What are the new school rules?
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What are the new school rules?

As schools prepare to reopen tomorrow for the first time in 10 weeks, we ask what changes lie ahead and whether children can adjust to the ‘new normal’?

Francine Wolfisz

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

Mother and her child wear masks as students head back to school during the pandemic
Mother and her child wear masks as students head back to school during the pandemic

What can we do to help our children in the challenging weeks ahead?

Child psychotherapist Louis Weinstock says:  

Transitions can be hard for children at the best of times, but these are unique circumstances and for many children and their parents the transition back to school is likely to bring up a whole bag of mixed emotions.

Some parents and children can’t wait to get back, to have some space from each other, to see their friends again, while others have loved spending more time together in lockdown and are feeling sad and afraid about going back to ‘normal’.

For many, routines have gone out of the window since lockdown and there is fear about getting back into something regular.

How will schools  look different?

Sinai Jewish Primary School headteacher Juliette Lipshaw says:

We are strictly following government guidelines and have split classes into huddles of no more than 15.

The huddles will have their own outdoor area to enjoy lunch and play outdoors.

We have sanitising-mats at all entrances to the school and hand-sanitisation stations in every year group and in communal areas.

We have also scheduled regular handwashing with soap and water into the daily timetables to keep up our high standard of hygiene.

We are signposting the school to ensure the children move through the corridors safely and have a staggered drop-off and socially distanced collection system in place.

We will also be doing a full clean of the site every afternoon. We are not allowing any visitors, including parents, into the building, which saddens us as we love the Sinai families to see what the children are busy doing – but we know this is for the safety of the children and staff.

Bringing the children back into the classroom is something that brings me great joy. It is where education belongs and where learning comes alive for the children.

Should I send my child back if they have special needs?

Mum-of-three Dina Corcoran is a speech and language therapist and runs a support service for people with autism and complex behaviour needs, alongside husband, David. Both her daughter, Nola, nine, who has autism, and son Liam, five, who has a learning disability, have already returned to school. She says:

We were not worried about our children missing out from an educational point of view, but for us it was more about missing out from a mental health and social point of view.

At home we don’t have enough space for the kids to go and cool down if they’re having a difficult time. We need the respite for ourselves as well.

Before lockdown we had quite a bit of support from a live-out au pair, who would help me after school, or if I need to take the kids to any appointments. All of a sudden our support network disappeared, so it’s been very tough for us.

Liam needs one-on-one support and we couldn’t offer him that at home, because we are trying to work and educate the older two. We noticed he would get very bored and started to regress, so at least now he has that support and an outdoor area to play in.

For Nola, I’m not sending her back because I think she needs to catch up academically, but rather because it’s a chance for her to see some other faces and be somewhere else.

We’ve had amazing support from the special needs co-ordinator at Nola’s school, Clore Shalom. She’s been absolutely incredible and has checked in with us almost daily, as well as ahead of Nola’s transition back to school.

Louis’ top tips:

Talk to children about the transition back to school:

It’s really important you start and keep the dialogue going about their return to school. Be specific about details,  such as who is going to take them to school on their first day back and so on.

Create a safe space to express feelings:

Children won’t express their true feelings unless they feel safe. They need reassurance that whatever feelings they might be having about returning to school are welcome. There is no right or wrong. It can really help to create safety if the parent is honest about their own feelings, within reason of course. Some children prefer to express their emotions by  drawing or writing. You know your children better than anyone else. Help them express their feelings in a way that works for them.

Use ‘transition objects’:

Transition objects can help children feel more secure when change comes along. A note from a parent or a special one can make a child feel they are still connected to the parent and to home.

Focus on positives:

Once you have named any difficult feelings, you can focus on what might be exciting about going back to school — favourite teachers, friends or activities.

Holding on to happiness:

As a family, write down three things that you have treasured about this lockdown period, and for each treasure write down one way you are going to protect it once lockdown has ended.

For more expert advice, visit louisweinstock.com

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