Back to School During COVID: Tips for Families with Special Needs
Here in B.C., students will be heading back to the classroom in September after being out of school since mid-March due to the pandemic. Reopening our schools will, without a doubt, bring challenges both emotionally and physically as some parents hesitate to allow their kids into a classroom full-time. Once again, the new normal will not be easy for everyone.
The B.C. government has released its plan to get kids back in class. Many measures will be in place such as creating learning groups that stick together throughout the semester, staggered timetables and lunches, and enhanced cleaning protocols.
For parents of kids and youth with developmental disabilities, the changes in routines we’ve all faced in 2020 can bring a new set of challenges. After all, it’s been over five months since most children have even been in a classroom. With this pandemic, typical ‘tips’ for parents require elaboration.
Did your kids lose anything over the extended summer that they might have to relearn at the start of the school year?
Take some time over the next few weeks to go over any lessons you did with your kids when school stopped being in-class. Going over simple math equations, instituting a regimen of reading, and getting them to research a favourite topic online will help get them into a mindset of learning.
Masks are not mandatory for children in elementary school, but some may still choose to wear them. Masks can be more trouble than they are worth for children in primary grades because they feel uncomfortable, so they’ll fiddle with them and possibly make things worse. They also need the visual cues faces give them. If your children are older, you can get your child used to the idea of wearing a mask by starting now. Creating a custom mask with their own design is a great way to get them involved and feeling comfortable with the change. Make sure they understand it’s in place to protect themselves and others.
New mask rules for returning students and teachers:
Masks are required for all staff and all students in middle and secondary school when they are in high traffic areas like school buses and hallways, and anytime they are outside of their classroom or learning group and they cannot safely distance from others.
- Students will have the choice to wear a mask in the classroom
- Staff will have the choice to wear a mask when interacting within their learning group
- Everyone must treat each other and those wearing masks with respect
- Even when wearing a mask, staff and students will still be required to maintain physical distance from people outside of their learning group.
- Exceptions will be made for students and staff who cannot wear masks for medical reasons
- Elementary school students are not required to wear masks.
See the school
One of the key things a parent can do is try to familiarize their child with the school. In better times, that meant connecting with the school and getting permission to show your child around before the school year gets underway. This may not be possible with new COVID rules in place. What parents can do is collect as many pictures of the school as possible. Connect with administration to see if they can send pictures of the sort of classroom your child will be learning in. Hopefully, this can mitigate some stress over being somewhere new at the start of the year.
Meet the teacher
Most schools are very good at allowing students with developmental disabilities access to their teachers before the school year lets back in. The advent of Zoom means parents should be able to connect online face-to-face for a happy introduction to their teachers or teaching assistants.
Create a morning routine
Summertime means kids let loose and avoid things like regular alarm clocks. Getting kids of any ability used to the idea of getting up relatively early and back into a school routine will help them in their transition. Let’s not forget a good bedtime routine as well. Creating a notebook and calendar your child can see and touch helps instill that sense of control as the change approaches. Starting a new routine early can offset any last minute stress as September draws near.
Get them involved
Shopping for school supplies with your child can help them feel empowered and in control. This can aid in comfort levels when they transition from home to school as they have their supply selections with them. Get them to help you label all of their belongings and remind them not to share. Maybe a new, special lunch bag is in the works!
Talk about it with your child…a lot
Maintaining a positive and happy attitude in your home helps create an atmosphere of acceptance for your child. Talk about all the things they’re going to do and the people they will meet. Go over all the aspects of how they’re going to get to and from school.
Chat with friends
If your child has friends in their bubble then they have already been talking to them about school. If getting together isn’t easy, set up online Zoom or Facetime meetings so they can all get talking about the new school year.
Go here for more information on the provincial government’s plan to get kids back into classrooms.
Good luck! Be kind, be calm, and stay safe!