Navigating the NEW School Normal :: Balancing Socialization, Physical Activity, and Mental Health

This post has been sponsored by Cooper Aerobics to bring you this experience.

Back to school looks different for every family due to COVID-19. I chatted with five local families about the upcoming school year, and interestingly enough, each family chose a different approach to the start of the 2020-21 school year:

  • Family #1: Homeschooling with mom as teacher every morning
  • Family #2: Using online self-paced curriculum with a tutor helping twice a week
  • Family #3: Starting with virtual education led by child’s school, goal to return to campus for in-person learning by Labor Day
  • Family #4: Joining a homeschooling co-op with neighborhood friends and extended family
  • Family #5: Starting in-person school for their oldest, online school with their middle child and hiring a nanny for their youngest in preschool

Deciding factors influencing each family’s decision rose to the top of the class:

  • Socialization with peers
  • Physical activity coupled with screen time, and
  • Mental health of both parent(s) and child

3 Common Concerns & Solutions

  1. Socialization with Peers

Common Concern: Socialization is very important in a child’s development and gaining practice with different populations is key in their growth. The good news? More time for socialization at home with family members now! Socialization with peers allows children crucial opportunities to practice their communication skills, learn to play different roles on a team, and solve problems with others. Truth be told, kids get more opportunity for mastery of socialization when they are on an even playing field with their peers (not being given directions to follow by an adult).

One dad shared that summer camp was so important to their family as his son, an only child, was starting to withdraw after so much time at home without peer interaction. Just one week of summer camp helped him see that spark for life and joy come back to his son!

The Solution:

At Home Option: Consider hosting a weekly art lesson with a variety of tutorials on YouTube they could enjoy together, safely distanced in your driveway. Or set up an outside band practice (a polite notice or chat with neighbors first is advised!) This is another physically distanced activity requiring communication, creativity, and teamwork— all key to successful socialization.

Cooper Option: If you feel like your child needs to get out of the house, Cooper offers a variety of enriching programs year-round to help serve your child’s interests and allow socializing with other kids. With safety top of mind, our youth programs are designed on a smaller scale to allow more individualized attention on skills development. In light of the new normal, we have designed more program options for 8-10 kids per program, with significant opportunities to strengthen and practice social skills with their peers.

  1. Less Physical Activity and Increased Screen Time

Common Concern: Whether attending school at home or face-to-face, parents referenced home confinement or canceled sports will impact their child’s physical health. Some parents have already noticed a change in their child’s body composition or declining interest in being physically active with the cancellation of organized sports and more access to socializing on a screen with video games or social media.

The Solution:

At Home Option: Ninja Warrior is a favorite activity of all ages at summer camp that can easily be adapted for indoors or outdoors at home. Kids create their own Ninja Warrior obstacle course, time each other and the fastest one wins a point for the round, with the winner reaching 5 points. Each round someone else sets obstacles and creates directions.

Cooper Option: Tennis and swimming are two excellent options that allow for social distancing, while still offering aerobic activity to elevate the heart rate and burn off that pent-up energy. Cooper offers established tennis and swim programs for socialization at a safe distance. Introducing these lifelong sports now can lead to a lifetime of healthy behaviors. 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity is recommended daily for kids ages 5-12. Staying active has been shown to improve sleeping habits and concentration, help build friendships and increase confidence and happiness.

  1. Mental Health of the Parent and Child

Common Concern: Parents in all five families expressed high stress levels for family members with less socialization with peers, decreased physical activity and more time in close quarters. All agreed they need to focus on their mental health this school year. For some, this meant that they needed to get back to a routine, some fearing that without leaving for school or work outside the home, they would both lose motivation and purpose. For others, the increased concern of possible exposure to COVID-19 was so heightened that all family members are struggling with the anxiety of this new chapter, feeding off each other’s stress levels. Several mentioned the need for their own space or “alone time.”

The Solution:

At home option: It is normal to feel a certain sense of anxiety in these times. Something we have control over (despite being in quarantine) is our environment. More research continues to be published about the importance of changing our environment to help with anxiety. If you continue education at home, it’s highly recommended to have a separation of school space. It’s ideal to have designated spaces for schoolwork and sleeping, to keep a sense of routine, predictability, and eliminate distractions. It is also important as a family to build in time outside, in a safe way. Just being in nature has proven to lift your emotional state. So if someone is feeling stressed or anxious, try taking a walk—it works for all ages!

Cooper Option: One of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety is through exercise—and we were founded on fitness! Many families take advantage of additional Cooper services that every member of the family can enjoy—with options inside and out in our 30-acres center. Activities open to both Cooper Fitness Center members and the public include tennis, boxing and martial arts—for kids and parents alike. For the parents, small group or private Pilates sessions and small group fitness training—virtual and in-person—can provide much-needed stress relief! Or relax with a variety of luxurious spa services from our onsite wellness day spa, Cooper Spa.

We are based on prevention, so all activities are planned carefully, with precautions including health screens, temperature checks, limited class sizes, required wearing of masks and spaced out equipment for appropriate six feet of physical distancing at Cooper.

TIP: If you are concerned about your child learning to wear a mask for longer periods of time, use screen time as an opportunity to practice wearing a mask, as they are distracted with something they enjoy, not fixated on the mask.

Register for our fall programs, including our Football Fundamentals Skills clinic, by visiting

Meredith Rosson is the Assistant General Manager of Cooper Fitness Center. Meredith studied Exercise Physiology at University of Texas at Austin and has played an integral role in developing the Cooper Youth Programs since 2006.










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