As the saying goes, everything I need to know in life I learned in Kindergarten. During COVID times, however, this may not be the case. Lessons from author Robert Fulghum include sharing and holding hands and sticking together when in traffic. All things we are supposed to avoid these days.
With schools reopening across Atlantic Canada in a month, students and parents alike may be anxious about what life at school will now look like.
Jessica Gorrill of Kinkora, P.E.I., is one of those parents. Her son is about to start Kindergarten.
“I am nervous, but my son is very excited,” she says. “I try not to take away from that excitement with my own nervousness.”
Gorrill says she trusts though that his Kindergarten teacher will do her best to follow protocol and keep him and the rest of the class safe.
For now, she says she’s trying to get him used to a mask in the event he has to wear one, but says it's been a battle. We also talk a lot about germs and hand washing, but I'm trying to keep him from being scared or creating anxiety.
Deidre Vey of St. John’s, N.L., says in her family, they are keeping all conversations regarding the virus to a minimum and keeping it age appropriate. We use masks and our rule is “hands in your pockets” when we shop, and she says her Kindergarten and Grade 2 children are wonderful with it. While I know that they aren’t capable of wearing a mask all day, I do feel that they will take any new rules in stride, she says.
Vey says she is not as worried about her children catching the virus as much as she is concerned for their mental health and development of their social skills. I trust the school board and the school staff in how they will set up and manage government restrictions to ensure a positive learning environment, she says.
“I feel it’s important for them to see that the COVID restrictions is affecting everyone and that we are not alone in any of it. The sooner they get out in the world and learn how to protect themselves, the stronger people they’ll become,” says Vey.
Victoria Laurence, principal at Kings County Academy, a Primary to Grade 8 school in Kentville, N.S., can confirm.
“It is important for families to know that students’ well-being and safety will be our top priority as we begin our new normal,” she says.
She offers advice to parents. Start by talking to your kids about what school will look like when they return in September. Let them know that there will be new routines and procedures. These routines are in place as a precaution, to ensure we remain safe while at school. Kids are resilient, she adds. They will adapt quickly to our new normal.
Although changes will differ slightly from school to school, Laurence says their day-to-day routines will look different. For example, they won’t be going to the library, nor eating in the cafeteria. Students will be asked to wear masks on the bus and possibly in other situations, and they will see others wearing masks. Practice how to correctly put on and off a mask, she advises. And practice correct hand washing techniques at home.
Often, says Laurence the build-up to the event is worse than the event itself, so it’s important to keep the conversation positive and not to project our own fears and anxieties onto our children.
Kim O’Connor, a psychologist at Riverdale Centre Psychological Services in Kentville, N.S., says it is important not to frame the conversation as fear, but rather as calling them precautions to keep us safe.
O’Connor say, we already have lots of rules at school to help keep each other safe: no running in the halls, no snowballs, putting our shoes where they go so people don't trip, etc.
Although getting sick is different than tripping over a shoe, it is a similar idea that if we all work together then it is better for everyone, she says.
While some parents worry about sending their children to into a culture of fear, O’Connor says school is not is going to be any more of a culture of fear than other places in our society around COVID-19. There are other procedures at school that have changed over the years, like lock-down drills and hold and secure practices or even fire drills that may contribute more greatly to fear for kids. Parents need to talk to their kids, at an appropriate developmental level, about what they are hearing at school.
Besides, O’Connor wonders if some of the little ones will adapt easier than older students. They won't really know any different in some ways as everything is brand new.
Another message that needs to be reframed at school, says O’Connor is that of sharing. We do not need more of a “me” or “mine” culture, she says, so the focus needs to instead be about helping each other.
“If someone needs a marker, we can help make sure he or she has one from the teacher, for example, when before perhaps we would pass one of ours,” says Connor.
We can still share ideas, stories, experiences, but the physical stuff just needs to be kept safe for everyone and the best way we have figured out how to do that so far is for each person to have their own and for all of us to wash our hands, she says.
An important aspect to note, says Lisa Pinhorn – a holistic family interventionist in St. John’s, N.L., and co-owner of Feeding Futures, which is dedicated to cultivating calm, connected and compassionate environments for children – is stress. Children will experience stress both at home and at school.
Schools will be demanding places, and behavioural expectations will be high, says Pinhorn. Where to sit, where to stand, where to eat, keeping things clean, and social distancing may be stressful for children. The pressure to be compliant with COVID-19 rules will be all around children. Nervous systems of children and teachers will be on high alert all day in these settings, she says.
How we help children deal with these stressors is possible, says Pinhorn, but not without a plan. In September, what works for one family will not work for all, so a flexible child-focused plan is our best goal.
Pinhorn says this plan should include making your home an emotional haven. Focus on the basics like sleep, nutrition, lots of play, and restorative and connection time. If your child is overwhelmed, be extra compassionate and know that learning may be challenging in a stress-filled classroom and home, she adds.
To help parents make the transition and to set up a plan, Feeding Futures is offering an online workshop open to anyone in Canada. If you cannot join live, recordings of each session will be sent out to participants, says Pinhorn, noting that registration is through their website.
Regardless of measures in place, some parents, like Lynn Warren-Tucker in Mount Pearl, N.L. plan on keeping their children at home.
“Even with a few cases, that is all we need for an outbreak to happen,” she says. “Playing Russian Roulette with my child's life is a game I am not wanting to play.”
Online schooling may not be amazing for social skills, says Warren-Tucker, but making it out alive after this virus should be the first concern. You can teach the living social skills, she says
If thinking of homeschooling, O’Connor says to also be careful of the messaging.
I think sometimes that sends a message of fear and distrust more than going to school, she says. That of course, is not always the case and I am not against homeschooling, she explains. Some are considering homeschooling because they are worried about family members with compromised health.
Ultimately, it is each family's decision, says O’Connor, but the decision needs to be made carefully and not as a knee-jerk reaction.
Parents who are planning on homeschooling, however, must register with their province’s Department of Education. Each department has its own resources and access to the curriculum; however, they will not be receiving packages from teachers. Those home learning packages children received in the spring were from the public school in which they were registered for learning.
Children registered at a public school who become ill or have pre-existing medical conditions preventing them from going to school under COVID-19 conditions are under a different category and would receive learning packages from their teacher.
Most parents, like Robyn Brewer in Conception Bay South, N.L., are just hoping school goes back to as normal as possible in September. Covid has already impacted children’s lives enough as it is, and for their mental well-being, I think they need some normalcy back in their lives, says Brewer.
“I know it won’t be 100 per cent normal for a long time, but it should be as normal as it can be. We also need to continue to live our lives,” she says.
- Guidelines for reopening school from the Sick Kids Foundation in Toronto
- Riverdale Centre Psychological Services
- Feeding Futures
- Registration for Feeding Future’s Transition to School Online workshop
- School reopening plans in P.E.I. emphasize separating student cohorts, mask use
- Province to announce K-12 school plans for P.E.I. students
- EDITORIAL: Nova Scotia unveils solid back-to-school plan
- Nova Scotia children going back into schools in the fall
- Multiple choice: Three different scenarios offered for reopening of Newfoundland and Labrador schools