School’s Out: What Next?
For the past 18 months, parents have waded through the uncertainties of the pandemic. They’ve navigated changing health mandates and school guidelines, pivoted from the classroom to remote learning, and come up with countless creative ways to keep their children social and safe. Now parents are mulling over their next challenge: how to best engage and support their children in the months before the school year starts up again. Is it time to catch up on academic work that might have fallen through the cracks? Should summer be filled with a steady stream of activities or camp? What’s the right balance?
We spoke with three alumnae parents who shared their approach to summer — and the important lessons they’ve gained over the past year.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned from the past 18 months, it’s to not make plans but instead set goals, and that’s exactly what we’re doing this summer. Our goal is to make sure the kids get fresh air and physical activity daily, either with a walk around the neighborhood or trip to a local playground; water and bubble play a few times a week, such as visiting a local sprinkler or having them chase bubbles released by our little bubble machine; and just slow down to connect daily, checking in during meal times and while reading together. We really lost the ability to control much of our lives throughout the past 18 months, and by setting goals rather than specific plans, I hope to give the kids a little sense of control while continuing to learn to be flexible and adaptable.”
—Gloribelle J. Perez ’05
(parent of 5-year-old twins)
A Step Back From Planning
“Pre-pandemic, my kids were really scheduled. Now my daughter is 12 and is a little older and has the ability to be more independent. I think last summer my kids tasted more freedom and independence than usual, and they really liked that. They are now less interested in being in camp all day. I feel like the pandemic forced us to really reevaluate how we spend our time. It is okay to have nothing to do and be at peace with that.”
—Melissa Gallin ’96
(daughter, 12, and son, 8)
Setting Your Own Priorities
“As our communities transition to in-person and face-to-face interactions, I am starting to see how social distancing limited my own children’s ability to interact with others. My partner and I have signed up for memberships with the Houston Zoo and museums to get them out of the house to safe environments. I am signing up myself and my stepdaughter with personal and family counseling services to better communicate and process our emotions. We’ll also take more opportunities to go on vacation and travel to locations that are safe for my 2-year-old to explore the world and develop her social skills.”
—Isamar Lopez-Veracruz ’14
(daughters, 7 and 2)
We asked Tovah Klein, Director of the Barnard Center for Toddler Development, for her tips on how to help children enjoy summer and feel comfortable, supported, and ready for fall.
How should parents approach this last stretch of summer?
There may be an impulse to pour on social activities to “make up for lost time,” but I would advise parents to resist doing that. A slow and gentle reentry will work best for most children —and adults! — particularly for younger children through elementary school. Children have not been in larger groups for a long time, so being in one will take time to adjust to, as will the social dynamics of being with more than a few children at a time. Plan a few activities around a child’s interests, introduce them one at a time, and give your child time to adjust. If they are at camp, that is enough, and don’t be surprised if they have meltdowns at home as they adjust to being out in a group at camp. If they are new to seeing friends again, monitor how much time they want to be with friends and how much they can handle. Small steps will allow children to adjust and feel comfortable socially, and then you can open [social time] more.
After a year of remote or hybrid learning and before this new chapter in the fall, what are some of the experiences and moments should families prioritize, and why?
Having family time — even in small doses — should be a priority. Children have missed the social realm, and family members have been their consistent companions. Don’t quickly sever that. I suggest planning some fun summer family outings, which can be as simple as a picnic in a local park or visiting someplace new together. Depending on your comfort level of being in crowds, it could be going to an amusement park together or water park. Pick a few fun summer activities to do as a family and spread them out, maybe even bring along a close friend of your child. This family time, out in the world, is a positive next step before returning to the regularity of in-person school.
Are there any steps you suggest parents take to help their children process this past year before they’re back in school and change routines?
Parents can reflect on the year with their children. Talk about what the child has experienced during the pandemic — from the shutdown and parents working at home to online school, [social] pods, and their experiences. Recognize that there has been a lot of change, and now life is changing again as more places open up. Ask your child what good memories they have of the year and what they missed. Children count on parents to weave a narrative and pull the pieces together. This has been a huge life event, and having a narrative about it will help them feel safer as they reenter the world more fully again.