Back to School in Times of COVID

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The COVID pandemic has fundamentally changed the way our young ones perceive and experience the world around us. As children and young people get ready to come back to school, we explore some tips on how to help them grow and succeed while they balance this new reality.

Education and Wellbeing in a Time of Pandemic

Across the globe, children and young people’s learning and development has been disrupted by the pandemic. According to UNICEF, schools for more than 168 million children closed for almost a full year, and 188 countries imposed national school closures during the pandemic, affecting more than 1.6 billion children and young people. It’s no surprise that a dramatic rise in child screen time has been observed worldwide, signalling unavoidable side effects of pandemic lockdowns and social distancing measures.

Families in the UK have spent months laudably navigating the complex social distancing regulations and the rules around school learning bubbles and blended learning where online interactions are combined with traditional place-based classroom methods. Although these methods have presented themselves as a much-needed response to the challenges of the pandemic, a report published by the UK government has demonstrated a significant impact to children’s cognitive and academic development. Further, the societal impact of the pandemic appears to have particularly exacerbated structural and digital inequalities, results of which will be seen for years to come.

Perhaps even more importantly, a significant impact on children’s emotional and mental wellbeing has been observed during this period. In a survey conducted by YoungMinds UK, children reported experiencing a sense of isolation, loneliness, anxiety, overall hopelessness, and worry about the future. A more pronounced impact was observed amongst young people whose families have experienced loss or moments of significant stress and uncertainty.

In a Nutshell

  • The pandemic has impacted children and young people’s mental wellbeing in ways we could not have envisioned.
  • Children have spent more time than ever online; for learning, entertainment and keeping in touch with peers. Despite these benefits, more time online can also mean an increased exposure of children and young people to cyberbullying and harmful content.
  • Access to digital devices and Wi-Fi for learning can help reduce the educational attainment gap caused by the pandemic, but that’s only half the story. Parental engagement is key to improving outcomes for children and young people.


Preparing Your Child for Their Return to School

Now that summer is here and our children and young people are taking a well-earned break, as parents and carers it’s a good moment to take some time out ourselves to reflect on last year and create a plan for when our children return to school. Below we explore some tips on how to help them grow and succeed while they balance this new reality:

Creating an Engaging Learning Experience

Re-engage your child with the joy of learning with a focus on social and emotional wellbeing. Check out a recent collection of tips from psychological and educational professionals on how to create engaging at-home learning experiences to support cognitive and social skill development, as well as encourage self-expression and emotion regulation in your children.

Safeguarding Their Devices

If your child’s school has provided them with devices for online learning, check that the device has safeguarding software installed. If it doesn’t, speak to your child’s school about putting safeguards and filters in place.

Being Curious About Their Online World

If you don’t already do so, engage with your child around their online lives. Ask them to show you what games they are currently playing and play with them. This way, you will get to assess any risks the game or platform may have. Ask them about their favourite social media platform and why they like using it. Showing interest without judgment can open up conversations about this topic and create a safe place for both you and your child to openly share experiences and perspectives on the subject.

Engaging in Their Lives

Ask them about their life and friends they might have met both online and off. 15 years ago, most parents would be able to name their children’s best friends. There would be birthday parties, sleep overs and a range of activities that would bring their children’s friends and their parents into contact with each other. However, with the introduction of the internet and smart phones, many young people keep their communications online. This situation has been exasperated by the global pandemic as your children may have been restricted from seeing their friends face-to-face and may have struck up new friendships online.

Safely Reconnecting

If the COVID restrictions in your area and your personal circumstances permit it, explore safe ways to set up an outdoor playtime for your child and one of their friends. Over the course of the pandemic, children have missed out on spending time with their friends, which is an important part of developing social skills (e.g., understanding physical conversation cues and teamwork). Don’t forget to get to know the parents of your child’s friends – in addition to agreeing to any rules for playtime and potentially gaining another perspective on your child’s development when they are out of your sight, you can assess if there are any concerns about these parents and ensure your child is in a safe environment while spending time at their friend’s house.

Helping them Manage Screen Time

Address the issue of increased screen time with your child. If you have not already done so, this would be a great time to call a family meeting and collectively agree on a family contract around internet and mobile device rules in your home.

Exploring the Outdoors Together

Go for a walk or hike together with your child in nature. Being outdoors is beneficial to your child’s physical development, and exercise has a positive impact on their physical and mental health.

Getting in Touch with Our Creative Selves

Encourage your child to explore offline activities that bring them joy and allow them to express themselves in positive and constructive ways. It doesn’t need to be anything too complex – it may at times feel impossible to explore new hobbies from within our homes, however small activities such as painting, dancing to great music or simply dusting off that old guitar can often help widen our perspective in life and help us manage daily experiences and emotions in a different way.