Child wellbeing ‘shot to the top of agenda’ amid school closures
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Child wellbeing ‘shot to the top of agenda’ amid school closures

Activities such as book clubs, cooking and exercising encouraged as students forced to learn from home, placing pressure on mental wellbeing and their parents' workload

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Head-teachers should encourage parents to let their at-home children learn life skills alongside purely academic subjects over the coming months, according to one of the Jewish community’s foremost wellbeing practitioners.

Julia Alberger, a consultant project manager at the Jewish Leadership Council, said wellbeing had “shot to the top of the agenda as our kids are coming home for the coming months,” with a rush to get the right support structures in-place.

“We’re looking at how we can support the children and their families,” she said. “It’s a marathon not a sprint. We’re in it for the long-haul and we need to pace ourselves, these are very early days. Life has changed overnight.”

Alberga, who created the landmark ORT Jump mentoring programme, said mums and dads were as much in need of mental wellbeing over the coming as their kids.

“Parents are not teachers and shouldn’t be expected to home-school,” she said. “Our Wellbeing Practitioners are looking at ways to help, and this could include using this time at-home to give children life skills.”

Citing such activities as book clubs, cooking and exercising, she added: “Often, with the academic curriculum, these things get missed. Also household chores, getting our kids to vacuum, stack the dishes, things we may not have expected of them, values which may have gone. Now it’s time for us all to muck in together.”

She said those in Years 11 and 13, whose exams have been cancelled, have reacted in very different ways. “My son’s elated,” she said, “but others are devastated after two years of building up. We have to manage both.”

Some schools, such as JFS, have already adopted a life-skills focus, she said. “For them the next few weeks will be much more around life skills, emotional literacy, cultural capital, understanding the world we’re living in, exercising outdoors, understand nature… It’s an opportunity to feel good about ourselves.”

Her other focus, she said, was on looking after the wellbeing of school staff. “That includes having realistic expectations of what they can do from home if they have their own children to look after, but just like with relatives, it’s important to see people’s faces, so webinars will be important in what we do.”

In terms of ways of reducing stress and anxiety, she said: “Parents want to hear a voice of authority and I think it’s the responsibility of head-teachers to explain to parents that yes, do what you can in maths and English, but it’s these core life skills that are so important at this time.

“They need to hear that this is a time to build relationships with your children and give them opportunities for wellbeing. Families want to hear that from their head-teachers. It’s starting to happen. We’ll see much more of that.

“What is so important now is giving children a voice in order to express themselves. Parents should hear what their children are saying, and remove their own stress and listen, which isn’t always easy. If we’re all at home together it’s about going back to core values.”

Asked if she had any advice to parents as they contemplated the week ahead, she said: “Don’t expect a structure on Monday morning. It’s got to evolve. Schools don’t know what the future weeks and months will look like yet.”

She added: “We are not the first to go through this. There is a Jewish school in Hong Kong which has been on lockdown for eight weeks. We can learn from places like that and we will come out at the other end with better mental wellbeing.”

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