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How to prepare your child for going back to school after lockdown

It's been a tricky year for kids with such a long, unexpected break in schooling. Worried about back to school anxiety and super clingy kids in September? Two top local schools offer some great advice.

Help ease the anxiety of going back to school after lockdown

Children love routine, so if it gets messed up by something completely out of the blue like coronavirus interrupting the traditional school year then it’s understandable that there might be some lasting mental health effects on even the most confident and self-assured of kids.

With the summer holidays stretching ahead, you might not be worried yet, but chances are many children, especially primary children, will be feeling some sort of anxiety about the start of school again in September. They might not have had a chance to say goodbye to their teachers and friends from this year’s class. Or they may feel anxious about the different set up next term with bubbles and social distancing to adhere to as well as all the usual school rules!

So, I’ve been in touch with two local schools that I think are particularly strong when it comes to pastoral care – Whitehall School in Somersham and Ipswich School (Prep and Senior) – for their advice on how parents and schools can work together to ease children back into the school with smiles on their faces. I asked them about strategies to prevent children feeling anxious and stressed about their return to school; ways to deal with any mental health issues children may face without their usual school timetable; and changes to the way pastoral care will be provided post-lockdown.

Both schools have been extremely proactive and innovative in their approach to how they’ve dealt with the coronavirus, so you can be sure they’ve got some brilliant ideas for the next stage too…

Mrs Alison Werrey-Easterbrook, Head of Learning Enhancement, Ipswich Preparatory School, Ipswich, Suffolk

Ipswich Prep School building

Maintain a community – parents can encourage their children to stay in touch with their friends and join in with the group initiatives such as ‘Keep the ball moving’ – this was hugely popular at Ipswich Prep, from Year 6 to Reception, and even amongst the staff! Some more introverted children may actually prefer this period of social isolation but parents should not let this become the norm – developing social skills is a vital part of growing up. 

Celebrate mistakes – children will appreciate some help with remote learning, but it is important to let them make mistakes so that the teachers can help. Parents can help address perfectionism in their children by celebrating what they learn from their own mistakes.

“Children mirror their parents’ behaviour and a positive and upbeat attitude as a family will help them prepare.”

Celebrate the positives – children with remote learning programmes, such as at Ipswich School, will have developed much stronger ICT skills at an earlier age than they would in normal circumstances. They will also have learnt to adapt, develop resilience and improve their independent learning – all highly valuable life skills. 

Be prepared – understanding in advance what the new procedures will entail can help make returning less stressful. We have sent families short videos relevant to each age to show children what to expect. Children are also reassured by knowing what will stay the same and so we have emphasised these elements: their friends, teachers and, of course, the school’s ethos.

Positive parents – children mirror their parents’ behaviour and a positive and upbeat attitude as a family will help them prepare. Parents modelling calmness and problem-solving will find their children following suit. Creating time to talk as a family will also help.

Emotional health programmes – children will have been exposed to worries and death at a much younger age than they would normally. Ipswich Prep are rolling out the World Health Organisation endorsed ‘FRIENDS Resilience Programme’ which has proven success with supporting emotional health in children from age 4 upwards. 

Ipswich Prep School’s next Open Morning will take place on Saturday 26 September 2020 through a series of live webinars and virtual tours. The Prep School webinar will take place at 10:30am. You can register here.

Rebecca Hutley, Principal, Whitehall School, Somersham, Cambridgeshire

Children at Whitehall School are all completely au fait with digital learning

“It’s important for parents and schools to ensure children have the opportunity to speak about their thoughts on the current situation and how they are feeling about the changes to their routine. Often, we think children are coping but they have quite specific ideas about a situation. If we know their thoughts, we can help children to talk about and ultimately have the tools to cope with the changes occurring during the Covid-19 situation.

I think most children are looking forward to seeing their friends again when they return to school and we should focus on this area of their return, to help them feel excited about it rather than stressed. I don’t think children should feel any pressure or be having discussions about whether they have missed out on work and how they need to catch up. This is an area for parents and school to deal with in an intelligent and quiet way, without the children needing to worry.

how to get children ready to go back to school

Giving children the time and space to reflect on their current circumstances and knowing their family situation, helps us to be aware of any other mental health problems occurring before they become more serious. We are ever alert to changes in mood and motivation in our children and aim to step in with help before these signs become deeper issues.

At Whitehall School, pastoral care is constant throughout the day with children being observed by their teachers in small classes. Our usual methods of reporting children’s wellbeing will continue and this allows children the time to talk to an adult about any concerns when they arise.  Teachers have been asked to be more aware of children’s moods during this time and to report any areas of concern immediately.”

For information on open days and tours at Whitehall School, Somersham please click here.

Mrs Audrey Cura (Deputy Head Pastoral), Ms Anna Caston (Head of Lower School) and Rev Crompton-Battersby (Chaplain) at Ipswich School, Suffolk

Ipswich School

Routines work – routines help children to feel in control and to establish boundaries between work and downtime. Ipswich School has kept to the existing timetable under lockdown, moving lessons online and maintaining face to face, interactive teaching. Pastoral and co-curricular routines are just as important and we have maintained tutor group time, sport, drama, music ensembles and chapel services. 

Emotional wellbeing – pastoral support and mental wellbeing have rightly moved centre stage in education over recent years and we are seeing the benefits now of having put in place wide-ranging support networks. Our pastoral provision has continued throughout the pandemic with pupils able to connect with any of our pastoral team. There are valuable resources online too – see our Chaplain’s Mental First Aid sessions for parents on Youtube for example. 

It is recognised that doing things for other people is good for our own wellbeing and our students have been taking part in a weekly ‘Kindness Project’  – from making a cup of tea to telling someone that they love them. This also asks students to rate their own feelings with tutors able to pick up on any low scores.

meet the teachers before children go back to school

Meet the teacher – we would normally be preparing children to transition into the year ahead – meeting new joiners and running induction days. This is a valuable way to reassure children about change and we have simply adapted under the circumstances. For example, our Head of Lower School has now met our new Year 7 pupils, parents (and often their pets!)  online. 

Community is empowering – school is about much more than academic results alone – children learn to socialise, be flexible and to get along as part of a community. Our Journalism Club has continued to publish the weekly newsletter – the content relies upon connections and contributions across the school. The recent newsletter was devoted to Black Lives Matter and created a powerful sense that as a community we could make a difference.

Encourage independent learning – children will appreciate some help with remote learning but it is counter-productive for parents to step in and do the work for them. We have been running extra sessions with students who may struggle and our learning support team have been able to help teachers with techniques for teaching online.  

Ipswich Senior School’s next open morning will take place on Saturday 26 September through a series of webinars and virtual tours with the Senior School Webinar at 9.30am. A Sixth Form Information Evening will take place on Tuesday 29 September from 5.30-8pm at Ipswich School with staggered arrival times to manage numbers. Book your place here.

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