We’ve finally reached the finish line to a school year of unprecedented turmoil.

A well-deserved summer of relaxation and leisure has never been more tantalising a prospect. Provided we continue seeing doughnut days to keep our cities, parks and beaches open, this will be a summer of enormous opportunity for families.

But rather than slide too quickly into a blissful state of decompression, there are a couple of proactive things parents and carers can do between now and Christmas to set their kids up to enter 2021 with positive momentum and a renewed thirst for learning.

To borrow a strategy from an effective classroom teacher’s playbook, now is the time to take a long and thoughtful look back over our shoulders.  No matter how successful or unsuccessful you felt the year of learning was for your child or children, a reflective celebration is a must for ensuring 2020 doesn’t become a resented episode or a traumatic memory.

Celebrate the silver linings as a family

Following single lessons or longer learning sequences, teachers encourage children to review and reflect on what they learned, noticed and battled with. In this process, they not only consolidate their understanding, but they also learn to become deep thinkers with the ability to self-motivate. Without this, education becomes a process of consumption whereby kids grow accustomed to simply receiving knowledge, completing tasks and moving on.

In a year in which our children have attempted to adapt in ways that we could not previously imagine, forging ahead without recognition of this would be a wasted opportunity. Instead, lead the way by sharing your perspective on the silver linings from 2020. And with a bit of thought, you will uncover many.

Halfway through the year, the Royal Children’s Hospital National Health Poll found that a whopping three quarters of families reported they had grown closer. It’s easy to forget that in a “normal” year, even a 10% increase in family togetherness would be considered significant. If you’re one of that majority, make it clear to your children how proud of it you are!

It could be that you enjoyed your shared reading or game-playing experiences, or that you learned far more about how teachers teach and how exactly your child learns.

And if there were some difficult learning curves for you, share them as positives, so that your children are encouraged to do the same when it’s their turn to present their celebrations. When reflecting at school, I’ve heard many children talk about how they improved at focusing and listening to their teacher during digital lessons, even though it remained difficult for them.

Remember, a halfway success is still a success that can be recognised to build motivation. Absolute success or mastery is not essential for real learning.

Give voice to the disappointments

It can be tempting to verbalise negative or even satirical comments along the lines of, “I’d rather clean toilets for a year than do distance learning again.”

But be mindful of your children’s perspectives when these inevitable laments rear their heads. Children look up to their grown-ups to lead with decisiveness, communicate expectations and set fair boundaries. You ideally want to make the experience resilience-building for them, not reinforce the perception that the entire year was useless.

There are more beneficial ways to address the downsides of teaching and learning in 2020, especially if you feel that the routines you attempted to put in place slipped, there were disagreements, or things never really got going.

Admit how hard it was for you, reflect on any poor decisions, explain misunderstandings, and be open about sharing how you can see things working out better. This is slightly different for children of different ages, but the goal is the same: communicating with credibility and honesty encourages children to reveal their true fears or needs so you can help them move forward. This concept of restorative justice is used in schools effectively to strengthen relationships.

As a teacher, I personally love the reaction you get from children when you admit that you made a mistake, and would like to move forward in a positive way. It’s easy to confuse family leadership with being a superhero who can do no wrong, but kids are perceptive enough to see through double standards. Don’t wait for them to call you out as teenagers.

I also learned very quickly in my teaching career that off-task behaviour is typically employed as a mask for underlying needs or resentments that the child is struggling to communicate.

Was your child playing video games while pretending to be part of an online lesson? It could be they were struggling to listen, so chose to avoid the problem by distracting themselves rather than seeking help.

We owe it to children in this situation to see through the smoke and mirrors and help them normalise their battle. Therefore any review of the sticking points must be non-judgmental. As well as building trust, this will help lay the groundwork for a different approach to 2021.

Respectful communication is the common thread

As a teacher, I see the great delight in children when they see how much their parents genuinely love hearing about their wins. I have also witnessed the enormous weight that lifts off a child’s shoulders when they are finally allowed to honestly reveal their concerns and have them respected and unpacked.

Opportunities for open communication may become the enduring legacy for 2020, especially when we consider how events unfolded differently this year from a child’s perspective. Suddenly their grown-ups have added another string to their bows: that of co-educator (and all of the communication, both instructional and supportive, that role entails).

Considering how we’ve all learned and developed together, this summer is not a time for “retraining” your child or playing catch-up on academic tasks. Instead it is a chance for a healthy dose of child-directed play, as well as an opportunity to build greater understanding and awareness of what just happened, before wiping the slate clean to pump up 2021 as an exciting new educational chapter.

Families have never spent more time together in modern history. If the pandemic can help get us to a point where children and parents alike can comfortably communicate their successes, fears, needs and expectations for two-way benefit, future generations will be in better shape than they ever have been.

Written By Andy Parthenopoulos

Andy Parthenopoulos is the primary school teacher and educational mentor behind EdMentor. He graduated with a Master of Teaching qualification (University of Melbourne) in 2015 and is currently registered with VIT (Victorian Institute of Teaching) accreditation.