The 2020-21 school year has ended in most parts of the country. However, it’s never too early for teachers and educators to think about the next school year.

Returning to school after COVID-19 and virtual learning is a big step for educators, parents, and students. Many have adjusted to the new normal this past year, and although it was a challenge for most, schools are going back to the “old normal” now that most states and localities have lifted masking mandates and gathering restrictions.

Teachers, as you prepare to head back to in-person instruction in the fall, you might be wondering how to approach first-time in-person learning for early education students. If you’re a kindergarten or first-grade teacher, this will be a challenge since most of your students likely have only been in school virtually and during the pandemic.

There are a few ways to navigate this transition for early elementary students, though, with the help of teaching strategies for new learners.

Be Open and Honest With Your Students

As you enter the classroom in-person in the fall, you’re going to have students who may feel anxious about the pandemic and being around other students. They’ll likely be asking you a million questions about things like social distancing, wearing masks, washing their hands, and more.

The best thing you can do is to be open and honest with them. Provide factual details to your students in words they understand. Since you’re teaching early education students, focus on talking about what might be different from virtual and in-person learning. Help them stay safe and healthy throughout the school year by talking about things they can control.

Do What Makes You and Your Students Most Comfortable

Each school and classroom will look different in this next school year. Some schools may still require masks or face shields, while others feel safe removing that from their regulations.

Mask-wearing policies have become part of daily life for everyone, especially kids, for whom the pandemic has been a much larger chunk of their lives. It might be strange for young students to be in a classroom with multiple other students without wearing masks. As a teacher, do what makes you and your students most comfortable. If some kids want to wear a mask, then let the class know that it’s OK, and vice versa.

Help Students Build a Routine

Kindergarten and first-grade students likely have little to no experience with an in-person school routine. You likely have a set schedule for your class topics, but many schools decided to allow students to complete assignments and attend or view lectures in their own time during online learning.

These early education students will need to learn how to go about a school day. During the first few weeks of the new school year, perhaps spend time walking your students through a schedule and take breaks for questions as needed. You will have to focus on teaching how to behave in a structured learning environment.

Model Calmness in the Classroom

You, your students, and your students’ parents probably all feel worried about what will happen throughout the school year. Will you have to revert to online learning? Will there be a COVID-19 variant outbreak? Modeling calm behavior will be one of your greatest assets in how to help first-time learners.

The pandemic has been a traumatic experience for people of all ages. Help your students care for their mental health. Validate their fears and worries. Teach coping strategies if necessary. Above all, remain calm and encourage the new learners you’ll get through the school year together, one way or another.

Remain Flexible With Learning and Adjust to Student Needs

Finally, remain flexible with your students’ learning and adjust to their educational needs as the year progresses. Your students likely had different experiences with online learning. And if you teach kindergarten, your students have no idea what it means to be in the classroom.

If you teach first-graders, during the last school year, they likely learned at different paces. You may need to individualize education for some students who may have missed lectures or assignments or may not understand the subject at hand. This will help your kids stay current on their academic progress. Keep your students at their grade level, but give specific instruction when necessary to accelerate their learning.

There’s a First for Everything

Much like last year, this year will be another new learning and teaching experience for everyone. Lean on your co-workers, and be open and honest with your students and their parents. Continue to support your students through this added “new normal” of heading back into in-person instruction.