Children have spent the past three months working alone at a desk in their bedroom or dining room, wearing what they choose rather than a uniform, and being taught virtually rather than face-to-face. So, they cannot be expected to just slot back into their old routine just because they are back on campus, especially when ‘going to school’ will look very different to how it was in January.
WhichSchoolAdvisor has rounded up some top tips from Rain Jones, head of schools and governor of Mount Kelly School Hong Kong and ESF Kennedy School's vice principal Josh Blue to support your child as they return to school next week.
Before returning to school, take time to understand the new health and safety procedures at your school. As well as packing pencil cases and PE kits, your child will need face masks and hand sanitizer. You will also need to complete a Travel and Health Declaration Form before your child can return to campus; this should be sent to you by your school.
Ms Jones offers this advice:
“Remind your child how to keep safe by wearing their mask, using their own stationery, etc. You can help to inform your child as well as to help them prepare, by telling them what they can expect when they enter school under the new rules.”
Mr Blue also encourages families to prepare for the changes in lunch breaks. “Start coming up with plans for big breakfasts as in many cases, snacks and lunch might not be happening at school. If lunch is happening, start talking through lunch possibilities that don’t involve utensils.”
After months of learning from home, going back to school means getting back into a school routine. The key advice is to start getting your child back into a routine now.
Mr Blue says, “Hopefully, you heeded your school’s advice on maintaining a daily timetable since schools were closed in early February. If you didn’t, start now. If you thought the return to school was hard at the end of the summer holidays, the kids have now figured out that they can learn at home. So, what’s their motivation? Their friends. It’s the carrot you can dangle to get the day started.”
Ms Jones highlights the importance for children to go to bed at an appropriate time, eat breakfast in order to have energy for the school day, and have their uniform and backpack ready by the door. “Parents: don’t get frustrated if your child is struggling to go back to their old routine. It will take time.”
Both parents and students are likely to have some back to school anxiety, but the more calm and assured you are about the return to campus, the more confident your child will be. As Mr Blue says: “If you’re anxious, your child will be anxious.”
He adds: “Your school will have sent you guidelines and their protocols. Read them carefully, discuss them with your friends and then read them again. If you still have questions, reach out to the school for clarification. The only bad questions are those left unasked.”
After weeks of distance learning during the school closures, children will return to school having made varying degrees of academic progress. Schools will need to address any gaps in learning as children return to the traditional classroom. The key message to parents, though, is not to worry.
“If they have missed work and are worried, they will feel left behind, remind them to speak to their teachers and voice their concerns,” says Ms Jones, who assures parents that the focus will be on the child’s wellbeing. She adds: “It is a gradual process – teachers will continue to work with students when they return in September. Most important is getting the children ready to come back with their new routine.”
Mr Blue urges parents to remember that learning has not stopped over the last few months, it has continued in new and innovative ways. And, whether your child was fully engaged in their learning or not, they will be okay.
He adds: “The good thing is that learning doesn’t have a sell-by date. Nothing has to be taught within a certain time period.
“Schools set their own outcomes from an organisational and developmentally appropriate level, and they can also adjust them. Whether you remember to use capital letters and full stops at the end of Year 2 or by the end of Year 3, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter when your child returns to school is that we take the time to reconnect, share and process as a community.
"Learning will continue as well – don’t worry. We need to ensure all your child’s other needs at school are met first, or else learning can’t happen. Educators don’t think in terms of maths, language and Chinese; we see the whole child. You should, too.”
With a return to normality being anything but normal, it is important to talk to your child about their concerns of going back to school. As Ms Jones says: “Talk to them about all the changes they will witness so they do not feel anxious.”
Mr Blue adds: “All of those big questions you’ve avoided about social distancing, Covid-19, why they can’t go see grandma and grandpa this summer – are all going to come pouring out as soon as they step back in the classroom. Talk to your child about what’s been happening here and around the world. Ask them about their worries. Ask them about what they’re excited about. Get them talking. And then go find the answers together.”
With schools closed and parents working from home, the past three months have given everyone more opportunities to spend time together as a family. Mr Blue encourages families to maintain this stable home environment to help reduce student anxieties.
He says: “After months of being at home reconnecting and building stronger relationships with each other, don’t just go back to how things were. Make sure you still have time to connect and spend time with your child. They need you more than ever and, to be truthful, you need them more than you ever knew after all the time you’ve spent together. This is the silver lining of the last few months – who would want to lose that?”