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Preparing for the New School Year — Whether Your Kids Are Going In-Person or Virtually

Preparing for the New School Year — Whether Your Kids Are Going In-Person or Virtually

This school year is unprecedented in any of our lifetimes. This year, we have to make the very difficult decision about how to educate our children during a worldwide pandemic. Many of us are deciding not just between traditional homeschooling or sending our kids to a local school in person, but also considering some of the new offerings, including virtual schooling facilitated by local school districts.

What you choose is a personal decision for your family based on a lot of factors only you can weigh. No matter which option you choose, I’ve put together some tips on things you can do to prepare for the new school year, whether that’s in-person, online, or a combination of both.

Please note: I’m not going into a lot of detail about traditional homeschooling in this post, because I don’t have experience homeschooling. My children have always gone to public school, both in-person and virtual learning, utilizing our public schools’ online system.

Create space

Whether your kids are going to school in person or virtually, you’ll need a place for them to study. The space could be a desk in their bedroom, a desk in a common area of the house, or even the dining table. You just need a sturdy table and a comfortable chair somewhere quiet, with plenty of space and away from distractions that could catch a wandering child’s eye while he’s supposed to be concentrating on his studies. Wherever that is, make sure the area is comfortable and well lit. 

If your child is using a computer or an electronic device for her work, be sure there’s an electrical outlet nearby, or, if needed, run an extension cord to the area so your child can keep her device charged while working.

Even if your children are going to in-person school, you’ll want to prepare for the possibility of in-person schooling going virtual in case of an outbreak or quarantine. Plan ahead for a comfortable, quiet place to study.

Create guidelines and rules

Next, you’ll want to create a set of rules that apply during study time. If you’re doing virtual schooling from home or homeschooling, this may include guidelines about not having the television on or not listening to music while it’s schooltime. Maybe you’ll have a rule against video games until all schoolwork is done. You might need a rule about texting or messaging with friends while they’re supposed to be working on their schoolwork.

What kind of guidelines will help your child stay focused while he’s working?

Even if your children go to school in person, you’ll still need to have rules in place for when they get home so they can effectively deal with their homework. Perhaps you’ll want a rule that says no video games or television until after all homework is completed. 

Whatever your rules are, write them out and make sure that everybody agrees and is aware of the rules.

Gather your supplies

Most likely, your child will need a computer, a Chromebook, or some other electronic device to access school work. The device may be provided by the school or it may be your own personal device. 

If your child’s going to school in person, you probably have a list of school supplies that are required or requested. You’ll also want a few supplies at home for any homework and to prepare for the possibility of in-person schooling going virtual in case of an outbreak or quarantine. I like to keep a stash of extra looseleaf paper, a few composition notebooks or spiral notebooks, and several plastic folders to get us through the year, as well as a small box of pens, pencils, erasers, glue sticks, color pencils, that kind of thing.

If you’re doing virtual school or homeschool, you may need less stuff, but you’ll still want to keep on hand notebook paper, pens, and pencils, and possibly some folders or spiral bound or composition notebooks. Decide in advance how you want to organize schoolwork and then make your supply list from there.

If your child uses a computer or device for school, you’ll also want to make sure that you have printer paper or access to a printer if assignments will need to be printed out.

If you have younger children, a box of crayons, washable markers, glue, or colored paper may be needed as well.

Older children may need a specialty scientific calculator for higher level math courses.

Create a daily routine

Whether your child is going to school in person or virtually, putting daily routines in place will make your day go much smoother. Include a morning routine, a school routine, an after-school routine, and an evening routine. Here are a few sample routines and ideas to include. You’ll want to customize these to fit your child’s age and schedule.

Morning routine:

  • Decide what time your child needs to wake up.
  • What they need to do to get ready for the day (get dressed, brush teeth, comb hair, etc.
  • Eat breakfast.
  • Pack a lunch if needed.
  • Make sure they have any items needed for school for the day, including lunch or a water bottle if needed plus face mask, and maybe some hand sanitizer.

School routine for virtual schooling: 

  • Check the daily schedule for any online class calls or meetings. A daily checklist of class subjects can be handy to keep kids on track throughout the day and ensure nothing gets missed.
  • Gather supplies for online meetings. Make sure your child has his electronic device ready, if using one, and that he has the appropriate link and password to get into the meeting, as well as paper and pen to take notes.
  • Class by class, go through assignments to complete anything that’s due, and get them turned in according to your virtual school’s procedures.
  • Spend some extra time studying any material that’s proving challenging or that will be on a test.

After-school routine: 

  • After-school snack.
  • Do any homework that’s needed before free time.

Evening routine:

  • Bath or shower.
  • Check the schedule and gather any items needed for school or activities the next day, including any signed forms needing to be returned, and making sure homework is packed to go.
  • Pack a lunch in advance, if needed.
  • Gather all school items in one space so they’re easy to find in the morning.
  • Read before bed.

If your children go to virtual school, you’ll take a cue from their virtual school teachers. Keep a list of when your child has online class meetings, such as via Zoom or Google Hangouts. A large wall calendar could be helpful so you and your child can see at a glance when they need to be online for a school session.

You’ll also want some system for keeping track of homework, whether your child is in school in person or virtually. This can be a digital to-do list with the assignments and due dates marked down, or a paper planner or notebook where your child can list out school assignments and when they’re due as well as any steps that need to happen to get them finished, particularly for larger projects. 

Or if you’re doing homeschooling or virtual schooling and you’re using a big calendar to keep track of your online sessions, you can also use the same calendar to write down when assignments are due.

Plan breakfast and lunch

Whether your children are going to school in person or virtually, they’re going to need to have breakfast and lunch plans set up. Pre-planning what you’re going to have for breakfast every day simplifies your morning routine, so I suggest picking out two or three of your child’s favorite breakfasts that are easy to put together and write them on a meal plan. Maybe your child likes to have muffins or oatmeal or dry cereal or breakfast sandwiches — think easy stuff — and list out any necessary supplies on your grocery list. 

The same goes for lunches. If your child goes to school in person, you can usually look at the school menu ahead of time to determine whether you would like to buy lunch, in which case you need to make sure your child has adequate lunch money, or if they would like to take a lunch.

My children go to school in person, and this year, the lunch system is a different procedure than in years’ past, with box lunches being handed out instead of the normal lunch line, cafeteria-style selections. 

My younger son is only being offered one choice per day and he’s a very picky eater. Our plan is to go through the menus in advance to determine what days he would like to buy lunch. We made a list of acceptable lunch items that he could take from home that he actually enjoys so that on the days that he would like to take a lunch, he can choose from the list of things that he would like to pack accordingly. He’s a sixth-grader, so I don’t pack his lunch for him — he packs it himself using the list we made together.

My older son is a high schooler this year, and while they have multiple options available to them, he also has preferences of things that he would rather eat. His decision this year was to get a larger thermos-style container, almost like a bento box, so he can precook chicken and rice or chili to take to school.

Give yourself (and your kids) grace and be flexible

No matter which style of education you choose for your children this year, go confidently into your decision with a great attitude and a supportive mentality to give your child the best possible year.

Be prepared to be flexible, and prepare yourself mentally for things to change on a daily basis. Even if you choose in-person schooling, there’s going to be a chance that an outbreak or quarantine will cause a school closure or shift to virtual schooling. Put together a contingency plan in case this happens so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

Your children will need your support and your patience as they navigate a school world they’ve never experienced. Try to incorporate time in their schedule for fun stuff, relaxation, and socializing with peers, even if that socializing is via FaceTime or texting. And take time to listen to their fears and expectations for the new school year. This is new territory, and kids may not have the language to express what they’re feeling. Keeping expectations clear and surrounding your kids with grace and patience will help them navigate this strange new world of education.

Preparing for the New School Year — Whether Your Kids Are Going In-Person or Virtually

A Lazy Girl’s Simple Guide to Exercise

A Lazy Girl’s Simple Guide to ExerciseThis is a guest post by Dr. Tracy Papa.

We all know we should be exercising, right? We all know that exercise improves high blood pressure and diabetes, boosts energy, and lifts our mood. So if we all know this, why is it that most of us do not have a regular exercise habit? As a physician, here are some of the reasons I hear most often from my patients:

  • I don’t have time to exercise.
  • I’m too tired.
  • I can’t afford gear.

On a personal level, here is what I find frustrating about exercise — I read articles all the time that tell me that this new exercise is better than whatever I’m currently doing. For instance, I was on board with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) when I read about Tabata training. According to the cool kids, Tabata was soooo much more effective than just HIIT. And I was having fun with Zumba when I heard about hip-hop and barre and Bollywood dancing classes. And what about TRX training, suspending yourself with straps? Kettlebells? Aero bars? Shake-weights, anyone?

Enough already! Quit trying to keep up with the sexiest new exercise trends, and just land on a routine that you can live with. One that’s simple so that you have no excuse not to do it every day (although I still don’t manage to do it every day). Here are the answers to the most frequent questions about exercise, my fellow time-crunched friend.

What kind of exercise should I be doing?

It doesn’t matter. If there is a form of exercise that you enjoy (or that you maybe just don’t loathe), do that. The more important priority is to be doing something nearly every day. It doesn’t always have to be the same something. You can ride a stationary bike while watching “Fixer Upper” or a TED talk. Take a brisk walk with the kids or the dog. Walk on a treadmill and listen to a podcast. Stressed out today? Go to a yoga class and zone out while you stretch, strengthen, and breathe. Most studios sell multi-class passes, so you can drop in when you want to.

How much time should I spend?

It doesn’t matter. The truth is, any exercise is better than none. Some people are more comfortable with a slower, steady pace for 40-60 minutes. If you are impatient like me, high-intensity intervals make sense — I work hard, but I don’t have to do it for as long. There are tons of HIIT workouts on Pinterest, and they combine cardio with strength training. Scroll through and choose some to try. Personally, I skip past any workouts that involve a lot of Burpees. Don’t know what a Russian twist is? Google it. You may alternate HIIT workout days with easier workouts. But whatever you do, pour it out every time. Go home tired.

Should I exercise in a group? By myself? At a gym? On a team?

It doesn’t matter. You know what kind of person you are. If you like the camaraderie (and the accountability) of a team, look for a running group or a basketball/soccer/softball league in your area. Or try what I did: I signed up for a cycling event with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. I joined a cycling team and trained for a 100-mile bike ride. And completed it, I’m proud to say. I loved having an event to train for, a team to show up for, and a goal to achieve that helped both me and a great cause. If you’re not much for teams but like the idea of a goal to stretch for, there are plenty of ways to train for individual events. Do some 5K walks in your area and try to beat your personal best time with each race. The question of where to work out is also an individual decision. I like the gym because there is nothing to do there except exercise. When I’m at home, I tend to get distracted by laundry, clutter, and family needs. If the expense or the inconvenience of a trip to the gym is not your thing, exercise at home or in a local park.

That’s about as simple as it gets. You’re overthinking this. You don’t need special clothes or equipment. If all you have is a few minutes, dance it out your favorite song. Do more if you have more time or energy on any given day. The secret is getting some activity in every day. Even a little bit, in the way that best suits your abilities, budget, and interests. And see how much those little sessions add up to big changes!

Tracy PapaTracy Papa is a board-certified Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist (perinatologist) in Fort Worth, Texas. She blogs about pregnancy issues of all kinds on her website, DrTracyPapa.com.