Going back to school is a time of excitement and high energy for kids across the country. It’s the season of back-to-school shopping, clean, fresh notebooks, and brand-new shoes. Even as a homeschooling family, my kids have always wanted to go “back to school” shopping, even though “school” was the kitchen table!
This year, for millions of kids, the fun of going back to school was zapped by the monumental disasters that hit our country with a vengeance.
Record-setting wildfires in the western U.S.
In my own hometown, the local high school was destroyed by the flooding of Hurricane Harvey beyond any kind of quick repair; it needs to be completely gutted and put back together with brand-new furnishings, appliances, and electrical systems. The authorities announced a few days after the hurricane passed that for high school kids in Kingwood, they would be bussed some 45 minutes away. Schools across Texas’ Gulf Coast and Florida have been closed indefinitely or are being used as shelters and supply distribution points. Wildfire dangers and poor air quality have delayed the opening of schools from Northern California through Oregon and Montana.
Can you imagine how scary this is, no matter how stoically mature or happy-go-lucky some kids try to be? Now, instead of sitting down every night to the expected routine of homework after a full day of classes, many of them are trekking out to unfamiliar schools in the surrounding cities, a few are trying their hands at being homeschooled, and others, whose parents are faced with indecision about what to do next, are simply doing nothing at all.
So how does a beleaguered family begin the school year all over again, and bring back the excitement of having a fresh start to a new school year?
Establish and keep a routine
Schools may still be closed or you might be schooling from home for the time being, but your family still needs a routine. It’s easy to wake up later and later and stay up into the wee hours of morning until the whole family’s biorhythm is out of whack. Start having a bedtime and wake up call again, make chore checklists, and have them read or do some homework for a few hours every day.
Add some special touches and surprises
Schedule your own Back to School Day with a few surprises thrown in. Make a special breakfast or treat them to their favorite smoothie or Starbucks drink. Craft stores sell inexpensive neon t-shirts for right around $3. Buy one for each member of the family and create your own “school spirit” shirts using Sharpie Permanent Markers! Be sure to mark the shirts with the date and “Hurricane Irma” or whatever disaster you’re dealing with. Make sure everyone signs it in their favorite Sharpie color!
Nothing is as cheery as a splash of bright color. Kids will love using fun, creative colors for their notetaking and worksheets. Our family loves PaperMate’s InkJoy Gel Pens. They come in the full rainbow of 14 vivid colors and are so nice to write with! They add a burst of joy to any note, illustration, or assignment (if allowed), and Sharpie’s Clear View highlighters are a bright addition for note-taking and are excellent back-to-school products at any time, not just during disasters! I’ve been pleased with the clear, bright color of these highlighters and a clear tip that lets me see exactly what I’m highlighting.
Consider all educational options where there is no school
If your school district remains undecided about how to proceed with starting school in the near term, then take control of your family’s future and evaluate your options. They will include enrolling in a private or charter school that is accessible (transportation could be an issue), homeschooling, hiring private tutors, and various online options.
Our beloved Ambleside Online group created a simplified curriculum specifically for families in this scenario who have never homeschooled before. You really should check it out, even if your school eventually opens. It’s a faith-based curriculum, but you can easily edit the subjects you wish to include and delete. Some online options are the K-12 virtual schools across the country (these are free), Khan Academy (also free), The Academy at Bright Ideas Press, IXL (starts at $9.95/month), Starfall (my kids and I loved this site), and so many more. Your at-home options will boggle your mind once you start researching into what’s available.
Turn your home into a classroom
Remember that learning doesn’t just happen seated at a desk in a classroom. What can your kids learn from the events around them? How about having them volunteer to demo a flooded home? They will learn to use different tools, some basic construction, and how to show compassion towards someone who’s lost everything. Need to evacuate? Include your kids in planning your route, let them chime in with ideas, decide what to pack, and then let them hold the map (yes, a paper map!) and work with them to get your family out safely. Tuning in to the emergency NOAA radio channel will help them learn more about emergency preparedness and weather.
My homeschooled kids and I loved the curriculum from Ambleside Online, especially the emphasis on Nature Study. As the weather cools down, this is the ideal time to begin closely observing, learning about, and then illustrating the surrounding nature. Younger kids will gravitate toward the juicy-scented, twistable colored pencils and crayons from Mr. Sketch, and older kids will be able to add finer details with Sharpie’s Art Pens. Whether it’s storm clouds, a fiery horizon, autumn leaves, or rushing waters, this time of year yields a wealth of Mother Nature at her finest.
If you know what the regular school schedule would have been, try sticking with it as closely as you can. P.E. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays? Ride bikes, go for a family run or hike, or, if you’re stuck indoors, YouTube has a multitude of kid-friendly exercise videos. Science, math, language arts, music, history — every subject can be covered at home in one way or another.
I saved my favorite and best learning tip for last. A family read-aloud time is one of the best ways that I know of to build family bonds by simply sharing a story together. Some of the favorites my own family has shared over the years are the Percy Jackson series, Sign of the Beaver, The Magic Treehouse series, and many more. This site has a list of the 100 best books for read-alouds. Keep in mind that children who are quite young can follow the story line of a more advanced chapter book and teenagers and adults love read-alouds, too! To this day, when I hear my kids use very advanced words in their everyday chats with family and friends, I give myself a silent pat on the back for all those hours of reading aloud to them.
Find ways to maintain health and a balanced lifestyle
When you’re stuck in the house and emotions are running high, it’s more important than ever to maintain healthy habits. As the hurricane rages, floodwaters fill streets and parks, and forests go up in flames, you may be inside for several days in a row, and it will be easy to sink into habits that aren’t exactly healthy. So, turn this time into a health lesson by teaching about healthy nutrition and staying hydrated. When you’re able to get outside, the weather will be warm, and a BPA-free Contigo AUTOSPOUT Chug water bottle is a great companion for outdoor activities. I like the fact that kids can easily see the ounce markings to keep track of their water intake and the AUTOSEAL feature helps to prevent spills.
Probably one of the biggest foes of an active lifestyle is screen time: TV, video games, computers, smartphones. It can be tempting to let the TV or video games babysit the kids, but becoming more and more sedentary is never good for anyone, especially energetic and inquisitive kids! Find ways to build physical activity into your days, like volunteering to work on homes or in food banks, or biking around ruined neighborhoods to offer food or water to homeowners. Hard work and compassion, not a Netflix marathon, are what will build character in your kids, and you, too.
At some point, moms, you’ll need Mom Time. For me, it’s been an occasional epsom salts bath with a glass of Moscato. Caffeine-loving moms will appreciate Contigo’s vacuum insulated West Loop travel mug with the all-important AUTOSEAL feature. It’s a handy way to keep comforting warm beverage at arm’s length throughout the day and night and warm up to 5 hours. Parenting is hard. Parenting and schooling in a crisis is harder.
Here in the heart of Harvey-flooded territory, local businesses rallied to the cause and provided assistance of all kinds. In my town, a local gym was offering free membership to those whose gyms had been destroyed by flood waters, churches have offered free childcare and are acting as distribution points with diapers, food, clothing, and basic school supplies. Every day since the hurricane, there have been free, hot meals served at churches and in front of grocery stores and restaurants for anyone who wants it. If your community has been impacted, don’t be shy about taking up on offers of help, and join local Facebook groups where you’ll find up-to-date information.
Natural disasters and everyday emergencies happen to all of us. They take the wind out of our sails and change plans and expectations in a matter of seconds. This school year, even if your life has been upended by disaster, you, your kids, and your entire family could be embarking on a memorable journey you’ll never forget!
This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks on behalf of Newell Brands, but my opinions and recommendations are my own.
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