As I’m writing this, I have an open tab on my computer with a google doc titled, “Back to School 2020.” It is blank with the exception of the title. My usual starter energy that I count on to get my family ready to reenter routines of homework and normal rhythms of life is missing. If you have kids, this starter energy is very close to the nesting energy you have when preparing to bring a baby home! It is a necessary force to pull from, lest you linger too long in the fog of lazy summer days, vacation memories, and pool-side dreaming. Maybe you can relate? Together, though, I know we can muster up the bursts of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm we need to kick off this very unusual school year.
First and foremost, a few things to remember.
- We may not know the future, but God does.
- God is in control amidst the seemingly endless unknowns.
- God is faithful to give us wisdom when we ask.
Holding onto these truths will help as we step into uncharted territory. While there are hints of what may be before us this fall (after going through the previous spring of schooling at home), we all know that this is for real now. Teachers will take attendance and give grades; homework will be expected, and those projects we sometimes dread will probably make a comeback.
For many of us, going back to school this year has put us in three categories: virtual school at home, in-person school with precautions, or a combination of both. Very few people are going back to a “normal” situation. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, nanny, or sitter, I’d like to offer some tips for all three scenarios:
- Virtual: Maybe you got the call from your school district that your school will indeed be virtual (at least for the time being). This, by the way, is the circumstance our family is wrestling with now—two working parents and three children schooling at home. As I write this, I’m transitioning my office from the dining room table to a little alcove upstairs so that I can have a closed door for meetings but also be near where two of my kids will be doing school. Proximity is key here, and I would encourage you to place yourself near the spot where your children will be conducting their schoolwork. This allows you to be more available for a quick drop-in to see if they are on task and be available for help with an assignment. If your kids are younger, this also allows for you to take quicker breaks to check in with them. Workspaces are important during a virtual school setting, but be encouraged that this does not mean it has to be a beautifully decorated “homeschool room.” Most of our homes are not geared towards that. If your child has a desk or table in their room—make that the spot. The value in defining a workspace is so that your children will identify that as where they go to learn. Keep it neat and organized and put your back-to-school energy into defining that space. A new lamp? Fresh school supplies in the drawers? Perhaps a new pencil sharpener to keep handy? The kitchen table can also work—especially if you have proximity to that space. The key here is to make it as easy as possible for kids to do school—and for you to do your work.
- In-person with precautions: Perhaps your school district is welcoming kids back for in-person learning. However, you’ve read the list of precautions and are ridden with worry and confusion. How can my second grader wear a mask everyday? No recess? Lunch inside the classroom? No lockers or changing rooms for older kids? The important thing to remember in this scenario is to keep your own worries in check. Kids look to us for how they should feel about a situation. If you and others are constantly talking about how awful it sounds in front of the kids, they will be either worried or possibly take on an attitude of apathy (“Mom says, ‘Who can learn in this environment?’”). OK, we’ve all had our rants, but let’s challenge one another to keep it positive so that our kids will champion the school year as a new adventure in learning! That said, be prepared to listen to your children about how they are feeling and check-in with them about their emotions. Pray together about being content in the unknown and being grateful for what God has provided for your family. Purchase some fun masks that are comfortable for your child to wear. Practice wearing them at home so they learn how to wear them without the temptation to fidget or play with them (causing potential risk).
- Combination of both: Even still, some of us are looking at a combination of virtual at-home and in-person with precautions. Two-days on, three days off, every other day, mornings, afternoons—I’ve heard all different approaches to this one. I think the biggest tip I can give here is to purchase a large wall calendar and hang up at least two months at a time. As soon as you know the combined schedule, start marking the days! Get your kids involved so they can start to visualize how the weeks will go. Be prepared to walk through the next day each evening so that your kids can be mentally ready for what each day holds. A special gift might be to get your child his or her own little planner to keep up with the days.
Regardless of the scenario your family finds itself in, there are some takeaways and reminders for such a time as this:
- Take one day at a time.
- Be ready to pivot (word of the year?).
- Stay positive by clinging to God’s promises in His Word.
- Hold all of these things with open hands, knowing that all of it could change.
- Don’t miss this chance to teach your children the ultimate lesson—the gospel of Jesus and what it truly means to have faith in Him.
I am cheering you on with a fresh calendar (still full of empty days) and my Sharpie® ready to go when the time is right! Wait . . . better make that Sharpie® a pencil!
Jana Magruder serves as the Director of LifeWay Kids. She is a Baylor graduate and offers a wealth of experience and passion for kids ministry, education, and publishing. She is the author of Kids Ministry that Nourishes and Life Verse Creative Journal, which she co-authored with her teenage daughter. She and her husband, Michael, along with their three children, reside in Nashville.