back to school

Returning to In-Person School

Over the last year, many students, parents and teachers struggled with the challenges of remote learning – including social isolation, academic difficulty and missing major milestones. Of all the students who missed out on a traditional school experience last year, experts are most concerned about one grade level: rising first graders. 

As millions of kindergartners attended their first, formative year of formal school in a virtual or hybrid environment, many parents chose to hold their child back or opted out altogether. In fact, an Associated Press survey found that kindergarten opt-outs have been the biggest driver of overall K-12 enrollment decline, accounting for 30% of total reductions.

As we look forward to beginning a new school year in a traditional, in-person environment, where does this leave our incoming kindergartners and first graders, as well as other children who may have struggled this past year? While some children may need a little extra support, it’s important to remember that young children are incredibly resilient, and most will catch up with a little guidance and understanding.

Why Kindergarten Matters

Kindergarten is one of the most formative years of school for young children, both in terms of social and emotional development and academics. Children learn important social emotional skills like how to share and take turns. They also learn how to practice empathy and self-control, and they are introduced to the concepts of teamwork. Likewise, kindergarten sets the foundation for critical reading and math skills. 

While many children missed traditional learning last year, they may have learned many of these critical social emotional skills at home within their family unit. As a parent, you are a child’s first teacher, so it’s important to model good behavior, such as listening when talking to others and waiting for one’s turn to speak. 

Additionally, you can make learning fun by carving out a dedicated time for learning and letting your child choose the activity, such as doing a science experiment, reading a new book or exploring the great outdoors. Children’s brains are like sponges at this age, and they will remember the positive skills you model!

How to Support Your Child

As you head into this new school year, help young children prepare early. Take a tour of the child’s school and follow a schedule that mirrors the school day, including going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Even walking by the school, practicing the bus or carpool route or visiting the school playground can help build your child’s confidence.

To reduce nerves about the transition, speak about school frequently and positively. Also, provide as much information about the routine as possible, such as any information about the classroom, teacher, friends you might know in their class and childcare arrangements. Knowledge is power, and having some information will help your child feel less anxious.

For kids who might be nervous about getting COVID-19, reassure them that you and their teachers are doing everything possible to keep them safe. Empower them with information about how they can stay healthy by washing hands, wearing a mask and covering their mouth if they cough or sneeze.

When to Ask for Help

Once school begins, remember that children will go through a two- to four-week transition period, which can include behavioral regressions such as temper tantrums, challenges separating, difficulty sleeping and bed-wetting. Remind children that it’s OK to feel afraid or uncertain, while reassuring them that you are there to listen and help. This is completely normal. However, if these issues persist beyond four weeks, reach out to your pediatrician or a school counselor. 

My final and perhaps most important advice is for my fellow parents: Just breathe. Remind yourself that you do not need to have all the answers, and that this past year has been challenging for all of us. You know your child best. Give yourself and your child grace as we make this transition. 

Remember that you are not alone. There are teachers, doctors, school counselors, faith leaders and mental health specialists who all want to help you and your child thrive. Trust your gut and reach out if you or your child needs support.


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