From the beginning of the pandemic, I have been speaking to colleagues about when the time finally comes for all our children to return (hopefully September) we will have to focus on their emotional well-being. Not only the children’s but our colleagues and the community. This to me is of paramount importance as their experience of loss will be significant and something that just cannot be ignored.
Any acceleration of our children’s attainment will be down to each child’s feelings around security and their emotional well-being. Any fast track catch-up programme can wait. Helplessness and uncertainty that has shrouded our lives throughout this pandemic need tackling. That is why I plan on delivering whole school topics around these themes when our children are back. Each topic will have a book, music and art activities along with a focus on mindfulness and well-being. Within these units, writing and other areas of the curriculum can be threaded in.
I am very fortunate to have such a passionate pastoral team at school and below are some of the topics and a handful of suggested activities for each.
1. Feeling Safe
Our children and staff returning to school is an important milestone because we all need to get back to a routine after the effect of an abrupt lockdown. Undoubtedly, our children and staff will need to feel safe and secure, for most children, schools are a haven and they need to feel safe again. Most of our children will be hesitant and reassurance along with routine will be the key to provide the children with stability.
Children will also need to find their voices again and feel they can do and say things that will have an impact. They need to be able to feel they can change and discuss things and start to gain a bit of control again in their lives. By exploring topics that can be open-ended will give them confidence and freedom to explore. This will be the first step to their recovery.
- Design a new class charter with the focus around feeling safe to share ideas and feelings
- Use visual timetables to help children structure their day
- Guardian angels – Identify a person who they feel they can trust to share their feelings and gently encourage children to seek help from adults
- Plan games that are highly structured games but avoid those with strong winning/losing element
- Set shared goals that can be achieved by working together and encouraging one another
Children and teachers have been kept apart for so long, the effects of this will have evoked feelings of loss. One day they were in school with their friends and the next day they were not. Again, the uncertainty of when they would meet again would only add to their sense of loss.
Social interaction is so important for us all and even more so for the developing minds of our children. That feeling of connectedness has been missing for so long and this needs addressing before we do anything else. Workaround resilience and adversity will allow children to re-connect. By giving children opportunities to create or be part of a whole group or school pieces of work will also create togetherness.
- Encourage lots of chatting in the classroom. Give the children activities that promote discussion and conversation – let us rediscover the art of conversation!
- Provide lots of opportunities for our children to play as this helps relieve stress and anxiety, plus it is something they have greatly missed
- Encourage children to connect with someone they would not normally and invite them into their circle of friends
- Plan on whole school topics, use of the same book from EYFS through to Y6 to bring the whole school together and united with the same theme
- Whole school displays of work (art, writing) showing how connected we are
3. Dealing with worries and loss
Our communities have suffered trauma. We cannot get away from the facts that children and our communities have suffered a loss. Loss can make us all react differently, and we will need to be patient with all our community. We should take this opportunity for children to discuss their worries, memories during lockdown and any unhappy times. But also, be mindful to provide the children with lots of activities to help them laugh and feel happy. Remember laughter can be the best medicine!
- Discuss with the children your happy/ unhappy memories during lockdown, let the children share theirs – produce a piece of artwork combining happy/ sad times
- Guardian angel – yet again, this person they have identified could listen to a child if they have any worries
- Discuss feelings, positive and negative. Allow children to share their feelings through art, allow them to paint and describe any feelings visually. This is often easier for children to talk about rather than just asking them to talk.
- Be more active, encourage your children and staff to dance, ride a bike, take up yoga to help us to relax and not think about our worries (I run most days!)
- Try some guided meditation for mindfulness, we use Go Noodle and Smiling Minds websites in school
4. Hope and Gratitude
Hope and gratitude will be important as we get back to our routines. Hopes for the future will need to be explored pointing the way forward to a happier time. Trying to remain hopeful is difficult when we are faced with challenges, but it is important to tell the children that by working together and sharing feelings with others we can get through things. Promoting gratitude and celebrating being thankful for the small things in life will be equally important.
- Create a dreamcatcher and ask children to add their hopes and dreams to it
- Show kindness to others – encourage random acts of kindness
- A cup of kindness box for children and staff to try and fill each week and share them with each other with a reward if you can fill it!
- A time capsule could be buried along with artwork, pieces of writing about lockdown and their hopes for the future will help consolidate their thinking
- Remind children to take notice of what is around them, take time out in the day to pause and take in their surroundings, they could go on a sensory walk outside in the school grounds, appreciate nature. Encourage them to be thankful for the small things
- Create a Gratitude Display of all the things your class and staff are grateful for when they return. They could write thank you letters to someone who has done something special for them, write poems and draw pictures of people they are grateful for
Our communities have suffered trauma. If we do not respond to their return with a curriculum rich in a mindful, nurturing way, we will not be addressing the sense of loss felt by all. Forget catch up, until our children feel safe and have built up their social interactions and routines and only then will they be ready to learn.
Art, creativity, books and music around the themes of safety, reconnecting, loss and hope will bring smiles back to the faces of our children and teachers. When we are all smiling again, we can begin to learn once more. September should be a new beginning and a chance for a time to heal.