The first week back to school has been a flurry of excitement and nerves, and a level of chaos, as we’ve had to adapt to the change of pace and routine. Now the first week is done, we need to turn our attention to the next few weeks, terms and even years of schooling that our children have ahead of them.
Our responsibility as parents is less about the specifics of any academic gaps, because the teachers are better equipped to assess and manage this. It will take time for them to do this. The teachers we’ve been talking to feel the priority for the first few weeks needs to be on helping children feel safe and settled back at school. When that sense of normality is restored, they will be a in better position to focus on any learning gaps.
Parents can do a lot to help our children settle, re-engage and get in the best frame of mind for the future.
It’s not just the small things we can do at home on a daily basis that help our children feel safe, confident and competent, it’s also about monitoring the ‘catch-up’ narrative.
When you are about to do something challenging, after a long break, does it help you to hear that it’s going to be really tough, that there are many obstacles to overcome, that some things will never be the same again, and that there’s a real chance you will not be strong or capable enough to get through it?
We didn’t think so...
It’s not that we should hide our head in the sand, denying that there haven’t been significant problems for many children over Lockdown, or pretend that there aren’t any hurdles ahead, and insist that the kids will be fine.
But how we view the term(s) ahead, and the year gone by, and how we communicate this to our children will play a significant role in how they deal with it.
Our thoughts drive our feelings which influence our actions.
So, when we think “it’s been a disaster, they’ve missed significant opportunities that will never come again, my child will struggle to catch up,” we feel powerless, scared, and angry. This wires our brains to highlight more negatives, which exacerbates these feelings, which confirms our thoughts. It’s a pretty hard cycle to escape...
The British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychology is keen to shed light on this.
Dr. Dan O’Hare said “It’s absolutely understandable that parents and caregivers are concerned that children have been missing out on many aspects of their formal education over the past year. However, the notion that children need to catch up or are ‘behind’ at school due to the pandemic reinforces the idea that children have ‘one shot’ at their education and puts them under even more pressure to perform academically after what has been a challenging and unprecedented time for everyone.”
Having watched both my sons work their way through 13 years of schooling (although Ed never finished his final year in 2020), it’s easier for me to see that there are good and less good terms, and better and harder years at school. Kids don’t develop or learn in straight lines, but they can and do catch up after set-backs when they’re in the best frame of mind to do so. It’s easier when they recognise that school and learning is a long-term project, even though at times that’s not how they want to think of it!
Let’s think carefully about how we approach the next term (or so) with our children.
Manage the narrative at home
Kids are all ears and eyes, so present a story of potential at home. Talk about other times when progress has followed difficulties, either on a personal or world history level! If they are listening to the news independently, encourage age-appropriate conversations about how the media create interest in news stories, and what effect that can have.
Focus on what your children have learned this year
Many children have learned other useful skills, not on any curriculum, that perhaps they would not have learned under normal circumstances. These are likely to be about coping with boredom, adapting to different rules, learning how to socialize on digital platforms and getting along as a family in close proximity. Ask them “what have you learned about yourself, our family, school?” and “which bits shall we keep going forward?”
Nurture the qualities and habits required to learn
Underpinning all understanding, learning, remembering and applying, are the ‘soft’ skills of curiosity, perseverance, flexibility, patience, and organisation. Whenever you see these qualities in action, in any context, say something with Descriptive Praise.
The negative ‘catch-up’ narrative fails to acknowledge the amazing efforts, and indeed progress of kids, parents and teachers over the last year.
Every child needs to feel proud of their achievements this year because this intrinsic pride will strengthen their sense of being capable and resilient, which is exactly how they need to feel to re-engage and thrive at school.