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  • Writer's pictureKelly Carmichael Booz

Lessons Learned from Camp: Four Questions to Ask Parents and Caregivers for Back-to-School Season

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

This summer, we sent our elder child (a third-grader) to her first sleepaway camp. She’s always been pretty independent and jumped at the idea of going to camp with her friend. To keep campers and staff safe, she went through three rounds of COVID-19 testing, doing a PCR test three to five days before arrival, a rapid test upon arrival, and another PCR test five days into camp. Parents and caregivers were not permitted out of their vehicles at drop-off and pickup, and everyone wore masks. The regular testing and safety protocols made us feel comfortable we were making the right decision to send her, in addition to the fact that so much of camp is spent outside. Even better: No devices. Zero. Nada. After a year of nonstop virtual learning, it was a welcome break.

More than that, the camp asked four questions adapted from Bob Ditter, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in child, adolescent and family therapy. He speaks and works with camp professionals throughout the year to educate them about best practices for working with children. The questions he developed for the camp staff are questions that every teacher should use with parents and caregivers this year as we focus on not only learning recovery but social-emotional recovery.

  1. Experiences: What losses or significant changes has your child experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic? (Examples might be death of a relative or family friend, parental job or business loss, loss of school or sports season, or cancellation of travel plans.)

  2. Feelings: How has your child handled being out of school, away from their friends and sheltered-in-place with your family? (Examples would be irritable, cranky, anxious, calm or focused.) If it is mixed, please share as complete a picture as you can. If they were in person the entire time, how did they feel about it? If they were fully virtual, how did they feel about that? If they were virtual and then switched to hybrid, how did that feel?

  3. Anticipation: What has been your child’s reaction when they knew they were coming to camp [for our purposes, substitute “returning to school”]? (Please give a full mix of the reactions: for example, excited, relieved, nervous, anxious (about what), eager and/or hesitant.) My incoming first-grader, for example—who spent the majority of his kindergarten year virtually and then two days a week in person with six students—is feeling pretty anxious about his return to school. Our third-grader, who before COVID had a traditional kindergarten year and a partial first-grade year, is thrilled to go back.

  4. Behavior: Is there anything else about your child’s behavior during the pandemic that you think will help us help them take full advantage of their time with us?

As part of the camp’s staff training, they do a similar exercise with staff and an in-depth training on how to better support campers in addition to a training with Bob Ditter.

In a week, I will send my two kids, rising first- and third-graders, off to school in person, five days a week. They will wear masks, thanks to the mandatory mask policy in our school district. As the delta variant continues to affect more and more people, particularly unvaccinated kids and adults, I’m grateful our district is mandating masks for everyone and considering mandating vaccines or regular testing. These efforts, like the three rounds of COVID-19 testing at camp, are crucial to help keep our kids and staff safe, particularly kids who are under 12 and ineligible for the vaccine, or 12 and over who are immunocompromised or cannot get the vaccine for medical or religious reasons.

Sure, I am feeling anxious about the delta variant and returning to school. However, I also believe that in-person learning is critical for kids, particularly our younger students and students with disabilities, and the social-emotional benefits transcend age. This last year of nonstop pivoting, a lack of routine, and challenging virtual learning took a toll on a lot of us, from learning loss to mental health and social-emotional health (and I’m talking both adults and kids!). I’ve seen the impact and the toll it’s taken on our own kids and also shared the impact it’s taken on me, along with hearing from so many of you.

That said, I have hope. Back-to-school time is exciting. It’s a time of new outfits, backpacks and, in this case, some cool new face masks. It’s a time of starting new, building community and starting new routines, even if your routine now includes a daily health screening and reacquainting yourself to in-person teaching minus the hybrid or concurrent approach.

In the meantime, get vaccinated, wear masks, ask good, thoughtful questions to parents and caregivers (I’m raising my hand to say it means a lot), stay home if you have symptoms, get tested, and find something that makes you smile wherever you are. Here’s my latest laugh:

Republished with permission from Share My Lesson.

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