August 3, 2020

What to Consider as Kids Return to School (or Not)

Kid with mask at outside schoolBy Karen Vernon

With students across the nation returning to in-person or virtual classrooms this fall, Mission Children’s Hospital Medical Director Ansley Miller, MD, FAAP, offered some insight to prepare kids and parents for this transition.

Returning to the Classroom

Successful return to on-campus settings requires a partnership between schools, local and regional health authorities and parents. “We have to place a priority on safe learning environments,” Dr. Miller said, “particularly on social distancing, masking where appropriate, hand hygiene and frequent surface disinfecting.” The CDC recommends daily screenings of children and teachers for symptoms and/or temperature, and flexible safety strategies based on students’ ages and developmental stages.

Given understandable concerns about children’s ability to follow new safety recommendations in the classroom, Dr. Miller said, “School is the perfect opportunity to model these behaviors and reinforce the importance of kids protecting themselves and one another.”

“Educate your child on the safety precautions that will be required when they return to school,” she said. “Practice these measures at home before the start of the school year, and build a partnership with your child’s teacher and the school.”

Virtual Learning

Dr. Miller offered other strategies for success for children who’ll be learning virtually:

• Create a quiet, comfortable place for the child to work
• Establish and follow a routine to ensure consistency
• When possible, supplement school work with social interactions that help mirror the social development skills the students would normally gain at school

When There’s a Choice

A child’s age may play a role in opting for virtual or classroom settings when offered a choice. “Your child’s development and understanding of the current situation will play a role in how they will respond,” said Dr. Miller. “Communicating with your child about returning to school depends on the child’s developmental level and conceptual understanding of the pros and cons of your family’s choice.”

Specific Health Concerns

Returning to school during a pandemic brings heightened concerns for children with health challenges. “We are still learning about the risk of underlying health conditions in children,” said Dr. Miller. “Although chronic conditions appear to play a role in COVID-19 in adults, there is little evidence of the overall risk in children.”

“Your child’s primary care provider can be an excellent resource during this time,” she said. “They can review your child’s risk of returning to in-person learning, and guide you in developing individual strategies to help your child be successful in either learning environment. It’s also a good idea to consult with the child’s provider to assure they are current on all vaccines before heading back to school.”

Strategies for Success

Children starting school for the first time or moving to a new school may have even more challenges in this current environment. Focusing on normalizing the experience, creating consistency and communicating with children about how they are feeling can help them cope with the transition.

School is a vital part of a child’s academic, social and emotional development. The best strategy for successfully returning to school is to promote specific behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“This may be a bewildering and potentially scary time for your child,” said Dr. Miller. “It’s important to keep an open dialogue to address your child’s feelings about returning to school, whatever the setting.”

Ansley Miller, MD, FAAP, is Medical Director for Children’s Inpatient Services at Mission Children’s Hospital.

To learn more about what our hospital is doing to keep your kids safe, click here.