Preparing children for the return to school

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We’re hurtling towards 1 June and schools in England will be opening their doors to Reception Year 1, Year 6 Year 10 and 12 pupils. That’s the theory anyway. The reality seems to be that schools will open their doors to some pupils over the coming weeks, but that it’s going to happen very slowly and cautious. The question is, how should you prepare your child for the return to school if they are going to return?

Schoolgirl with facemask outside her school, preparing children for the return to school
How should you prepare children for the return for school after such a long break in bizarre circumstances?

This was bought home to me very vividly when Helen, my eldest child who is in Year 6, had a socially distanced playdate with a friend in a nearby park. The two children danced around each other, unsure what to say at first, not even saying hello.

On seeing the two friends together, I realised a period of adjustment and preparation would be necessary. Like most children across the UK, the only people she’d had face to face contact with for two months were me, her mother and sister.

After a long absence from school in such bizarre circumstances, what should you do if you have a child in one of the priority groups? What should you be doing to get them ready for the return to school? I’ve spoken to a few experts to get their opinions and ideas.

Dealing with separation anxiety

Joanne Moore is a Norfolk-based primary school teacher and product adviser to educational toy producer Learning Resources. Joanne said the return to school will feel very different and being separated from family after such a long time together could be an issue.

“Separation anxiety or anxiety emotions are likely to be experienced by many children on the return to school post lockdown. It’s completely normal for children to experience these feelings due to the current unknown situation we are in, and in reaction to change.

“We’ve been ‘locked down’ in our homes for a substantial length of time, so our return to school will feel quite different.  However, feelings of anxiety are likely to melt away again once children get back into their school routine – so stay positive, patient and consistent.”

Joanne suggested the following practical steps for helping ease children back into school life:

  • Stay positive: talk positively about the return to school, the fun they’ll have with all their friends and the learning they’ll get to do. Once back at school, do ‘daily positives.’ Say three positive things together that happened during the day.
  • Keep to a healthy diet and exercise as it is proven to help mental health and helps us to feel more positive.
  • Share positivity: put a little positive note in their lunchbox, or school bag, as a little boost in their day
  • Send your child to school with a small ‘worry object.’ This can be something (such as this bear family) that your child can squeeze if they feel anxious or upset or an object that will remind them smile and think of home, such as a stone you have decorated together.

Reintroduce routine

Greg Smith is Head of Operations at Oxford Home Schooling. He very kindly appeared in this blog post, offering hints and tips to parents who suddenly found themselves homeschooling when the schools shut. With the schools planning to re-open again, he had this to say:

“The last few months have been a whirlwind for the millions of parents who were suddenly faced with home educating their children for the first time. No-one expects families to have fully replicated school days during lockdown, but now that the schools are close to reopening, it’s a good idea to bring in some sort of routine. Try and give your children some sort of activity early in the day, around 9am, when the school day typically starts.”

Different focus for children of different ages

Simon Barnes is a former teacher and founder of online tuition firm TLC LIVE. For older pupils he suggested looking back at the work children were doing before the schools closed in March. Younger pupils, he said, would need reassurance about how the school will operate. Simon said:

“In the lead up to children’s return to school, parents can help them prepare in a few different ways, depending on their age. Looking back at the work they were doing before lockdown started and making sure that they are still comfortable with these topics will provide a good foundation for their return to the classroom. Find out the topics children were due to cover in class over the lockdown period and ensure that they are familiar with them by encouraging them to complete related activities and exercises. This will be particularly important for students in Year 10 who will be continuing to prepare for their GCSEs.

“For younger children, talk them through how the return to school will work, since this will help calm any jitters that they might be feeling. Schools should have, or will soon be, sharing information on how classrooms will be run – making sure children feel comfortable with the new classroom/playground setup, so they’re not taken by surprise on their return, will help them focus on their studies.”

This is a new situation for all of us

I hope you found those suggestions from the professionals useful. I would simply add that none of us, parents or education professionals, have been through widescale school closures on this scale before.

I’ve arranged a few more socially distanced playdates for Helen so she gets used to meeting and dealing with other people from outside the family home. I’m also stepping up the number of ‘virtual’ playdates my youngest daughter Izzy is having and she did see a school friend at a local park the other day also.

If you have ideas of your own or thoughts on the schools re-opening, please do leave a comment below. In this environment us mums and dads need all the creative ideas and assistance we can get and that involves sharing ideas between ourselves.

2 thoughts on “Preparing children for the return to school”

  1. A great post John, a great subject to touch upon with what’s coming. I never actually thought of the separation anxiety for children but it is so right. They’ve been around us for so long and the sudden jump back to being apart never crossed my mind as an issue for the children.

    1. Yeah, separation anxiety will be an issue for many children. I’m not in love with the idea of the schools going back, but I do see that it would have some benefits (IE, the return in September won’t be such a massive leap if they get a few weeks at school between now and the end of July). I wasn’t too sure what kind of advice I’d get when I asked my panel of experts but I felt the responses were very useful.

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