Lesson Plan for Back to School: Keeping Things Safe and Keeping Things Sane
Some children in the United States are back in the classroom, while others are still getting ready for the new school year. The Mountain region (which includes Colorado) tends to see students returning around the middle of August.
Back-to-school can be both exciting and/or stressful, but with the COVID-19 pandemic still a factor (along with variants), that complicates things.
Children younger than 12 are not approved for vaccinations, and not all 12- to-17-year-olds are getting the shot. With more than 50 million students returning to school, this could cause a major spread in coronavirus cases.
Some people are content to let the chips fall where they may, while others fear what back-to-school may bring. That can result in stress and anxiety.
CDC Back-to-School Guidelines
Colorado is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Those include recommendations for:
- All students, staff, teachers, and school visitors to wear masks when indoors
- Maintaining a three-foot distance from others to minimize transmission risk
- Hygiene measures like hand-washing
Testing is also suggested, usually within three to five days following confirmed or suspected exposure to COVID. That goes for vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, as well as whether someone exhibits symptoms or not.
Mental health shouldn’t be forgotten in all this. Some students may:
- Fear they’ll get sick
- Worry they’ll spread COVID
- Grieve the loss of loved ones
- Live in a home struggling with reduced income
- Experience anxiety or depression
- Cope with suicidal thoughts
- Experience or witness xenophobia and racism
Signs of Stress
Stress and trauma’s effects on mental health have been well documented. Safety measures can help prevent the spread of COVID, bringing some peace of mind, but being on the lookout for signs of stress among children and adolescents is a good idea. Stress manifests in many ways among children and teens.
Among infants, toddlers, and young children stress may lead to:
- Stalled developmental milestones
- Biting, tantrums, crying more easily, or fussier behaviors
- Sleep troubles
- Stomach pain, or digestive complaints
Older children and adolescents may:
- Have mood changes
- Grow distant
- Sleep excessively or struggle to fall asleep
- Lose or gain weight, or eating patterns will change
- Show less interest in schoolwork or activities they once enjoyed
- Engage in reckless behaviors like taking drugs
- Talk about suicide or death
Watching out for signs of stress and anxiety is a solid first step. If a problem seems to be developing, pediatricians can screen for problems. Counseling also can help through loss and grief.
Helping children to build resilience, typically through a strong support network that helps them endure and rise above challenging situations, is also excellent for mental health and wellbeing. That can be developed at any time, but the younger, the better.
pewresearch.org – ‘Back to school’ means anytime from late July to after Labor Day, depending on where in the U.S. you live
usnews.com – America’s Children Head Back to School Amid Growing Uncertainty
covid19.colorado.gov – Practical Guide for Operationalizing CDC’s School Guidance
cdc.gov – Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools
healthychildren.org – Safe Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Mental Health Issues Facing the Asian American Community
healthychildren.org – Mental Health During COVID-19: Signs Your Child May Need More Support
developingchild.harvard.edu – Resilence