While summer coming to an end can often be sad for children and their families, there is also usually a sense of anticipation and excitement about a new school year beginning, bringing with it the chance for students to put their best foot forward.

Will kids in New Jersey districts starting the year virtually feel that kind of adrenaline-driven motivation? Not likely, according to Dr. Steven Tobias, director of the Center for Child & Family Development in Morristown.

For families who will be staying at home into the fall, Tobias said there may certainly be a sense of déjà vu, and two seemingly incongruous factors are at work.

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Human beings, adults and children alike, generally like predictability, but in the year 2020, almost nothing has been predictable. Conversely, at a time when people are still largely urged to hole up as much as possible, we have a need to shake up our day-in, day-out pattern.

"I think what's important is to establish routines," Tobias said. But he added: "Make it different. Make some kind of transition from the summer to the school year."

Jokes about never knowing what day it is and references to the movie "Groundhog Day" have been circulating in New Jersey for nearly half a year now, since COVID-19 shutdowns began in mid-March, but Tobias said that's mostly reflective of a collective hope that the pandemic will soon end.

"You know, we're not getting used to it," he said. "We're really not adapting to it, and I think we're all just kind of waiting for it to be over, and I think that's what's so stressful."

What we may be acclimating to, however begrudgingly, is wearing masks in public. Have you gone shopping, gotten back into your car, and driven halfway home before realizing your mask is still on? You're certainly not alone.

And while there are concerns that children who are returning to school for in-person learning will find it hard to adhere to mask-wearing guidelines, Tobias said that can be solved by making the mask a stylish, individualized addition to what they would normally wear to school.

"I think that's going to go a long way toward helping, especially, kids and teenagers get used to it, once it becomes a part of their wardrobe," Tobias said.

In fact, even for the kids who aren't physically going to school, dressing up for class at home may be just as important as getting to bed and waking up on time.

Tobias said "treating it with the proper attitude" is the key for both students and parents. Children should be encouraged, he said, to pursue extracurricular activities and even social time with friends, if done safely.

Just as much emphasis should be put on what goes on in a child's life out of school as in it, and that in itself can provide variety for the whole family.

"So instead of focusing on all the things that we can't do right now, try to create some things or look for some things that we can do," Tobias said.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

New Jersey Returns to School Virtually

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