Back to School 2020

Back to School 2020

Fostering Academic Success in the Wake of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about big changes in the way children will “attend” school this coming fall. Whether your children are returning to the classroom, preparing for a semester of virtual learning, or a taking on a hybrid of the two, this school year will undoubtedly look a little different. As you help them adjust and prepare for a successful academic year, keep in mind these helpful tips from our pediatric and dietary experts.

1. Create a Dedicated Space for Learning

One of the most important ways to help kids stay focused is to ensure they have a dedicated space in your home for schoolwork.

“Just as we set up a home work space for ourselves to minimize distractions, children benefit from the same type of structure,” said Abby Smolcich, MD, a pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Darboy. “Setting up a ‘school space’ can signal to the child that it’s time to focus.”

Here are a few things to consider when setting up an at-home learning space:

  • Make the workspace stimulating by adding a wall map, inspirational poster, table of periodic elements or whiteboard for working out math problems.
  • Ensure the space has adequate lighting to prevent eye strain and headaches, and improve their ability to pay attention.
  • Choose furniture that supports good posture and allows feet to remain planted on the ground at 90 degrees.

2. Establish a Daily Routine

Sticking with a consistent schedule can help children know what to expect from their day.

“It’s important to keep things as normal as possible for our kids,” said Dr. Kevin Hayes, a pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton. “Having a schedule adds structure and stability to these strange, unstructured days, and offers you some windows to get your work done.”

Here are a few recommendations:

  • Have your children eat a good breakfast, brush their teeth and get dressed by a certain time each morning – whether you’re heading to school or not.
  • Encourage them to take regularly scheduled breaks and have a snack.
  • Find time for movement, incorporating stretching each hour and short walks when possible.

3. Manage Screen Time

It can be tough for parents to manage all the new responsibilities while keeping school-age kids on task, or while trying to care for young children as they’re also working from home. Allowing children and teens to entertain themselves in front of screens may be tempting, and it’s important to manage that time as well.

“Parents may need to allow for more screen time out of necessity, such as for online classes or communicating with friends,” Dr. Hayes said. “It’s still important to regulate time spent online, especially for younger children, when we can.”

Here are some tips for managing screen time:

  • Use extra screen time as an incentive for good behavior, and explain to your children exactly what is necessary to earn the extra time.
  • Let them know what they can and cannot be viewing – keeping them safe online is critical during this time.
  • Encourage a portion of your child’s allotted screen time to be used for connecting with friends and family.

Dr. Hayes also explained it is important for parents to model healthy screen use.

“If you ask your child to put down the screen, you should do the same,” he said. “Lead by example and they will likely follow.”

4. Incorporate Social Interaction

As we continue social distancing and virtual learning, it’s more important than ever for students to stay connected with friends. Staying in touch is vital to social and emotional well-being, no matter a child’s age.

“Social interaction plays a key role in the development of our children, and during the pandemic, providing that interaction requires some foresight and creativity,” said Dr. Smolcich. “As parents, we need to be sure our children are still connecting with others in a safe way.”

Here are some tips for encouraging healthy social connections:

  • Adopt a family media plan to allow for video chats with friends and relatives, while preventing kids from falling into unhealthy media-viewing patterns.
  • Enroll your child in online physical educations programs, such as yoga or dance.
  • Organize virtual parties to celebrate special occasions, or plan a masked, socially distanced, outdoor meetup with a small group of people.

5. Encourage Healthy Eating

Recent months have caused a lot of disruption to family schedules, making it easy stray from healthy eating habits. Providing healthy, balanced meals and snacks for children is particularly important when the rest of their daily schedule may have fallen apart.

“Regular meals provide a structure that can help children feel more secure in uncertain times,” said Ashley Krautkramer, ThedaCare Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. “Kids tend to do better when they have some predictability to their day.”

Here are a few tips for helping kids maintain healthy habits:

  • Make sure your child has breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.
  • Offer several types of food groups at each meal to help keep picky eaters on track.
  • Allow your children to have input in your meal planning and empower them to choose healthy options.

6. Find Ways to Stay Active

Working in regular play time or exercise is especially important if students are spending more time learning virtually. Find out what activities your child is interested in, and join them if possible.

“Kids, especially teens, are much more likely to engage in an activity if they feel they have been part of the decision-making process,” said Krautkramer.

Here are a few guidelines for keeping children active:

  • Make sure toddlers and school-age kids get at least 60 minutes of active play per day, and preschoolers at least 120 minutes.
  • Set an example for your children by engaging in your own regular exercise routine.
  • Share your child’s interests by playing their favorite sports with them or signing up to coach their team.

“We understand this is a different time for our children,” said Dr. Smolcich. “Let’s all do the best we can to support them for a successful school year – in the many forms of learning we may see – virtual, in-person or a combination. We’ll get through this together.”