When schools in many countries closed in earlier this year, parents around the world had to figure out a new challenge: home-schooling. Whilst some have enjoyed this extra time with their children, research by UCL in the UK found that mothers in particular saw a considerable impact on their careers. There are also serious consequences for children’s well-being and potential future earnings the longer they are away from school-based education. So if your children are back at school this September, how do you make their return run smoothly after nearly six months away from full-time school?
#1 Redesign your routine
Many parents and children have missed the structure that school provides and are looking forward to having some routine back. Use this change as an opportunity to think not just about the school day and what you and your children need to do, but also about any other habits that you’d like to keep or lose from lockdown living. For example, the return of school might create new opportunities for you to exercise or socialise. Or, if there are two adults in the house working from home, you might need to find new space for both of you to work at the same time. You also might’ve taken on other roles around the house that now need adjusting, so take some time to think through an ideal week and how every member of the family is dividing their time across work/education, chores and fun.
#2 Understand the new rules
Schools in the UK and around the world are learning too as classrooms reopen. Get used to the new operating procedures and take your children through what to expect. If they already had some experience before the break, help them understand the rules may keep changing a bit as more children come back. Tell them they can do their bit to help school run smoothly by paying attention to the new requirements. For those who haven’t been in at all, encourage friends or siblings with some experience to share how they found it. And don’t be afraid to share feedback with your school on your experiences of lockdown learning and how the new model they’re offering in September is working for you.
#3 Prioritise well-being over academic achievement
Whilst schools are rightly keen to get back to learning as normal as quickly as they can, most are placing considerable emphasis on students’ well-being in the first term back and prioritising their social and emotional development. Follow their lead and try not to focus only on the academics. If you have particular concerns, make sure you share these with your child’s school – and ask them for specialist support if you think it’s needed.
#4 Practise socialising – safely
As life has unlocked, every family has found their own way to balance the risk and reward of spending more time with others. Going back to school in September will be easier if you’ve been able to find some ways to socialise with classmates, if you haven’t been doing this already. Try organising a socially distanced picnic in the park with some school friends for younger children, or encourage older children to organise socially distanced face-to-face meet-ups at home as well as spending time together on social media or gaming.
#5 Manage your own mental health
With adults across Europe reporting increased anxiety over the last six months, making sure your child isn’t impacted by dips in your mental health requires a conscious effort. Take the steps you need to support yourself, whether that’s getting professional help or making lifestyle changes. If the return to school specifically is making you anxious, remind yourself that there are protections in place and that there are considerable benefits to being back at school. Many schools will have extra resources in place to support parents as well as children, so tap into these if you feel you need to.
#6 Resist the temptation to over-schedule
During the lockdown, many people have felt the benefit of a lighter schedule as weekend activities such as clubs, playdates and parties stopped or slowed down. Now school is starting again, stagger reintroducing weekend engagements so that you have time as a family to adjust. Having time together to relax will give your children an opportunity to share anything that’s on their mind as they navigate the new routine. It also means that you aren’t frantically trying to fit everyone’s different activities in, and have some time for job hunting, exercise, looking after your wellbeing or brushing up your skills if you’re coming back from furlough.
Of course no-one knows how the coronavirus will develop over the winter months and what further adaptations to life and school may yet be required. Whatever happens, follow the official guidelines, role-model the resilience you want to see in your children and stay as safe as you can.