The Back to School Guide for These Unconventional Times

Back-to-school season is traditionally marked by a run on discounted pencils, overcrowded malls and lots of nail-biting nerves about new teachers. But this year, the woman putting on young girls face maskback-to-school season is entirely different. Forget the crowds and a race to find the hottest-selling backpack. This year, it’s all about the trendiest face masks and getting ready for a school year that promises to be unlike any other. And for a child, that can be more than a little frightening.

As with every transition, proper mindset and preparation is key to smoothing out the inevitable bumps and hurdles. Whether your school district is starting off the year exclusively with distance learning, going back to in-person learning five days a week or they’ve settled on something in between, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s our complete guide to helping you prepare your child for the new school year in these unconventional times.

Talk to your child about what to expect

The more your child knows about the dynamics of the upcoming school year, the better off they’ll be. As the situation evolves, and you learn more details about the year’s schooling, speak to your child about what to expect. If your school’s administration has decided to continue in-person instruction with daily temperature checks, let your child know to expect them. If the school year will start off with remote learning and tentative plans for returning to in-person instruction in January, share this information with your child. The more your child knows, the easier it will be for them to handle changes as events unfold.

Create a back-from-school protocol to keep your home safe

If your child will be going to school full-time, or even partially, it’s important to establish a sanitizing ritual for them to adhere to when they walk through the front door after each day of school.

“When children return from school, they should immediately sanitize their hands,” advises board-certified pediatrician, Dr. Candice W. Jones. “Once at home, at the very least, they should remove clothes/shoes and place them in the laundry, or in a designated safe place for disinfecting. A shower would be great, but is not absolutely necessary.”

Talk to your child about this daily disinfecting routine, and run a practice round or two to make it easier to remember when school starts.

Zooming in on remote schooling

Many states and school districts have announced the continuation of distance learning for the start of the new school year. If the idea of sitting your child down in front of the screen for hours at a time again makes your head spin, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Dr. Linda Carling, an associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins University, shares these tips for helping children succeed at remote learning:

Encourage movement. Squeeze in some stretching breaks throughout the school day and pencil in larger chunks of time for longer exercises, like a bike ride around the block. If your child finds it particularly difficult to sit still for long periods of time, set up a tablet or laptop on a raised surface and have your child stand through their classes.

Reduce distractions. Create a distraction-free zone for your child’s learning to help boost their focus. Noise-canceling headphones can also be helpful to drown out auditory distractions.

Adjust your schedule as needed. Many younger children need constant or intermittent guidance to help them with their remote learning. If possible, adjust your own schedule so you can be on hand to help your child as necessary.

Use a checklist for focus. A basic visual checklist of tasks that need to be completed can help children focus. Draw up the checklist with your child at the beginning of each day and have them cross off tasks as they’re completed.

Provide immediate positive feedback. Each time your child successfully follows instructions, provide immediate and positive feedback. You can keep it small, from a sticker on their work assignment or words of praise to an extra 15 minutes of play before bedtime.

Help your child prepare for face mask wearing while at school

School supply lists are looking very different this year, with “face masks” penciled in right next to “erasers” and “glue.” But having your child wear a mask for hours on end while sitting through school can sound next to impossible.

To help your child prepare for face mask wearing while at school, it’s best to model positivity.

It’s no secret that kids mimic the adults in their lives. Though you may find it difficult to wear a mask yourself, you can help your child build up a positive attitude about mask-wearing by talking about how your mask is keeping you and others safe, as well as how the discomfort is a small price to pay for safety.

It’s also a good idea to practice mask-wearing at home. This will serve the dual purpose of getting your child accustomed to wearing a mask, and help to ensure your child is wearing it correctly before school starts. If your child is particularly resistant to wearing a mask, you may want to employ some strategies, like having them wear the mask for the length of their favorite song, or playing dress-up as a doctor or your child’s favorite superhero.

For the sensory child, face masks can be a nightmare. Make it easier by finding the style that is most comfortable for your child, whether that’s a classic ear-loop mask, a bandanna style covering, or a neck gaiter. Extenders or button headbands can also be a welcome relief for irritated ears.

Finally, make masks fun again by choosing a child-friendly pattern. You can go with these adorable bear face masks from Amazon, have your child design their own mask on Etsy, choose an extra breathable and lightweight mask from Athleta or pick out a mask featuring your child’s favorite movie character from Disney.

Get the school year off to a great start with these preparatory tips for you and your child.

Your Turn: How are you preparing for the upcoming school year? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
franciscanhealth.org
education.jhu.edu
today.com
cdc.gov
realsimple.com

Video Conferencing Apps: Zoom vs. Skype vs. Google Hangouts

Zoom logoZoom
While businesses across the country are bleeding money and struggling to make payroll since the coronavirus pandemic hit, the cloud-based video conferencing platform has been enjoying an unparalleled explosion in downloads. In the third week of March, 2020, communication apps took the first spot as the most downloaded apps. Zoom was No. 1, with close to 20 million downloads in just one week according to data provided by analytics firm Sensor Tower. The app was installed about 3.7 times more than Skype and 8.6 times more than Google Hangouts since the pandemic hit.

The app is free for one-on-one users and pricing generally starts at $14.99 a month. With the pandemic forcing millions of people to work or learn from home, Zoom is now offering free downloads until normal life resumes.

Best features
Zoom’s exceptional popularity is likely thanks to its functionality. It is easy to set up and offers high-quality videos and calls. You can also choose to record a class, meeting or virtual party.

Zoom also has lots of nifty features, making it especially popular with millennials. The app’s beautification feature helps you look your best on screen, and virtual backgrounds allow you to swap out the messy room behind you for fun screens, like the Milky Way or the interview area from “The Office.”

Glaring glitches
Many users don’t like the almost omniscient power Zoom gives the host of the conference, which can include checking to see if you’ve been focusing on the meeting you were virtually attending, or maybe Facebooking in another window. Creepy, much? Some users think so.

The explosion of Zoom users during the pandemic has also led to the disturbing new trend of “Zoombombing.” In this 21st century equivalent of a prank call, online trolls disrupt public meetings and make a general nuisance of themselves.

skypeSkype
Microsoft’s Skype introduced the concept of video calls to the world. While Microsoft has let its plans to discontinue the app and replace it with Microsoft Teams slip out, Skype is still wildly popular, especially with businesses, throughout the world. Skype to Skype calls are free, but calls to landlines and mobile devices without Skype start at $2.99 a month. Skype for Business starts at $2 per user per month.

Best Features
Skype lets you hold HD video conferences with up to 250 people. You can also screen-share on the platform, record your conferences, blur your background and share all kinds of files of up to 300 MB through your call window. The app also features live subtitles and real-time translation, making it the perfect choice for conferences that include participants from around the world.

Glaring Glitches
Skype is easy to use if you’re participating in a conference, but users complain that setting up a conference and inviting people to join can be complicated and full of glitches.

google-hangoutsGoogle Hangouts
Google’s contribution to the videoconferencing market is always free, but requires a Google account. Hangouts Meet, the business version of Hangouts, can only be started by subscribers to G Suite, which starts at $6 a month. Google is now providing free access to Hangouts Meet through July 1, 2020.

Best Features
Google Hangouts users claim the platform is easy to use and integrates quickly with the Google ecosystem. The app can also be used to make free international calls to many countries. Hangouts also beats its competitors in playfulness. For instance, the app lets you add fun emojis, stickers and GIFs to your chat.

Glaring Glitches
Google Hangouts was designed with Chrome users in mind, so it doesn’t always work well on other browsers. Conferences are also limited to 25 participants and cannot be recorded. Some users have also complained about the quality and dependability of the videos on the app.

Platforms Compared

AppsRecording OptionAlways FreeHigh QualityMax Participants
ZoomYesNoYesNo
SkypeYesYesNoNo
Google HangoutsNoYesNoYes

Your Turn:
What’s your favorite video conferencing app? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
appleinsider.com
financesonline.com
businessinsider.com
usatoday.com
fatstacksblog.com

Beware of Zoom-bombers

Young man on laptop interrupting a video conferenceWith social distancing mandates in order until at least the end of April, and three out of every four Americans under statewide lock-down, huge parts of normal life have now moved into the virtual world.

Social visits, executive meetings, classes and more happen over videoconferencing apps, with Zoom being the most popular. The app was downloaded 62 million times during the third week of March, and 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies are now using Zoom.

Zoom’s simplicity is likely the driving factor behind its popularity — and its vulnerability. The FBI is warning of a new kind of scam in which criminals join Zoom meetings with malicious intent.

As they explain it, without protective measures, like passwords and screen-share locks, anyone can join and disrupt a Zoom conference. “Zoom-bombing” is happening more and more often, with hackers hurling racial slurs or displaying graphic content in the middle of classrooms and business meetings.

Some criminals take it one step further by creating bogus domains that impersonate Zoom. When video conferences are set up on these domains, the hackers will use the opportunity to steal personal information from meeting participants, which they then go on to sell or use for criminal purposes.

The bureau recommends that Zoom users take the following precautions to protect their conferences from being Zoom-bombed:

  • Make meetings private by requiring a password or using the waiting room feature, which controls admittance of guests.
  • Share teleconference links directly with participants instead of posting them in a public forum, like a social media page.
  • Control screen-sharing by choosing “Host Only” in the screen-sharing options.
  • Make sure all participants are using updated software

Videoconferencing apps like Zoom are helping millions of Americans maintain a semblance of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow the FBI’s guidelines for secure videoconferencing to avoid getting Zoom-bombed. Stay safe!

Free Apps for Kids

Scholastic
The leading educational company has set up a “Learn From Home” website with free daily courses for kids ages K-12.

Zoom
The popular video conferencing app is offering free service during the coronavirus outbreak. It’s also lifted its 40-minute limit on conferences, making the app a perfect choice for hosting your child’s classroom learning, or even a video chat with friends.

Neou Fitness for Kids
Help your kids stay fit through the pandemic with this super-fun fitness app for kids ages 4-12. The app offers a selection of 10-20 minute exercise classes and is free for the first 30 days.

Issa’s Edible Adventures
If your child is an aspiring chef, they’ll love this free cooking app, in which gamers race to collect ingredients from around the world and use them to create a requested cross-cultural dish.

SmartMusic
The popular music practice app is offering free service through June 30 for all schools impacted by COVID-19. The app includes practice tools like a tuner, metronome and fingerings, along with an extensive music library and immediate assessment of pitch and rhythm.

DuckDuckMoose
The adorable educational app for kindergartners and preschoolers makes learning super-fun! The app is always free and features a delightful array of characters, a brightly colored interface, and a special focus on maps and puzzles.

World of Cents
The NCUA’s free money app is the perfect way to teach your kids about personal finances. They’ll learn all about earning, spending, saving and more through the app’s fun games designed for kids ages 5-10.