How can we celebrate distance learning?
In a normal year, the first day of school usually comes with nervousness and excitement. My children are always sad to see summer end, but they wake up that first morning with anticipation. A new school year brings new teachers, new books, familiar routines, and the joy of seeing friends again.
This year is obviously different.
Like most students in the DC area, my children will start the year in distance learning. I know educators are working hard to make the best of it. But I keep picturing my kids waking up that first morning, rolling out of bed, and opening the laptop with a groan. It feels like returning to work after a long vacation, straight into a rough Monday slog of back-to-back conference calls. I also want to do a little something in our house to celebrate distance learning and try to create some positive back-to-school energy in a very unusual year.
I asked friends who are going through the same thing for their advice. Here are five ways you can celebrate distance learning as the new school year begins and try to bring those positive school vibes home.
1. Keep the traditions you can keep.
If your family has back-to-school traditions, try to keep those traditions, if you can. Take your first day of school photos. Let them choose their back-to-school outfit. Is there a special place you go for treats or a meal after school on the first day? Try to get takeout or delivery from that same place. One friend said that in their household, the first day of distance learning went the most smoothly in the moments when they treated it like their usual first day of school.
2. Create a space for distance learning.
Teachers spend so much time preparing their classrooms in a normal year. Can we prepare a space for our children for distance learning? For some people that might be a dedicated workspace or desk. For others, it might be a corner or a cart with back-to-school essentials.
When I work from home, I like to light a candle and have a cup of coffee or tea next to the computer. I think it sends a message to my brain: this is where you are going to be. That tactic would probably not work for my children—an open flame would be distracting, at the least. But I plan to have them decorate a small jar that we can put a battery-powered light in. When it is time for school we can turn the light on as a sign to them: this is your place for now. We may also celebrate distance learning on the first day of school with a few balloons or a “welcome back to school” sign at their workspace.
3. Consider a “Schultüte” to celebrate distance learning.
There is a German tradition to give children a Schultüte—a large cone full of prizes—on the first day of elementary school. The word Schultüte translates “school cone.” It is a large paper cone filled with small treats and school supplies. Who doesn’t love presents, so this one sounds like a win to celebrate distance learning. I might fill our “Schultute” with some school supplies, fidget toys, and healthy snacks my children can have during the school day at home.
4. Ask your kids how they want to celebrate distance learning.
This list is a starting point, but have a meeting with your children before the start of the school year to talk about what would help make this unprecedented situation feel special for them. One of my sons asked for a cushion to sit on and some shiny folders. The other asked for an ice cream sundae. Maybe your kid was really looking forward to a new lunchbox and really just wants to pack a lunch like she would for school. Maybe an (outdoor, masked, socially-distanced) playdate with a classmate would help your child feel connected. Try to bring your kids on board, let them voice their concerns, and tell you what would help them feel more excited for the start of the school year.
5. Toast a job (well) done.
I’ll be honest: the majority of recommendations from my friends involved sugar. Ice cream, cupcakes, cookies. Whatever works for you, use it to cap off the day and celebrate distance learning. Last spring, when my family was trying to adjust as our daily life turned upside down, I frequently turned to a jar of chocolates. I was like Madame Pomfrey, the school nurse in the Harry Potter books, who hands out chocolate as a soothing medicine. So, pick a treat—whether that be ice cream or a healthy smoothie—and plan it for the end of the school day to toast a job well done. Or just a job done. Whatever. Cheers! We can do hard things. You’ve got this.