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Ten tips that could help students prepare for their return to school

Published on Wednesday, July 1, 2020

By: Annie Oeth,

Students have had what amounts to the longest break they’ve ever had from the traditional classroom.

After leaving school in mid-March for spring break, students were told to finish the semester online at home as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After about 10 weeks of summer, Mississippi’s students will have been outside the classroom for nearly five months.

Portrait of Dr. Susan Buttross

That length of time away from being in an in-school setting could be a challenge for students from kindergarten to college, said Dr. Susan Buttross, professor of child development at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“Depending on the child and their personality and any special needs, this amount of time away from school could make the return to classrooms difficult,” Buttross said. “How easily a child makes the transition back to school also depends on how much structure a family has at home.”

Portrait of Steven Matson

Dr. Steven Matson, UMMC professor of pediatrics and an expert in adolescent health, said while some teenagers may have issues returning to routines, coming back to school may reduce their stress.

“We may be concerned about COVID-19 and wearing masks, but I think most teenagers will be happy to return to in-person classes,” Matson said. “I don’t think it will be as big a stressor for them because they’re probably tired of being home and will like being with their friends again.”

Here are 10 helpful tips to get this school year off to a good start.

  •  Set an alarm.

A child who has had little structure and lots of free play since March might be in for a drastic change when the state’s K-12 schools open in August, Buttross said.

“A child who is now used to absolutely no structure, no attention to detail and no list of things to do could have a really hard time going back to school,” she said.

Students who start waking up early and operating on a school-like schedule will have an easier time in August.

  •  Avoid helicopter parenting.

The other extreme – a student who has had lots of structure and oversight while at home – might also have difficulties, Buttross said.

“That student might have difficulty adjusting to not having the immediate attention of a classroom teacher,” she said. “It’s important for parents to provide structure for children and help them to be organized, but they also need to let children study alone at an appropriate age.

“Students are not going to have their teachers’ attention 100 percent of the time.”

  •  Remember the most important meal of the day.

Make sure to get in the habit of eating breakfast. Studies have shown that, whether they are in their elementary years or in college, students who eat breakfast are better learners and live healthier lives.

That first meal doesn’t have to be complicated – fruit, whole-grain cereal or yogurt are quick, nutritious options.

  •  Brush up on skills.

Don’t wait until the first day of school to crack open a book. Buttross said a review of skills that haven’t been dusted off in a few months will set students up for success when school starts.

  •  Get involved in summer reading.

Students who haven’t started checking off titles on their summer reading lists should start now. July is a great time to take a book outdoors – while wearing sunscreen, of course.

  •  Get moving.

Staying home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus may have students and their families doing more binge-watching indoors than normal. Outdoor activities are safe with proper social distancing, so go for a walk, run or hike.

College students who make exercise a healthy habit now are more likely to stay active on campus.

  •  Be safe.

All those social distancing skills, along with careful wearing of facemasks and proper hand hygiene, are even more important now that shops, restaurants and schools are reopening.

  •  Embrace change.

The campus students come to in August will not be like the campus they left in March. There will likely be social distancing and health practices that were not in place back in the spring.

Freshmen entering college will probably find the atmosphere different than they expected just a few months ago. Matson said being flexible and accepting the “new normal” will go a long way toward making a smooth adjustment.

  •  Keep in touch with friends.

Students haven’t been able to spend as much time with their friends since spring, so this summer might be a great time to organize an online visit or even a video game session.

Outdoor play dates with small groups of friends are also a low-risk way of keeping friendships current before the start of school.

  •  Stay home when sick.

Any students with symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, chills, sore throat, cough, fatigue, headaches, body aches, nausea, vomiting and loss of taste or smell, should stay home from classes.

A parent’s first call should be to the family’s health provider. College students should reach out to student health centers on campus.

For more information on free COVID-19 testing, visit

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.