Going back to school? Six essential things to consider.

by Mandi Hart

 

Going back to school isn’t as simple as it was a few months back. The world looks unfamiliar and our children will have to navigate unchartered territory with courage and lots of support. Change is sometimes scary for children and adults. In South Africa, we’ve been in lockdown for almost two months at the time of writing this post. Did you know that it takes on average 66 days for a new behaviour to become a habit? This fact alone means that your children have had the time to develop other ways of doing life and schooling.

 

New routines became the norm

They have had the time to readjust to waking up possibly a little later, having mom (or dad) help them with their schooling and not leaving home. Did you perhaps try to become the teacher in the first days of lockdown only to discover that it was hopeless? And then settled into a routine of trying to navigate your eight-year-old and 12-year-olds zoom calls amongst your own business and doing all the housework by yourself? We had to adapt, and so we did, but now things are changing again.

 

Kids have learned new skills at home

But, us moms can be incredibly ingenious and resilient. How many of you incorporated Maths into baking and simply figured out an alternative way of doing life. Lockdown hasn’t been all negative. We’ve had deep conversations, moments of laughter and frustration. Even my teens have increased their skills. My son learned to make bread, make spaghetti bolognese, clean toilets, chop wood and made his own knife. My daughter discovered the joys of baking huge chocolate chip cookies and finished her novel. She is also trying to figure out what to do after matric as her first choice fell through because of COVID-19. All great lessons in resilience.

 

Going back to school means another change for your families

But now we face a change. The matrics and grade 7’s are returning to school next week. Unless you are homeschooling, this change has provoked a nationwide outcry. If you can send your children back into school, even though it is scary, it is still a privilege. Thousands of children around the world will never return to finish their schooling.

In a sober article in The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss writes, “Because so many of the children who are out of school are the most marginalized, once they are out of school, they are likely to be out for good,” she said. “It is not easy to revert.”

Mixed feelings from parents are normal

From the UK to the US to Africa, parents are not convinced that sending children back to school is the safest thing to do. Not only are they worried by about their children, but the safety and the availability of educators are a concern. It is an unprecedented time for our children. 

Dr Tara Quinlivan explained how children might feel in her article, Return to school. A trauma informed approach: “For many children the return to school will be a delightful experience. It will mean reconnecting with friends and school teachers and they will race out the front door ready to get back to normal. This however won’t be everyone’s experience. In fact, I imagine that it won’t be a lot of families experience. The return to school is likely to stir up some anxiety for our kids, ourselves and our teachers. Emerging from the sanctuary of our homes and back out into public spaces is likely to be a little confronting.

Parents feel uncertain.

Parents of a learner in high school said that although it’s necessary to go back to school, they are feeling scared and uncertain. Their child is in a school that is in an impoverished area, and they cannot access the data necessary for their child to learn online.

A mom of a matriculant remarked that it is time for them to go back. “We need to get back to some kind of normality. My son has his future ahead of him, and I want him to finish this year well, even though it’s under difficult circumstances.”

“I feel it’s very premature. I am worried about the safety of wearing a mask for 6 hours and breathing in stale air. I don’t understand why they are shutting off sectors but allowing kids to go back. Each family has to see where their children are at psychologically. I’d much rather keep my kids home until it’s safer to go back,” explained a mom of an 8- and 16-year-old.

Therefore, irrespective of our own fears, we still need to help our children prepare for school or university. A side note here, confront your fears. Cast out your fears and banish them for good. It’s not always easy to do, but this very point will help you parent your children well and guide them into the unchartered territory with grace and wisdom.

Miranda, a mom of an 11-year-old, said that she is torn. She is aware of the dangers as her husband and father-in-law are at risk, but her daughter needs company. This mom mentioned that she’s not an adept teacher, and it’s tough at home.

Jonathon, dad of two girls including a special-needs daughter mentioned that he thinks, “It’s time to return to some sense of normalcy. I think we as a nation are ready for the children to go back to school. We cannot live in fear and have to face our fears our head-on and move forward.”

Whatever your take is, your children will have to face the reality of re-entering society again. How can you help them thrive?

Here are six essential ways you can help your children prepare to re-enter school

Stay calm and be accurate in your explanations


Ensure that you are educated about COVID-19 and your child’s return to school. Talk to them in detail about what they can expect. If you don’t know what will happen, then contact your child’s school or institution and ask clarifying questions. Stay connected to your child’s school. Have your child practice wearing a mask at home for a growing period. Teach them how to wash their hands (don’t just assume that they know how). Discuss what will happen when they arrive at school when they come home. Give them time to digest it all. Above all, speak with calmness and knowledge.

Help them navigate seeing their friends again

They haven’t seen their friends for over two months, and if your children are anything like mine, they will want to hug, high five and sit close to their friends. Have a conversation with your children about social distancing and how they can actually do it. In addition, role model this change with them. I found that role modelling over the years has helped my children navigate many awkward moments.

For example, encourage your child to take the initiative such as when they arrive at school to do the following: “Hey guys, remember no touching but….” And they respond in a way that they can relate to their friends.

Listen and acknowledge their feelings

Acknowledge their fears and insecurity. Don’t dismiss your children’s mildest comment. Listen to them and pay attention to their body language and behaviours. Just as we care for our own mental health, we need to do the same for our children. Focus on them and really listen to what they are saying.

Be honest and up-to-date

Know what’s going on with Covid-19 and be honest with your children in age-appropriate language. Stay calm and help them do the same. Educate yourself and them.  Know what your options are regarding schooling. For example, one mom who is paralyzed and at extremely high risk explained:  “My daughter doesn’t want to live with another family so we will do live streaming tutoring. Her teachers have been incredible and hugely supportive and praised her for her bravery and care.” Use helpful language that conveys a positive attitude. Be aware of how you speak about your country and what is going on in the world because your children will imitate you. Fear increases stress levels and lowers one’s immune systems.

Prepare beforehand

What will make going back to school easier for your children? Now, I know it might seem obvious, but getting my daughter ready for school takes preparation. Do you need to make sure you have school snacks on hand, enough washing powder? Remember, you will have to wash their clothes, masks and iron them every day. A prepared mom is a calm mom. Even if this isn’t your forte, it will help in stressful and uncertain times.

Maintain a sense of humour

Life is severe enough without us needing to make it even more serious. Help your children laugh and lighten the atmosphere in your home. If a home is a safe place, and you fill the atmosphere with grace and smiles, your child can navigate a tough time at school. When they get home, help them process the day and do something special to make them smile. That might mean a cup of hot chocolate as a treat or a spontaneous movie night. 

 

To encourage you further, here are few extra pointers in list form to help you prepare your child for school:

  1.  Wake them up a little earlier a few days before to get them used to going back to school.
  2. Be prepared for emotional responses and tired children when they come home from school.
  3. Give them something positive to look forward to after a school day.
  4. Check their books and stationery and refill what they need.
  5. Sport is most likely cancelled – plan something for when they get home. Movement helps destress our bodies.
  6. Pray for your children, their teachers and educators.