On 1st May the government released plans for the gradual reopening of schools in England with the first year groups, Reception, Year1 and Year6, possibly returning on 1st June. It is still unclear exactly when other year groups will go back, with special schools operating a gradual return too.
Returning to school after weeks of home learning and isolation is going to be challenging for all children. The pandemic is likely to have caused some anxiety and the schooling that they return to is going to look very different to what they are used to.
We have pulled together some tips and information to help you to prepare your child for their return to school, whenever that might be.
Building up to the return to school
- During lockdown your routine is likely to have changed. Try to get back into a school routine as much as possible. This might include an earlier bedtime routine. If appropriate you could try to follow your child’s school timetable during home learning. The use of visual timetables or now and next cards might support you in doing this. The National Autistic Society have information on visual supports.
- Get the school uniform out in advance to remind your child what it looks and feels like. They may even like to wear it for home learning activities to get back into the school routine.
- Role play schools and school routines at home if appropriate for your child.
- Talk about school, talk about teachers and friends that they will see again. If possible, walk or drive past the school to help familiarise them with the building or area again. If this isn’t possible show them photographs, if you have them, or look at the school website together which might have photographs or videos to remind them of the school building, classrooms, playgrounds and staff.
- If possible, practice the school run to help them remember and prepare.
- Talk to your child about the possibility of school looking and feeling a bit different, including adhering to social distancing. Remind children of the positive reasons for the new rules but don’t scare them with stories of what might happen. For example, emphasise that the rules are good because they are there to keep everyone safe. Don’t dwell on what might happen if germs spread. You can use social stories to do this. The National Autistic Society have information on what social stories are, how they help and how you can write your own.
- It is also possible that some staff in schools may wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves. Some children may already be used to this as part of their personal care routines, but for those that are not, prepare your child for the possibility of this by explaining what it is for and when and why school staff might be wearing it.
- Find out what your child is worried about and help them to prepare using social stories or relaxation methods such as deep breathing techniques. See below for further tips on managing anxiety. Find out what they are looking forward to and use these ideas to create positive conversations about school.
- Schools will no doubt be communicating plans for reopening, including drop offs and pick-ups, new school routines, classroom layouts and groupings of children and staff. Some schools may send photographs or social stories to prepare the children. But if you or your child still have questions, contact your school prior to your child going back.
- Communicate what you know with your child in small chunks to allow them to process the information. Use pictures or visual cues where appropriate and repeat important information to ensure that your child understands.
- If your child is anxious about returning to school the use of a ‘What If’ chart might help. This includes your child’s worries e.g. What if I need help? And then a response to these worries e.g. You will be with a teacher all the time and if you need help you can ask them, and they will help you. You can then go through this chart with your child over the days leading up to them starting school.
- If your child usually receives occupational therapy (OT), speech and language therapy (SALT) or Physiotherapy they may have been receiving their therapy in a different way during lockdown. Talk to your school or providers about how this might continue when your child is back at school.
- Talk to your child about their experience of lockdown, what did they find hard, what did they enjoy, how did they learn best, what are their worries? You could share this information with your child’s school or teachers to help them to support your child’s transition back to school.
- If your child has an EHC plan talk to the SENCO or your child’s teacher to find out how they will be supported in the coming weeks.
- Siblings- it may be that siblings are not eligible to return to school at the same time. This could cause many different problems, for example, the child returning to school may not want to do so if their sibling is remaining at home or the sibling staying at home may feel excluded from the school environment. Everyone’s experience of this will be different. Try to include all siblings in the conversations about school. Explain the reasons for small groups returning and remind them that eventually everyone will return. If you create a social story include all siblings’ roles in the school day.
- At this point there is no legal requirement to send your child back to school. Even if they are in an eligible year group you can still decide to keep them at home. At the moment there will be no fines from the government if you decide not to send your child back to school yet. If you do decide not to send your child back at this point you will need to let your school know. If you are not sure what to do, speak to your child’s school about their approach to reopening to help you make a decision.
The first day back
- Try to ensure that you and your child get to bed early the night before school starts. If you are well rested, you are better able to deal with difficult situations.
- Get things such as uniform and lunches ready the night before so that you are not rushed on the day.
- On the day get up early to ensure there is no rush or panic and that you have time to deal with any last-minute worries calmly and effectively.
- If your child is anxious you could send them with a transition object. This is something that reminds them of home and makes them feel safe. This will need to be discussed with school, as for example, it is probably not a good idea to take soft toys as schools are being advised to remove toys that are difficult to keep clean. Perhaps it could be a note or a picture from you to keep in their pocket that they can look at or read when they are missing you or feeling nervous.
- Be prepared to deal with your child’s response to school. They will not be returning to school how they remember it, and this might be a shock to them. They have not been used to social interaction or communication in larger groups for many weeks and this may be overwhelming for them. Be ready to listen to their worries and reassure them.
- Try to ensure your child gets lots of sleep and exercise.
Transitioning to a new school
For some children and parents, the focus will be on the transition to a new school. They will be wondering what to expect in September when their planned transition of spending time in their new schools with their new teachers may not be possible in the current situation. Many schools are thinking outside of the box and are planning for a different transition this year. Some schools are offering virtual tours of their provisions and are uploading much more information to their websites. Some schools may be planning to contact their new pupils via email, phone or video conferencing.
Nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools and colleges will all be working together to ensure a smooth transition for their pupils. This transition will be different in different schools, but your school will communicate their plans with you and if you have any questions you will be able to raise them through your normal phone or email contact channels.