Parents: New clothes, senior portraits and virtual hangouts: How to salvage special back-to-school moments amid a pandemic

If you thought one semester of remote learning was unbearable, get ready for round two.

As coronavirus cases continue to spike throughout the U.S., many schools and universities are taking the precaution of continuing virtual learning throughout the fall in order to ensure social distancing and limit the number of students on campus. The rules for each school vary as some schools are completely online, while others are adopting a hybrid model that consists of both in-person and online coursework. Some universities are allowing only first-year students to return, while others are eliminating on-campus housing completely for the fall.

High school and college seniors face losing their last school years to COVID-19, and 5-year-olds are missing the exciting first day of kindergarten. So with many students starting the school year from home, parents might be wondering: "How can I make it better for them?"

USA TODAY has consulted with two experts about how to help your students of all ages kick off the school year with some real back-to-school moments.

Continue the countdown

Online or in-person, the first day of school is something your child should happily anticipate. Tonya Abari, a writer and homeschooling parent herself, suggests counting down the days until school starts in more creative ways, such as filling a jar with 30 pieces of candy (or a healthier alternative) and giving one piece to your child every day.

"Read 30 school-themed picture books to countdown for school. Use a wall calendar and have the child draw a picture on each day to count down. Or a countdown banner that holds 30 special notes to read each day leading up to the first day of school," she suggests.

Senior portraits

Rent a professional camera or hire a photographer to take your kids' senior portraits from home, whether it be formal or casual. You can take some nice photos outside in your backyard, or keep it traditional and use a backdrop indoors to shoot your senior's most memorable last year.

"It's most effective to take 100 photos or more, then select the best," advises homeschooling high school expert Lee Binz. "Try to get photos with beloved pets and locations."

And with no sports, clubs or student gatherings this fall, school yearbooks will be looking pretty empty. So start compiling new and old photos of your child into a printed or virtual photo album to keep track of fall memories. Binz suggests getting creative with memory boards, display tables or even scrapbooks.

Take their 'first-day-of-school' photo

Even though classes are online, you're still going to want to remember your child's first day. Try hand making a sign or board for your child to hold in a special "first-day-of-school" photo outside. You can write your student's age, school name, birthday, favorite color or anything cute to remember this unconventional day.

"There are so many variations of first-day-of-school photos to choose from. Indoor/outdoor combos, framing with social media banners, chalkboards, homemade bulletin boards, change of scenery for the first and last day, or letter boards," Abari explains.

A surprise room makeover

Decorating your new college dorm room or personalizing your school locker are moments students will have to forgo. Instead, surprise your student with a bedroom makeover for their new virtual learning experience.

Leticia Barr, a technology, education and parenting blogger who founded, encourages parents to make sure their children have ample work space for their digital devices, as well as considering what shows in the background during video calls when sprucing up the room.

Buy a new outfit for their first day of (virtual) classes

Just because classes are online doesn't mean your student shouldn't stop an iconic back-to-school tradition. While you're hitting the back-to-school sales, let your child choose some trendy and special outfits for their first day of school.

"Having a new outfit can be a huge motivator that will get your child in the back-to-school spirit," says Barr.

Pack a special lunch

Without cafeteria food, your child has the opportunity to eat some delicious homemade lunches. Barr suggests some easy and special meals that children will love, such as sandwiches, pasta salads with meat and veggies, rolled-up cold cuts and string cheese, as well as yogurt with fruit.

Don't forget a note on the lunchbox to make the experience more special.

Arrange a surprise visit from the school-supply fairy

Just because classes are online doesn't mean your student won't need scissors, crayons, markers and other school supplies. Barr reminds parents to check to make sure markers aren't dried out and glue sticks still have some stick to them. Gift new school supplies in a cute basket to get your child excited.

Have a show-and-tell dinner

Let your children share their favorite toy or momento at the dinner table as a substitute for the traditional school time show-and-tell. Abari enjoys doing show-and-tell dinners weekly with her own 5-year-old daughter.

"She gets to pick one piece of artwork that she completed during the week and explain the importance of the work after a family dinner," Abari says.

Plan fun after-school activities

Balance the virtual learning with some fun in the sun. Barr recommends sidewalk chart art and backyard scavenger hunts to help the family bond.

"Plan your own family field trips by taking a walk to a different part of the neighborhood or visiting a park you haven’t been to in a while," she adds.

End the day with homemade treats

After a long day of staring at a computer screen, your child most certainly will appreciate a plate of fresh brownies or homemade chocolate chip cookies.

"It’s even better if you can spend a few minutes measuring, mixing and pouring with your little one to make chemistry and fraction practice more fun," Barr advises.

by Jenna Ryu USA TODAY The original article appears here: