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September 22, 2020 | Emily Ford Sytsma
It is such a joy to have begun this school year together with your families! Some of us are in the building, others are at home. While our hearts are full, I am looking at the children and the teachers (and you, the parents), and I am aware of how much more we all hold in our brains each moment in these pandemic days.
I recently heard another educator call the work we are doing now “pandemic-style engagement.” Functioning now takes more thinking. We have more input and different input than we’re used to. Digitally-supported life. Extra protocols. It’s a lot to hold.
At school, teachers have been learning some mindfulness practices to use with students in the classes. This is a way to encourage us all to put all of the extra thinking away sometimes. To be in the here and now. To seek connection with our internal selves, our spiritual needs, and our neighbors around us as well. Teachers are working to incorporate more play opportunities into these early days, inside and outside.
Even with breaks and breathing exercises, however, we all need to find time for rest and restoration following the school day. The end of the school day, whether in the building or online, may leave children tapped out.
How can you help your child cope after school ends?
Get More ZZZZ’s: Children may need a little more sleep now than they did a few weeks ago. Remember that young children need 10-13 hours of sleep each day. Think about moving bedtime routines a little earlier in this season. Protect those hours of sleep!
Connection: As our school counsellor, Dr. Judith Schteingart, reminded us at Welcome Back Night, children may need to reconnect with you when they return from home or finish their home-learning work. If your child is seeking your attention at the end of the day, plan proactively to spend 20 or 30 minutes playing a game or reading a book together. Time with a sibling may meet this need as well. Or find time within the week for a Zoom or park playdate with an old friend that your child may not see in class. (Children are missing seeing other school friends at recess time.)
Sensory Input Reset: Sensory input can be a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Each of us has a “just right” place that is probably too much for some and too little for others.
Stories: Sometimes the best way to recoup after heavy brain work is to get lost in a story. If stories are life-giving to your child, think about how to make it a special part of the time after school. It may just mean planning for a time with books (stories read aloud or alone time to look at books) after your child’s after-school snack. If you do not have time, look for videos of stories read aloud. Or perhaps you would like to start a new chapter book series and read one chapter after school each day. Maybe it is finding a child-friendly podcast to enjoy together or adding some audiobooks to your child’s story collection and letting them listen while they play.
Move! Even though coming to school offers more movement than many of us were getting last spring during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, there is less movement at school than there is in a typical time. Home-learners too may have gotten used to more outdoor activity this summer and may be adjusting to sitting still more. Plan for some family exercise time in a way that works for your family. Maybe you do a yoga video together after school. Or toss a ball in the yard. Or commit to walking to and from school or to going for a walk after learning activities end.
This is a great time to remind families that children need to walk. Children who are ready for school are ready to cut way back on stroller use. Try scooters and bicycles as a next step if the walk to school feels too far for your child.
Relax: What helps your family relax?
One thing we know about humans, even little ones, is that we are built for resilience and adaptability. Things are new again right now. In a few weeks many new things will feel normal and we will all have built stamina for this new way of spending our days. Remind the children (and yourselves) that they have done hard things before. This may feel hard but we know we can do it, and we can also find ways to feel restored.