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How to prepare your student for back to in-person school

Extra masks, hand sanitizer, and a full water bottle should all go in backpacks.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Back to school this year will be different than any other. School districts are making plans to welcome students back in the classroom, but there are some things parents should consider as well.

"As kids go back to school, we want to make sure that we do our best to make it as normal as possible, and as positive and experience as possible," said Joann Hoganson, Director of Community Wellness with the Kent County Health Department, "while still realizing that we are in the middle of a pandemic."

Hoganson talked with 13 ON YOUR SIDE to give tips to parents and students preparing to head back to in-person learning. 

Pack extra masks.

Students will be wearing masks at many points in their school day. Add a few extra in their backpacks, in case they drop or lose them. Make sure to wash cloth masks when the student comes home, and always wear a clean one for the next day. Especially for younger students, treat mask wearing like breaking in a new pair of shoes, by having the child get used to wearing one. 

"They should start wearing a mask now, everywhere that they go," said Hoganson, "Even in the house, just so they can get start to get used to it."

RELATED: A look inside a West Michigan school preparing to welcome back students

Pack a full water bottle from home.

Many school plans will include closing off access to drinking fountains. Fill a reusable water bottle at home for the student to take with them to school. Hoganson said schools are looking at ways to replenish student's water throughout the day, whether that be with disposable water bottles or a touch-less fill station. 

Ease up on sharing rules.

It's important to teach kids to share, but not everything should be shared right now. Never share masks or food. 

"As much as we love to teach our children to be selfless, and share," said Hoganson, "it's not a good time to share snacks are share their lunch. These are all things that we don't normally want to teach our kids, but it's time to do it now, because we're in the middle of a pandemic."

Hoganson said to remind the students the new procedures, although strange, are only temporary. 

Credit: 13 OYS
Water fountains are off-limits.

It's not necessary to disinfect everything after school.

Teaching proper hand washing throughout the day is important. Showering or disinfecting every school does not need to happen if the student remembers to distance themselves. 

"If all of their items are kept in the possession of the child," said Hoganson, "there really shouldn't be a necessity to disinfect all of their items every day when they come home from school."

Remember vaccinations.

In the middle of the global pandemic, Hoganson reminds parents to not forget their child's vaccinations. Have the child's hearing and vision tested, and a regular physical.

"We are so focused on COVID, that we might be forgetting that there are other things that are dangerous for kids," said Hoganson, "And children need to get caught up on their vaccinations before they get ready to go to school, especially those kindergarteners. So, we don't need to be neglecting one area out of fear of another area. We need to be working holistically on all the needs of the kids."

RELATED: Back-to-school: Perspective from inside a local classroom

Limiting social interactions. 

It will be tough for kids to not hug their friends hello after not seeing them all summer, or since March. However, distancing is something strongly emphasized at school. A wave hello would be better. Also, school does not end after the last bell. If they are playing sports or visiting with friends, they should still keep their six feet distance. 

"This is new territory for all of us," said Hoganson, "And we're learning as we go."

Credit: 13 OYS
Students desks will be spaced 6 feet apart.

Talk to your kids about these big changes. 

This is not a normal school year. Many children are getting used to distancing and mask wearing, but parents should have a conversation with their kids before the first day of school. Try to explain why there are new things this year, or why things seem strange. 

"We need to make sure that we frame the situation to say, there is danger, kids do get sick, and they also carry the virus and make other people sick," said Hoganson, "So, we need to take it very seriously. But we don't need to panic. And, boy, it's a hard thing to get those that balance just right."

Also, watch out for signs of anxiety with children of all ages. Hoganson said kids don't always have a way of putting their anxieties into words. There is a lot changing in their lives, and they may not be handling that change well. 

"I really want to encourage parents to be sensitive to how their kids are feeling," said Hoganson, "Are they adapting well? Are they having nightmares? Are they sleeping? Are their eating habits changing? Are they more tearful or more irritable? Or are any signs that they may be having a hard time dealing with the stress of being in a pandemic and going back to school. And if they are, please reach out for help."

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