In a normal school year, getting back into the swing of learning after winter break can be challenging for many students. During this pandemic year, when class takes place on a computer screen, it will require even more motivation.
“The back-to-school excitement of fall that didn’t quite happen is followed by the whimper of a return to virtual classes in January and what may surely look like a slump for some,” says Dr. Amy F. Parks, an educational psychologist and 20-year veteran of Fairfax County Public Schools. Parks owns The Wise Family, a psychology practice with three locations in Virginia.
Melina Robins, an Arlington Public Schools teacher for 19 years, can attest to the slump. “Sometimes the winter seems long, and both students and teachers get tired,” she says.
Parks offers parents the following tips to help keep their kids energized and engaged as the second half of the school year begins.
Revisit rules and routines
“Routines can help kids feel secure in times of uncertainty,” says Parks, “but shaking things up can also bring new energy and life to a dull lesson.”
She recommends planning a family meeting to reassess what’s working and what’s not.
“Sit down as a family and discuss what rules everyone wants to keep and what rules could change to make things flow better,” says Parks. Perhaps you decide to eat breakfast together at a scheduled time or to change the location where your child sits for virtual learning. “Be willing to stay flexible,” she adds.
Read every day
Various studies over the years have shown a correlation between reading for pleasure and academic success, in addition to a host of other benefits.
To encourage children to pick up a book instead of an electronic device—“we are all spending ridiculous, crazy, over-the-top amounts of times in front of screens!” laments Parks—the psychologist recommends families create cozy reading nooks around the house and stock up on books on a variety of topics.
“Parents should also not be afraid to ask their children’s teachers for suggestions for reading programs or suggestions for books that are just right,” adds Robins, who teaches fifth grade.
Parks has a favorite saying: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”
Even in winter, she recommends spending time outside, soaking in the sights and sounds. “Sunshine, the movement of the clouds and the gentle breeze are all nature’s rhythms, and these are all important ways to reset our own brain rhythms,” says Parks. “Our brains and bodies were not designed to function at the speed of the TV and the iPhone.”
In addition to elevating mood, stimulating creativity and energizing us, being outdoors also provides for healthy social playtime during the pandemic.
“We are fortunate to live on a block with seven other school-age kids and try to afford our boys opportunities for masked outdoor playtime with the neighbors,” says Samantha Hunter of Arlington. “Keeping an eye on our own mental health, getting outdoors when weather permits and planning regular family activities are a few of the ways we hope to keep spirits up this winter.”
Give in to the season
It’s natural during the cold, dark months to want to slow down. After all, winter is when animals hibernate and plants go dormant. “Take the time to be a bit more quiet, to be a bit more reflective,” says Parks.
Keep in mind, however, that if your child is experiencing persistent low energy and is showing diminished enthusiasm for whatever usually interests them, your child may be depressed. If the symptoms intensify, Parks recommends having the child talk to the school counselor, a child specialist or pediatrician.
Finally, remember that your encouragement can go a long way. “A fun first-day-back breakfast, notes saying you believe in your child, more frequent check-ins on engagement … are helpful ways of ensuring that everyone is off to a good re-start,” says Parks.
This story originally appeared in our January 2021 issue.