How To: Prepare Kids to Return to School
As the UK Government make some very vague statements about what may (or may not) occur in terms of our children returning to school, I feel that we need to start NOW to prepare our kids for their return, whenever that may be. In my opinion, as a mother and as someone who was responsible for reintegration processes in school, you can never make this process too long. It's all too easy to rush it, and to gloss over any areas of concern, but impossible to be too thorough.
So, where and how do we start? First and foremost I recommend that you say nothing about what the government has (or hasn't) said, this is all subject to change and we cannot guarantee anything to our children. So, for now, do not mention a time-scale to them, even if you think it will help, chances are it won't. Time is an abstract concept, and we can use this to our advantage, by making no promises until one week before (at a push).
Begin with a conversation along the lines of "How do you feel about school at the moment?" or " What do you think it'll be like when school is open again?". Let your child talk, don't attempt to cajole them out of any concerns, just hold space for them to talk - they might not have any strong feelings about it, but you can plant the seed of being back at school and let it grow.
Next, gradually reintroduce some school signage around the house, maybe one day make sure your child sees you moving their book bag from one cupboard to another to "create more space for something else", or let your child check the school website themselves for their home-school work.
Once you have done this, re-ask the question about how they feel about school, see if any new thoughts or feelings have arisen. Again, don't dismiss any concerns, but allow your child to air their feelings and comfort them if they are upset.
Begin to introduce the theme of school very gently, into play. In our house I set up a reintegration play shelf (pictured), showing us at home, followed by a town scene, then a school and a playground. I included the Usbourne book 'Starting School' and we will read it together when they notice it. Small is due to start school in September, so I will ask Big to tell him all about what happens at school, even though he already attends Nursey there, lockdown has gone on for a very long time for such a short life. I will put gentle emphasis on how I will not be with them during school hours, they will need to separate from me. Hearing this in the safety of their own home is much more preferable than being faced with the reality on the first day back. The idea around the play shelf is that it is a natural response for children to play with an inviting set up. Play is commonly used as a form of therapy for children following trauma, as it provides a no-pressure environment, children often play out their thoughts, recollections and difficult emotions and this is what I am hoping to achieve here with my own children.
Adopt the timings of the school day into your daily rhythm, make sure that you are all up and dressed by the time that you would normally need to leave the house for the school run. Better still, actually leave the house at that time to go for a walk or bike ride. Take a break, and have lunch at the same time that they would at school. Ensure it's tools down at the end of the school day and reinstate any bedtime routines that may have been relaxed over this time.
If you are able to, I highly recommend taking a walk or a drive past the school with your child, on your way to or from somewhere else (making a special trip may add feelings of pressure to respond in a certain way for your child). I actually walked past our school the other day and filmed a short video just of the sign and entrances - the boys were really excited to see it when I got home. When you are there, or passing the school grounds ask your child what their favourite memory from school is. See if you can create lots of positive associations.
In the days and weeks before make sure you check that uniform and shoes still fit (a mad dash to the shops is not fun for anyone- trust me!) and check that you have everything ready. Encourage your child to help with these physical preparations, as knowing everything is there and ready can be very reassuring.
This pandemic has been, and will continue to be very stressful, and emotionally charged. Try not to talk about your worries about school in front of the children, they hear and understand you, and will absorb your anxieties, even if you do not intend to send them back soon. If you choose to send your child back to school after half-term as is the Governmental plan, then you need to have faith in the staff to take the necessary precautions and measures. Every school will handle this situation differently, within the official guidance, so I can't offer you any specific advice on how to encourage your child to adhere to the safety measure of your school. However, insist on good hand hygiene, and gentle reminders that we still can't go too close to other people at the moment. Allow teachers to take charge of the school day.
Be aware that your child may well have some confusing feelings after returning to school, I foresee that there will be many, many big feelings that arise. Again, allow these emotions to pour out, comfort your child and confirm that this is a confusing time, for us all.
Take good care of yourselves. Stay Safe.