When “Back to School” Isn’t Back to Normal

Parenting is never easy, but 2020 has been especially taxing. Over the past few months, we’ve learned to navigate closed classrooms, virtual learning, lockdowns, and medical precautions – and, not least of all, the herculean feat of keeping kids entertained at home.

But with Florida schools slated to open in the fall, parents face a new dilemma:  stick with virtual learning, or send kids back to class? With so many complicating factors – work, health, education, social development, emotional wellness and, yes, the household budget – there’s no “right answer” for everyone.

Unlike in the spring, when we adapted to home learning with a “sink or swim” mentality, time and experience are on our side this summer. As we prepare for back-to-school season – no matter what that will look like for each of us – here’s what to keep in mind.



  1. Learning at Home. There are twenty unread emails, the laundry needs sorting, the kids need help with school work, and Zoom just crashed: There’s no question that setting up a school environment at home is a challenge.It may help to designate part of the house for quiet study time, ideally in a room where everyone can work together. Pencil in time for breaks, too. Playing a round of frisbee, coloring pictures, or having an impromptu dance party aren’t just outlets for pent-up energy – they’re opportunities for physical and creative growth.

    Especially for younger kids, who are still learning the ins and outs of socialization, virtual classes can’t replace time spent with classmates. As a safer alternative, consider scheduling supervised, one-on-one playdates with trusted friends and neighbors.

  2. Returning to School. It can be a big decision – even a scary one – to send children back to school. For many families, it may be the first time since the spring that the kids will mingle with large groups of people. That’s why it’s important to teach good health and safety habits sooner rather than later.Even young kids can learn to say hello without touching: Ask them to wave, hug themselves, or tap feet with friends instead. Children learn best from practice, so make it a daily routine to wash hands and avoid touching the eyes or mouth.

If you have older children or teens, sit down with them and discuss what precautions they’ll need to follow. What steps will they take when they come home from school? What social or extracurricular activities may need to adapt?

In our rapidly changing environment, a COVID-19 outbreak at school or at home may cause temporary closures, so make sure to have a contingency plan in case schools revert to home learning.

It’s a uniquely challenging time to be a parent, so we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves or our kids. Be ready for off days, academic struggles, last-minute messes and worries. Take time for self-care and know that it’s okay to feel stressed. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help: Remember, we’re all in this together.

Amanda Reineck, MSW, RCSWI, is a behavioral health coordinator with Embrace Families, Orlando. She has worked with youth in and out of foster care for 14 years, beginning as a volunteer in 2005.

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