Category Archives: Back to School

Back to School: What Really Matters.

There is no question that for the vast majority of children, learning online at home alone, has not been as effective as face-to-face interaction with their peers and teachers in the classroom. I can clearly see that the education of my own four children has been adversely affected over the past year. As a former teacher and teacher trainer, I care a lot about education. It’s why 20 years ago, I chose to call my business ‘Educating Matters’.  However, we need to focus on what really matters when children go back to school and it is not the academics.  It needs to begin with a focus on their social and emotional wellbeing.

The experience of children throughout the UK will have varied enormously over the course of the past year and there will have been huge disparity (even based on what I have discerned anecdotally) in the provision by different schools.  I have spoken to tens of thousands of parents about their challenges of homeschooling during the pandemic and they are certainly not based purely on socio-economic factors. For example, if you are a single parent or both you and your partner work full time, you would have simply not been able to support your child’s education and give them the attention you would have ideally liked to.  We’ve all just been trying to do the very best we can to get by can under exceptional circumstances.

It is so important to appreciate that parents and teachers create the voices in their own heads and that narrative will influence their behvaiour and even sub-consciously pass on to the children.  There is so much talk about this ‘Covid generation’ and the need to ‘catch up’ even potentially over the summer holidays.  Kids have missed out on so much, aside from education.  They have barely had any opportunity for social interaction or to engage in all the non-academic activities they enjoyed in and outside of school.

The government have appointed a new education recovery tsar to oversee this ‘catch up’ but I am not sure what are they supposed to be catching up on? If for example, a child had a terrible illness and ends up missing weeks or months of school, of course they need to catch up on the work their peers have been doing.  However, in this situation ALL children have missed school, so that would mean all children are ‘behind’. Behind what exactly?

When kids return to school next week, if they don’t feel comfortable amongst their peers, if they have terrible anxiety, if they remain in ‘fight, flight, freeze mode’ then very little learning will be taking place.  A child’s attitude, mindset and motivation is the key to success in all areas of life.  This is what parents and teachers need to focus their attention on.  Not constant negative talk about how behind they are academically and how much they have lost.

Especially in the earlier years, play is a child’s ‘work’.

Play allows humans to create, improvise, imagine, learn, problem solve, be open and curious.  It’s that lightness of being, curiosity and wonder when totally engaged with no worries or agenda.

Children should not be put under any added pressure to ‘catch up’. They have a whole life ahead of them after Covid and education is very much a marathon not a sprint.  They have the opportunity to learn throughout their lives, not just in school and certainly not just in one year. 

Children have learnt so many valuable things about life over the course of the last year, that no school in the world can teach in the same way.  They have contributed much more to looking after the family home, worked independently and learnt how to manage their time, procrastination and motivating themselves. It has been an opportunity to practice gratitude for simple things and a heightened sense of what is really important, along with emphasising core values such as caring for others.  They have also built up great banks of resilience, learning to deal with disappointments, setbacks and a huge myriad of different emotions. We should be emphasising this aspect to our children and focusing on how much they have grown, learnt and developed in other areas during the course of this challenging year.

Back to School for SEN Children

Here we go again.  Next week our children our heading back to school.  Some are so excited.  Some are…. not so excited.  However, parents of children with special educational needs know that an additional layer of stress comes with starting back to school…the dreaded transition stress. 

For many of our neuro-divergent children, the need for structure and routine is like the need for air.  The world feels hostile most of the time.  They find comfort in predictability.  Covid-19 has robbed the world of this.  We can understand and cope as adults.  But, for our more vulnerable kiddos who are already coping with so much, one more change may feel like too much.

Don’t worry.  There are a few things we can do to ease them into this change.  Monday morning may still be stressful for everyone, but here are a few ways we can let the steam out of the kettle so it can run as smoothly as possible.

Start Talking About the Process Now

Preparation is the key here.  After letting them know that school is going back, slowly bring this into the conversation whenever you can.  Think out loud about the walk to school and whether there might be a shorter way.  Ask what type of after school snacks they might like to have for when they get home.  Wonder and be curious about the art on the walls.  Now is the time to use your ninja parenting skills to make this feel normal.

Start Shifting Routine

Is bedtime about a million hours later than it should be?  Have they been having school in pyjamas?  That’s ok!  We all did what we needed to so we could get work and school done.  Start moving back to school timings and routine now.  Get dressed every morning…even if it is in new pyjamas.  Follow your morning and evening rituals.  Get their internal body clocks and natural rhythms ready for that 7 am start.

Get Them Involved

I don’t know about you, but with 4 kids in my house, the search for school shoes is real right now!  Make a scavenger hunt to get everything ready.  This is as simple as writing down everything down to the last glue stick and making a check list.  They can have a prize at the end.  This gets them thinking about school and feeling prepared.  Plus, they might find that right shoe when you have a pile of lefts!

Get School Involved

Remember that it is in the school’s best interests for things to move smoothly next week.  Does your child have a favourite teacher or staff member?  See if they are able to write an email or make a phone call letting them know how excited they are to be reunited.  If your child is demand avoidant, keep it to the email as the phone call could be overwhelming. 

Be Prepared for Big Feelings

Even those looking forward to returning are going to have big feelings.  They may come out in different ways like refusing to engage with online learning or even picking fights here and there.  Our children have had to manage so much this year.  They will undoubtedly be worried about how long this will last.  Give them space when they need it and don’t take anything personally.    Use your emotion coaching skills to help them find their resources to thrive.  Monday afternoon needs to be a time to decompress.  Expect that they will need this and be prepared with whatever home comforts they need. 

We know that transitions are a place of stress for many families.  If we plan for the stress, we can reduce the impact.  Move with intention and allow the time and space you need to make this as easy on you and your family as possible.

Parents and carers, you have done an amazing job.  Be proud of yourselves and be proud of your children.  We have developed a level of resilience that will serve us all for a lifetime.  Make sure you take time to reflect.  You deserve it.