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The Ultimate Guide to Going Back to School at Home

The Ultimate Guide to Going Back to School at Home

It is that time of year again: back-to-school, sort of. Most families still do not know what that will look like and will face hard decisions about when or whether to send their children back to school. For the children that go back to in-person classes, many will be in school for a few days and home for a few days each week. More than likely, those families will soon gear up for at-home learning in combination with some in-person school time.

Here are six things you can do to make the adjustment to learning at home easier on both you and your children.

  1. Set Up a Learning Space.

You do not need to create a complete classroom in your home, but a designated learning space will help your children focus on learning and understand that other areas in the home can be used for media time, playtime and more.

  • Get older children involved in planning the space. Have them make a list of what they think they will need. Find ways to repurpose items in their rooms, such as a chair or pillows to lounge on while reading or a table and chair to make a desk. Use colorful bins or tubs and have your child help you sort toys for easy access. They can also decorate the space with places for books, a laptop or tablet, art supplies and more. Your children will be more likely to use the space if they participate in planning and setting up the space.

Little ones can help set up their spaces as well. Keep books and art materials where your children can reach them. Also, be sure to check out these great ideas for setting up a child’s room for exploratory learning.

  1. Create Back-to-School Routines.

You can still create the back-to-school experience by transitioning from summer activities to school-focused ones. Talk with your children about their new routines and expectations ahead of the transition. Make the prospect of back-to-school time fun by selecting a few new back-to-school items such as art supplies or new clothes together. Don’t forget to take pictures of the first day “back to school”!

  1. Plan the Day with Flexibility in Mind.

Keeping a routine to support children’s social and emotional development is crucial while everyone is still at home. Include your children in daily planning and decision-making, like creating menus for the week to take the stress off mealtimes or deciding when to take breaks during the day for some outdoor play. Consider taking photos of different times of the day and have your children hang them in meaningful locations around the learning space or use them to create a picture schedule.

Begin with the basics:

  • Morning wakeup – getting ready for the day;
  • Mealtimes and snack times;
  • Naptime or quiet time;
  • Cleaning up – sorting and cleaning up toys, cleaning after mealtime, etc.;
  • Bath rituals;
  • Bedtime – getting ready for and going to bed.

Routines are great stress relievers when children can anticipate what will happen during the day. They help them focus on playful learning instead of worrying about what’s next. By establishing these basic routines, you can free up time for more flexibility in your child’s day. You can also plan your day with your work schedule in mind.

  1. Manage Screen Time.

Keep screen time to a minimum. For older children, consider limiting screen time to when they are doing required lessons plus a separate time for some screen-time play. Screen-time overload is something we are hearing a lot about lately. Children are getting tired of video conferencing, so keep that to the required amount for school and perhaps a few visits with friends. Be sure to let your older children initiate any requests for video chats to keep it from getting too overwhelming.

Also, keep an eye on your time with digital media. Avoid digital distractions by turning off the television while interacting with your children and take digital breaks at mealtimes, bedtime, etc.

  1. Connect with Others.

The best screen time will be virtual playdates where your little ones can interact with and see other children.

Dr. Jennifer Jipson, member of the Goddard School Education Advisory Board, says, “There are many ways to do this using video-chat platforms and apps like Caribou. This doesn’t replace the rich interactions that take place in larger-group preschool settings…but in the short term it’s enough to keep their social skills developing. If your child is no longer interested in connecting with others on screens, use time at home to focus on family social interactions or identify another family that is managing risk in a way that matches your own approach. One or two friends are all children need right now to satisfy their need for social connection. Agree to ‘bubble up’ and limit social contact beyond your ‘quaranteam.’”

  1. Foster Independent Moments.

Try to plan a few activities your children can do independently, even if they need to be within your range of sight. This can give you a break while working. Art supplies, puzzles, connecting blocks and books are great tools for independent play. Here are a few activities to help get you started.

Starting a new school year at home might be new territory, but with a little preparation, you and your children are sure to have a lot of fun learning experiences together.

Tips for Engaging Your Child in Independent Play

balancing-working-from-home-with-children

Juggling work and childcare full time at home is a new and challenging task for many parents. By engaging their children in independent play, parents can have time to complete their own tasks while their children are using their imagination to practice executive function skills and problem-solving skills. The following steps can set up parents and children for independent play success.

Step One – Picking a Place for Independent Play

Depending on your children’s age, pick a space where they can play safely and independently. For younger children, you may want to start with a space that is easily within sight and reach, but older children may be able to be in their own rooms or private spaces. You should check the space for any potential hazards, such as sharp edges or objects, and ensure that any large furniture is safely anchored.

Step Two – Choosing Materials

Look around your home for loose parts that are age-appropriate for your children. Loose parts are found, bought or upcycled materials that children can move, manipulate, control and change within their play, such as buckets, balls, cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes, blocks, Legos, ramps and tracks. You can even set up bins or stations that hold each type of loose parts, which will allow you to easily exchange them or mix and match different items every couple of days or on the weekends to keep your children interested and engaged in their play.

Step Three – Introducing Materials

If you or your children are feeling unsure of how to engage with the loose parts, you can start with simple, open-ended challenges:

  • Build a tower using two or more of the materials;
  • Create a maze that you can roll a ball through;
  • Demonstrate stacking or nesting cups, putting balls or objects into cups and dumping them into other containers (for younger children).

Once your children are engaged with the materials, take a step back and let them lead their play. This provides the opportunity for you to focus on your tasks for the day while your children are engaged. Keep in mind that at first it may take some time for children who are not used to independent free play to stay focused but try to refrain from micromanaging the play, and instead continue suggesting open-ended challenges and let your children complete them independently.

Step Four – Discussing Play Reflections

The end of your children’s free playtime or the end of the day are great times to talk with your children about what they did during their independent free playtime. You can start by asking your children what they did or what they built during their free playtime. Do your best not to make assumptions about what any item your children created is supposed to be. Let them explain it to you. Wait until after your children have shown or told you what their creation is. This will be the perfect time to ask questions about it and engage them in some critical thinking and language practice.

To get your children looking forward to and planning for their next chance to engage in independent play (and your next chance to complete some tasks of your own), ask them about what they might build or create tomorrow and help them locate any additional loose parts they may need.