In South Africa, with the phased return to school uncertain but inevitable, preparing our children to navigate the new normal is a daunting task.
As the country awaits Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s media briefing on the way forward for schools across the country, parents are growing anxious at sending their children back to the classroom.
Across the world, learners are beginning to return to classes – offering little comfort for us here in South Africa – considering what things will look like in a Covid-19 world.
A post-lockdown globe means lift clubs and high-fives are out, while “class bubbles”, “social distancing” and “shadow tag” are here to stay. In SA, with the phased return to school uncertain but inevitable, preparing our children to navigate the new normal is a daunting task.
There is, however, a wealth of advice to smooth the process.
Find certainty in an uncertain time
“The best we can do is to give our children some certainty within this uncertain time,” says Mandy Arnott, psychologist, speech therapist and qualified Foundation phase teacher working in Private Practice. “If we can empower our children by helping them take ownership of this new way of being, we can bring that feeling of certainty back.”
“Your children will always take their primary cues from you,” continues Arnott. “It’s important to set the emotional tone for them as you prepare to return to school together.”
She advises guiding your children through a conversation on the necessity of social distancing techniques, so that the reasons behind the new schooling landscape become clear from their own point of view. If your children understand the logic behind the new normal, new practices will be far easier to adopt.
“Remind your children that the drastic changes that they will encounter at school are not there because they themselves are in danger,” says Arnott. “Rather they’re there to protect the vulnerable in society, and dampen the spread of the virus as a whole.”
Preparation is everything
A nationwide return will mean a different set of criteria for every school, based on a case-by-case approach. Once you have your school’s particular requirements, discuss them with your children.
“Ask what they would like you to pack into their suitcases and then make suggestions,” advises Arnott. “Offer them options such as packing their own hand sanitiser, tissues and an extra mask in case theirs is lost or damaged.”
Every part of the school day will require a new frame of mind. Discuss the different aspects of the day with them, so that they will feel personally prepared.
“Packing a lunch, for instance, will have new considerations,” she adds. “Unfortunately lunches can no longer be shared. An easy-to-open lunch box and juice bottle would be ideal to avoid contact, as well as minimal mess.”
“Something as previously simple as going to the toilet also requires a new discussion.
“Ask what their normal toilet routine is, and identify ways to make it safer. Discuss making sure that everyone has the space they need in the bathroom, as well as ideas around staying sanitised such as using a tissue to lift the toilet seat.”
Taking that first drive
“School policy will largely dictate drop-offs and pick-ups, with families likely to have differing schedules,” says Charmagne Mavudzi, head of marketing and communications for Volvo Car South Africa.
Mavudzi advises building time into the morning routine to ensure it isn’t rushed. Packing and preparing the night before is important, as well as anticipating what may be out of the ordinary.
“Traffic on the school run will likely take on a new shape. Having a playlist ready of all your family’s favourite sing-along-songs will help lift the mood and shake off some anxiety, ” she says.
“Prepare your car by making sure the sanitiser is on hand, as well as spare masks. If something crucial like a mask is forgotten at home, don’t hesitate to turn around and fetch it. The world is upside down and the school is likely to be understanding if you’re running late.”
Make the new, normal
Ultimately, as we approach the return to school, it will be gradual adjustment that is key. Converting the new to normal is the goal of all.
“School provides a safety net for many children by bringing a stabilising routine into their lives,” says psychologist and consultant Tamryn Batcheller-Adams. “Children have been missing their friends, their interactions with teachers, being academically stimulated, as well as the opportunity to run around and expel some of their energy.
“However, we need to understand and accept that school will not return to ’normal’ like we have known it. This is the ’new normal’, and we need to help our children prepare for it.
“Talk to your children about the changes there may be. Play ‘I wonder if’… and let them come up with some of the things that they think may change. Gradually start getting their school items back out and visible, and in the lead-up to school opening, let them call their friends so they can chat and get excited to see them.”