As our MacKillop students in Prep and Year 1 head back to school, we need to acknowledge the super human effort of our MacKillop parents, teachers and especially the students themselves. Children usually experience a mix of emotions when it comes to going back to school after a long break (think Summer holidays ….). Our lives have been disrupted and pushed into a new normal for at least the last six weeks. Whether children have been remote learning at home with family or at school learning online while supervised by school staff, getting back into some sort of school time routine is just another mammoth effort in the long list of challenges these crazy COVID19 times have delivered for us all.
Emotions involved in returning to school after enduring the changes COVID19 restrictions placed on our community will likely range from feeling really excited and eager to concern, fear or anxiety. Getting butterflies or general worry about going back to school is very normal. But, add in this strange COVID19 context where people are supposed to keep their distance and it feels like a lifetime since seeing our friends and in some case family, our students (and adults!) can and may feel in an emotional and volatile whirlwind right now.
Usually when returning to school, some of the biggest worries of our young students are feeling left out, feeling unsure about what to do or saying goodbye to their caregiver at drop off. Waving goodbye at the gate or MacKillop school fence during COVID19 will require some pre-work from families to ready their children to understand this is now the way things are done and everyone must do this, not just them. When our Year 2-7 students return on May 25th, their concerns are more likely to be about their school work and assessment, maybe they enjoyed remote learning or maybe they are worried because they didn’t engage in the remote learning very much at all. Some students may feel lonely and isolated and the effort to re-connect may feel too daunting. Overcoming challenges and regulating our emotions is resilience building!
Supporting our MacKillop parents, children and young people with the back-to-school challenges caused by COVID19 can help reduce the worries, the butterflies, the stress and anxiety.
Hopefully the following might help our MCC families:
1. Set up a back-to-school routine as fast as possible
Create structure about going back with a school morning routine, especially the waking up, getting dressed, getting organised and packing their own bag ready for the day. Be guided by your knowledge and history of what best supports your child during times of change and transition.
Many families make a visual “Getting Ready” list. You could include:
- what needs to be done each day for school like getting up, eating breakfast, dressing themselves
- what help does your child need from you to get ready?
- what they can do on their own? (Establish these together).
The first week back can cause disruption as once again, normal life changes to the new normal. Don’t forget healthy habits for a good, long night’s sleep, lots of play and running / exercise time after school and shop well for the school lunchbox so there are no unnecessary stresses about providing healthy food at school! Having a consistent bed time and wake up time helps too.
2. Talk positively about going back to school
Most children deal with some level of stress or anxiety about school. They have insight into their school experiences, so find out what worries them by asking them directly.
You can offer support by normalising experiences of worry and nerves. Everyone is still getting used to the new COVID19 norms so reassure your child they are not alone in their worry, and they will overcome this once they have transitioned back and settled into school again. Worries and courage can actually go together.
Depending on your child’s age, you can also try the following to help:
- Early Years/Pre-school – write a social story or get them to draw pictures of what school will look like now they will be back with their friends and waving goodbye to parents at the school gate
- Primary Years – maybe students can plan to arrive at school together and walk in with a buddy. They could have some news and ideas ready to share in class about their time spent in remote learning
3. Help create a sense of belonging to the MacKillop Community
A sense of belonging at school has a significant effect on academic success and student well-being. Parents can facilitate positive attitudes about transitioning back to MacKillop by setting an encouraging tone when talking about it and showing real interest in their child’s school life and school work. Talk about the ZOOM video conferencing with their teachers, or the Seesaw activities they enjoyed completing the most while learning remotely. Younger students may have been fortunate to have a school pack delivered to their home by their teacher. These memories and connections to school build community – our students will fondly remember the day their teacher ‘zoomed’ them online or possibly visited their house!
4. Look out for signs of stress
COVID19 has caused stress for most families in some form or another. Sometimes it is easy to miss the signs of stress and sometimes the signs can be obvious!
Parents can spot stress if their child (depending on age):
- is more clingy than usual and struggles to say goodbye at the gate
- appears restless or cries, and has difficulty explaining why or regulating their emotions
- shows an increased desire to avoid activities through negotiations and deal-making
- tries to get out of going back to school and may start feeling ‘sick’retreats to thumb sucking, baby language or increased attachment to favourite soft toys (for younger students).
Talking to your classroom teacher or our MacKillop Engagement / Counselling Team about what is happening means that together we can work on a strategy of support. Our door is always open and the MacKillop staff are ready to make this transition as seamless as possible.
5. Encourage questions and discussion
Encourage questions children may have about returning to school physically and if their remote learning experiences will have changed anything about school. What will be the same? What will be different? Most importantly, let your child know nothing is off limits to talk about. Set up a regular chat time; in the car after pick up, family dinner time, or perhaps the bed time reading chat. Talking about the challenges and changes, the similarities and the differences, is an important discussion which can help with the transitioning back-to-school and MacKillop during COVID19 nerves.
Transitioning back to school will be easy for some and a lot harder for others. Love, time, understanding and potentially a lot of reassurance will be needed. Keep the talk positive, and keep the talk open. And let your child’s teacher know if you have any concerns. COVID19 has shown as long as we work in partnership, we can do anything!