Little children thrive when their circumstances are safe, stable and predictable. They like lots of time to get used to changes that are coming up—but right now, in the midst of a pandemic, that’s impossible. Nobody knows what we’ll be facing this fall when school starts. Nonetheless, it’s time to think about what to tell your child about school this fall, so they’ll be as prepared as possible.
Here’s how to talk to young children about what to expect at kindergarten this year.
I asked two 5-year-old friends of mine what parents should tell their children about kindergarten. These two—a boy and a girl—were unhappy when their junior kindergarten classes stopped suddenly in March this year, and they’re looking forward to getting back to school in September. They know all about the coronavirus but haven’t yet realized that school might not reopen in the fall, or what it might look like if it does. So their ideas were all about school as usual, and that’s probably the best place to start with your child.
1. Start by letting them tell you their concerns.
Kids, like adults, do worry about the unknown. Honor the predictable worries your child might be having. Make space for your child to express their concerns. Reassure them that you’ll be available to help if they need you.
2. Encourage their curiosity.
When I asked my panel of 5-year-olds what they thought it was most important for new kindergarteners to know, they stressed, “It’s fun!” The kids started rattling off all the wonderful, amazing things they did at school every day: games, activities, playtime, a building center, crafts, stories. Tell your child about the rich environment they’ll be spending time in, a place with a variety of activities and possibilities, and teachers who want them to thrive.
3. Introduce a love of learning.
“And you learn stuff!” The two children I spoke with were enthusiastic about all the learning opportunities in their kindergarten: letters, numbers, shapes, science, and reading buddies. Talk to your child about the world of learning that will be gently opening up for them. Let them know that their teacher won’t expect them to know or do anything more than they already do—but, as the kids told me, they will be “learning stuff.”
4. Be honest about what might change.
Tell your child that because of the coronavirus, nobody really knows for sure what school will look like this year, and that their school schedule might change depending on a number of factors. School might be fully open as usual or open for fewer hours. Children might be attending school one or two days a week, or only mornings or afternoons, or classes might even be held outdoors. Because it’s still so hard to tell what September will bring, even in school districts where plans are already underway, it’s best to help your child be prepared for the possibility of change.
5. Emphasize safety.
Talk to your child in a simple, straightforward way about the safety precautions they might see in their classroom. They might be asked to do daily temperature checks and to follow rules about physical distancing, mask-wearing and frequent sanitizing of hands and surfaces. They might enter a classroom with spaced out desks instead of lots of small-group activity centers. They might experience play restrictions or some combination of online and face-to-face classroom activities. While you don’t need to cite the Centers for Disease Control school guidelines chapter and verse, helping your child be prepared for some of the safety measures in place will help them understand why they are important, and how everyone in school can help do their part to keep others healthy.
6. Be open to ongoing conversation.
Be warm and confident as you talk to your child about all this. Ask if they have any questions, and take the time to think about your answers. Tell them they’ll probably have more questions, and that you’re always glad to talk with them about all this. Acknowledge that this is a big deal in their life and that you’re there to make sure it all goes well.
7. Offer reassurance.
Tell your child that one way or another, you’ll make sure they are happy and healthy and that they get a good education. Whether or not school this coming year is normal, you’ll make sure they do some learning and are ready to go back to school when it resumes.
This post was originally published on Psychology Today.