents will also need support during virtual learning. This can be done by connecting with the Virginia Department of Education, the school system, other families, people in the community, Facebook groups or a learning pod.

A learning pod would give parents the support they need to ask questions or share experiences while also giving kids the opportunity to socialize. While learning pods are new because of the pandemic, they are a great idea that helps aid kids and parents in so many ways, Dr. Burnett said.

She also suggests that parents take advantage of the tools provided by the Virginia Department of Education. As part of its comprehensive plan to move forward, the education agency has put together ample support guides for parents and caregivers. The website has information on how to promote resilience in children.

The state agency acknowledges that a prolonged disruption in their school routine could create stress and impact a child’s mental well being.

“Kids are the most resilient little people and quick learners,” Dr. Burnett said.

Here are some tips to help you prepare for the first day of school

  • Keep up with traditions: If you and your child do something special each year to celebrate the first day of the new school year, make sure you keep that tradition alive.
  • Check in: Check in with your child on how they feel about going back to school virtually. Encourage your child to express their feelings and communicate how they feel about back to school changes.
  • Make a schedule: This will change based on their age and grade level, but it’s important to lay out a plan and expectations on the first day. Their schedule should include meals, brain breaks, mindfulness breaks, fitness and social time.
  • Make sure you have WiFi: If your school district is providing you with a WiFi hot spot, make sure it works and establish a connection with the device being used for online learning prior to the first day of school.
  • Pack your lunch: Packing your lunch the day before can help minimize the stress during the school day. If your child will be participating in the school meal program, make sure they know when and where the meals will be distributed.
  • Back to school shopping: If you don’t have a designated area for your child to learn or study, this should be a priority when back to school shopping. Your student will also need to keep their notes and school work organized so don’t forget to grab some organizational items like agendas, highlighters, folders, binders or bins.
  • Set up your learning area: The week before school starts, establish an area where your child will do their virtual lessons and school work.
  • Plan after school activities: Socialization is key during this time! Contact your school system to find out what extracurricular activities are available.
  • Connect with other students: If your child’s health permits it, plan socially-distant play dates or field trips to help your child’s emotional well being.
  • Self care: Encourage your child to practice self care by taking breaks, eating well, getting plenty of sleep and meditating.

Resources from the Virginia Department of Education:


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