Although the details are fuzzy at best, one thing is for certain — school days will look drastically different for returning students when they're finally allowed to return. But, how will kids who are supposed to start school for the first time in the fall be affected by new processes due to the pandemic?
"It may help to remember that for children who have not yet attended school, everything related to school is new," education psychology expert Dr. Annie Snyder, a Senior Learning Scientist with McGraw Hill tells Romper. "This means that for these children, everything is an adjustment, whether it conforms to how things were done pre-COVID-19 in that school setting — or not."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, urged caution during a U.S. Senate hearing on May 12 as many states look to have schools re-open in the fall, because a vaccine and reliable treatment for COVID-19 would likely not be widely available before the fall term starts. This, paired with the emergence of pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome as a rare side-effect of the virus in children, means a return to school in the fall will likely be wrought with complexity.
"Exactly how, when, and who starts school will vary widely," Snyder says. "In addition to delayed starts, districts are considering other options such as introducing extended and/or year-round school years, longer school days, repeated grades, summer learning program, teacher looping, staggered attendance, and extensions of the fully-remote learning model that was necessitated by state shutdowns."
At this point in time, everything is up in the air, but what is known is that changes will need to occur for all students, and first-time students are not immune to these shifts. Prepping for pre-school or kindergarten used to look like working with your little ones on keeping their hands, feet, and objects to themselves, and teaching them to use the restroom on their own. Now, it might look more like getting them used to wearing a mask, teaching proper hand-washing, and helping them gauge how far a distance of 6 feet is.
"By including the COVID safety processes as part of the larger set of school rules and processes, we also normalize the situation to a degree, showing children that 'this is how we do things at this school so we can all learn well together' rather than 'you will catch and spread a virus if you don’t do this,'" Snyder explains. "Of course, this requires all parties to have agreed-upon processes in place before school begins — otherwise we cannot effectively teach these processes to students."
Aside from teaching your child about the health and safety measures put in place due to COVID-19, experts agree that it is up to the adults in charge to ensure children are safe when they return to school.
"If we do this correctly, then the onus will not be on the children," Nermeen Dashoush, Early Childhood Education Professor at Boston University and Chief Curriculum Officer at MarcoPolo Learning tells Romper. "We have to establish rules and systems that are realistic for young children."
Dashoush explains what parents are already starting to understand looking forward — as much as you may try to prepare them, it is unrealistic to expect young children to maintain a 6-foot distance or wear a mask on their face for hours on end. Therefore, it is up to the adults to be "wiping down high-touch areas, routine hand-washing, reporting symptoms, etc." and ensuring that kids can still learn through interaction with one another. "Social-emotional learning needs to be prioritized," Dashoush says.
For parents who are uncertain about how their districts will handle a post-pandemic school year, keeping their children learning at home or even delaying their school career a year or more may be a viable option.
"We can definitely expect an increased number of students who will be homeschooled next year. Many parents will naturally protect the health and welfare of their children if they believe a possible threat is present," Dr. Stephen Cochrane, associate professor for the California School of Education at Alliant International University, tells Romper. "I believe we will see a surge of enrollment in online Charter Schools that cater to homeschool children. Moreover, many parents of entering kindergarteners whose children have not reached the age of 6 will likely defer enrolling their children."
Cochrane notes that parents who choose to delay enrollment should not see adverse developmental impacts, as many countries do not have students start formal education until age 7 and "and most of these countries have a higher literacy rate than those who start schooling earlier," he says.
While we don't yet know what school will look like post-coronavirus, preparing kids who will return to a traditional school environment for the "new normal" of typical school routines is still necessary. The silver lining in it all is that younger kids who were not in school pre-pandemic probably won't even know the difference.
"Children who’ve never been to school don’t know what it was like before," Dr. Donna Housman, a clinical psychologist with more than 30 years of experience in early childhood education tells Romper. "Even if schools were to conform to pre-pandemic norms, it would still signify a major change for kids just starting their education, so, in a way, a different start of the year is not germane."
Housman explains that parents can approach this school year for kids who have not attended before with a similar mindset as they would any other year. "Your child will have good days and bad, just as they had at home, but remember these emotions are natural and normal," she says. "Give your child time to adjust to the changes and know that, just maybe, your child will actually adjust quicker and more easily than you."
Dr. Annie Snyder, Senior Learning Scientist with McGraw Hill
Dr. Donna Housman, Ed.D, Founder of Boston's Housman Institute
Nermeen Dashoush, Early Childhood Education Professor at Boston University and Chief Curriculum Officer at MarcoPolo Learning
Dr. Stephen Cochrane, associate professor for the California School of Education at Alliant International University