Tuesday, 25 August 2020

BACK TO SCHOOL: Supporting Children with the Return after Lockdown

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In the United Kingdom our Primary and Secondary Schools have been shut for six months now, with only select years allowed back for a short time prior to the summer holidays beginning. These past six months have been a rollercoaster of emotions to say the least, as many parents suddenly found themselves needing to juggle home learning, their own work and dealing with the constant unknowns of this pandemic. However, fast forward six months and we've made it! Personally, I've been teaching Isabella whilst looking after a three year old and a five, six, seven, eight, nine and finally ten month old and trying to keep up with work. It's been such a struggle at times, but I have to admit I feel so proud of, not only myself, but of every single parent out there who has survived this time too. 

Now that September is quickly approaching, we are looking towards the school year ahead and wondering what it will bring our children. Like many, I had really hoped that by September things within schools would have returned to some level of normality, but it just isn't safe to do so yet. Although Isabella was in Reception last academic year and could have returned for six weeks just prior to the summer holidays we decided to keep her at home, so September will be her first time back along with the vast majority of her class. Understandably, Isabella is feeling a little apprehensive about what being back at school will be like and I know that it's the same for a lot of children (and parents) at the moment. 

I thought I'd share some of the activities and resources that you can use to help support your child/ren in their return to school after lockdown. Ensuring our child/ren feel secure, confident and safe is vital, as well as educating them on how to be considerate to others relating to social distancing and hygiene. One of the main ways you can support your child is to explain to them what their school will be like when they return; a lot of schools have sent out letters explaining the changes, but if your child's hasn't then personally I'd email the headteacher asking for clarification. Children like to know what to expect, as it eases anxious feelings, so being able to walk them through the school day and what it will look like can be really helpful. It also gives them the opportunity to ask any questions/raise concerns; again, if you don't feel like you can answer them then pop an email over to the school and hopefully it will get replied to before their first day back. Another aspect to this is to go for a walk past their school, so you can talk about what will change, point to where you'll drop them off etc. Physically being able to see may help your child understand further and make them feel more at ease. 
Isabella's school has shared a letter stating all of the ways the school day will be slightly different at the moment, including different drop off points, times and a new behaviour policy that includes complying to the government's guidance of handwashing, social distancing (not with other children, but more with adults/staying in their bubbles etc.) and following teacher's instructions regarding all of the internal changes. Ensuring your child/ren are familiar with the changes they can expect when they return to school can help to ease any worries they have. I have so much respect for all of the teachers and teaching staff because they are being faced with such an impossible situation and they're doing so much to try and ease children/parent's worries whilst delivering an education. 
Preparing school uniform and resources can be such a big job, but this year more than perhaps any other, it is the ideal opportunity to get your child/ren involved in the process too. Make a list of what is needed and then work together to choose, buy and prepare the school items together. By giving children the chance to choose their own items can help to get them excited about returning to school, as well as giving them pride and a sense of independence. Smiggle are the ultimate creators of fun Back to School equipment, including backpacks, lunch bags, water bottles, stationary, pencil cases and keyrings. Their colourful, sparkly and bright designs appeal to children of all ages and now that 130 of their stores are now open you have the option to either shop online or go in-store to choose your back to school items. 
I know a lot of parents turned to Twinkl when they were kindly offering a free subscription at the beginning of lockdown, but it is worth browsing their resources again as we prepare for their return. Twinkl has got an incredible range of child-friendly resources, many of which are free. By searching 'Pandemic' on Twinkl you'll find a whole range of activities, e-books, PowerPoints and printables that can be used to support children in Reception all the way to GCSE's and beyond. The free resources available cover topics like what Coronavirus is, story books explaining what it is which are ideal for younger children, how to wash your hands, wellbeing, going back to school and social distancing. 
Recap over key skills, such as phonics, reading, addition, telling the time, subtraction, structuring sentences etc. A lot of children haven't been in mainstream education for six months now, which is a considerable amount of time. As Isabella was in Reception she was right at the start of building those foundation skills that are so vital throughout life. We have continued home learning to some extent with the aim of enabling her to hit the ground running when she returns to school. Learning doesn't need to be 'boring' by any means, why not let our child use a Smiggle Spy Marker Pen (£4 each or 2 for £5) for their writing? This pen has a ballpoint pen, invisible ink marker pen and a torch to reveal their 'secret' writing! It is an easy way to engage children in writing, makes learning fun and is available in six designs, including unicorn, butterfly, dinosaur, doughnut, heart and shark. Smiggle also have a large range of pencil cases and notebooks, including the very nostalgic Pop Out Pencil Case which remind me of my childhood. The pop out calculator, magnetic closure, shoot out drawer for pens/pencils, pop out mini drawer, pop up pencil sharpener, personalisable timetable card make this pencil case practical, compact and supportive to children's creativity, as well as being exciting to use. 
Personally, I've found that Isabella wants to practices her key skills more when she has the freedom to choose when and where to do it. Giving her the option of a plain piece of paper to do her work on or a fun character notebook; it's probably not surprising to know that she would choose the notebook every single time. Making learning interactive and immersive is vital for engaging children's interests, so giving them the freedom to choose where they write can really make a difference. Like so many children, Isabella and Poppy both love Frozen so this Disney's Frozen 2 Elsa Light Up Lockable Journal (currently reduced to £7)  is the perfect place for practicing, learning and letting creativity flow. The fact it lights up further adds to the excitement and would have even the most reluctant learners wanting to get writing in their lockable journal. 
If possible, organise outdoor play dates with your child/ren's school friends. A lot of children haven't had the chance to play with their peers for months, so organising a play date outdoors can really help give children the confidence that they still have friends to play with and the ability to hold a conversation with their peers. Isabella became quite shy when we would see her friends around our local area, always hiding behind me and not being sure what to say. However, as the end of the summer holidays is quickly approaching I have organised a few park play dates with her friends from school and it has actually been quite emotional watching her be play again. Seeing her smile, laugh and simply play with her friends was a joy and has really helped her to look forward to returning to school too. 
Start to gradually establishing a routine similar to that of a school day for your children, such as getting up earlier or going to bed earlier. Throughout lockdown we decided to keep some level of a routine that was similar to Isabella's school day, partially because my husband has been working at home so we've needed to be ready and downstairs by 9am and partially so that when Isabella did return it would be as smooth of a transition as possible. I did continue to give the children their main meal at lunchtime, which is what Isabella would have had at school, however her school aren't doing hot meals when all of the children return in September. Instead each child has to have a packed lunch; if you're child's school is doing this too then Smiggle have an extensive range of lunch bags, bento boxes and water bottles of all shapes and sizes. The Neat Square Lunchbox (£13.50) comes in five different designs and is the perfect option for giving children some responsibility and independence. The carry handle, easy wipe clean interior, name label and compact design makes this lunchbox ideal for both pre-school and school age children, especially as it fits comfortably inside a backpack or drawstring bag
To further your child's sense of independence the Topsy Teeny Tiny Drink Bottle with Strap (£8.50) is perfect for them to carry themselves, has a flip top soft-touch spout, holds 400ml and is available in five different designs, including unicorns, cats, trucks, alphabet and dinosaurs. I know I can't be the only parent who usually ends up carrying everything to and from school, which is a challenge when I'm usually already carrying Rory. This school year I won't need to as Isabella will be able to wear her water bottle and carry her lunchbox, so it's win, win!
At the end of a usual school year teachers do lots of different transition activities, which obviously couldn't happen this year. However, your child/ren could still write a letter to their new teacher introducing themselves, sharing things they like, what they're looking forward to, a drawing of themselves etc. You could then email it over to their new teacher or post it to school. It's also a good opportunity for them to ask their new teacher any questions they have, so that their teacher can be prepared for the first day back.

Do you have any other top tips for supporting children with returning to school post-lockdown?

Feel free to leave a comment - I love reading every single one :)

Helen x
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6 comments

  1. I work in a school so it’s great to read this. I’m so worried myself about returning to school but I’m even more worried about the poor children.

    I think if everyone invested some time in the ways you’ve suggested, it would make a HUGE difference to them.

    You’re right as well, every person should be so proud of themselves and their children following the craziest 6 months x

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  2. Thank you for this as a teacher going back to my weekend classes it's helpful and things will look very different.

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  3. Erin's really getting into stationery now and she would love things like these. She starts in just over a week in Reception.

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  4. I have worked at the school at lunchtimes through lockdown. It is a very different lunch hour, with children eating in their classrooms and then staying in their bubbles on the field. My children were not in the year groups that returned so September is going to be very odd.

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  5. How amazing are all these stationary stuffs. My kids would also love this so much. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. My boys got new pencil cases and stationary for going back to school, but we have been told to leave them at home. Only bring in absolute essentials - school bag (as small as possible), water bottle, wipeable lunch box (ideally one that fits in school bag so everyone only has one bag). At least they are allowed bags and lunch boxes - other schools here in Scotland have banned bags, and you have to bring in your lunch in disposable containers.

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