Many children feel excitement and nervousness when it’s time to go back to school in the fall.  During this upcoming year filled with uncertainties, Waldorf students and parents alike are likely to feel some trepidation as the new school year approaches. 

How do you mentally prepare, as a family, for a school year with so many variables and potential changes? How do we help our children have a sense of wellbeing about an upcoming school year when they have so many possible new experiences and changes ahead?

Waldorf students are fortunate to have practices in place that promote start-of-school wellbeing like teacher looping, consistent classmates, and whole-child curriculum.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, Director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the editor-in-chief of the journal JAMA Pediatrics says what’s most essential as we move into the fall is a strong focus on the social-emotional needs of our children. He calls social-emotional wellbeing of students “The pandemic issue that’s not getting its due.”

Waldorf students are fortunate to have practices in place that promote start-of-school wellbeing like teacher looping, consistent classmates, and whole-child curriculum crafted to address social needs, but the remaining unknowns could keep our students feeling concerned. 

Whether schools are able to reopen campuses or not, we as parents and educators can keep our children’s well being stay front and center as the end of August approaches. Here are some basic tips for preparing your Waldorf student for the upcoming school year: 

 

Young Children:

Little children live in a world of their own, one based in imagination and play. Waldorf schools will be honoring this developmental stage of childhood. What does that mean when it comes to “preparing” an early childhood student for school this year?

According to Patricia Cornelius, Early Childhood Teacher at The Waldorf School of Philadelphia, less is more in preparing little ones. Young children will adapt easily to the program by modeling what teachers do and will take new suggestions in stride. Teachers will be ready to gently guide children into the new rhythm and practice of a day. 

Roxanne Anthony, Early Childhood Teacher in the Snowdrop Nursery echoes this, saying that young children are so eager to try new things. “The young child is wide-open to new experiences and that oftentimes it can be parental anxiety that hinders a child’s unfettered joy at embarking on their new school adventure. Observing the laughter and giggles during summer camp this year, and children’s adaptability wearing face-coverings, was a wonder to behold. If I have any advice for parents at this time it is to try not to pass your anxieties to your children – let them be in the moment.”

 

Elementary Students:

Students in grades 1 – 5 will need some guidance about their potentially fluid year, and some encouragement to “go with the flow” and stay open to change. But discussions are best focused first around what will NOT be changing. Most students are now familiar with distance learning, so parents can let them know that if distance learning is needed, their student already knows what that looks like and how to manage that landscape. “Great news! You’re already an old pro at distance learning!” 

For on campus learning, remind your student that they will have the same teacher and will be seeing their same classmates. They will also be learning what their teachers have been planning for them to learn and will be drawing, having recess, using their main lesson books,  their favorite crayons, pencils or inkwell pens, and engaging in learning by doing.

Most students will also have the same subject teachers and lessons, although schedules may be a bit different, but when you know of some changes, you can share general knowledge about it with your child. 

Take music for example: “While your music teacher will still be on campus, your music class will look a little different this year. But you’ll have exciting new ways to learn music and we can’t wait to see what your teacher will be having you learn!”

It’s important for students this age to see their parents and families stay positive about upcoming changes. While change is difficult for everyone, the optimistic view on change is that it can feel like an adventure.

So focus on the positives when you discuss the new year: “You are very likely going to spend more time outside, learn things in exciting new ways, and still do what you know and love with the people you know and love!”

 

Middle School and Up:

All of the previously mentioned approaches taken with elementary students are appropriate for older students as well. Students in Grade 6 and up will benefit greatly from knowing what will not be changing in the fall and will appreciate a positive perspective, but they will also understand the serious nature and risks posed by our health crisis. 

It is our role to help our older students gain a broader perspective. We should take time to listen to their fears, acknowledge the uncertainty and help them know that their emotions are natural and experienced by everyone. 

We can also help them understand what they can influence and control in an uncertain school year. Help them embrace their responsibilities and let them know that they are competent and can support their school community by helping implement new changes.  Students can learn to put on and take off masks safely, experience what 6-ft of physical distance looks and feels like indoors, practice thorough hand washing, and take their own temperature before leaving the house.   

Let older students know that everyone faces difficult challenges in a lifetime and the right mindset is key to using those experiences to grow. Share some of the difficulties you or other family members have experienced  over their lifetime. Are our children on the young side for a challenge this serious? Absolutely. But they are not alone. They have a supportive family and supportive school community here to help.  

 

Practical Ways to Support Your Child & Your School 

There are several ways you can prepare your child for in-person learning this fall. The classroom pod format at the Waldorf School of Philadelphia relies on family cooperation and attention to detail. By each household committing to the list below, you can do your part to mitigate the risk of community transmission, thus maximizing the likelihood of sustained in-person learning and supporting the overall health of the community. 

  • Model flexible, positive, and community-centered commitments.
  • Adhere to the state guidelines regarding travel. 
  • Reinforce good hygiene practices at home and when school begins.
  • Please consider quarantining or selecting low transmission risk activities and avoiding playdates two weeks prior to the start of school.
  • Focus on healthy nutrition, healthy sleeping behavior, and stress reduction to strengthen the immune system.
  • Practice mask wearing for extended periods so that your child builds their stamina and ability to wear masks for a prolonged period of time.
  • Talk to your child about what will be different at school and what will stay the same. Remind them that everyone is in the same situation and we are all going through a period of adjustment. We are in this together!