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Therapist Says Prepare Kids For School Year In Advance


School this year will be different, whether students are learning online or heading back to the classroom. In Thursday's coronavirus press conference, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine turned to a school therapist for advice on easing children and parents worries. 

Parents preparing for their child's upcoming school year have invested in textbooks and masks, tablets and hotspots. Kristi Pennington, a mental health professional and director of Hopewell Health Centers, says it's a good idea for parents to prepare children - and themselves - for some this year's challenges. For example, young children may need special reassurance about wearing masks. Pennington says the first step is for parents to accept the need for masks.


"No one's excited about the masks. But it's going to help our communities and it's going to help our kids stay in school longer if people participate in the mask wearing. So, it's helpful if parents put aside their differences about whether they like the masks or they don't like the masks, and create the conversation as more of an adventure for little kids: 'this is different, but we're all gonna wear masks and it's gonna be fine'...."


In addition to lessons on when and how to wear a mask, Pennington says it's important for kids to know it's okay to make a mistake.


"If you accidentally take your mask down, someone might ask you to put it back up, and that's okay. We're all still practicing this."


Older children will face other challenges, including no lockers. Pennington says they will have to be prepared to carry all their books and supplies with them.


Pennington also recommends parents of children attending school online get familiar with the format and expectations *before* school begins.


"Is it going to be a structure where I need to maybe help my younger student get on a Zoom call early in the morning, and how do I need to be present for that. Or is like the middle and high school students where it's going to be more self-guided and there's going to be educators that are available."


Pennington says setting up a "study space" - which can be as simple as a dedicated corner of a counter - also helps students focus, and enter an educational mindset. And she says parents should know how to contact their schools IT staff for the inevitable technical problems. 

A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.