Back-to-school season 2020 is going to be different than anything American parents — or their children — have ever experienced. The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic are obliging school districts all over to modify their plans. While some are returning students to classes this fall, others are moving entirely to remote learning — and many school districts are using some hybrid method that combines the two.
All of this is making it harder for parents to plan ahead and handle the usual back-to-school prep. You’re probably on top of the need for pens, pencils, paper and folders, but what items can keep your children safer at school? What might your children need to facilitate their online learning?
Here are some suggestions that you can use to get this school year off to a great start:
1. Face masks
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been calling on Americans to wear face masks when they’re in public to help fight the spread of the virus, and it’s unlikely that any school district will operate this year without them.
Make sure that your child never leaves home without a spare mask, just in case the one they’re wearing gets dirty or dropped somewhere. Cloth masks that have adjustable ties are probably the most comfortable for your children — and they definitely have the advantage of being washable and reusable over the paper kind. To make it easy to keep your child in stock with clean masks, you need at least one on hand for every day of the week.
Keeping face masks off the ground and out of dirty pockets can be a challenge, especially when kids are trying to eat their lunches, using the bathroom or walking home. A lanyard or two (because you always need a spare) can free up their hands and save a lot of trouble.
Show your children how to hook their masks on a lanyard when they don’t need to wear them and practice on trips to the store before school starts so they get into the habit. This may also prevent them from losing their cloth masks and causing you to scramble to replace them.
Face masks alone won’t stop the spread of germs and viruses. People also need to clean their hands and any surfaces they touch — like school desks — as often as possible. Pocket-sized bottles of hand sanitizer that kids can stick in their backpacks are an essential fall item this year. If your child has a locker, consider buying a regular-sized bottle of hand sanitizer that they can use whenever they make a stop to grab books, coats or other items. (Just make sure that you avoid any of the sanitizers out there that the Food and Drug Administration has warned against. Products that contain methanol can be fatal if ingested by children.)
Your child is also going to need disinfecting wipes that can be used on desktops, the outside of books, pens and other small items. More than likely, your school district will ask each parent to send a box or two along, but consider getting some smaller packages that you can slip in your child’s bag so that they’re always on hand.
4. Noise-canceling headphones
Whether your children already plan to learn remotely this year or you’re just prepping for the possibility that a viral outbreak will suddenly send your kids home for a while, you need the home environment to be as distraction-free as possible if you want to facilitate a positive experience.
Noise-canceling headphones may be indispensable. They can help your child block out the household sounds from pets and siblings and actually focus on their work when they’re in a remote class. These become especially important if you’re short on space and your child doesn’t have a private area in which to work at home.
5. Digital notepad and stylus
This may not be an absolute essential, but it can make a child’s life a lot easier if they’re doing any kind of remote learning. Subjects like math, geometry and chemistry usually require a lot of work on paper as students struggle to master the skills. Teachers often want to see the work that students are doing so that they can help them with their calculations and correct errors. That can be rough when operating remotely.
A digital notepad and stylus can make the process of showing their work much easier on a student who is taking online classes. They can do their calculations right on the pad and upload it directly to the computer for review by their teacher in seconds. (Plus, once your child understands how to upload material from their digital notepad, you won’t have to worry about scanning their homework all the time so that it can be emailed to the teacher.)
6. A webcam
Whether you have a desktop computer that doesn’t even have a camera attached or a laptop, you probably need to invest in an external webcam. The webcams that are typically installed in laptops often have poor image quality, which can make it harder for your child to see important details during a virtual learning session.
The start of a new school year is always challenging — and Fall 2020 is likely to be especially so. Planning ahead is the best thing you can do to make things go smoothly for both you and your children.