Social, emotional and wellbeing needs
Some of us (children and young people, staff, parents) may have coped well during the school closures, but others may have experienced trauma, loss and change. Others will have developed new ways of learning and made connections to support this beyond the school context. Some may have learnt a new appreciation of school and what it offers.
ALL of us (staff, children and parents) returning to school are going to experience a range of emotions. This may include a mixture of excitement, happiness and relief but may also include anxiety, fear and anger. For our staff, children, young people and parents it is vital we us consider our social, emotional and well being needs as a starting point.
Considering change, loss and bereavement
It is important to remember that many communities may have lost members to the coronavirus. It is also important to remember that there has been a period of great change and many of us may be feeling many losses. Being in lockdown has been a major transition in our lives. Whether a child has returned to school, or started for the first time, it is important to recognise that we are facing a high level of change.
Considering separation anxieties
The majority of children became used to being with their parents and immediate family for an extended period. Even for those who are excited to regain their ‘freedom’ and see their friends, this is a potential source of anxiety. There are likely to be children who struggle with this separation and experience anxious feelings while they are in school.
Considering learning needs
Chris Moore (2020) highlights the importance to remember that in contrast to the notion of ‘catching up’, we may have to repeat and reinforce previous concepts and skills that have been disrupted by lockdown. This might involve revisiting past topics and reminding children of their success. We need to ensure that the building blocks are secure before expecting children to leap ahead to unfamiliar and novel learning experiences.
We may need to initially focus on providing positive and fulfilling experiences, involving lots of play experiences. Children, young and old thrive when they smile, laugh and engage in games and activities that help them to recognise and appreciate their personal strengths. First and foremost, the return to school should be fun.
Considering active involvement in the process of returning to school
Although we know that some things will be set by our Local Authorities and we cannot change these safety rules, actively making school communities aware of the plans can help to reduce their worries and the emotional impact of the process, supporting a sense of belonging.
For example, we could elicit the views of our children, and young people, staff and parents by asking them to write a letter, draw a picture or record a video sharing for their hopes and concerns, experiences of home schooling?
CONSIDERING what has changed and why
Mary Meredith (2020), suggests that re-joining a community could be frightening for those children who have internalised the message that people outside the home are a threat to life. We must support our children and young people to feel safe, so that they are ready to learn.
Rules, some of which may well be Covid-related and new, should be stated in a positive way (ie. Do…as opposed to Don’t) in simple, limited language and kept to a small number that can easily be remembered and recalled by all pupils and staff.
Using developmentally appropriate language to discuss new rules for staying safe will be important. Try to engage each group in generating idea and rules so they understand what is required of them and why.
Consider how to provide structure and predictability
Alongside clear rules, it is important to support our children and young people with structure and predictability.
Visual timetabling and scheduling can inform the children of what is happening now and next.
Seating plans will undoubtedly change in order to accommodate social distancing and these should be communicated in advance and illustrated for those who are particularly sensitive to change.
We could use the strategy of a Social Story on a whole-school basis. It could be posted/emailed to parents and caregivers or communicated via a video on the school website. This could acknowledge how difficult the restrictions have been, welcome the children back to school, show them how things will be different and explain why.
Consider language as a vital means of communication
Helping children to put their feelings into words is of vital importance. For some, the ‘language of visuals’ will be just as important in expressing their emotions.
This principle also requires us to think carefully about our own language and the messages we need to deliver to children who are experiencing a range of powerful emotions. Through looking at these we can begin to grow our resilience through focusing on our talents and skills, our values and friendships.
In this the importance of the language we use to REFRAME our worries (about ourselves, our world and our future) so that rather than being frightened by them we can become aware of the value of these things to us and put in place plans to support them, not as something to worry about but as things we care about. Alongside this, is the idea we must use the language of BELIEF, we must firstly believe in our recovery, then bring our young people in being the authors of their recovery and finding solutions to moving forward.