For some children returning to school will be the first time they have stepped foot in a classroom in a while.
Understandably, this is leaving parents and children nervous about the return to the classroom in an ‘adapted’ school.
With specific measures in place such as one-way systems, socially distanced desks, restrictions on communal play areas and class ‘bubbles’, Colin Foley, a specialist leader in education and training and Emma Weaver, an early years’ education expert have compiled helpful advice for transitioning children back to school as part of Equazen’s Back to School series.
Create a handwash prompt timetable
Create a timetable that teaches them the times they should wash their hands. Include lunchtimes and snack times in the timetable then a reminder for them to go and wash their hands and these parts of their day.
If they already have a planner, incorporate handwash prompts into it for after they have eaten, been outside and playtimes.
For more information on this topic, see our article on creative handwashing hacks
Explain ‘bubbles’ to them
“Bubbles” when referring to friendship groups and classes is very new terminology for children. Explain that bubbles stay together and that we can’t play with people outside of our bubble. Be clear that they may not be with the same friends from the previous year and that lunch times and break times may happen at different times. Support them with this though by setting up pen pal systems and arranging video calls to certain friends when the child is at home. It will be important to support your child to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness whilst they are in bubbles.
Creative ways to teach social distancing
Social distancing in schools will be difficult, especially at during breaktimes and with younger children. Instead of trying to tell them to be metres apart, which a measure they won’t understand, teach them about personal space and explain its importance currently.
Be positive and reassuring when you talk to them about social distancing, so it doesn’t appear scary. Stress that physical distancing is a positive proactive step which is all about keeping them and others safe and not just a rule to be followed.
For more guidance on this topic, see our article on bubbles and social distancing
Activity, hydration, nutrition for mental health resilience
Encourage children to be as physically active as possible during the holidays and then after schools and at weekend. It’s extremely important for their mental health.
Have “Wake up and Shake up” routines at the start of the day then regular structured activities throughout the day. Be creative if your child is reluctant by researching different sports and games, creating dance routines together or making home assault courses.
Introduce competitions if appropriate to stimulate interest. Encourage your child to drink between one and 1.5 litres of water per day. For reluctant water drinkers, create a wall chart to add up through the day with appropriate rewards.
To encourage good nutrition, involve your child in planning and preparing meals and encourage experimentation with ingredients and sourcing recipes. Ensure they get enough Omega-3 in their diet, it’s brain food, and if they won’t eat oily fish give them a daily Equazen omega supplement.
Physical exercise, staying hydrated and good nutrition over the holidays will stand children in good stead for school when they need to back to full physical and mental health to flourish during the school day.
Burn off after school energy
Your child may have to cope with more restricted movement and activity in ‘adapted’ schools as outdoor time and curriculum's are being changed. There may also be changes to classroom organisation and staffing which means they don’t have access to resources or equipment that they helped them to achieve last year.
Therefore, when your child finishes the school day, offer opportunities for some physical activity to work off pent up energy or some calming activities such as listening to music or playing quietly alone to de-sensitise from the day.
Identify areas of strength to minimise feelings of regression
Some children may begin to struggle in school if they feel they aren’t keeping up in class or in certain areas. Build their self-esteem and resilience through helping your child to build competencies. Support your child in a specific interest, skill or talent. Give them the time, space and, if possible, resources to explore specific interests that they enjoy most of do well in.
Being aware of talents in one area can help a child to be more resilient in areas of school life that they may find more challenging. Make sure you share this with their teacher too. Being recognised as talented or knowledgeable in one area will build self-esteem overall.
Reduce anxiety by showing them the ‘new school’
Anxiety is fear of the unknown and a result of those ‘What if?’ questions. What if school is different? What if I can’t sit with my friends? You must address the unknown over the summer holidays about what school will be like, to reduce any anxiety and nervousness.
Some schools have provided virtual tours, flashcards with pictures of the new environment, social media posts or website information to support children so keep using these. Stress that even if some things in school may have changed, other things haven’t, including that you will still drop them off in the morning and be there to collect them in the afternoon.
Introduce self-regulation techniques for emotions
Teach them self-regulatory techniques to help them to manage their emotions and help them to recognise what they are feeling so they can identify and manage any negative emotions. This will help them if they feel nervous, scared or overwhelmed with the return to school. To teach them, label their emotion when you think the child is feeling it then give them a strategy to manage that emotion. For example, if you sense that they are nervous, say to them “I can see that your nervous maybe we could try some deep breathing.”