"We know how to protect children from COVID-19 at school. If you look at the data, when you have kids going back to school appropriately -- that is, with masks, distancing and ventilation -- and you have vaccinated adults who work in the school, you are going to see almost no transmissions happening in that situation." - Yvonne Maldonado, MD, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases.

In the U.S., it's still summer, but some children are already back at school and others will begin very soon.  Given the rapid spread of the Covid Delta variant in some parts of the country, and the increased number of infections among children, many parents are reconsidering whether they want to send their child back to school. And yet, many school districts are reluctant to continue offering the option of remote learning, since they want to encourage children to attend school physically, where most kids are arguably more likely to learn.

The truth is that there are no easy answers. We know that remote learning doesn't work for many children and that kids benefit tremendously from the engagement and social aspects of school. Many parents can't homeschool or stay home with children. And yet, we worry about keeping our children safe in communities (and schools) where masks and vaccinations remain optional and infection rates are surging.

Whether your child will be in a classroom, doing remote learning at home, or home-schooling, you've probably spent a lot of time thinking (worrying? agonizing?) about how to make things work for your family this autumn.

But there are a few things to remember that will help you stay anchored in what matters most, regardless of what path you're taking.

1. This does not have to be a permanent decision.

Maybe you send your child to school but keep an eagle eye on infection rates in your community so you can keep them home if infection rates soar. Maybe you decide to home-school but you end up realizing that it doesn't work for you. Take a breath, be honest about what isn't working, and make a different decision. Maybe you'll change your approach to home-schooling. Maybe you'll enroll your child in the local public school, either in person or remotely. Maybe you'll take the year off school and set up a play pod with two other families so you can each work full or part-time. The point is that you can change anything that isn't working, including remote learning or in-person school.

2. Don't sweat the small stuff.

It's still a pandemic, as weary as we are of that. Of course you want what's best for your child, but this isn't the time to obsess about academics. A child who is curious and loves to learn will  be able to catch up in school, with a little extra support. So remember what matters most for your child's emotional and intellectual development:

  • Supportive family relationships so your child develops emotional intelligence and the ability to manage emotions.
  • Interesting conversations so your child develops curiosity about the world and the ability to express herself.
  • An ongoing experience of books as a doorway to wonder and excitement, so your child loves to read and develops reading comprehension.
  • Plentiful opportunities for creative expression and independent play, so your child learns to access their inner passions. 
  • A love of nature so your child can always ground himself in something deeper. (This is also an effective foundation for faith if that is part of your value system.)
  • Parents who maintain their own emotional equilibrium and emotional generosity, so they can help the child work through whatever struggles come up.

Notice that school is not necessary for these priorities. Did I leave important learning off this list? Yes, of course. But a child who loves to learn and can manage their emotions can easily catch up with math and history. And math is one of the subjects that actually has good online learning options.

3. Children are resilient.

Wearing a mask all day at school is hard. Staying engaged in learning remotely is much harder, although in a different way.

But your child can do hard things, if you give them enough support. We don't need to remove most obstacles from our child's path. We need to acknowledge that the obstacles are hard, and then give our child enough support to tackle them. That's what raises a resilient child.

And what if there is simply no way to give your child enough support so they can stay focused with remote learning? Remember points #1 and #2, above. Your child's emotional well-being and love of learning is the foundation of all future academic achievement. If what you're doing isn't working, stay open to new options. Your autumn might not look like what you thought it would look like, but if your child is experiencing the bullet points in #2 (above), you're giving them a solid foundation for a lifetime of learning. And that matters much more than whatever lessons are part of the curriculum in a given school year.