Tag Archives: Back To School

COVID-19 Back to School Checklist

By Tracey Dowdy

The Spring semester played out much differently than most of us anticipated, and despite our hope to the contrary, things are still somewhat uncertain as we kick off the 2020-21 school year. If your school district is offering in-person learning, the prospect of sending your child into a classroom this Fall may be daunting. 

But, rest assured, there are steps you can take that coupled with the precautions being put in place by administrators and teachers, will ensure your child is as safe as possible. 

Don’t send your child to school sick.  While this may seem like an obvious statement, it’s not uncommon for parents to send sick kids to school. The CDC has a checklist for parents that includes which symptoms to look for before you make your decision. Michael LaSusa, superintendent of schools in Chatham, New Jersey says, “First and foremost, parents should not send any child who is symptomatic of illness to school. This means that parents should develop a routine for quickly checking their child for fever in the morning and also confirm that their child does not have a cough or any other sign of illness. If a child does have a fever, the parent should not give the child fever-reducing medication and send her/him off to school, but instead, be sure to keep the child home.”

Backpack backpack. While classroom management can be difficult under normal circumstances, this year will prove even more of a challenge. School districts across the country have asked parents to provide their own school supplies as children will not have access to communal supplies. If you or someone you know is struggling to provide supplies, follow this link for a list of resources in your area.

Sanitize and mask up. Depending on your child’s age and cognitive ability, the prospect of them keeping a mask on all day may make you laugh harder than any stand-up routine. Do your best to model appropriate mask-wearing and encourage your child to wear their mask if they’re going to be in close proximity to others, such as on the bus. If possible, send them to school with at least two in case one gets dirty or breaks – you know they’re going to play with them and it’s not a matter of if but of when they’re going to break. It’s a good idea to ease them into wearing one for extended periods of time if they aren’t in the habit,” LaSusa says. “Parents should gradually build up face-covering ‘endurance’ in their children by having them wear a face covering for longer and longer periods of time. If a child spends zero time during the day right now in a face covering, then that child will have a tough time spending four hours wearing one when September rolls around. We need to build up this endurance gradually.” 

One thing that most children can comprehend is the importance of clean hands, whether through hand washing or using hand sanitizer. Look for brands that are at least 60% or higher alcohol-based, which kills most types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Maintain your safer-at-home protocols. Though it may seem excessive and like adding a greater burden on already struggling families, having your kids wash their hands and change out of school clothes as soon as they get home to keep your home as clean and safe as possible. “When children return from school they should immediately sanitize their hands,” advises board-certified pediatrician Dr. Candice W. Jones. “At the very least they should remove clothes/shoes and place them in the laundry or in a designated safe place for disinfecting. A shower would be great, but is not absolutely necessary.”

Stay positive.  Noreen Lazariuk, superintendent of the Sussex Charter School for Technology in Sparta, New Jersey says, “My advice is to stay positive. As parents, you are constantly teaching your children. Your example is one they are exposed to more than any classroom or teacher. If your children hear you speaking optimistically about the school year they will adopt that attitude.”

LaSusa adds, “I think we all need to maintain a sense of flexibility and patience, and also recognize that students are going to need some time to reacclimate to school, especially when the adults in their school are wearing masks and the whole environment looks different. We need to adjust the expectations we have for children and meet them where they are, not where we think they ‘should’ be.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Children’s Books to Help with Back to School Anxiety 

By Tracey Dowdy 

Since this will be a school year like no other for many families, some are facing back to school jitters like never before. Even students who anticipated a return to routine and their friends with a side of education are anxious about how the 2020-21 year will unfold. 

One of the keys is to remember your children are listening and observing you, and they often pick up on more than we realize. Don’t feel as though you need to hide your concerns or worry if they see you are disappointed and a little anxious too – this normalizes their fear. Instead, take a “We’ll get through this together,” approach. Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers, but you’re going to support them every step of the way. 

Just as you would in a traditional school year, ease back into your routine in the weeks before school starts and take the time to address your child’s questions and concerns. Reading together is an invaluable tool in uncovering what’s bothering them in a non-confrontational way. These books can help start those conversations and allay some of their fears. 

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes (Pre-K–2)  Wemberly is a mouse who worries about everything like shrinking in the bathtub or spilling her juice, but her biggest fear is the first day of school. Your little one will relate to Wemberly’s fears and learn with her as she overcomes them.

The I’m Not Scared Book by Todd Parr (Pre-K–2)  Parr’s signature style of humor and heart shine in this little book that addresses common childhood fears while helping kids find a solution. The examples cover everything from dogs to the monsters under the bed,  and family conflict. “Sometimes I’m scared when my family argues. I’m not scared when we hug and say ‘I’m sorry.’” 

Is a Worry Worrying You? by Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz (Pre-K–2)  Like Parr, the authors address common childhood fears with humor and imagination. Through over the top hypothetical situations, the book teaches kids to find perspective and utilize creative problem-solving. 

When My Worries Get Too Big: A Relaxation Book for Children Who Live with Anxiety by Kari Dunn Buron (K–3)  Though it was written to help children on the autism spectrum identify and manage their emotions, every child can benefit from its self-calming strategies. 

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What-to-Do Guides for Kids) by Dawn Huebner (Grades 1-6)  What to Do When You Worry Too Much employs the cognitive-behavioral techniques (CBT) most often used to treat anxiety. The book is practical, encouraging, easy to read, and will give your child the skills they need to manage their anxiety.

What to Do When You’re Scared and Worried: A Guide for Kids by James J. Crist (Grades 4–7)  Divided into two parts – “Getting to Know your Fears and Worries,” and “Getting Help for Hard to Handle Problems,” the book address a spectrum of fears from spiders to panic attacks. Crist helps children identify what’s behind their anxiety, practice Fear Chasers and Worry Erasers, and encourages them to ask for help if the fear is bigger than they can manage on their own. 

My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic by Michael A. Tompkins and Katherine Martinez (Grades 7 and up)  Tompkins and Martinez show teens how to take control of their anxiety through proven cognitive-behavioral techniques (CBT), empowering them to manage and work through their emotions. They include chapters focusing on the importance of proper nutrition, exercise, sleep, and even addresses the possible need for medication. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.



Helping Your Kids Back into their School Routine

Depending on your school district, your children are either back to school already or about to hit the ground running. Or staggering. Or moaning and dragging. Let’s face it, if your kiddos have enjoyed a lazy summer with late nights and even later mornings, getting back into a school-days routine can be slightly less tortuous than waterboarding.

If your child is feeling anxious about going back to school with a new teacher and classmates, don’t dismiss their feelings – validate them. Reassure them that facing new people and new situations can be stressful for adults too and reassure them you will do everything you can to support them and make their school year a success.

One of the biggest changes as you transition from summer to school is to your morning routine. Start by talking your kids through what the morning will look like and what your expectations for them will be. Get organized, especially if your child isn’t a morning person. Help them plan out what they’ll wear, pack their backpack, and prepare their lunch or snack the night before. The key is simplicity and clarity – make sure they know exactly what you expect from them. “Regular routines provide a kid’s developing brain with a template for how to organize and manage daily life. By gradually turning over the responsibility for self-management, we support the brain’s development and ensure that our kids learn how to manage themselves, ” says Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. 

If your children are young or struggle with staying on task, create a chart on your smartphone or tablet or with poster board and stickers to help them keep track.

List what they need to do, for example:

  • Wash your face
  • Brush your teeth
  • Brush your hair
  • Make your bed
  • Eat breakfast

Bedtime can be another tough transition. Just as with your morning routine, establishing a bedtime routine trains the brain that it’s time to slow down and go to sleep. If they’re used to staying up late watching a video or playing on their device, setting time limits and a countdown – 30 minutes til bed, 15 minutes til bed, and “here’s your five-minute warning” – can de-escalate tantrums and make the transition to bedtime less stressful or argumentative. Create a bedtime checklist as you did for the morning:

  • Pack your backpack
  • Put on your PJs
  • Brush your teeth
  • Go potty
  • Wash your hands
  • Get your last drink of water

Homework, the bane of parents and children everywhere, is another potential stressor for both parents and kids. Once again, the key is being organized. Check their backpack, Blackboard, or school website to keep track of upcoming projects. Use apps like Cozi to keep the family organized and myHomeworkMyStudyLife,  or Chalkboard to help manage assignments.

Remember, learning time management is an essential part of your child developing maturity. Creating a routine and setting boundaries helps them internalize structure and learn self-control. “Children who are taught basic routines grow into adults who are efficient and organized,” says Hartwell-Walker. “There’s a lot more to routines than simply getting everyone out the door in the morning and into bed on time at night. Establishing routines provides kids with important skills for life.”





Back to School Cell Phone Guide for Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

Roughly one hundred years ago when I was a teacher, cell phones in the classroom weren’t an issue. Today, a phone is as integral to a student’s life as a backpack or ballpoint pen. The average age that parents give their children a cell phone has dropped to ten or eleven years old. It isn’t a question of whether a student has a phone but what they’re doing with it in the classroom.

While it’s convenient to be able to contact our kids when we’re going to be late for pick up or practice is canceled, it’s important kids understand boundaries and what responsible cell phone use looks like; back to school is a great time to review those guidelines.

  • As parents, make the boundaries clear. If it’s your child’s first phone, help them understand what your expectations are. Remind them a phone is a privilege, not a right, and if you pay the bill, you call the shots. Determine ahead of time what the consequences will be if the phone is lost or gets broken, if they have permission to download apps and music, and what the consequences will be for misuse or disregarding the rules. Consider a Cellphone Use Contract, especially if it’s your child’s first phone.
  • Again, if it’s your child’s first phone, make sure emergency contacts are programmed in and your child knows who to call in an emergency. School violence is a tragic reality and children should know the emergency plan should they find themselves in danger traveling to or from school or while on school property.
  • Follow the school rules. Many schools allow kids to have phones in the classroom but what happens within individual classrooms varies. What’s allowable in 12th grade will likely be a far cry from what’s allowed in 5th grade. My daughter’s high school math teacher allowed kids to use their phones as calculators and another teacher allowed them to use their phones for in-class research projects. Go to the school or school district’s website and pull up the relevant phone policy to make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Remind your kids they should never text, send email, use apps or configure the phone’s GPS while they’re driving, riding their bike or skateboarding. Accidents can happen even while walking and texting, so remind them to be mindful of their surroundings anytime they’re on their phones.
  • Talk to your kids about safe use of the phone’s camera. The consequences of sending inappropriate photos and videos go far beyond simply damaging someone’s reputation and could even result in criminal charges if the offense is serious enough. Make sure your kids understand that personal privacy and respect for others is important.
  • Remind your kids that the same rules that apply to web browsing at home apply to using their phones outside the house. Remind your student that websites and content that are off-limits at home are off-limits on school property as well, whether the school expressly blocks the content or not.

Some of these rules may seem arbitrary and some may not apply to your own situation, but as parents and caregivers it’s up to us to ensure our kids understand the rules we are asking them to follow.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Back-to-School with FiOS

I always loved back-to-school shopping when I was a child and I probably love it even more as a parent. There is something uniquely satisfying about filling a shopping basket with glue sticks, pens, rulers and Post-it Notes, and that’s before we start putting together the first-day-of-school outfits!

However, back-to-school shopping has changed over the last few years. Now, it’s less about notebooks and binders and more about laptops and tablets. While we may have some regrets that penmanship has given way to typing and swiping, there is no denying our kids’ need to be proficient with computers. Whether it’s participating in an after-school chat group or researching a history topic, the Internet is the new go-to resource and the ever-present homework helper.

And in the same way that smartphones and tablets have created an always-engaged work environment for parents, digital devices are rapidly blurring the boundaries between school and home for students. No longer is it possible to just rely on the computer lab and the school network to complete those projects and assignments. A fast and reliable home Internet connection is now an almost essential prerequisite for academic success.

This past Spring was a perfect example of how the home Internet plays such an important role in the life of a high schooler. As my daughter completed her sophomore year, there were countless hours of home-based test-prep, most of it done online and often with the aid of a FaceTime study group. In addition, we frequently hosted the high school debate team, with up to 15 debaters all logged on to the home network as they feverishly prepped for end-of-year tournaments.

How do you know whether your home network is up to the challenge of a new school year? One way to find out is by taking the Verizon Speed Test. If your home network isn’t delivering upload/download speeds of at least 50/50 Mbps then it may be time for an upgrade. (Yes – with all those chat groups and shared assignments, upload speeds do matter!)

So have fun with those late-August trips to the mall. Those pens and Post-it Notes are still going to come in handy. Just remember to add a fast and reliable Internet to the list – your back-to-school shopping won’t be complete without it!

The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional campaigns for Verizon.  

Helping Anxious Children with Back to School

By Tracey Dowdy

“My stomach hurts.” “What if I don’t make any friends?” “I hate the bus.” “What if my teacher is mean?” “What if I can’t find my classroom?”

If those statements and questions sound familiar or if you hear them more than once in the days leading up to the start of school, your child may be feeling anxious or stressed. It’s important that both you and your child know it’s common to feel anxious before a big change and transitioning from the carefree days of summer to the structured days of Fall is one of the biggest challenges a young child can face.

As parents, our first reaction is to protect our kids and help them avoid anything that causes them pain. But the key to helping our kids with back to school jitters is to be sure we’re equipping them and not rescuing them. Learning to manage emotions – even the unpleasant ones – is part of growing up and the more tools we can give our kids the more successful and emotionally healthy they’ll be.

If your child is anxious, the first step is to acknowledge it. Just as in adults, anxiety presents itself in different ways. Your child may seem irritable, sad, depressed or afraid. The key is to be honest about it. Open the conversation with something as simple as “You’re not yourself today. Is there something you’d like to talk about?” Be mindful that you might need to wait for your opportunity; the middle of a meltdown may not be the best time to address the issue. My kids often opened up at bedtime when I was tucking them in. There was something about the intimacy and the peacefulness of bedtime that made them feel safe enough to share their thoughts or fears.

Help your child to understand the difference between feelings and facts. When I was younger, I was terrified of sharks coming out from under my bed and I couldn’t sleep with a hand or foot hanging over the side. To my knowledge there are no documented cases of sharks lurking in pink shag carpeting but that didn’t make my fear any less real. Your preschooler’s fear of the loud, smelly bus or your fifth grader’s fear that they won’t make any friends feel very real to them, so it’s important to teach your kids that feelings can trick us and make us think things are much worse than they are. Worrying about the bus doesn’t make it unsafe and fearing you won’t have friends doesn’t mean you’re going to be lonely.

Teaching the 3 C’s can help them get those anxious thoughts under control:

  • Catch Your Thoughts – Think of your thoughts as floating in a thought bubble above your head like in cartoons. Now grab one of those thoughts as they float by.
  • Collect Evidence – Now that you’ve caught one – let’s say, “I won’t have any friends” – find reasons why that thought is or isn’t true. “My friend Carla is the same age and we’ve been together since grade one.” (Positive) “It’s a bigger school with more classes so we’ll probably get split up.” (Negative) “I made friends with Carla the first day of grade one.” (Positive)
  • Challenge Your Thoughts – Think of it like having a debate team in your brain. Take all the evidence you collected and weigh the good against the bad.

Another effective way to manage anxiety is to teach your child to focus on “what is” not on “what if.” Tom Petty was right – the waiting is the hardest part. Much of our anxiety builds up while we anticipate what could happen and results in thinking “What if no one sits with me at lunch?” or “What if I give the wrong answer if I’m called on in class?” Instead, teach your child to practice mindfulness, focusing on the present. Simple breathing exercises can slow down those anxious thoughts and help your child relax.

Avoiding stressful situations makes anxiety worse in the long run. Instead, experts suggest practicing “laddering,” which breaks down worry into small manageable pieces by setting small, easily achievable goals. For example, if your child is afraid of riding the school bus, take a walk to the city bus stop and watch people get on and off. When your child feels comfortable, ride the bus to some place fun like a park. The idea is to help your child work their way up to facing the fear.

When you see anxious feelings taking over, teach your child to how de-escalate those anxious thoughts. Using a grounding exercise like naming ten things in the room around them, a deep yawn and stretch that interrupts rapid breathing, counting backwards from twenty, picturing a happy scene, or slowing down and focusing on slow, deep breaths all help to scale back the situation.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. Roughly 8% of children and teens struggle with anxiety disorder, with girls making up more than half of that number. If your child can’t seem to manage those feelings and he or she is left feeling overwhelmed or helpless, talking to a counselor can help. Most counselors will use a family system approach and help you as a parent give the best possible support to your child.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Back-to-School Apps for Parents

By Tracey Dowdy

Getting kids ready for back-to-school takes roughly the same level of planning and commitment as the Allies invasion of Normandy and is only slightly less expensive. Unfortunately for Eisenhower, neither Google Calendar nor the Cozi Family Organizer were available back then, so the Allies had to rely on pen and paper and Morse code to keep everyone in the loop.

Fortunately for us, there are a multitude of apps to help us stay organized. If you’re getting ready for back-to-school, these apps can help.

For Younger Kids

For most kids, the first day of school means big changes in routine and adjusting everything from snack time to naps. For some kids it’s also a cause for nervousness or anxiety, because they’re out in the big wide world for the first time without a parent or caregiver.

“iStoryTime Kids Book – My First Day of School” (iOS; 99 cents) focuses on Charlie’s first day. He’s nervous but soon learns there’s a lot to look forward to and answers questions a lot of kids might have about their first day.

“Hurray for Pre-K” (iPad only; $1.99) lets you personalize the story to make it feel even more comfortable for your child. It even uses photos of kids in class so your little one can see what to expect.

Little Critter gets ready for his first day in Mercer Mayer’s interactive book, “First Day of School” (iOS, Android; $1.99). Kids follow along as he chooses his clothes, his lunch and gets on the bus. Kids can choose three different reading options and tap to tally all the spiders and mice hidden in the illustrations.


My daughters were tired of sandwiches within the first couple of weeks of school and coming up with alternatives that were nutritious and delicious was sometimes a challenge.

“LaLa Lunchbox” (iOS; free) comes to your rescue by combining forces. Kids select foods for their lunches (or any meal for that matter) by picking monsters, colors and sounds which then becomes a handy dandy grocery list for you. Kids are both empowered by being part of the process and then accountable for their choices, so there’s no good excuse for not eating their own selections.

School Supplies

Parents seem to be of two camps when it comes to buying school supplies: love it or hate it – there’s no middle ground. I loved it. My daughters and I had a blast picking out notebooks and pencil cases, backpacks and pencils. So. Much. Fun. The downside of course is that if you’re not careful, that list can add up in a hurry and end up costing as much as your first car.

‘RetailMeNot” (iOS, Android; free) offers coupons and deals on school supplies to help keep you within your budget. Simply type “school supplies” in the search bar and the app provides a list of coupons and deals from both online and traditional brick and mortar stores, including Amazon, Wal Mart, Target, Blick, Toys R Us and Office Depot.

Staying Organized

Once you’ve got the kids out the door, the challenge becomes keeping things organized.

“Cozi Family Organizer” (iOS, Android, Amazon; free) is the app dreams are made of. Well, dreams and software but you get my meaning. Keep everyone’s schedules, activities and appointments in one convenient place and link across all your devices. You can create and share chores, grocery lists and even store your recipes so meal prep is easier.

“TeamSnap” (iOS, Android; free) is ideal if you find yourself coaching soccer or are parent assistant for Glee Club. Keep track of practices, games, rehearsals, performances and whose turn it is to bring snacks all through this user friendly app. Users can even send play by play action to family and friends that couldn’t make it to the game.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

The Hard Truth About Sexting

By Stacey Ross   

I recently met a mom who was taken back when she found out that her 15 year-old son had received a photo from a classmate – namely a nude selfie that was circulating around the school. Sadly, the photo was of a young teenage girl, who was also in the boys’ class.

Had her son intended to forward or share the photo? Doubtful. Did the girl and those circulating the photo all contribute to the ensuing mess? Yes. Did everyone understand the ramifications of their actions? A big fat NO!

A sexting expert speaks

As the school year begins, Chris Duque, a cybersecurity specialist based in Hawaii, gathers parents together to enlighten them about the stark realities of the Internet, and how they can become more involved in their kids’ online worlds. He also diligently educates families of young teens about the life-changing consequences of sexting.

“Parents and teens don’t understand the ramifications of sexting until they get personally involved, but by then, the damage has already been done. My recent talk to parents revealed that most of them didn’t know the criminal liabilities their children face when sexing, but also the impact on their reputations and futures,” Duque said.

Here are a few of the points that he emphasizes:

1)     Children can face criminal penalties, as the photos or videos can be construed as child pornography.

Child pornography laws were originally designed to protect children against adult predators, but in the present digital age both consensual and non-consensual sexting can be deemed criminal when the person in the photo is under 18 years of age.  Depending on the state, consequences can include felony charges, mandatory sex offender registration, and even a prison sentence.

2)     Because of the permanence of the Internet, the photos can continue to haunt a child for life.

The internet is merciless and, sadly, what goes online is likely to stay online. As celebrities, musicians, and other online enthusiasts continue to reveal personal content at an increasing alarming rate, children run the risk of being desensitized, deeming images shared as playful and innocuous.

Duque urges everyone to take precautionary measures by steering away from images that are sexually provocative or are compromising to one’s character.

3)     Photos and videos might be used to bully the child or lead to ‘sextortion.’

Predators are very skilled at posing as teens on social media and gaming sites. They are also skilled at luring in vulnerable victims, who eventually grow to trust them enough to willingly send lewd photos of themselves to the predators. These people then reach into their bag of tricks to find crafty ways to extort money or additional images from their victims, who are trapped in the insidious racket.

Duque recommends that parents look at the sexting legislation where they live and have regular heart-to-heart chats with their kids about responsible behavior. He stresses the grave consequences of circulating compromising photos and asks students to think twice about the content of their posts. And that’s the naked truth!

Stacey_Ross_50Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.