Children across Canada are returning to some sort of school experience this fall after spending a long time away from a formal classroom. While all families experience some degree of anxiety around managing the transition back to school, this year every family will be facing unique challenges as they adapt to yet another “new normal,” and wonder how the experience of the last few months will impact learning and well-being.
This month, Knowledge First Financial will be drawing on conversations with experts from across Canada, who are lending a hand to provide expert points of view on the most unusual “Back to School” season in memory.
Our first conversation is with Dr. Anna Richter, a clinical psychologist from the Maritimes who specializes in treatment for children and adolescents. Dr. Richter has previously worked for school boards in Ontario and Nova Scotia, and often works with children who have learning disabilities.
KF: Dr. Richter, what should parents anticipate when their children return to a structured school environment after so many months away from school?
Dr. Richter: Just as adults may experience stress to varying degrees when transitioning back to in-person work after working from home, children will experience different levels of stress when transitioning back to school. Each child experiences stress in different ways and parents are in the best position to monitor their child for signs of stress as they know their child best. Children will require time to adapt to the transition back to the structured school environment.
Signs of stress in children can range from stomach aches or other physical complaints (once you’ve ruled out physical health issues), changes in sleep and eating (could be an increase or decrease), irritability, and an increased need for reassurance.
KF: How can parents help their children prepare for returning to school effectively to support their learning?
Dr. Richter: Arriving at school well-rested is important for supporting children’s learning. Children often stay awake later and sleep in more during the summer months. As school approaches, parents can work on shifting their child’s sleeping schedule to be prepared for earlier wake up times when school starts. Parents can also find opportunities to practice academic skills in relaxed and fun ways over the rest of the summer. For example, having kids help write the grocery list or write a letter to a grandparent can help with language and spelling skills. Parents can check with their child’s school regarding access to educational apps that can be used during the summer months.
KF: For students with learning disabilities, how does this large gap away from school impact them differently?
Dr. Richter: Children with learning disabilities represent a varied group of students. While some children will transition easily back into the classroom, others will experience challenges. Children with learning disabilities may have struggled more than their peers to keep up with self-paced/virtual learning during the pandemic and thus may be experiencing anticipatory stress about the return to school. Children with learning disabilities may require and/or benefit from one-on-one teacher support and depending on the availability of this type of instruction, may have found learning at home especially challenging. As each child’s situation is unique, speaking with your child’s school team can help to ease the transition. For example, if your child is typically provided with assistive technology like spell-check or speak-to-text on a computer, ask how this will continue in the fall.
KF: What are some resources that can address the specific needs of parents who have children with learning disabilities? Especially during the back to school transition.
Dr. Richter: Children with learning disabilities are more vulnerable than peers to mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. I recommend that parents seek support from a healthcare professional, such as their child’s family physician or pediatrician.
Some useful websites to check out are:
understood.org: This site has a terrific back to school resource section for Fall 2020, which is suitable for all parents, but has a special focus on the needs of children with Learning Disabilities
LDathome.ca: This website has been built to help bring resources to the households of Ontario impacted by Learning Disabilities (LDs).
KF: Our many thanks to Dr. Richter for sharing her valuable insights into the upcoming transition back to school!
As Canadian families begin to navigate “Back to School” in 2020, Knowledge First will continue to provide information, support and curated resources to Canadian parents and their children. We are all in this together, as our communities carefully navigate a safe and healthy return to the classroom.
Dr. Anna Richter
Dr. Richter specializes in treatment for children and adolescents.
Dr. Richter has previously worked for school boards in Ontario and Nova Scotia, and often works with children who have learning disabilities.