According to a new survey from Savingforcollege.com, parents are experiencing more anxiety this year than ever before while sending their children back to school. Of the parents surveyed, 65% report feeling more anxious at the start of this school year than in previous years.
It’s no surprise that the causes for concern mostly stem from returning to school during the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. Parents said that their biggest challenges and worries this year include:
- Quality of virtual learning (66%)
- Keeping children and family safe when they go back to school (59%)
- Managing virtual learning while working from home (41%)
- Deciding whether to send kids back to school (39%)
Other challenges include the costs associated with children returning to school, the lack of childcare options and the additional costs associated with virtual learning.
We reached out to experts to provide solutions to these issues and how to deal with these concerns.
Quality of Virtual Learning
Follow and support your child’s curiosity, says Dr. Cyndi Burnett, a creativity and education specialist from Buffalo.
“Talk to your child about their interests and look online for opportunities where they might expand their knowledge and engage with equally passionate groups of children,” she says.
Dr. Burnett says when it comes to problem solving for this new learning environment, do it together. “We are faced with many complex and ambiguous problems right now. Have your children work with you to problem-solve, especially when it is impacting your family,” she says. “This will likely develop a parent’s ability to be open to novelty, because some of your children’s solutions may be considered impractical, but could contain a seed of a great idea.”
Dr. Barbara Oakley, an Oakland University professor and expert on learning techniques says that one of the study areas that is affected the most by the lockdown is math.
“Why? Because math is like music for the mind. And just like playing a musical instrument, children’s “math minds” need daily practice,” she says. “Some twenty minutes of practice each weekday will do an enormous amount to keep your child on track academically. And more than virtually any other discipline, being capable in math will open all career doors for your child.”
Dr. Oakley suggests being consistent and encouraging, picking a time and place each day that is “math time” and choosing a good curriculum that gives plenty of practice.
Setting daily goals, creating a dedicated study space, scheduling time to study, doing one thing at a time (limiting multitasking) and taking breaks are a handful of the suggestions that Coursera, an online learning platform, recommends for effective online learning.
Keeping Family Safe
Dr. Roshni Mathew, Associate Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford says the main ways to prevent acquisition and transmission of infection are hand washing, physical distancing, wearing a mask, and staying home if you’re sick.
“As a parent, it becomes important to make sure that if your child is not feeling well such as having a fever or new respiratory symptoms, that they stay home and not be sent to school,” he says.
He suggests that parents help their children learn to wash their hands frequently and particularly following restroom use, after outside play time and before eating, which will help them continue this behavior at school.
“Wearing a mask and physical distancing are more appropriate for older children but are very important strategies to help prevent getting infected. As the influenza season begins and COVID-19 transmission in the community continues, it becomes important that everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated receive their seasonal influenza vaccine.”
“Parents can engage with their school districts and legislators to assure that schools have been provided the resources that are needed to build a safe environment,” says Dr. Victor Carrion, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and an expert on pediatric anxiety. He points to the precautions set by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association.
Visit the CDC’s official website to learn more on how to protect yourself, symptoms of COVID-19, what to do if you’re sick, and much more. The organization also offers a Back to School Checklist to help you prepare and keep your family safe.
Managing Virtual Learning While Working from Home
It’s important to clarify and modify the goals for homeschooling, says Dr. Alan Kazdin, a Yale professor and expert in parenting.
“The goals might be not so much to impart content, but to instill a love (or at least strong liking) of learning and inquiry and to build competences. Basic skills (reading, writing) are important, but they will come as part of this and will be back on the table once school resumes in a more traditional way.”
Dr. Kazdin suggests having scheduled activities – activities for the child to complete independently, formal breaks and tasks to be completed together. “Consider a mix of activities, such as, studying, experiential learning, building competency in a specific field, and reviewing what has been learned,” he says.
Dr. Greg Fabiano, a Florida International University professor and expert in parenting, teaching and supporting children with ADHD and learning challenges, adds that children with learning challenges may need additional support.
“Children with learning challenges, such as ADHD, may require additional monitoring, positive behavior support, and accommodations to effectively participate in remote instruction,” he says. “This may require parents to plan ahead to ensure the child is prepared, in an environment where they can attend, and that there are enough breaks built into the day.”
Communicate with your employer and prioritize your schedule.
Costs of Returning to School and Virtual Learning
Millions of Americans lost their job or experienced a decrease in income due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Families spent an average of $696.70 on back to school shopping last year, according to National Retail Federation. This could be even more this year with extra costs of virtual learning.
“Many parents may be having to buy new computers or laptops for students whose devices don’t support Zoom or other e-learning programs or who mostly used campus computer labs. This can be a huge unexpected expense depending if you need other equipment as well,” says Zina Kumok, money coach at ConsciousCoins.com.
“Financial anxiety is always prevalent. Make a list of the expenses and try to find less expensive options when possible,” she suggests. “Your kid may not need a MacBook; a Chromebook will be a cheaper fit. Have your child ask their advisor about applying for more scholarships, especially department ones. Try to negotiate your financial award letter, especially if your job situation has changed.”
Anytime you’re shopping, ask if there is a student discount available. For more expensive items, shop around and compare prices. Ask if a store offer price match for a particular item, if you can find it cheaper elsewhere. Before you head out to shop, take note of what you already have at home to unnecessary spending. Use coupons, when available.
Another way to ease the burden of back-to-school spending is to shop through programs such as Upromise or CollegeBacker. Both of these programs are free to join and have a shopping portal that offers cash back that be directed to your 529 college savings plan. While it may not reduce the initial cost, at least you know a percentage of the purchase is going towards your child’s college savings. Here is an example of what they offer:
- Walmart: 1% of purchase
- Best Buy: 0.5% of purchase
- Office Depot: Up to 4% of purchase
- Audiobooks.com: $3 to start a free trial
- Forever 21: 3% of purchase
- Carter’s: 2% of purchase
- Eyeglasses.com: 6% of purchase
- ABCmouse.com: $2 for subscription
- Crayola: 3% of purchase
- eBooks.com: 6% of purchase
- Apple Store: 2% cash back
- Staples: Up to 4% cash back
- Acer: 3% cash back
- Xfinity Internet: 25% cash back
- Webroot: 6% cash back
- Vistaprint: 4% cash back
- UDEMY: 8% cash back
- Sam’s Club: 1% cash back
- PopSockets: 5% cash back
If you’ve experienced a job loss, there are other steps you can take, including:
- Apply for unemployment benefits.
- Continue your healthcare coverage with COBRA. (If COBRA is not available to you or you have exhausted your COBRA benefits
- Get your children covered under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). You can also apply for healthcare coverage through Medicaid or the health care exchange programs.),
- Apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
- Your children may be eligible for the Free and Reduced Price School Lunch program.
- Apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. If your children are under age five, consider also the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
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