Seven Back-to-School Strategies

Set your child up for school success in 2020-21 with these back to school strategies.

Most years, the back-to-school time is filled with excitement and hopefulness for kids, and relief for parents glad for the return of the structure of a school schedule.  This year, of course, is not a typical year.

As we move into the new school year, the range of emotions expressed by our children, parents and teachers could not be broader. While there is certainly the excitement of seeing friends, and the hopefulness of a bit of normalcy, there are also feelings of uncertainty, confusion, and stress regarding the many unknowns and things beyond our control. As we navigate the new environment, we will all need to be prepared to “roll with the punches.”

Although these months will require significant flexibility on everyone’s part, we have compiled seven strategies to help your child (and you) during these topsy-turvy times:

  1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
  2. Enter the Home Classroom
  3. Meet the New Assistant Teacher
  4. Allow For Transition Time
  5. Create Structure & Consistency
  6. Strike The Home / School Balance
  7. Learn New Behaviors

1.    Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Hopefully you’ll find a better method (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio)

Be as fully prepared as possible to answer your child’s questions and establish good communication with school staff.

  • Attend school activities and meetings, albeit through the remote platforms that we are able to access. During these meetings, your school will be disseminating information, answering questions, and soliciting feedback.
  • Clarify how your child’s teacher/school will be communicating with you. Stay up to date on emails/websites/texts so you know what your child is supposed to be doing.
  • If your child is having trouble staying focused and motivated, consult with your child’s teacher or a designated member of your school’s social-emotional learning team, and be creative to incorporate more hands-on activities.

2.    Enter the Home Classroom

The apple is for you (Photo by Photo by VisionPic .net)

Create a “Home Classroom” to help your child stay productive, engaged, and focused throughout the day.  Whatever the new school year brings, students will be engaged for part, if not all, of their week in remote learning, and either way, it is essential to get your home school space ready to go.

  • Have all possible school supplies necessary in one space to limit your child’s need to get up and down during learning time.
  • Limit distractions in this area by removing extra electronics, games, and toys.
  • Having a space designated for “school” allows the child to differentiate between school and home time. If space does not allow for a separate area, identify a designated workspace with all their supplies in a tub or laundry basket nearby. Ideally, this should be an open space where you can visually check in with your child to ensure they are engaged in their learning. If possible, your child’s workspace should not be in their room (though for some older kids/teens this may work fine – it depends on your child).
  • Keep usernames and passwords readily available.
  • Have a water bottle and snacks (fruit, almonds, etc.) nearby to limit the ups and downs throughout the day. Having healthy choices readily available will improve your child’s overall functioning and provide them with the fuel they need throughout the day.

3.    Meet the New Assistant Teacher

No, that doesn’t mean you do the work for them (Photo by August de Richelieu)

Like it or not, you’re now the new Assistant Teacher.  While few of us have actually been trained for the role, there are some things we can do to do the best best job we can.

  • Be prepared to help. If your child is struggling, they will likely quickly become frustrated and unmotivated. After a couple of independent attempts, try doing a practice example together and then move on to the next problem/question.
  • Help your child organize tasks. Assist in breaking down large tasks. Prioritizing tasks helps them become less overwhelmed throughout the day.
  • Do regular check-ins. Whether or not your child is working independently throughout the day, plan a check-in at the end of the day (or multiple times throughout the day depending on your child’s level of independence) to make sure your child is on track with learning and teacher expectations. This allows you to ensure they do not fall behind and provides an opportunity to teach them life skills about organization, procrastination, and asking for help when needed.
  • Create a reward system, particularly for younger children who may be less intrinsically motivated. Based on your child’s age you can provide rewards by the day or week. Rewards can range from a special dessert if all school tasks are completed during the day to a bigger reward such as a new game for completing their work throughout the week. Relationship-based non-monetary rewards are even better, such as choosing a family game to play or movie to watch together, choosing what’s for dinner, or an extra book at bedtime.
  • Create visual signs to maintain boundaries. When you are working from home and your child is doing schoolwork, there are times when you cannot be interrupted. Setting up signs can help give visual cues to teach your child when they can ask for help and when they need to wait. For example, you can put a stop sign up at your workspace when you cannot be interrupted and take it down when you are available. You can similarly create “Help” signs for your child that they can put on their workspace.

4.    Allow for Transition Time

*Child’s desk may not be as neat (Photo by Burst)

Plan for time between different activities: hybrid learning, working with pods in the neighborhood, or even sharing time between two homes.

  • Coordinate with those sharing responsibility in your child’s education to create as much consistency across environments as possible. (Examples – scheduling, expectations, use of reward systems, etc.)
  • Share successful strategies with teammates.
  • Help your child to create checklists to ensure needed materials are successfully transitioned between locations so your child has the supplies they need each day. (Depending on your child’s age, you may be responsible for the entire list.)

5.    Create Structure

Chalk walls are always fun, too (Photo by Julia M Cameron)

Provide structure; consistency is key is success in the new learning environment.

  • Create a schedule. Your school will likely provide you with a schedule, noting times for check-ins with teachers and peer-to-peer group learning opportunities. If your school does not provide a specific schedule, creating one can help your child stay on track. It allows your child to establish a routine so they understand expectations and can work more independently. A schedule also increases the child’s inner sense of “control”, further reducing stress.
  • Include both movement and brain breaks throughout the day (put them in the schedule). Some great ideas are doing three yoga poses between academic tasks or drawing a picture. To foster independence, you can write each activity on a popsicle stick and put them all in a cup. When a break comes up in the schedule, your child can randomly pick one and do it! (FYI- TV, video games, etc. can make it difficult to re-engage in school activities.)

6.    Strike the Home / School Balance

You won’t find me up there (Photo by Marcelo Moreira)

Support your child’s emotional health by keeping the balance and boundaries between “home” and “school.”

  • Be ready to manage stress…your child’s and your own. Make sure you are allowing times for self-care, individual recreational activities, and family activities. Both stress and calm are contagious. To set your child up for calm, it is essential that you are taking care of your own emotional needs first.
  • If you and your child are experiencing conflict surrounding school, it is especially important to balance them with positive experiences unrelated to “school” to maintain a healthy parent-child relationship.
  • Include transition activities at the beginning and end of the day. The trip to and from school provides this by allowing your child to “gear up” for school and “wind down.” If your child is learning remotely, it is important to keep these transitions for your child. It may be as simple as cleaning up, organizing, and preparing the space for the next day. The point is that by scheduling “transition activities” creates closure and separation between various areas of your child’s life.
  • Establish expectations surrounding screen time. Given screen time will naturally increase with virtual learning, it is important to limit additional screen time. The neurological and emotional impacts of screens can occur regardless of the content. The point here is to find a balance between tech time and other activities.
  • Keep the social connections. This can be virtually or in person with distancing. Ongoing peer interactions will foster healthy social and emotional development.
  • Exercise. Get your child moving and get them outdoors.
  • Schedule family game night/movie night/basketball night, etc.

7.    Learn new behaviors

Now, if she’d only stay six feet away (Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko)

For those returning to the school environment, there are some new behaviors you need to introduce or reinforce. With the return to the classroom, we want behaviors to protect their safety to be second nature.

  • Practice wearing a mask in as many environments as possible. This includes washing your hands before and after you touch your mask.
  • Model social distancing. Increase your child’s awareness of their personal space and space of others keeping 6 feet apart.
  • Point out one-way signs and floor tape indicating directions to walk.
  • Point out floor markers showing spacing while waiting in line.
  • Show your child what 6 feet is with a tape measure or piece of string.
  • Identify items in your child’s environment that are 6 feet long (their bed, the width of the dining room table, two hops, etc.).
  • Teach and practice coughing/sneezing etiquette. Reinforce coughing and sneezing into your elbow or a tissue, then immediately washing your hands.
  • Avoid touching your face. Some tips to help kids do this include keeping their hands in their pockets or sitting on them.
  • Model and practice proper hand washing. Use soap and warm water, singing “Happy Birthday” twice, using a paper towel to turn off the water (not their clean hands). Create a habit of all family members washing their hands as soon as they return to the house.
  • Be on the lookout for hand sanitizer and use it frequently.
  • Teach your child about lunchroom practices for their school which may include eating in the classroom, eating with their pod, or eating in individual spaces in the cafeteria. Their lunchtime structure will likely look significantly different than it has in previous years. Being prepared for change helps.


If you or your child are struggling with the “new normal” you are not alone. Some of us have handled these challenges admirably, but the reality is that children and adults alike have been asked to adapt to huge changes in a very short period of time with limited clear guidance on best practices. (For proof that you’re not alone, see this NYT piece “School Chaos Is Breaking Me”)

Keep self-compassion and self-care as your top priorities, and help your child prioritize healthy ways to stay emotionally and physically balanced. At the same time, do not hesitate to seek out personal and professional supports to help see you through these challenges and pave the way for smoother transitions ahead. If interested, see our Services page, or send us an email at

About Sasco River Center

A multidisciplinary practice offering a range of diagnostic and therapy services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families; specializing in Collaborative & Comprehensive Testing, Psychotherapy & Sensory Processing.

We are a merger of Sensory Kids & The Southfield Center for Development