You can feel it in the air, the bubbling mixture of excitement and anxiety that accompanies the prospect of school return whilst the pandemic continues. Parents are understandably torn between fatigue with home-schooling and holding on to the sincere hope that mingling students doesn’t lead to a spike in infection rates at home or in the community. But what can we do to get everyone ready for a return to onsite learning?
It is important to get ourselves into a frame of mind that is ready for the transition, and the preparatory work begins now. First things first. Sit down and assess how we (the adults) feel about school return and identify where the wobbles might be, if there are any. Perhaps you are worried for one child but not another? Perhaps you have your own anxiety about returning to the school run after so long away from it? Try to work out exactly how you feel about it and discuss these thoughts with a friend or partner.
Be careful what you say in earshot of your children. Any anxiety or stress that you feel about the return to school can directly exacerbate theirs. Expressing relief that they are returning can equally be interpreted poorly by children; Don’t you like spending time with me?
Matter-of-factness can be a helpful and grounding asset. Schools are reopening to all pupils in England on March 8th, so what do we need to do to help our children thrive upon re-entry to the physical school environment?
Lockdown is something that we have broadly adapted to, but even confident adults are feeling that their everyday social skills may have taken a hit. Imagine how children feel!
They are used to chatting via games, over Zoom or WhatsApp, but it is a different story to come together in real life. Ahead of school return, a family chat about which skills feel a little bit ‘rusty’ can help. Emphasise the joy of seeing others in real life!
Having a few social scripts at the ready can certainly help younger children. Consider what they might be asked when they return to school and how they will answer. What was lockdown like for you? How do you feel about being back? For children who have experienced loss over lockdown, they might dread questions from peers, and may need help practising conversational responses.
Next, it is time to get practical. Can anyone remember where their school tie is? Where did they last leave their shoes? Do they even fit? Try not to leave getting organised until the night before. Who will take the kids to school on the first day? Where is the bus pass? What is the timetable for the first week back? Can you print it out and have it visible to the whole family? How are those pencil cases looking? Get the PE kit ready (just in case) and try to pepper conversations with children with excited chat about all the positives of a school return.
Not all children will be feeling excited. For those who feel very anxious about it, the preparatory work should begin even earlier.
Chat to them about which aspects of the school return worries them and why. Stay curious and calm. Try to avoid reassuring them too much, but instead coach them towards some ideas that may lessen or alleviate the anxiety. Keep lines of communication open with the school. Emails about new rules or guidance may arrive from schools soon, but, as parents, we can help by keeping family life as stable, consistent and familiar as possible. Ahead of the school start, focus on bedtimes. Does everyone know when bedtime is? And does everyone know when they need to get up in the morning? All parents will likely have questions for teachers during the first weeks back, but let’s try to remember how busy school staff will be. When it comes to settling pupils in, let’s have faith in their professionalism.
It is worth noting that, when it comes to any transition, children who possess high self-esteem cope much better. In the last remaining weeks at home, try to help your child to see how well they have coped with lockdown and let them know that you have confidence in their ability to manage the return to school well.
Don’t be afraid to renew expectations that our children should work hard when they go back to school and always try their best.