Helping Your Family Prepare for Return to School – During the Covid-19 Pandemic!

20 Aug

As September approaches, many of you may have questions and concerns about what the return to school will look like and how we can best prepare our children. While we may have some unanswered questions, there are many things we can do to improve their transition to this new way of learning. There is just under a month to go – so start now! The sooner we help them (and us) prepare, the better!


  • Children often turn to adults to determine how they should react to a certain situation. They are ALWAYS listening and what they hear can shape how they feel about returning to school
    • Be mindful of what you say in front of them and how you discuss the potential return to school
  • Be positive about school and emphasize the elements that your child will enjoy
  • Ensure to highlight kindness and respect of others at all times
  • Encourage them to ask questions and take part in these discussions
  • Go slow and don’t push  

Hand Washing

  • Review and practice proper hand washing techniques 
    • Consider doing it with washable paint so they can see the spots that are often missed
  • Ensure they understand the importance of regular hand washing
  • Reassure them that they may make mistakes and that is okay

Learning to be Comfortable in a Mask

  • It will be mandatory for students grades 4 and up to wear masks. Most younger students can wear masks as well and should be encouraged to do so. 
  • Size and comfort will be key factors in your child’s integration to wearing a mask
  • Make sure to try out different types of masks and see which are most comfortable for your children BEFORE they return to school
  • We have time! Start getting them used to masks now to make sure their first day is not overwhelming. Normalize mask wearing NOW
    • Take them out in public to see that others are wearing masks. Discuss people’s masks and what you like about the different styles 
      • Practice wearing masks with your children and show them that you are comfortable wearing them too
      • Help them be comfortable in their masks by slowly increasing their mask time over the next few weeks
        • Eg. start with 5 minutes then increase to 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, and so on
        • If they are having trouble, provide encouragement and small rewards for positive mask use
    • For little ones, you can encourage them to put masks on stuffed animals or other favourite toys
    • Draw pictures of animals/characters wearing masks
  • Get them excited about their own masks
    • Allow them to pick out masks they like – there are many different styles for kids of all ages
    • Decorate masks as a family (themes, self-expression, competitions can all increase engagement)
    • Provide lots of compliments and praise of their choices and styles
    • Ensure masking is seen as a valuable contribution to society
  • Review mask etiquette
    • No sharing
    • Send multiple masks in case one is dirty or lost – let them know where you will put their extra masks i.e. their backpack or cubby. 
    • Label your masks – children will lose them and you don’t want them going home with someone else’s mask! 
    • Discuss what to do with a mask that they are no longer using – ie leave in a paper bag 
    • Encourage them to compliment and give praise to others on their masks and unique styles

Physical Distancing

  • Discuss your family rules and comforts surrounding Covid-19 and physical distancing 
  • Reassure them that it is okay to ask someone politely to give them more space
  • Explain that their comforts may be different from someone’s else’s and that we must respect others’ wishes
  • Review appropriate and inappropriate physical distance (2 meters is the recommended distance)
  • Reassure them that being less physically close does not mean that they are prohibited from having fun or socializing – we just need to adjust the way we interact

Family Conversations

  • Ask questions and listen when they express concerns 
    • Validate their concerns and answer their questions as best as you can
    • If you don’t have an answer right away, that’s okay – research it together
  • Acknowledge that this is a unique situation and that you too are experiencing it for the first time. Discuss your own thoughts about how school will be different (in a positive way).
  • Teach them how to sneeze or cough into their elbow and start practicing at home
  • Try to engage them in conversations “What will going back to school look like?” 
    • Have them visualize the step by step of a first day back
    • Address the similarities and differences in the routines that they will face in school
    • Normalize the changes and reassure them that these are positive changes meant to keep everyone safe
    • Try waking up and starting your day in a similar fashion to a “normal school day” before the start of school
  • For anxious children, consider having them write a letter to their principal or teacher(s) about their concerns, what they are excited for, and what that they want to know before school starts (you can choose to send this or not)
  • Discuss some things they can look forward to i.e. seeing friends, teachers, exciting activities 
  • Help them get excited to return to school
    • Take them shopping with you for back to school supplies/clothes  – this will help them get used to being out around others in masks and will also get them excited for the new school year
    • Give lots of praise and show your own excitement about their return to school
    • Praise the educators and provide your children with confidence that their staff are caring, loving people who want to ensure what is best for them

Sick Days

  • Please do not send children to school if they are ill 
  • Rules around children going to school sick will be more strict this year – and they should be. Children with Covid-19 can present with mild symptoms and it will be difficult for you to know if this is covid or a regular cough/cold. 
  • Learn about your school board’s policy around student illness and requirements prior to return to school 
  • Contact your health care provider for guidance if you have any concerns

Mental Health For some additional resources in mental health and return to school, please click here for an article written by Kids Helpline

By: Dr. Dana Abenstein (Family Physician) and Darren Abenstein (Teacher)

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