It used to be that students looked forward to going back to school, some with a measure of trepidation and others with outright glee. Neither of those emotions or any others along that spectrum had anything to do with a deadly virus stalking humanity.

To say that times are different would be an understatement.

These days, the prospect to school does not immediately bring to mind worries over bullying, staying up all hours of the night to finish assignments or cramming for exams but rather hours spent breathing through a mask, repeated hand washings and staying two metres away from even your closest friends.

Because that’s been our reality since this pandemic began, hasn’t it?

Studies show that the isolation we’ve been living under has had grave effects on our mental health; those effects are worse for school-aged children. Humans are social creatures; we need interaction to develop and grow a healthy self-image and a sense of community.

So, while the coronavirus threat is very real and every bit as scary as you might think, staying home – the alternative to returning to everyday activities such as going to school could have far greater consequences.

Your Superprof wants to help you get ready for your return to ‘real’ life: to engaging with other people safely and getting back into the learning groove.

It’s Time for a Family Meeting

For most of this year, people around the world have been casting nervous – sometimes outright fearful eyes on their favourite news sources: the telly, the radio, newspapers and even social media. Where COVID is concerned, the news has seldom been good.

Even if your school-bound children are headed for Early Years classrooms, they too feel worried even if they don’t understand exactly why.

Even young children should follow distancing guidelines
Young pupils are less at risk of coronavirus symptoms, they still should wear face coverings, minimise contact and follow distancing advice. Image by Bessi from Pixabay

Young children pick up on caregivers’ distress and they react in kind. Older kids feel your stress too but they are better able to understand the issue at hand. Furthermore, they likely have concerns of their own.

No matter how old your children are, talking with them calmly and rationally, addressing their coronavirus fears and providing guidance will go a long way to helping them prepare for returning to school.

If your kids are young – say, in the lower grades of primary school, you may only need to reinforce the best practices local authorities have been on about all summer: washing hands regularly and thoroughly, wearing a mask when outside of their class or group and keeping a safe distance away from others.

The same guidelines apply if your children are older but you have a bit more latitude to discuss the safety measures the school has put in place.

In all cases, your kids should have the chance to present their views and concerns.

During such talks, you may want to discuss the school supplies your pupils will need.

School Uniforms

There’s been some debate among school administrators over whether uniform regulations should be relaxed because this virus is particularly hardy; it may survive for days outside the body.

Not everyone has the resources to wash their uniforms every day, leading to fears of infection from the virus lingering on clothing.

The good news is that it doesn’t live as long on soft materials such as clothing and shoes as it does on harder surfaces. That means that the likelihood of bringing the coronavirus home from school on your clothing is pretty low.

That generalisation comes with a caveat: the greater the potential exposure, the greater the chance of infection.

So, while at the greengrocer’s, where people keep their distance, you may encounter a COVID-positive person but that situation poses little risk that you will bring the virus home on your clothes.

On the other hand, even with fewer students per classroom, chances of exposure go up significantly because of the amount of time spent together in a closed environment.

Remember that the Department for Education has set up firm guidelines to minimise the hazard of infection and your children’s schools likely have additional policies in place.

Still, if you are uncertain or uncomfortable about your schools’ uniform policy, be sure to express your concerns as soon as possible.

Safety To, From and in School

Government guidelines mandate mask-wearing for everyone aged 11 and up except in cases where:

  • wearing a face covering would adversely affect someone with a disability
  • if the wearing of such a covering would cause severe distress
  • if travelling with someone who communicates by lip-reading.

Furthermore, they advise alternate means of transport to get to school. Instead of riding the bus or the tube, you may bike or walk to school if your campus is close enough.

If you have no other alternative than to ride on public transportation, you should follow the safer travel guidance for passengers to the letter: try not to sit across from people, keep 2 metres apart if possible, wear a face-covering at all times and touch as few surfaces as possible.

Parents and caregivers: pick up on more tips for sending your students back to school.

Cafeteria staff follow all government health and safety guidance
Cafeteria staff ensure health and safety measures by sanitising tables and place settings, including tableware. Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Breaks and Lunches

The Department of Education, public schools and school staff are doing their utmost to maintain as normal a learning environment as possible by reducing class sizes, providing hand sanitiser and organising students into groups.

Students may interact with members of their group but not with other pupil groups, thereby minimising contact between students.

Despite isolated reports of flareups, overwhelmingly, these measures seem to work. Kids are happy to go to school and teaching and learning, even in this altered mode, continues apace.

In keeping with these safeguarding measures, breaks and lunches have changed a bit, too.

While primary school students under 11 years old are not required to wear masks in the classroom and, in general, as long as students stay within their group don’t have to, either, any travel – to and from lavatories or out in the schoolyard calls for students to don their masks.

That means that, during class breaks, if your child leaves the room and his/her group, s/he will have to wear a mask the whole time s/he’s absent and sanitise hands upon their return.

What About Lunches?

There has been substantial concern over hot lunches provided by school districts. It would be easy to make a joke about the quality of the food here but that would be in poor taste…

For parents, sending children to school feels like taking a huge gamble. Now, factor in the cafeteria workers serving food and you can see why more than half of today’s pupils are bringing a packed lunch.

Concerns about everything from the health of cafeteria workers to the dishes and trays being properly cleaned have driven some parents to peruse grocery stores in search of food that would pack easily and not spoil before their kids get to eat it.

The debate surrounding packed lunches is wide-ranging, from packed lunches’ nutritional content to one pupil swapping their goodies for something from another student’s lunch.

The latter scenario only causes alarm if pupils ‘trade’ outside of their assigned groups but the nutritional content of some lunchboxes has the medical community very concerned.

When kids couldn’t attend school – at the peak of the virus’ rage, officials noted a marked tendency for kids to sit around and snack, mostly on empty calorie foods.

Our school-age children already record alarming obesity statistics; all of that extra snacking and sitting didn’t help at all so, if your kids are taking a packed lunch rather than eating the free school lunch, be sure to keep nutrition in mind.

Find out how you can best support and prepare your kids to go back to school in these worrisome times.

Talk to officials and your kids about flu season as well as coronavirus
September is the start of flu season, use this time to talk with local government authorities and your kids about available safety measures regarding both the flu and coronavirus. Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

Keep Communication Lines Open

Whether your kids are in secondary school or still in their primary education learning phase, communication is the key to keeping concerns manageable.

You might think that, once the school year is underway and everyone has fallen into the schooling groove, questions beyond ‘Do you have homework?’ and ‘How was your day?’ would be the norm, just like normal. Except these aren’t normal times.

What if a classmate has to self-isolate because s/he was exposed to the virus? What if one of your child’s educators does? What if we have to close the schools again?

Every child, whether in primary schools, secondary schools or in higher education needs to know they are safe as they go about their daily life.

The alterations in instructional methods and social care while at school may have a destabilising effect that would be compounded by the sudden removal of a classmate or teacher. Schools provide counsellors for distressed students but, fundamentally, it’s up to carers to show support by talking about school happenings.

By keeping contact with your child’s teacher and school staff, and scouring the school website for the latest updates, all while encouraging your learners to share their concerns or outright fears, you become the hub of information and the vanguard of your child’s – indeed, you family’s safety.

It’s a tough position to be in, we know, but you have a lot of help, advice and support, from the NHS as well as your schooling system.

Now, learn all you need to know about sending your kids back to school in the autumn of 2020.

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A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.