It’s Back to School Time! Summer is ending, and it’s time to get ready for the 2020-2021 school year. I’m sharing some of the best tips I’ve learned as my husband and I prepare for our son to start online kindergarten. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are entering a whole new world of online classes as opposed to in-person learning.
One of the best things we’ve done to help us navigate the process of starting kindergarten is to establish relationships early with other parents, administrators, and our son’s teacher.
We selected our son’s kindergarten by taking a series of school tours before the pandemic began. This was a great way to experience each school first hand, but it was also an opportunity to meet other parents. On one tour we bonded with a PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) Mom from the school we eventually chose for our son. She gave us a lot of insight on the school, and she was kind enough to offer her contact information. As we headed into July, I reconnected with her. Her daughter is a rising first grader, so she was able to share many stories of how the school managed online kindergarten when the stay-at-home order started back in March. She also shared resources like how to join the PTO and parent groups on social media.
Our school contacted parents over the summer to reconfirm our intentions for the upcoming school year. For many schools, this will be handled by a member of the administrative team, such as an enrollment director, office manager, or principal’s assistant. Take the time to introduce yourself and learn the administrator’s name and contact information. It’s helpful to have a point of contact as details like school start dates, safety procedures, and other developments evolve.
Our son’s teacher was proactive about contacting each family. She planned an online Teacher Meet & Greet/Orientation via Zoom so that parents and classmates would have an opportunity to get to know everyone face- to-face. When she sent the invitation, she asked parents to send questions in advance so that she could cover any areas of concern. If your child’s teacher doesn’t have a virtual event planned, take the opportunity to contact him or her and find out if it’s something they would consider. It’s helpful for young children to be familiar with their teacher and classmates to help hold their attention.
CREATING A CLASSROOM FOR ONLINE LEARNING
Creating your child’s learning environment will set the foundation of your online school experience. If you have a dedicated room for schoolwork that’s ideal. If not, select a quiet area of the house free of noise and other distractions.
Classroom Set Up & Décor
· Choose a comfortable work table or desk and chairs for you and your child. Very young children need an adult to sit with them to hold their attention and keep them focused on class.
· Set up your child’s laptop, tablet or Chromebook. Keep any necessary chargers or extension cords where you can find them easily. Test your wireless network to make sure everything is running smoothly. You may also need a printer and/or scanner for your child's assignments.
· Set up a small bookshelf or set aside cabinet or drawer space specifically for books and schools supplies.
· Choose grade level and age appropriate décor for your space. For example, our kindergarten space has the alphabet, numbers, shapes, and colors posted on the walls. You may choose to decorate with the planets, a map or globe, pictures of historical figures, your child’s artwork, or anything that creates a classroom atmosphere. Classroom décor tends to be inexpensive and can be found at teacher supply stores, convenience stores, or online.
Lighting & Sound
· Lighting and sound are essential so that the teacher can see and hear your child clearly. If your space has a window, set up the table and chair so that your child is facing toward the window. The natural light will make it easier for the teacher to see your child.
· Do not place your child directly in front of a window with his or her back to the window. This creates an effect called backlighting which makes it difficult to see your child’s face.
· If your space needs additional light, use a desk lamp placed near your child’s laptop and adjust the placement until your child can be seen clearly on the screen. You may choose to invest in a ring light to provide optimal light for school and virtual meetings.
· An easy way to test the lighting before class starts is to have a look on your cellphone camera in selfie mode.
· If you and/or your child will wear headphones or earbuds, test them before school starts.
· Make sure the microphone on your device is working well.
School Supplies & Uniforms
· The school should send you a school supply list well in advance of the start of school.
· Review the school supply list carefully, and ask the teacher if any additional supplies will be needed that would normally be provided on campus. For example, I noticed that dry erase markers were on my school supply list. A dry erase board would ordinarily be provided in the the classroom, so I double checked with the teacher to see if I needed to buy one for online classes.
· If your school requires uniforms for in-person learning, find out if uniform shirts are still required for online school, or if there is a dress code.
DEVELOPING HABITS & SKILLS
As any parent knows, the most challenging part of online learning for small children is keeping their attention and focus for extended periods of time. Ask for your child’s class schedule if it hasn’t already been provided a few weeks prior to the start of school. Your child will likely have half hour classes with breaks. A few weeks before school starts, do activities that require your child to sit in place at a table for 30 minutes at a time- the length of an online kindergarten class. Some days we paint at the table, or I’ll read multiple story books or we’ll work on alphabet flash cards. Some days I may ask him to wait longer before being excused from the dinner table. If we attend a virtual birthday party or baby shower, I try to keep him involved for as long as I can. I also assembled a group of friends for a weekly 30-minute virtual play date over the summer.
Help your child feel invested and excited about the new year by helping with the preparations. Let him sit on your lap while you order school supplies online. If you’re decorating the classroom space, let your child help. Familiarize your child with any new equipment. Let him try on his headphones and practice with his Chromebook. If he needs to wear a uniform shirt let him try it on a few times.
Practicing skills before school starts will help your child feel confident. In preparation for kindergarten, we spend a little time each day working on the alphabet, sight words, numbers, shapes, and colors. Workbooks are great for practicing writing and coloring. We also like to use flash cards to make learning feel like a fun game. Flash cards also encourage your child to speak clearly, a skill that will help the teacher be able to hear your child when it's time to answer questions during online class. You may also want to ask your child’s teacher if there are any specific skills they recommend before the start of school. For example, when I told our son’s teacher what we had been working on, she also recommended that he practice writing his name.
As I prepare for online kindergarten, I’m learning that as a parent I have a lot of practicing and study to do for myself, and not just for my son. I’m fortunate that our school provides a lot of resources including online tutorials to help parents know what to expect. If you don’t receive information on what online tools your school plans to use for the upcoming school year, be sure to reach out and ask. Whether it’s Zoom, Google Classroom, or other systems, it takes time to sit down and study everything you’ll need to know. You may also find that as you use certain systems, there are additional items you may need. For example, when I reviewed the online tutorial for my son's school, I realized that in addition to his Chromebook, I'll need to use a printer and it's also helpful to have a scanner. I highly recommend setting aside some time to familiarize yourself with any systems you'll need to use a week or so before the start of the school year.
If you have a tutor, caregiver, friend, or someone else to supervise your child’s learning, you’ll still need to know how to check your child’s progress and make sure assignments are being submitted on time. You may also want to consider authorizing your child’s caregiver to be copied on any correspondence such as class emails, calendars or newsletters to ensure clear communication.
TAKE A BREATH
Always remember that these are uncharted waters for everyone involved, and be patient with your child and with yourself. Teachers understand that young children are experiencing a new way of learning, and things may not be perfect at first. Be appreciative of the teachers and staff for all they are doing to educate our kids. Have a great school year!