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Social delays, new routines likely to create challenges as students head back to class
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Social delays, new routines likely to create challenges as students head back to class

For families coming off remote or hybrid learning, the thought of heading back into what some districts say will be a “normal school year” can feel exciting and terrifying.

With that mixed bag of emotions comes a set of challenges families may face as they embark upon another school year, experts say.

While some of these challenges center on academics, others are socialization concerns and overcoming anxiety.

But experts say parents can play an important role in preparing their children for the challenges ahead.

“Often, summer is a treasured time because the rigor of the daily school schedule can be set aside,” said Bonnie Stephens, principal at Heavilin Elementary School in Valparaiso. “For those who have been in remote learning for over a year, the schedule will be an even bigger adjustment. The transition back to school may be a challenge for that reason, but with a little prior planning, it can go much more smoothly.”

What lies ahead

One of the biggest challenges students will face is being academically behind, says Chandra Lyles, manager of Psychiatric Social Services, Behavioral Health Services in the Community Healthcare System.

“For many children and parents, being remote was a difficult system to navigate to say the least,” she said.

Many children struggled with learning to use the technology needed for remote learning and adapting to new learning styles, while parents struggled with having the time to support their children through this difficult period, she said.

“All of these factors put children at a disadvantage,” Lyles said. “Heading back to the classroom, children must adapt to new ways of learning, socializing and processing information.”

Some children also have suffered from lack of socialization, she says.

“Kindergarten students have missed a very important stage of development where they learn how to be a student and the norms of learning and school,” Lyles said. “For those students, that has been lost.”

Those with special educational needs such as learning disabilities, behavioral disorders and attention deficit disorders may have a difficult time adjusting as well, because some of the services they received in-person weren’t available remotely, she said.

“For the past year, children’s socialization was lost, and the rules that were set in the classroom to help them stay focused, learn time management and rationally problem solve were taken away,” Lyles said. “I am sure sleep schedules were not as strict because students did not have to get up early to catch a bus or be taken to school.”

There’s also the concern that some children may experience anxiety related to returning to school.

“Some children actually have a fear of catching COVID or being around other people, for fear of getting sick,” Lyles said. “Some children will be anxious just because they are coming back to a new learning environment with demands not needed before to improve safety.”

How parents can help

Parents are the first line of defense, Lyles says.

“Parents should keep the lines of communication open and question their children how things are going and if there is anything they need to talk about,” she said.

If a child seems more quiet, withdrawn or isolated, Lyles suggests talking to them, reassuring the child that the parent is there and putting the child’s mind at ease.

While some schools may mandate masks this fall, others may make them optional. In either case, Lyles says parents should actively talk to their children about the importance of following the rules and mandates set by the school to keep them safe.

“Wearing masks, if mandated, social distancing, having good boundaries and not touching and putting their hands on others,” she said.

While one child may handle anxiety one way, another may process it a different way, Stephens says.

“Some will be energized and happy when they return home in the afternoons, but others may be very tired or even a little cross,” she said.

It can help parents to keep in mind that their children are going through a transition, and extra patience may be needed, Stephens says.

“Students may need to hear from their parents that going back to school is a challenge, but that they are confident that in a few days or weeks, everything will feel normal again,” she said.

Experts say parents who support teachers as needed can help make the transition more comfortable for everyone, as can getting back on a regular, healthy sleep schedule before the school year begins.

“Begin the bedtime routines a little earlier,” Stephens said. “Set an alarm to get up in the mornings, eat, get dressed and ready to be out and about by the time the school day starts.”

Stephens also suggests  families set a lunch time with an endpoint and to encourage students to complete their meal in a timely fashion.

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