Ending the School Year at Home


Creating Reflective Opportunities to Support the Transition during #COVID-19

Motivation to engage in school work may just be at an all-time low as public places slowly begin to reopen, the sun shines a bit brighter, and the end of distance learning for the 2019-2020 draws near. Children may be excited about the freedom of summer ahead. Parents may be eager and ready to shed the pressures of supporting school assignments each day at home. It’s tempting to race blindly forward without looking back. 

Our strange loss of a sense of time during stay-at-home education comes from the lack of daily transitions that move our bodies and minds from home to work or school and back home again. We are coming up on a similar moment where there will be a major life transition yet without a change in physical location or any of the celebratory events that help children and adults signify the end of another school year. And that can be disorienting for all family members. So there is a significant value in taking a moment to reflect on the growth of the past year – friendships, academic progress and newly developed interests and also, specifically how we’ve grown and changed as a family during our quarantine. 

“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” 

– John Dewey, Renowned Educational Reformer and Psychologist

Your child will never experience this grade level again during a global pandemic. Children may be sad to leave their teacher, their connection to class friends and the predictability of the school-at-home routine. Despite the stress of distance learning, they may worry about the loss of the stability and consistency that the school schedule and connection provides over the summer. They may also fear the uncertainty to come including reentering public places with the danger of the corona virus still present and the unknowns of how summer might be fundamentally different from years past because of the many public restrictions and virus risks.

There are some small, simple steps you can take to ease the transition and also deepen the lessons of their year and also, the last several months through reflection. Here are a few suggestions.

Reflect on Defining Moments.

Retell the defining moments. Be sure to discuss in what ways your family was resilient and strong during stressful times. In your ________ grade year…

  • What was the most surprising thing that happened?
  • Did you make any new friends?
  • When did you feel embarrassed?
  • What made you belly laugh?
  • What were you most proud of learning?
  • How was it challenging? And what helped you get through all of the changes?

Reflect on Learning from Home.

During our COVID-19 distance learning experiment over the past couple of months…

  • Do you recall the first day or week of learning at home? What were you thinking? What were you feeling?
  • How is our family different from life before COVID-19?
  • What have you found that has been joyful or connecting during our quarantine?
  • How have we helped one another?
  • How has connecting with friends changed? Are there any new ways of connecting that you enjoy?
  • What school projects or assignments were you most proud of accomplishing?
  • What unexpected benefits came from stay-at-home education?
  • How did you deal with your fears and stresses?
  • What bigger life lessons did you learn during this time of sustained crisis?

Reflect on Big Feelings and the Opportunity of Now: Practicing Resilience.

If we tried (in the pre-COVID world) to hide the fact that we have all-consuming, intense emotions at times, then we cannot hide anymore. The seismic shifts globally and the uncertainty of a threat that lurks right outside of our door has been enough to rattle our sensibilities, every one of us. If the not-so-hidden opportunity of this moment of quarantine might be practicing and promoting resilience in times of trial, how can you take time out to seal in and ensure that learning by reflecting on it? 

No, none of us managed our big feelings throughout this process perfectly. In fact, for most of us, there was a lot of mess. But if we talk about our big feelings, accept that there’s been fear and stress, and consider how we reacted and how we might react better, we just might learn important lessons that will assist us as we move into an uncertain summer. Some specific questions to guide you in this discussion might be:

  • What have been our fears throughout COVID-19 and distance learning?
  • What have we done to acknowledge or manage them?
  • When did our fears get the best of us (or we reacted in ways we didn’t like)?
  • When were we proud of how we handled ourselves and/or worked together as a family?
  • How can we learn more about managing our fears?
  • What can we do in the future when one or more of us is feeling fearful or stressed?

Share Your Gratitude for Your Teachers.

Yes, teachers also experienced a wide range of big feelings as they had to change their mode of teaching and learning in the blink of an eye. Though parents were in the midst of scrambling ourselves to figure out how to manage our household, our work responsibilities, the dangers of COVID19, and how to support distance learning, we may have not seen the challenges teachers faced. Yet, we know they indeed endured their own set of struggles. No matter how they managed the situation, they put their time, effort and considerable worry into reaching you and educating your children. So now more than ever, it’s critical we offer our thanks. Consider creating a simple family video of your thanks to show your appreciation. Your sincere words will mean much more than a potted plant or a gift card this year.  

Talk about it a bit before getting your video rolling. You might ask your child: “What were some of your favorite activities you remember from this year? Why is your teacher so special? Do you remember a time when your teacher was especially kind?”

Go on a Digital Parade Walk or Create a Temporary Museum of Learning.

You likely have a pile, a bin or a busting-at-the-seams binder (as we do!) of school work from the past year. Before recycling or filing away, why not use the accumulated papers as evidence of learning and growth and a tangible way to reflect on that progress? Use your home as a museum. Place the school work in the order of the school year starting in the fall. Line them up across chairs, the couch and on end tables for display. I line the dining room with rope and post papers and artwork with clothespins.

Walk around as a family and talk about what you notice particularly when you note positive developments. With a little support from you, your kids may be excited to put together the museum themselves. With multiple children, use different rooms of the house and you may have a full academic museum for an evening.

Is your child’s work all online from the past months? Then do a digital parade of work and gather around the computer. Go through her assignments, comment, laugh, reflect and bask in the glow of your collective hard work as a family getting through distance learning together! 

Do the big book line-up.

It’s likely that most of the books your child read this school year are hanging around your bookshelves. Why not create a temporary display? What a sense of accomplishment to see a book sculpture with all of the stories you’ve read, learned from and enjoyed since the school year start. It may even spur conversations and reflections on your favorite characters and stories! It may also encourage further reading this summer and inspire a new stack for the coming months.

Create a time capsule.

A terrific early summer activity might be to generate a time capsule in memory of this past school year. There will likely never be another school year quite like this one! Use this free printable time capsule to help guide you. Or work with your child to find and decorate a shoe box or other container and mark with the name of the child and dates of the school year. Now ask your child to consider their older self. What if he came across this time capsule hidden in the attic years later? What items would help him remember the unique attributes of this past school year?

Celebrate learning.

Show how much your family truly values the process of learning. Celebrate together the accomplishment of a school year filled with hard work. Make a picnic in your backyard. Bake a special treat. Decorate as if it’s a holiday. Take a moment to recognize this major change.

“Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Happy School Year’s End to You and Your Family!

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