This is our 20th Mental Health Monday post – oh, how time flies!

One of the most important concerns of this pandemic is what school will look like in the fall. Not only for children and adolescent students, but teachers, administrators, janitorial staff, and every employee involved in the education sector. 

With in-person classes ending more than 3 months early, adjusting to online learning, and a lack of or heavily modified childcare, this has absolutely been one of the biggest transitions to date since COVID-19 began. This change has not been easy, and it has not gotten easier with the reopening of schools. While the decision to physically attend or completing courses virtually is up to each individual parent/guardian, for some, they may not feel as though they have a choice in the matter depending on their situation.

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ call to make – whatever you have said yes to, be proud of doing what is best for you and your child under the given circumstances.

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Whatever emotions you are feeling, they are completely valid! We absolutely cannot know what will happen moving forward so there is a lot of uncertainty. Just like we have been doing the past six months, we will get through it one day at a time.

Though each family will have a unique experience come September, there are some coping tools to keep in mind that can apply to everyone, kids and parents alike:

ROUTINE

Whether your child is learning at home, at school, or a hybrid of both, keeping a consistent structured day is very important. Keeping a simple routine can make a difference by reducing our stress levels and helps us to form healthy habits. With all the uncertainty among us, structure can anchor and comfort us – it is both something we don’t have to put much thought into yet something we have control over.

Example:

  • Wake up and go to bed at similar times each day
  • Get dressed for the day
  • Take care of your personal hygiene
  • Make time for physical activity
  • Take breaks
  • Do something you enjoy
  • Have a clear start and end time for schooling
  • If you have incorporated any new routines during the pandemic (family game night, evening walks, baking) ask your child if there is something they would like to continue doing during the school year

Sources: WHO, Blurt It Out

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ALTERNATIVE LEARNING

In addition to formal education, two effective methods of learning are through play, and through skill-building! Some children may not be able to express their understanding of coronavirus via words and dialogue, but if they are given a creative space, this may help them to make sense of the current world. For instance, if provided with paper and crayons, you might see them draw themselves, friends, or family with masks on, and if they are playing with action figures or dolls you might see them practice physical distancing.

One way to make learning fun and interesting is to pick a theme each week to focus on. Whether it be animals, space, nature, or seaside, gather any books, activities, games, shows/movies, toys, etc. on that topic to practice learning about something new. Check out our Grow a Reader booklets for inspiration.

Learning hands-on skills translates to improved problem solving, finding new ways of thinking, building self-esteem, and developing emotional intelligence.

Example:

  • How to make a phone call
  • How to write a letter
  • How to sew on a button
  • How to wash dishes
  • How to find a book at a library
  • How to plant a seed
  • How to write a thank you note
  • How to select a thoughtful gift
  • How to change a lightbulb
  • How to change a flat tire
  • How to iron a shirt
  • How to set the table
  • How to admit a mistake and apologize
  • How to talk to an elder
  • How to do laundry
  • How to wait and save for something
  • How to ask for help
  • How to notice the needs of others

When entering the new school year, children already have the expectation that they will be entering a new grade, with a new teacher, and new classes. Expand on this by talking them through how they can best prepare for new changes and procedures. “When you line up at the door before school starts, you will have to stand 6 feet apart from the other kids…everyone will be wearing masks…you cannot hug your friends at recess like you did last year…” To help them understand what this will look like in reality, start to normalize the tools and behaviours they will have to apply in the school environment. This may include:

  • Wearing masks for periods of time each day (allow them to watch an episode of their favourite show if they wear a mask for the duration of it)
  • Use a measuring tape or mark the floor with tape to demonstrate how far 6 feet is (take a moment each day to ask them to stand 6 feet away from you to get comfortable with the distance)
  • Schedule a Zoom meeting with a family member or friend each week to get used to communicating in a virtual format
  • Spend 20 minutes a day typing or reading on a computer to prepare for online learning
  • Stay on top of handwashing (after using the washroom, before/during/after preparing and eating food, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, after touching garbage, before leaving the home and upon returning, etc.)

Be sure to invite questions and be honest, clear, and direct in your answers. Explain what we do know about the coronavirus and what we still do not know. Let them know the above practices are for safety purposes. Regularly check-in to see how they are making out with the changes (maybe they find their mask hurts to wear for long periods of time- see if you can acquire a different style that is more comfortably fitting- like attaching elastics to buttons instead of around the ears, try a new soap if the one you have is constantly drying out their hands, etc.).

Source: Harvard

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