The Jewish Chronicle
Help children prepare for a happy return to school
Maccabi GB has been working with Etz Chaim school for more than five years, delivering its PE curriculum and after-school clubs. The sports leaders programme has been taught by Maccabi GB PE coaches, to help older pupils lead lunchtime games for their peers. Through this work, Maccabi GB has been able to develop the school’s football and netball teams to participate and compete for trophies in the Maccabi GB school sports tournaments. There is also a strong link between former pupils and those who have applied in recent years to attend the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) Maccabi Youth Games
LAST HALF term, schools were closed to most children, while the majority worked remotely. It was a difficult half term for everybody involved — staff, parents and children. At Etz Chaim, we were so impressed with the effort and energy everyone put into the remote learning and the level of engagement we saw from the children. I am writing this article during the half term break. Although talk of schools reopening is currently dominating the headlines, remote learning will continue as children return to school after half term.
Recent conversations with our families have highlighted a change in the focus of their concerns — a real shift from the academic to mental health. Children have continued to learn during Lockdown 3. Although it is not the same as face-to-face teaching in the classroom, the remote learning provision has evolved since March 2020; schools have adapted their approaches so children can work more independently and parents can see the quality has vastly improved.
In contrast to the previous lockdown, parents have shared how physically isolated their children are. Many families have not been mixing with others and the increased demands of work compared to Lockdown 1 have meant that during the school day many parents must focus on their work commitments rather than their children’s schoolwork. Consequently, large numbers of children are sitting alone, often at a screen, completing remote learning during the working day, meaning levels of interaction are low.
While parents are still worried about their children’s education, their main concerns are about their children’s wellbeing, especially as they are not physically seeing their friends and socialising. For many older children, they have been forced to keep in touch via social media, which can have an adverse effect on wellbeing, particularly for girls. Furthermore, children often interact with their peers through organised sports and activities which can have a positive effect on wellbeing. However, many of these have been cancelled due to the current restrictions. As a result, children are experiencing increased loneliness.
School leaders are acutely aware of this and the impact of this current lockdown on children’s mental health. We are starting to plan for the children’s return and how best to support their transition to school life. School life is a stark contrast to the isolation children are experiencing. It is visually stimulating, filled with conversation and laughter and there are numerous interactions in the classroom and the playground. For many children this will be a shock after spending numerous weeks alone; it may even be a sensory overload.
There are children who are happy being at home and learning remotely. Some children may feel settled at home or more comfortable, in control and safe with people at home rather than in the school environment. For some children, being at home may have relieved some pressures of the school environment that they find challenging, such as difficulties with learning or relationships with peers.
Recognising that, for some children, going back to school will be incredibly hard is important. It may take time for some children to settle in, to adjust to the routines of the school day. Luckily, there is much that teachers and parents can do to prepare and support children through this transition back to school so it is less overwhelming.
Schools learned a great deal from the children’s return after lockdown last year and are familiar with some of the challenges we may see again in the classrooms. This information is useful for school leaders and teachers, as well as for parents.
In the autumn term, we saw a decline in children’s love of reading, their fitness levels and their listening/concentration skills. This is where parents can really support the transition by encouraging fitness and reading on a daily basis.
Parents can also play games like Simon Says, Musical Statues, Charades and Listen and Draw (where two people sit back to back and one describes what the other should draw).
Here are some other ways parents can help:
Talk to your child about going back to school. Share memories to help them become enthusiastic about going back. Ask them how they are feeling and reassure them it is normal to feel a mixture
School life is a contrast to the isolation children are experiencing’
of emotions and that everyone will be in the same boat.
Re-establish a routine to help them ease into school life, especially around their morning and bedtime routines.
When you know when your child will return to school, create a visual calendar so they can prepare and feel more certain about their return.
Think about passing the school on your daily walk if possible. If not, try to drive past when you are going out for an essential trip.
Ask your child’s teacher if it is possible to have some face-to-face contact through a video call so they have a positive interaction with their teacher and start to feel excited about going back. If this is not possible, another form of contact with their teacher before they go back could be beneficial, eg a phone call, email or recorded video message.
Encourage your child to contact their friends over a video call. If they aren’t keen, think about setting up a game for them to play together.
This is an uncertain time for everyone. With more change on the horizon, finding ways that home and school can work together will ease the return to school for children. Schools are in regular contact with families to check on wellbeing. They want to support them
and working remotely makes it more difficult to know the challenges children or families are facing. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health or anything else, please be proactive and let the school know, so they can help. As I say to the families I speak to, “We can get through this together”.
Yvonne Baron is headteacher for Etz Chaim Primary School