How to help your child in 2021
Where do we begin when seeking to help our children cope with lockdown and everything this brings? Headteachers at three top Somerset and Dorset schools give their advice.
We’re starting to understand that Covid and lockdown have had some longstanding developmental and mental effects on children. Schools see it at the coalface end and are often first to deal with it. Head teachers at Yarrells School near Poole, Leweston School near Sherborne and Downside School in Stratton-on-the Fosse near Bath, share their advice.
Sally Weber, Head at Yarrells School and Nursery, Upton, near Poole
The challenges facing young children in the current climate are innumerate just now and, as a parent myself, I know how anxiety for our children’s futures can overwhelm us. I have had to accept that much of this situation is out of my control. Much as I would like to be able to plug all the gaps my children are not able to fill through normal life, I know I can’t possibly replicate their normal life when at home in lockdown. I believe we have to learn to ‘ride the waves’ of our anxiety and worry as they come. Naturally, this is easier said than done, but we will be of more help and support to our children if we are not frazzled and experiencing extreme burn out ourselves.
It is important to remember that remote learning is intense: when children are at school, they have short breaks, both in and out of lessons; they have fleeting conversations in classes that break up the learning journey and have plenty of time and space to run around and expend energy. When working on a screen, it is not healthy to expect 6-7 hours of intense concentration so I believe there should be a good blend of live and pre-planned activities for your children to enjoy. This way, their daily timetable can be more flexible, allowing for work to be done both within and outside the times of the school day.
Don’t forget, too, that the act of remote learning can be monotonous so there are bound to be days when your child simply doesn’t want to engage, feels ‘blue’ that they’re stuck at home all day, with nowhere to go and perhaps no-one to play with. It is critical that, at times like these, you reach out to the school and ask for their support. A 1:1 tutor session, just catching up on news, sharing a few jokes or re-setting the timetable for the day can really help with boosting your child’s mood, and your child’s teacher can support you with prioritising areas that need addressing and ones that can wait for sunnier times.
Finally, remind your child, and yourself, too, that this challenging period will not last forever, that we will come through the turbulent times and that when the waves are calmer and the journey ahead smoother, all your child’s teachers will be there, waiting to support them back in school again. We have vast experience in child development and pastoral care, so the work of re-building and re-developing all those connections, be they academic, emotional and social, is well within our grasp. Your children are in safe hands and we will carry them through this storm safely.
Alanda Phillips, Head of Prep at Leweston School, near Sherborne
Children need routine and social contact in order to thrive, and in a year when much of this has been ripped away from them, it is no surprise that the impact is profound.
Schools were able to provide online provision for education during lockdown, but it is the wider teaching in a school environment that was lost, leaving children adrift in a world without peers and the social learning that this entails; along with a dramatic up-turn in levels of child anxiety.
When the pupils returned in September we were entirely prepared to plug academic gaps, but we had underestimated the social impact that lockdown had on them. Many had forgotten how to interact with one another, and we have had to re-teach them how to play effectively, and support them in negotiating and compromising. With many of them only having contact with siblings for many months, it is clear that they have forgotten something of how friendships work.
Children also feed on adult anxieties, and there has been so much of this throughout the year. Young children are now transmitting this into their everyday lives by responding to normal events more emotionally or struggling with aspects of daily life that they would not have found a challenge before.
It is best to avoid their exposure to too much news footage, as this can increase their concerns. Reassure them that the precautions we take can work, and focus on the aspects of life that they can control. Ensure that they have contact with friends; via Zoom or other online mediums if necessary, and try to let them have space to do this without you. Although it can seem awkward when they don’t speak, they will find ways to interact once they have the freedom to do so, and this will be valuable. Most of all, proceed gently and with understanding; their world has changed dramatically during a stage in which they were just making sense of normal life, so they need twice as much love, security and consistency in order to navigate this new one.
Andrew Hobbs, Head Master, Downside School, Stratton-on-the-Fosse, near Bath
Whilst it is vital to support children’s academic development during this time, it is imperative we don’t let them miss the opportunity to reflect on just how extraordinary our current situation is. We do well to remember Einstein’s definition of education: ‘that which remains when we have forgotten everything we learned in school’. This generation of children will undoubtedly remember this period in their lives for as long as they live. So what will be the legacy?
As teachers, we are adept at creating artificial challenges for our pupils. They play along, but they know, or at least their experience tells them, that there is probably a solution, ‘oven-ready’ and waiting, which they can get out of us or, if we decide to be stubborn, they can get out of Google when they get stuck or lose interest. However, the solutions to the challenges with which this generation is being presented cannot be found at the back of the book; they still have to be created.
Schools may have been consigned to becoming remote and virtual for the time being, but the opportunities for personal growth and change are very real and immediate. This is the moment for us to support children to recognise that they are each uniquely gifted and to fill them with the confidence to think creatively.