Now that we’re facing the back-to-school edition of our “new normal” with COVID-19, anxiety is in the air. Canadian parents have had to make difficult decisions: send kids back to the classroom, stick with distance learning or try homeschooling.
Whatever you’ve decided for this school year, we firmly believe that you’re making the best choices for your family—seriously, you won’t find any judgment here. And no matter what, you’re not alone in this weird new world. We chatted with seven Canadian moms for some real talk on what the first week back to school in 2020 looked like for them and their kids.
“We were dropping her off to someone we had never met and to a school we had never been inside.”
The mom: Thanh Phung, @loveandsundays
The kiddo: Mia (turning 5)
The city: Halifax, NS
“Having a child starting ‘big-kid school’ during a pandemic has been challenging. We weren’t able to have the normal orientation with the school prior to classes starting, so we were dropping her off to someone we had never met and to a school we had never been inside. It was unnerving.
“Preparation went beyond just making sure Mia had supplies from a list and her outfit picked out for the first day. We had to go over procedural things like mask hygiene, hand washing and social distancing. I worry about how our kids will be impacted socially and emotionally by this ‘new’ way of doing school.
“Thankfully, Mia’s teacher and school seem to have found ways to make learning during COVID fun and educational while respecting the safety precautions. They have portable desks and seats that they can take outside when the weather permits, and her teacher is making a tremendous effort to share images and videos of the classroom activities so us parents are put to ease. I’m grateful that I felt most of the anxiety about COVID and school for Mia because she’s only feeling excitement each day.”
“It just reminds me how resilient our kids are.”
The mom: Natalie Bell, @PegCityLovely
The kiddo: Jhase (8)
The city: Winnipeg, MB
“Parents aren’t allowed in the school, so drop-off is a lengthier process, yet there’s a shorter timeframe given to actually drop off. Overall though, I honestly thought the transition with all of the ‘rules,’ mask-wearing and classroom space changes would be tough, but it just reminds me how resilient our kids are. I could learn a thing or two from Jhase.
“My son is so happy to be back in his classroom setting—mask and all! He missed his friends. He missed that routine. The new way of doing school hasn’t phased him one bit!”
“I know he’s going through a lot, so I always pack a tiny surprise for him.”
The mom: Maca Atencio, @hey.maca
The kiddos: Nico (7) and Olivia (4, finishing daycare)
The city: Montreal, QC
“I love packing Nico’s lunch boxes every morning—I know he’s going through a lot, so I always pack a tiny surprise for him. Oli started daycare three weeks before Nico started school and it was a big adjustment for both of them—a totally new routine.
“We can’t hug as long as we were used to, because I can’t bring them inside due to the new social-distancing rules, and we had to adjust the way we say goodbye every day. Nico wears a mask as soon as he steps in school and the students can only play with their class friends. The teachers bring them to separate areas of the school so the groups can keep the social-distancing measures.
“Nico and Oli are both trying to understand COVID. We keep hearing questions on how it started, what would happen if there’s a positive case at school and if they can stay home with mama and daddy. We are giving them some extra support, talking about it and always reminding them about washing our hands and that the most important part is keeping distance.”
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“She is aware of what’s going on, which can be scary for a child of that age.”
The mom: Monique Taylor-Yee Shui, @bymeaux
The kiddos: Savannah (7) and Sydney (5)
The city: Toronto, ON
“While my older daughter did end up adapting to distance learning, I still felt that an in-person experience was best for her learning style, which played a part in our decision to send both girls back to school. They go to a private school and they already had small class sizes, and some parents opting not to send their kids back made them even smaller.
“I thought drop-off was going to be chaotic and it wasn’t, which I can attribute to the school planning and sending communication in advance. My older daughter was a bit nervous because she didn’t know what to expect—she is aware of what’s going on, which can be scary for a child of that age. When she started seeing her friends and got her cubby and hook (which were socially distanced), it helped make her more comfortable.
“The anxiety that I have is that this virus is still present. Typically, on weekends, the girls would go see their grandparents. We made the decision for this first month that they’ll only do FaceTime. It’s a bit disheartening, but at least we have the technology to do video chats with my parents.”
See Monique and her girls in their video for easy back-to-school lunches that take 10 minutes or less.
“We’re able to walk to the school, which makes for some dedicated time to speak about thoughts, feelings and concerns.”
The mom: Katherine Flemming, @kflemming
The kiddo: Gavin (5)
The city: Newmarket, ON
“The return to school has been surprisingly wonderful! We recently moved, so it’s a new school in a new neighbourhood. We’re able to walk to the school, which makes for some dedicated time to speak about thoughts, feelings and concerns. Gavin’s nerves were mostly new-school jitters as opposed to anything related to the virus, though.
“We’ve been talking lots about mask etiquette at home, and we did several practice runs in stores. The school placed inflatable crocodile floats on the outside of the gates, which all the kids find hilarious, and it’s designed to remind kids how far apart they need to stay from each other.
“From what I’ve observed with him and other kids wearing masks, they’re quite unfazed by it all. I asked him about wearing it, and he told me that when he took it off, the teacher reminded him to wear it, and then he put it back on. It was very much a non-issue.”
“At pick-up time she told me she had a ‘great day,’ and I knew I made the right decision to send her to in-person learning.”
The mom: Karen Robock, @robock
The kiddos: Maisie (3) and Matilda (7)
The city: Toronto, ON
“This isn’t how I imagined Maisie’s first first day of JK would go, but I was so impressed by her bravery. Even if things are far from normal at school, my daughter was still able to run, play and get to know her classroom and educators. At pick-up time she told me she had a ‘great day,’ and I knew I made the right decision to send her to in-person learning.
“Matilda will be taking the bus again this year, but busing isn’t starting until next week. Things sound much the same as in class: masks on, space between kids, minimal surface’touching and lots of hand sanitizing.
“My kids’ teachers have had so many smart safety suggestions, like sending a cloth napkin to place under their lunch bags to reduce contact with surfaces, and ensuring they have back-up face masks in their backpacks with a cloth bag where they can put soiled masks. It seems crazy to think, but I suspect that it won’t be long before all of these ‘new normal’ safety measures will be no biggie for our kids. They are so incredibly adaptable—much more so than us crusty, complain-y parents!
“My little kids have a lot of big feelings right now. There are so many unknowns and the world is a little larger and scarier than usual for them. I’m trying to give them space, extra time (especially on school mornings!) and lead with empathy. These are tough times for us all, but especially for our children.”
“I told her what the school would look like and gave her the option.”
The mom: Sarah Nantel, @heysarahdarling
The kiddo: Isla (6)
The city: Calgary, AB
“When the pandemic first hit in March, Isla had really bad anxiety and I think that she was picking it up from me. Having to wear masks and use hand sanitizer all the time, she actually had really scary nightmares and would wake up crying—it was affecting her so much. Being around anything that has to do with COVID-19, or places with strict protocols like the schools right now… I just didn’t think it would be the best thing for her mental health.
“That was what my decision to homeschool was mainly based off of, but I did involve her in the decision. I sat her down and I told her what the school would look like and gave her the option.
“There are so many pieces that need to come together to homeschool, but we decided to create our own learning goals to line up with Alberta’s curriculum. This way, you get to create your child’s education plan, and you can base it off of their interests and strengths. Having taught for 10 years, I have an idea of the things that she should be focusing more on, like literacy and math, but I didn’t take on as much in the other learning areas.
“To balance things out with caring for Noa [my one-year-old] and working almost full-time, we hired a part-time nanny. For us, it has been such a game-changer—she’s a real-life Mary Poppins.”