How To Manage Transitions: Going Back To School After Lockdown

Published: 01/03/2021

Home-schooling Is Finished: Transitioning Back To School

Going back to school after lockdown might fill most parents with joy, but to ensure the return happens smoothly, we’ve consulted with various experts on the topic - teachers, psychologists, sleep experts and parenting coaches, to help manage the transition from homeschooling to back to school.

Most children have been off school since before Christmas, and so thinking about returning to a school environment can be daunting for some. To get in the right frame of mind, you might find it helpful to think of it like starting back again after the summer holidays. 

To ease the transition (for everyone) after such an extended period away, there are a few things you can do to set your child up for success:

  • Transition to an earlier bedtime
  • Implement a ‘school’ routine now
  • Begin reducing screen time
  • Reconnect with classmates

Reintroduce routine

Lockdown has definitely meant much more relaxed timings for homeschooling, with routines having been created around the rest of the household. 

An easy way to get your child back into a school routine is by introducing a routine similar to the one they’ll experience when school starts. That doesn’t mean you have to follow the school day timings to the minute though. 

Sleep habits

Getting your child into a good routine with a consistent bedtime and wake up time will set them up to go into school, ready to learn. 

If bedtimes are significantly later than they were pre-lockdown, consider bringing them forward by 15 minutes each day until you’re back at ‘normal’ school bedtime. Expect this to be met with resistance - this is normal. 

Explain to older children the benefits of more sleep and that adjusting their body clock is easier in incremental stages.

If your child is struggling to go to sleep earlier, end lessons early and encourage them to play outdoors for the remainder of the ‘school day’ to burn off energy. Set up a treasure hunt around your garden or create a scavenger hunt, for example. 

Get children used to waking up at the same time each day too. If children are resistant to earlier wakeups, you could invest in smart lights that mimic the sun rising - these enable a much gentler, more natural wake up. 

If you find getting your child to bed earlier is hard, as well as bringing bedtime forward, bring wake up time forward too. Use the same 15 minute principle each day, until you’ve achieved the desired schedule. 

For example, if your child went to bed (pre-lockdown) at 8.30pm, but now goes to bed at 9.30pm, bring bedtime forward to 9.15pm the first day, 9pm the next, and so on until you reach 8.30pm.

School routine

Building a structure into your child’s day similar to the one they’ll have to follow at school, will help them adjust to the change, slowly. 

Ideas for implementing a school routine might include:

  • Dress your child in their school uniform after breakfast and ensure they stay in it until the ‘school day’ is done. 
  • Get them outside for a bit of fresh air before lessons begin - have them walk or scoot to their school and back again to remind them of what they’ll have to do as of next week.
  • Aim to start homeschooling lessons by 8.30/9am. 
  • You could introduce a set ‘lunchtime’ i.e. lessons stop at 12.30pm and start again at 1.30pm.
  • Finish lessons at the same time as school would, i.e. 3-3.30pm. To solidify the new routine, clearly demarcate school from play by finishing everything by then. If it means that some work doesn’t get finished, so be it.

Start minimising screen time

We’ve all been relying heavily on screen time to get through lockdown. From lessons on screens, to watching their favourite shows, screens have been used to get through tantrums, to minimise boredom and to give parents some much needed peace and quiet. 

But they won’t be needed quite so much when school starts. Rather than going cold turkey, begin to reduce screen time now. This has to be a gradual reduction because it will be met with some resistance. 

Perhaps take away one ‘screen slot’ at a time and replace it with a quiet activity - encourage them to read their favourite book, listen to a podcast or music, anything that doesn’t involve a screen, but also doesn’t require you to entertain them instead. 

Reconnect with classmates

Expect your child to feel anxious about being surrounded by classmates again, after being isolated for so long. Recognise that your child might be struggling and provide plenty of reassurance that their worries are normal, but it will all be OK. 

Encourage them to talk about what they’re thinking and feeling. Reassure them they aren’t going through this alone and remind them of the fun they used to have at school by discussing fun memories they have of being with their friends and teacher. 

Help alleviate anxiety by having them reconnect with classmates prior to school starting. From organising virtual ‘playdates’ (set up a game for them to play together such as play doh, or building lego, so they’re playing with their friend without physically being with them), to socially distanced playdates in the playground. 

Also, exercise works wonders to reduce anxiety.

Practice protective measures

Your child’s school will have put safety precautions in place to protect children and staff. Hopefully they’ll have been in touch with you to share these protective measures. 

From hand washing and sanitising on entering school grounds, to the specific social bubbles your child will be in, talk to your child about these protective measures before school starts, so they don’t come as a huge surprise when they have to adhere to them. 

The day before

It’s the last day of lessons at home. Hurrah! You all survived homeschooling! 

If you can, why not celebrate the end of home school by taking the afternoon off and doing some fun activities designed to keep their minds off tomorrow. 

  • Bake a cake
  • Go for a walk
  • Pack up a picnic
  • Go to the local woods
  • Go to the beach
  • Meet up for a socially distanced playdate in the playground with their friends

If you can’t take the afternoon off, set aside some time in the evening to celebrate reaching this huge milestone. Or if you don’t have time in the evening, plan celebrations for the weekend. You’ve all worked so hard, it needs to be acknowledged.

Day one

Set your alarm so you’re all up in plenty of time. You want the morning to be relaxed, not hurried, in order to minimise stress. 

Ensure everyone eats a substantial breakfast - perhaps prepare their favourite foods if necessary, pancakes on a school day can work wonders for putting everyone in a good mood! 

If your child is feeling anxious about returning to school, let them take something with them for the journey there that will comfort them. If they want to bring Teddy for the walk to school, ensure they give him a big hug and let him go home again. Reassure them that he’ll be there at the school gates when school is over. 

Slip a short, reassuring note into their lunchbox letting them know how well they’re handling their first day, that you’re thinking of them, and that you’re preparing their favourite supper to enjoy when they get home. 

Take care of yourself

Finally, don’t forget that children feed off your emotions. They’re incredibly sensitive to how their parents and caregivers feel and take their emotional cues from you. 

Where possible, try to stay calm. Project an air of confidence that will serve to reassure them. The transition back to school will be tough for the whole family, but you can do it together.

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