As emphasized in Alyson Jones’s blog dated August 27th, 2020, returning to school this fall comes with many unknowns. In the teaching and learning environment there are new rules, foreign protocols, and heightened levels of anxiety amongst children, parents, and school staff amidst the pandemic’s permeating affects and the Ministry’s ever-pivoting regulations around how best to keep children safe, happy, and engaged.
While I am a counselling intern completing my Masters in Counselling Psychology, under the expert supervision of Alyson Jones, I am also the Junior School Director at a North Vancouver independent school. The first week of school was dominated by supporting children and their families as they embraced their return after a long six-month break; a break that, for many, was lonely and truly isolating. This year’s ‘return to school’ is unique in many ways and vital given it provides multiple opportunities for student-peer-teacher connections (be they distanced due to COVID) across all grade levels within appropriately sized learning bubbles. When students are provided the time and space to rekindle old friendships, to form new peer relationships, to attach to their teachers, and to reconcile with the structure of a school day, student learning will be set in motion.
Most kids, over the last 6 months, have been relating exclusively to the people within their small social/familial bubbles; bubbles that have most likely excluded their school mates and ‘go to’ friends. Social play has been curtailed for a significant time period and for children, who have a natural high need for fun, this has been extremely challenging. For all children, play and exploration are essential and foundational to their personal development. Despite social distancing, mask wearing, and routine sanitizing, within the school setting, the school environment can’t help but offer opportunities for children of all ages and at all stages of development to establish pivotal connections that underpin essential play, foundational learning, and the blossoming of a growth mindset.
I think this fall provides both children and their parents the chance to perceive ‘back to school’ as a unique opportunity for new beginnings both at school and at home. Such a perspective may support the growth of positivity and hopefulness in children during a time that has been heavily weighted by fear. Here are some suggestions related to embracing the school year as a fresh new start:
- Be open-minded -Parents can encourage their children to approach each school day with open-mindedness and a sense of self-acceptance and acceptance of others. Each family and student will have different levels of comfort related to social distancing and to the use of PPE while at school, and that is perfectly okay.
- Be principled -The school day provides many opportunities for children to practice being principled. Kids will be expected to do the right thing when no one is watching including washing their hands, maintaining their belongings, respecting others’ space, and being committed to the essential agreements set out by their classroom teachers and the school. What awesome practice for our children.
- Be community-minded -The concept of “we are all in this together” provides children ample learning chances to take responsibility for their actions, words, and choices, given how they conduct themselves can have an impact on their entire school community.
- Be inclusive – Kids have been kept apart for some time and everyone wants to have a friend at school. Encourage your children to broaden their social circles (within their learning bubbles).
- Be caring – Showing kindness and empathy to others will play an important role during the return to school process. Everyone has different reactions to and feelings about being at school during a pandemic, therefore students should be encouraged to appreciate that the sharing of thoughts and feelings is completely healthy and welcomed.
- Be organized -The new school year, especially this one, offers an opportunity to establish some new and healthy routine practices for before and after school. Embracing structure can support children to feel more secure and prepared.
- Be tech-free or Tech-light -Kids who have had excessive exposure to screens and video games need to take a significant break. This ‘fresh start’ offers the perfect opportunity to reduce screen time at home.
Wishing you a wonderful school year. It will no doubt offer all of us many occasions to capitalize on authentic and meaningful teachable moments.