Working parents have attempted an impossible task. They are managing work, remote school, and meeting the emotional needs of their children. Next up: a confusing return to school that might include half-days, bringing in new nannies and babysitters, or negotiating with daycares and preschools about logistics. Add in anxiety about COVID-19 exposure, and this next phase of the pandemic response will add new pressures for working parents.
Around the world, school leaders and public officials are balancing the risk and benefits of reopening schools for students and families, while also considering the health of school staff and faculty. The outcome of these calculations so far point to a very different back-to-school experience.
How Other Countries Are Handling It
We can look to other countries for signs of how the reopening of schools will look. At Cleo, our Family Guides serve families in more than 50 countries, and many of our Guides live abroad. Viewing return-to-school from these global vantage points can help us guess what’s coming as the spring and summer unfolds.
Germany: Starting With Graduating High Schoolers
Sasha Romary, a Cleo Family Guide, postpartum doula, and sleep consultant, lives in Germany, where schools will start the process of reopening on May 4.
“This is starting with the graduating high school class and will progressively make its way down to the younger children,” Sasha said. If all goes well, German elementary schools and daycares will open towards the end of June or early July. Starting at the end of April, single parents and those working in “vital” industries, such as transportation, healthcare, or government, can also send their kids of any age back to school, where their classes will be kept to 6-8 kids with limited school hours.
Denmark: Bringing Back Younger Kids First
Denmark took a different approach than Germany. In early April, Denmark decided to bring back younger children first. As the New York Times reported, new policies came with the opening: Parents are not allowed inside, desks are placed 6 feet apart, and children must play in small groups during recess. There are many breaks for hand washing, and lessons take place outside when possible. Schools have placed markings on the floors so students know how far they have to stand apart, and staff disinfects high-risk areas multiple times a day.
China: Taking Temperatures and Using Technology
In China, the first place to experience a COVID-19 outbreak, students are going back to school. Shanghai started with students in the last years of middle and high school, prioritizing those in a transitional year. In Beijing, students will have their temperatures taken, and an app will calculate a variety of risk factors before they can enter school for the day.
It should also be noted that countries in Africa recently dealt with similar education challenges during the Ebola outbreak. As one official from Sierra Leone recently told UNESCO, sanitary protocols, support for teachers, and engagement with the community helped students stay in school: “No child was infected in schools; on the contrary, they helped disseminate health messages among their families.”
What Is Being Considered Across the US
Currently in the US, there are few concrete plans for how school will look, except that most states have announced they will not return to in-person education this academic year. Still, some local officials are offering insight into their thinking.
Dallas leaders are considering a plan to have some kids come on Monday and Wednesdays, others on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then have everyone learn remotely on Fridays. DC may bring back younger kids who are learning to read, since gaps at that age can have a lasting impact, as well as high school seniors to keep them on track toward college. Minnesota has talked about turning desks to face the front and implementing hand washing every time students enter or leave a classroom.
California is considering staggering drop-off times, having students eat lunch in their classrooms, and ending PE and recess. The governor is also considering a plan to allow K-12 campuses to offer summer school programs or an earlier start day to make up for lost time.
New York is discussing smaller class sizes, combining remote and in-person lessons, and staggering start times. It’s also possible that students and teachers across the US will wear masks when they do return to school.
Families Have Specific Concerns
Patience Elizabeth, a Cleo Family Guide and Developmental Psychologist, is already receiving questions from our global families about returning to schools, daycares, and preschools. These questions include:
- If schools are opening, does this mean it actually is safe to send my child to school?
- Will my child go through a whole new adjustment process to go back to school?
- If daycares and other programs are closed through most of the summers, how can I continue to balance the work and childcare situation for so long?
As parents start to think about the eventual return to school or outside childcare, Patience said they should consider the following:
- Be aware that your child might have decreased stamina for being away from home.
- Children may need to go back part time and build up to full time again.
- Children may fall asleep at the end of the day due to being more tired from being away from home.
- Expect morning transitions out the door to be a bit of a challenge. It may be good to do practice runs. It may help re-establish a morning routine now if you have let it slide.
- Separation anxiety will likely increase for many children, especially those 3 years or younger.
- Some children may have fear of leaving home. Make sure you are creating a positive narrative about what is happening so that older children are not afraid of going back to school.
- Some children may have no issues going back to normal schedules. Don’t overdo preparing to go back. Read your child’s emotions and use what you know about their personality to determine what they need.
- For infants, make sure you have enough milk storage and that they are still used to taking a bottle.
How Cleo Can Help
Our Cleo Family Guides provide direct one-on-one support for families thinking about the next phase. Here are ways our Guides can help:
- Work with parents on strategies for the return to school. These conversations can focus on a child’s specific age, developmental stage, and individual temperament.
- Plan how to talk to your manager about this transition and how to balance the workload while you support your child through this.
- Get help from our specialists for rebuilding milk stashes, reinstating bedtime routines, and rebalancing parenting and household duties, and much more.
Shifting a child’s care and education back into the hands of professionals will be a transition for all families. While there will be new and unfamiliar circumstances emerging as things reopen, Cleo is here to support families along the way just like before.