How parents can help their children transition from at-home learning to in-person schooling

Children across the nation will return to in-person schooling this fall. After the COVID-19 health crisis disrupted formal education systems, parents may be worried about their children’s academic progress and how they’ll perform in school. And for children who haven’t been in a classroom setting for over a year – or ever – the start of the school year might be a challenging transition. But with some preparation and thoughtful strategy, parents can help their children be confident, comfortable and ready to learn on the first day of school!

Here is some guidance for helping your child have a successful transition to in-person learning:

Get your child back on track

Many parents are hoping to get their children “up to speed” academically before the school year starts. Start by reading together for at least 20 minutes every day. A strong reading habit is crucial, as literacy skills are foundational to learning in all subjects. If you are considering academic programs or creating a learning structure at home this summer, a combination of formal instruction and activities that include play, social interaction and engaging learning experiences will greatly benefit a child’s learning skills. However you decide to help your child get back on track, keep the bigger picture in mind: the pandemic may have affected children’s academic progress, but it may have also had an impact on their mental and physical health, social skills and other areas of development. Children whose overall health and development are nurtured will be best prepared to succeed in school and in life.

Establish a Routine

Routines are essential for children, as the predictability of a daily structure helps children feel safe and secure. But after the pandemic turned daily life upside down, adjusting to the structure of in-person schooling could be a challenge for children. Parents can help them transition to routines at school by creating routines at home first. Start a routine with scheduled times for waking up, meals, naps, play and going to bed. Sticking to a regular routine at home will help your child feel more comfortable with starting a new routine at school. If you have an idea of what their school routine will be, you can even match naptimes, reading times, mealtimes and playtimes at home with those at school to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Communicate with Teachers

Knowing what to expect can help reduce your child’s stress about the approaching school year. Try getting in contact with their school and new teacher this summer. You can ask about the planned curriculum and safety measures that will be in place at the school, as well as discuss how the teacher can help your child feel comfortable in the classroom. Talking to your child about what to expect can help soothe their anxiety and build their trust in their new teacher. Once the school year has begun, keep an open line of communication with their teacher so that you can identify and address any concerns about your child together. Just remember that these new circumstances are challenging teachers, too – work with them as a team to support your child’s success.

Role-Play Return-to-School Scenarios

Children might be scared of the big changes that this school year will bring, like new safety protocols, meeting their new teacher, talking to new classmates or various other situations. You can help your child prepare for these scenarios by role-playing them beforehand. First, talk to them about how they can approach the different scenarios and offer options for coping strategies, like holding onto a favorite toy or taking deep breaths, or seeking help from teachers or friends. Then try acting out the scenario a few times until they feel confident handling it by themselves. Try to keep role-playing fun and light-hearted so that your child feels comfortable expressing themselves. You can dress up in silly clothes, use stuffed animals to act situations out or even speak in silly voices to keep your child engaged and reduce their stress about the situation.

Schedule More Playdates

Social distancing has led to a lot less socialization for many young children. Even if parents arranged virtual or one-on-one playdates to help their child’s socialization, a school full of other children could be a big adjustment. Before the school year starts, schedule plenty of playdates for your child so they can get more comfortable interacting with their peers. Once the school year is underway, consider arranging a family pod with families of your child’s classmates if you are comfortable doing so. Having a group of friends will help children feel more secure in class.

Have Open and Empathetic Conversations

Even with lots of preparation, transitioning back to in-person schooling can be a lot for a child to handle. Be sure to ask your child how school is going and if they are worried about anything. Since they are still developing language and communication skills, young children might display their anxiety through their behavior. Some shyness or defiance is normal in the first couple weeks of school, but new challenging behaviors that do not diminish could be a result of the transition to school. By having open discussions about what they are feeling, you can find solutions and reassure them that they are not alone. Validate what they are feeling by letting them know it is normal to feel nervous about starting something new. Encourage them to practice positive self-talk, self-care and reflection so that they feel empowered and confident that they can succeed in the new school year.

For more tips and free child development support, call the Birth to Five Helpline at 877-705-KIDS (5437) or download the Birth to Five Helpline app!

All content in this article, including any advice or commentary from Southwest Human Development staff and/or others, should be considered an opinion and is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for medical or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Always seek the direct advice of your own trusted professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the child/ren in your care.  Southwest Human Development does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be mentioned in this article.  You may contact Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline at 1-877-705-KIDS (5437) to speak with one of our early childhood professionals for personalized assistance.  Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.