Summer: Plan B

Nothing this spring is as we expected. Likewise, your child’s summer plans may not proceed as arranged, either. It is tempting to just “wait and see,” but I recommend putting some thought into alternatives, now. 

Begin by asking your child about what interests them. What would they like to learn more about? In what area – academically or otherwise – would they like to gain a new skill? Life will get busy again and this is a rare opportunity to pause, ask, and act on these kinds of questions. 

The need to devise an alternative plan for the summer may be an opportunity for your child to learn more about themselves and to sharpen their understanding of the direction they may pursue in college and beyond. Help them find a way to pursue something meaningful to them. It is also okay if that means something low key, like caring for siblings, working on a household project, or helping out in the family business.

Here are some other options to consider:

Volunteer.

You’ll find a link to current volunteer options here.

Your town is also a good place to ask what is needed. Senior citizen neighbors may need help with groceries or yard work. Local food pantries need help more than ever. 

Many nonprofits need help with digital marketing and social media. Political campaigns and causes are always looking for enthusiastic supporters!

Get a Job.

Check with your town, senior center, landscaping companies, essential businesses, etc., to see who is hiring this summer. 

Encourage your child to get the word out to neighbors of your child’s availability to walk dogs, pet sit, tutor a younger child virtually, etc.

Tap Your Creativity.

Summer is a perfect time to create something new: photography, creative writing, building a robot or a wood project, making a cookbook, learning to paint with watercolors, etc.

Learn a Skill.

There are many free or low-cost virtual classes available on both academic and purely fun topics. Learn to code from Code Academy; learn photoshop and editing from the Education Channel on YouTube; sharpen your Spanish with daily practice on Duolingo. 

Other class platforms include Coursera, EDx, Udacity, Udemy, and Skillshare (there are many more). 

Sharpen the Saw. 

Summer is a good time to work on academic areas of deficit, positioning your child for success as they begin the new school year. For example, this may mean working with an academic coach for executive functioning or with a math or writing tutor. 

Expand Your Horizons.

This is a good time to reach out to extended family, neighbors and friends, to see if your child can talk to them about what they do for work. This helps your child learn about different fields and to learn more about what may interest them in the future. It’s also good practice for speaking with adults and learning how to ask good questions – two skills they will need beyond high school!

Stay Connected.

It’s a strange time for all of us. Staying connected with friends and continuing some version of previous activities (safely!) helps take the edge off the isolation we are all experiencing. Encourage your child to reach out to groups he/she was involved with: acapella groups, school newspapers, virtual team workouts or group community service projects, can all continue with a little effort and planning.

Overall, the most important idea is that your child has some plan for the summer. Relaxing is fine for a while, but structure, goals and mental engagement will allow him or her to look back on the summer of 2020 and see it as much more than one of disappointment and wasted time. 
 

Colleges Still Want to Hear From You!

These days, there are many things we cannot control. That lack of control with regard to our own lives can cause anxiety and frustration. One way to help is to make a plan and take charge of those things within our reach.

Typically, spring vacation week and weekends are a popular time to visit college campuses – for seniors who are making a final decision, and for juniors who are gathering information regarding where they would like to apply.

Seniors:

This year, and in order to give students more time to decide, some colleges have extended their typical deposit date, moving it back from May 1 to June 1.  Check admissions websites to be sure. Many schools have also said that they will work with students in difficult circumstances. If you are facing challenges in committing to a college by the deadline, it is important to reach out now to the admissions office and let them know.

Some seniors are considering asking to defer for a semester or a year, if classes are going to be online in the fall (nobody knows yet what may happen in September). Colleges have deadlines for deferral requests: students accept admission and then follow the procedure to request a deferral.

Each college has its own approach and plan for granting deferrals. Usually, these are granted with a Gap Year plan in mind, for volunteering, work, travel, etc. This year, those experiences may be harder to set up, but can still be found, provided you are flexible in whether they will be in-person or remote. Keep in mind that a deferral, once accepted to a school, is a request – it is unclear how many of these may be approved, given the likely increase in requests.

Juniors:

As I always recommend, show colleges your interest!

Use the extra time this spring to virtually explore colleges and build your list, just as you would have done before COVID-19. It is risky to wait and hope that campuses will hold in-person admissions events this summer. Also, if campuses are able to offer tours, it is likely that summer jobs will be happening again too – it may be hard to get away to see all the schools you would like. Hopefully, life will be fuller in the fall and you may not have time to travel to a lot of campus visits.

College admission offices are offering virtual tours and information sessions. A student that signs up and “attends” these events will “get credit” for a campus visit, as most colleges keep track of these. Typically, a tour and information session will be offered just as if you were visiting in person. Some schools are also holding live events – all detailed on their admissions visit page. Parents may want to “attend” these events with their child, just as you would likely have done in person. I encourage students to take notes and keep them all in one place.

Another way to explore a college (and show your interest) is to sign up for their online newsletter and follow the school’s social media accounts.

All Students

Students of all ages can use this time to learn more about a possible field of study. Colleges may offer live or taped presentations from particular departments – health careers, engineering, education, the arts, etc. This is another way to improve your knowledge in a new field and also demonstrate your interest in a school.

There are many, many online classes, webinars, YouTube videos, etc., available these days to learn more about any topic of interest. This is a good time to dive in and see what is exciting.

The bottom line is that college admission offices are open and they want to hear from you!

Your Silver Lining During the Coronavirus

The current pandemic is likely the biggest disruption in your child’s (and possibly your) life, so far. As hard as it is for us, as adults, to take this in stride, it is even more challenging for our children. It is a good idea to allow them to grieve and vent about their canceled sport season, spring musical, art show, music competitions, spring break trip, etc. These are real losses.

And there are additional losses for seniors in high school or college who may not get to enjoy their prom, senior week activities, and graduation ceremonies and celebrations.

Once your child has been able to mourn the loss of these life events, it is time to help them move on and ask themselves an important question:

What do I want to have learned, accomplished or contributed to my community by the end of all this?

Some high school students are continuing to have online classes while others have a looser schedule with enrichment activities and optional assignments. Either way, with extracurricular events all canceled, your student will have way more downtime than usual.

It is easy for teens to fall into an extended vacation mode, where they stay up until two am, wake at noon, and have more screen time than usual with Netflix or video games. This can work for a vacation week but it is not a good longer-term plan.

Teens are often resistant to parental nagging about this type of issue. My suggestion is to set up a meeting with each child separately and help them think about how they want this time to be structured. Help them realize that no one knows how long this will go on and they don’t want to lose ground academically.

I would ask your child to print out a schedule and agree on a time that they will set a wake-up alarm each day.  Then have something important early in the day that will encourage them to actually get out of bed! This could be a walk with a friend (with physical distancing) or a group video call where all the participants are following an exercise video or workout plan.

It is then critical to schedule some hours of academic work each weekday. Hopefully, this is being guided by your child’s school, but if not, there are many online platforms to help. The one many students already know about is Khan Academy (a free resource), which helps with SAT prep and most subject areas. They have put together sample schedules with course work for different grade levels on their site.

Your student should have a designated, distraction-free area for schoolwork. Research shows productivity is best when a 10 min break follows every 50 to 60 minutes of study.

Juniors and seniors who planned to visit college campuses this spring can sign up for virtual information sessions and other remote admissions events at each school’s website.

In addition to academics, it is critical to talk to your child about how they can keep up (or start) good habits in the areas of sleep, diet and daily exercise. This will help to lower anxiety and keep spirits up. Getting outside daily is also helpful – woods walks with family or friends, bike rides, dog walks, wall ball for lacrosse players, etc.

In addition, this meeting is a good time to ask your child what they would like to begin or dive deeper into during this period?

Here are some ideas that may appeal: photo projects, exchanging letters with a relative, learning to play an instrument, take an online coding class (or online class in any subject), art projects, learning to cook or bake, writing a short story / poetry, starting an online book club, woodworking project, etc.

This can also be a time to encourage your child to see how they can help at home and in your community. There are lots of suggestions out there – one is grocery shopping for elderly neighbors.

Finally, it can be helpful to share with your child a time in your life when something fell through or you encountered a big disappointment. Often, there is a story to tell about the “silver lining” of a positive turn of events that you can relay to your child. That may help them think about what they hope their “silver lining” will be as they look back on this period in their life.

I hope you and your loved ones all stay healthy and productive.