The summer of 2020 is drawing to a close, and like so much this year, it feels, well, strange. The usual back-to-school routines of restocking school supplies, buying new outfits, and eagerly awaiting fall sports all seem like a distant memory.
But even as the Covid-19 pandemic is still forcing most students into remote learning, there is some continuity with the back-to-school routines of years past. It’s just that this year kids are going back to school from home. And there are some new ideas to consider regarding how to make the best of this situation.
For one, students still need school supplies. Just because everything is being done on a computer screen doesn’t mean that pencil and paper are now useless. It might be more important than ever to provide pens, pencils, notebook paper, graph paper, and composition books in order to reinforce the idea that writing helps with learning. And it’s still valuable to organize all your schoolwork into folders or a binder. Math students still need handheld calculators. Geometry students still need protractors and compasses. Textbooks are still a good idea. Even a backpack could still be critical if the student splits their time between multiple locations.
Here is a school-supplies checklist. Plus, in the world of remote learning, you might add to that list a document camera and a headset microphone. Even something as simple as a mouse for their laptop can dramatically improve the experience of being on a computer all day.
Crafting an effective home study space has always been important, but now it is critical. And I get that many parents are also working from home, so space is cramped. You might need to get creative. Maybe the answer is a rolling caddy loaded with school supplies that can be brought out to the kitchen table when it’s work time. Maybe the answer is building a loft for your child’s bed so they can fit a desk underneath. Furniture might need to be rearranged. Spaces might need to be reimagined. Everyone will probably want to practice the art of mise-en-place.
Last spring, we noticed an interesting phenomenon: People kept forgetting what day of the week it was. This was understandable because so many people’s schedules were thrown out of whack. And since we’re still not back to normal, the habit of mapping out your days and weeks is more important than ever. This might mean using a wall calendar, an electronic calendar, a paper planner, to-do lists, whiteboards (both personal and communal), or all of the above. Students now have to self-manage their schedules in order to make it to all of their remote classes on time. There are no bells, no mass of other people moving from room to room to indicate that it’s time to go.
Of course, there are opportunities for parents to model this type of schedule management. Most adults already rely on calendars, planners, and reminders of all sorts, so this is less a matter of adopting such practices as it is a matter of making your executive function tools more visible. Telling a middle schooler to use a planner or reminders might trigger the Chinese finger-trap response. On the other hand, just regularly demonstrating your own use of these tools can be a powerful way to influence behavior.
Speaking of schedule-management, with so many people working or learning from home, it has become increasingly necessary to be aware of each other’s schedules. Families now have to be mindful of where others in the house are, physically as well as digitally, so that they don’t interrupt each other during video calls or hog bandwidth by playing online games and streaming shows during remote classes. We’re all in this together. It’s worth taking the time, as a family, to get clear on what your priorities and values and goals are for this strange time, and then arranging home life accordingly.
Despite the fact that most kids are going back to school from home this year, it’s still necessary to get everything ready. It’s just that getting ready this year looks very different from years past. And while no one asked for this, and we’re all eager for things to return to normal, there is an opportunity in the crisis. If we do what we can to make the best of this situation, we can come out stronger on the other side.
Chris Loper has been an academic coach for Northwest Educational Services since 2014.
Chris also offers habit coaching, helping busy adults with habit formation and productivity.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons.
He lives in Issaquah, WA, where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.