OUR VIEW: Be prepared to go back to school

This year’s back-to-school season is unlike any we’ve experienced yet. On top of our normal excitement and anxieties, we’re confronting changes made necessary by the continued spread of the pandemic coronavirus.

Parents and caregivers, teachers are doing their level best to make their classrooms as safe as they can. It’s one more burden they’ve taken on to make sure your kids get a quality education.

We anticipate the majority of families will be sending their kids to school in person, and we encourage you to think about how you can help our teachers out by preparing your children for the things that will be different this year.

First, stay positive in how you talk to your children about the changes and safety measures. Yes, we want our kids to be careful, but try not to scare them or portray everything in a negative light. You will set the tone for their return to school and making it a positive one will help keep anxiety and frustration at bay.

Families with younger kids can help get them ready for school by teaching them to wash their hands properly by themselves. Using warm water and soap and rubbing their hands together for 20 seconds — including the tips of their fingers, the thumbs and the backs of their hands — is key to keeping germs away. A few songs can be sung twice to keep time, like “Happy Birthday,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The first verse of “This Little Light of Mine” works, too. Have them practice washing their hands after using the bathroom and before eating. The more kids can take care of their own hand hygiene, the more time teachers can spend teaching.

Younger kids may also struggle with social distancing. It can be hard for them to remember to keep a safe distance from their friends or to figure out how far six feet actually is. Show them what six feet looks like, and talk about healthy ways to greet their friends.

Kids will need help to understand that this year, not sharing may be OK. Talk to them about using the pencils, crayons or other tools the teacher gives them and not touching things that aren’t theirs. Help them learn to manage their backpacks — they can be unwieldy for small hands — and have them work on keeping track of where their water bottle is so it doesn’t get lost. Help your young kids practice opening the packages their lunch foods come in, too, especially those tough things like milk cartons, juice boxes and individual bags of chips or snacks.

For children ages 10 and up who will be required to wear masks, get them used to how they look and feel. Give them masks with prints they enjoy, like their favorite cartoon or movie characters. Have them practice wearing a mask for a while, look in the mirror with them while you’re wearing masks and talk about what you look like, or set up playdates with other children who are also wearing masks. Consider having your child wear a mask even if it’s not required for their age. The more children can get used to wearing masks, the less of an obstacle masks will be come the first day of school.

Older students may have to think differently about how they approach getting extra help on assignments. High school students, in particular, may need to be bolder about raising their hand to ask a question, since teachers may not be walking around the classroom as much to monitor student work. Students in virtual classes will need to be proactive about seeking help — they’ll need to send an email and perhaps a follow-up message rather than waiting for a teacher to check on them. Help them learn to take ownership of asking for assistance and monitoring communications from their teachers.

Finally, talk to your kids about making mistakes and keeping a good attitude. As much as we want them to be conscientious about social distancing and proper hygiene, we don’t want them to freak out when they see one of their classmates forgetting to wash up, not wearing a mask, getting too close or doing something else against the class rules. Teach them not to yell, shout or shame their classmate, but rather to keep practicing what their teacher tells them to. If you can, communicate with your child’s teachers ahead of time and learn the rules they are setting up for their classrooms. Practicing the same rules at home will help teachers keep things calm and organized.