...cautiously into the daylight ....

What a challenge! Our school buildings, playgrounds and inside spaces were not built to accommodate the ‘postlockdown’ rules, and certainly neither were our nurseries. The challenges of managing a hugely diverse set of nursery and school facilities is only part of the overall task of managing the return of groups of pupils, some form of distancing and providing educational activities suitable for this new regime. As if this were not enough, the returning children are not exactly the same as the ones who left in March. They have been through quite a lot since then, some more than others. Every year we despair over the amount they forget (regress) over the summer holiday, but this will be much greater.

For sure there will be gaps and loss of progress in all sorts of fields, but this time it has been a longer and more difficult break with different and more significant changes. Many children will have benefitted from being with their parents who (from their media posts) have given them all sorts of imaginative activities in compensation … often more extended time with fathers as well. These children might even be reluctant to come back! Other parents, including single or working parents, may have struggled to provide a range of fulfilling activities, they may not have access to a wide range of resources, working facilities, garden or simply house space. Home teaching has shown to be more difficult than it appears, especially if there is variable support from the nursery or school and several children of different ages to cope with. A lot of these children will welcome the chance to go back into nursery or school, and will enter into the new spirit of change with excitement and relish, seeing it as a positive change or possibly an adventure (these are the one usually featured on the news!) Others who did not particularly like school anyway may be reluctant, truculent or just plain difficult. Add to this mix the bewildered, the unhappy, bereaved or anxious and you have a very challenging mix of children needing a great deal of help and variety support, even in one group.

Teachers, practitioners and support staff now have the job of picking up the pieces. This is not the same as the emergency NHS staff who have valiantly kept the seemingly never-ending wave of sick and endangered people supported under hugely difficult circumstances. No, this is lower key and longer term. Whatever the circumstances of their period of lockdown these children will have been affected by it, to a greater or lesser degree. Few of them will actually have had the virus, but they will know about it, fear it, and not quite understand why. Now it is the job of the educators and their support staff to unpick the problems, try to heal (some) scars and set the children back on a steady road to their learning. This is a massive task. It will take a long time to assess and much longer to repair in many cases. There will be a very wide range of change during the last months from those who have benefitted in many ways to those who have gained little, those who have regressed, to those who have been damaged. With the latter invariably amongst the poorest and disadvantaged. The gap is worryingly large.

However, this massive and daunting task will be undertaken by a group of professionals, who, like the healthcare staff, will rise to the occasion and get on with the job with the best interests of the children at heart. They will use their skills and training and, with the goodwill of society, help children move on.

They will provide some calm and order, they will establish some new routines and provide some welcome changes of activity. They will also talk with the children and listen to them, helping to unpick problems and reassure anxieties. Some children will want to run around and release their energies, some children will chatter away about everything but others will want to sit quietly in a corner with a book, a comforter or a treasure basket style collection to provide interest. Not all will be eager to play with friends, some will want to stay on their own for a while. Assessing the importance of these differences is vital to understanding their mental as well as physical needs and although children are in schools and nurseries to learn, the foundation on which the learning is to be built needs to be understood too. Professionals know there is a need for some to feel the calm of green spaces, music or**8 before starting their number or phonics. In this way there is a chance that some of the ‘pieces ‘ can be picked up and pathways to learning can be forged.

Yes, it is a challenge! but that is what it means to be a professional teacher, practitioner or carer. You have to understand the needs of the whole range of children from the brightest, eager-to-learn stars to those with difficulties, mental or physical, who have barriers to learning, and then provide them with appropriate support and learning activities.

One of the positives to come out of this pandemic may well be the recognition of the true value of our carers in health and social care, and the professionals in both health and childcare/education. Those who have had a taste of home schooling may well be a lot more understanding and sympathetic to the task which faces these practitioners and teachers as they welcome back the first groups of children ….. cautiously into the daylight.

Mary Horn

MJH Educational

Curious Fox Company

June 2020

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