Back to School 2020

Karen Libber Fishbein, LCSW, is a therapist and mother who lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two daughters. As a licensed clinical social worker, Karen specializes in counseling college students and young adults with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating issues, relational challenges and difficult family dynamics.

It is Back to School Season 2020! What does that mean this year amid the coronavirus pandemic? It certainly is different than other years. I can think of numerous possibilities and options for school, and none of them are ideal.  Five options are listed below.  Each option has its own risks and challenges for children, families, and teachers. 

Option One: Our children go to school daily in person, like all other years, and we worry for their safety, their teachers’ safety, and the safety of their parents and caregivers.  

Option Two: Children go to school two or three days per week, or alternatively each day but for less time than usual. This option likely involves fewer students in each class. Yes, exposure to COVID is theoretically reduced in this model, but there is still some risk, and what are parents and caregivers supposed to do if they work during the days/times their children aren’t in school?

Option Three: Children engage in entirely virtual learning. Of course, this greatly reduces the risk of the virus inflicting students, families, and teachers, but how much learning can children actually absorb via Zoom, online programming, or Google chat? Also, who is supposed to coordinate and supervise this learning? I have you in mind, parents and caregivers who are lucky enough to be able to work from home, but also have demanding jobs. For parents who work on-site, this scenario is even more challenging. Also, what about socialization with other children? I find it hard to believe that virtual school can provide the adequate level of socialization children need to develop into their best selves.

Option Four: Parent(s) take(s) time away from the workforce to provide care/instruction for their children at home; for all intents and purposes, this is homeschooling. For the right parent/children this may be feasible, but what will the long-term costs be for the parent who exits the workforce for an extended period? Also, what does socialization look like in this group as well? How can families guiding their children’s learning at home engage in socialization in a safe way?

A final fifth option involves creating a learning pod of a few children and one teacher. This seems like the best scenario to reduce risk and increase learning, but it is not without significant financial expenses and logistical hurdles.  How are parents supposed to achieve a full day’s worth of work while hosting multiple children in their home to learn, especially younger children? Children are hardwired to explore their surroundings physically and cognitively, ask questions, laugh, and learn experientially (particularly through play). I cannot imagine having a teacher and multiple children doing what they are supposed to do in my modest 2400 square foot home, while both my husband and I are expected to work remotely.

I am a mom to two daughters, ages almost five and seven.  They are both terrific kids (yes, I am biased), but I do wonder what kind of long-term impact their recent schooling (or lack thereof) may have on their futures. My husband and I tried to engage our seven-year-old in her virtual first grade class this past spring, but she was way more interested in hands-on learning. We visited a local farm each week, she learned about gardening and baking, she took up singing as a hobby, and she started piano lessons with her grandfather. In the home environment, engaging with her Google classroom or examining different academic materials was very boring, and she would tune out quickly.  

Interestingly, our almost five-year-old has benefitted greatly from the extra time at home with her family and away from a structured school setting. Her appetite and sleep have improved, and her semi-frequent behavioral outbursts have almost disappeared.  What does this mean for her return to school? Well it’s a bit complicated! We currently have her enrolled in kindergarten as one of the youngest students in her class; her birthday is the cutoff date.  Our school’s current plan is to be virtual through the middle of November at the earliest. Given her progress over the last few months, her young age, and the thought of a five-year-old being plugged into a screen for daily learning, we plan to pull her from kindergarten this year and start her next year.  

This is the first time in history when virtual education of our youth is the most viable option. It will probably be one of the greatest social experiments of our time, and our children will be the guinea pigs.   How will this new way of learning influence our children? While they may not be as advanced in reading, writing, or math as their recent predecessors, I remain hopeful that living through the pandemic will develop different skills and strengths that will shape their futures in meaningful, intangible ways.

Anti-Racism Resources for Children and Families

Thoughtful parents are reflecting, protesting, changing, listening, and learning. Here are resources to engage our children in conversation and action:

Re-Emerging from Quarantine

Dr. Corinne Masur

States are opening up.  Beaches are opening up.  

Camp is cancelled. 

And we are tired of being quarantined.

Parents are asking: 

Can we re-emerge? And how do we do it safely? 

Lots of people have started considering their options. They have started to think about seeing people, about going back to work, about actually eating out. And they feel like they can’t survive much longer without setting up some sort of play dates for their kids or young teens. 

The isolation, the deprivation is just getting to be too much.

Some people have said “To !@#!@ with it, I’ll just get the virus and get it over with”.

Some people have said, “Well I’m just going to just see people who aren’t seeing other people.” They’ve formed “pods.”

Some people have said, “I have to get back to work. I can’t not work anymore. The economy just can’t tolerate it and neither can I.”

Some people have invited a hair dresser to their house to give them and their families a haircut.

It is hard to live lives so different from what we’re used to. It is hard not to see the people we love, the people we have fun with, the people we want to hug and kiss. It is hard to socialize only on screens.

And many of us feel like we’ve reached our limit.

But now what?

Is it Ok to arrange some play dates? 

And how about going to the beach? What about swimming in a neighbor’s pool? Or setting up a baby pool and inviting other kids to come over and get in?

Well, states ARE opening up, restaurants and business are opening and the beaches ARE open in some places – but Coronavirus has not gone away.

For those children and adults who have not had it, it is still a risk to socialize with others whose socialization histories we don’t know. According to a former director of the CDC, as quoted in a recent article in the New York Times, “We’re reopening based on politics, ideology and public pressure. And I think it’s going to end badly.”

In other words, we’re opening because we’re tired of this.

And, as a result, according to the article, “The much-feared “second wave” of infection may not wait until fall, many scientists say, and instead may become a storm of wavelets breaking unpredictably across the country.” But we won’t see this wave right away. “It takes two or three weeks for the newly infected who become severely ill to need hospitalization. An initial calm may encourage more Americans to drop their guard or more governors to ease restrictions.”

In other words, we need to persevere with masks and social distances and a certain amount of deprivation.

We need to get out. But we need to get out safely. So here are some tips:

If you want to set up play dates, consider having them outdoors with only a couple of children at a time. Let the children know ahead of time what the rules are for social distancing.        

Try some of the following:

  • Letting your kids ride bikes or scooters with a couple of friends, staying several feet away from each other.
  • Letting your kids play one on one badminton if you have a net or tennis if you have access to a court – being across the net from each other is automatic distancing! Just make sure you let them know that BEFORE and AFTER the games it will be time for 6 feet apart again.
  • Meeting another family at a state park which has a lake and have each family rent a canoe and paddle around together.
  • Meeting another family at a trail and letting the kids hike or mountain bike on a trail, keeping social distance while on the trail and when off the bikes.
  • Getting together with other kids who have been quarantined and whose parents have been careful about social distancing and who are not going to work yet. 
  • Letting teens who drive and have access to a car  get together by driving their cars to a common place (a park or parking lot) and talking to each other from the cars.
  • Having your family setup chairs outside to visit with others that way, being clear with the kids that they must give everyone 6 feet.
  • Going to an older relative’s house and setting up chairs on their lawn or side walk for a short visit.
  • Going to the beach and taking a large beach blanket and it making it YOUR space. Let your children know before you go that they must either stay on your beach blanket or take a walk or a swim with you or each other (depending on their ages) and keep at least 6 feel from anyone else.
  • AND continue getting together online.

But what about toddlers who cannot understand about social distancing?  A grandmother recently asked if she should have a social distancing barbeque with her daughter and son in law and their 18-month-old.  Her husband is dying to hug his grandson and simply cannot wait another month! 

This is tough.  We want to see each other, touch and hug each other – and toddlers, who are often naturally affectionate, will want do that more than anyone!

My advice to this grandmother was to have the barbeque – we NEED to see the ones we love.  But we need to do it safely. I suggested that the toddler be allowed to hug grandma and grandpa around the legs and that EVERYONE keep the 6-foot distance from one another the rest of the time.  That won’t be enough – but it’s better than nothing.  And I suggested having the parents prepare their toddler for what a “grandma and grandpa hug” will be – and to practice it before they go. Again, it won’t be easy – but it will be better than not seeing each at all.

And what about going to restaurants, getting haircuts at the salon and that sort of thing?

Well, social distancing and wearing masks and washing hands frequently are still the safest ways we know to stay well. If you feel you can go out AND take these precautions while being out, if you are willing to take a bit more risk, then do so.  Different families have different levels of risk tolerance.  We will see plenty of people doing things we wouldn’t do or at least that we haven’t done yet. This will challenge our own standards and beliefs about what is safe.  

It’s hard.  We will be tempted to judge other families for their choices and we may feel judged for ours. 

We all just have to make the choices for ourselves and our children that we feel are best for us and let others do the same.

Week 8

georgina-vigliecca-dr1U6IZldVE-unsplashDr. Fran Martin

We’ve been at this, this quarantine for a long time:  Two months now, and still counting. 

I am watching children, and of course their parents, (but I’ll come back to them) lose some of their excitement over the newness of no school.  Like the rest of us, they are missing life as they had come to know it – the routine of school or day-care, days filled with friends and predictable activities, and then time with their parents.  Needing to be home all the time, seeing no one but immediate family is getting old and tiresome.  Fuses are becoming shorter; resilience is diminishing.  What seemed kind of fun at first, now may  feel way less exciting. Continue reading

Answers for Kids’ Pandemic Questions

photo-1475609471617-0ef53b59cff5Check out this helpful resource from Psychology Today!

Here’s a sample Q&A:

I’m scared to go to bed.  What if you get the virus while I’m sleeping and go to the hospital or die?


Mommy and Daddy are keeping themselves safe and you safe by staying home. If we have to go to the grocery store, we wear gloves and face masks to protect ourselves and then we wash our hands when we come home. We protect ourselves and we protect you from getting sick. We are all safe.


Working from Home

photo-1585183575305-750ab15467b6Dr. Corinne Masur

So many parents I talk to are working from home and having trouble making it work.

People who are single parents or whose partners are essential workers are alone most of the time and have no one to trade off with on child care.

Or, if parents do have a partner at home, they’re saying that taking turns taking care of the children is hard– especially when they both need to work at the same time but the children can’t manage on their own.

And infants, toddlers, and young children pay NO attention to any schedule you might have decided on.

So – what to do? Continue reading