Are you feeling confused about how to approach children’s return to school in September? There are lots of conflicting opinions out there. An article in Friday’s TES talked about children needing routine, not hugs.  
 
Then there is The Recovery Curriculum – Evidence for Learning by Professor Barry Carpenter CBE and Matthew Carpenter – based on five levers, Relationships, Community, Transparent Curriculum, Metacognition, and Space (see Compass Hub for a free five-week Recovery Curriculum). You may have also heard terms like trauma-led approach, gratitude, Restorative Practice, SWAN, positive thinking, that all children have suffered an ACE (Adverse Child Experience), and more. 
Going back to the classroom after lockdown

Unknown Territory 

It’s hard to gauge and plan for the full impact of the situation. We’re in unknown territory. Nothing like this has ever happened before and it’s hard to tell how children, who are all individual, will respond to going back to school in September. Some will have returned to school for a couple of weeks, then are away for another six weeks. There is no tried and tested approach. 
 
It is also unhelpful that we’re being told to ‘get on with it’ in terms of getting the economy back on track. This doesn’t mean we should replicate this approach in schools. 

A Delayed Loss Reaction 

Some children might think returning to school is fun at first, then ‘back to normal’ may hit, or they feel a loss of safety, or security, which may impair their ability to learn. They may have a delayed loss reaction. 
 
Some children will have experienced a bereavement. SEND children may find the change overwhelming. Some may not outwardly react at all. Children are mostly a resilient bunch but it’s always good to be prepared. 
 
Here’s where our knowledge as grief experts can help
 
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to losses of any kind. Grief is also the conflicting feelings caused by a change or an end in a familiar pattern of behaviour. 
Having a sense of ‘normal’ and a routine will help children to feel secure, once they adjust to this being their new normal routine. 
Recognition and acceptance of the pandemic and its effects on all of us will teach children how to be emotionally honest. Ignoring Lockdown ever happened, ignoring the loss that we’ve all felt, will send children the wrong message. They will learn that we sweep loss events under the carpet or replace feelings of loss with something else. 
Children need to be heard, not fixed, or ignored. 
You don’t need to dwell on the losses, but you do need to acknowledge them and be ready to listen, as a trusted adult. 
We can help you to get your language right when children do talk to you, so that what your children learn from you is a correct foundation for dealing with loss. Here’s a link to our poster on ‘Wise Words,’ which is free to download. 
Children thrive when they’re part of a community. Look at a whole-school approach, such as our Open Ears programme - openears.griefuk.org – a year-long PSHE curriculum based on six values. This programme helps children to develop life-long skills to cope with bereavement, grief, and loss, incorporating feelings and emotional wellbeing, developing healthy relationships, and resilience into learning. 
Look out for changes in behaviour. Think about how you’re responding to negative behaviours, especially in older children. Punishment and exclusion may alienate children who feel that school is the only safe space they have. All may not be as well as it seems. Think about what might be going on with them and alternative responses to their behaviour. 

More Information and Free Resources 

Open Ears is our year-long programme that provides the tools to be able to deal with losses of any kind; loss of a relative, loss of routine, loss of a pet, moving to a new house, transitions to new classes and schools, and more. Through weekly activities that can be used for PSHE, assemblies, and circle times the programme helps children to understand and communicate emotions, especially around grief, and loss. Available in three age ranges. 
 
We have free resources for you to use in your classroom. 
 
Helping Children with Loss Programme – train up to eight people via web link or face-to-face in this four-part programme. Our ACEs-informed training provides parents, teachers and anyone who works with children with the specific tools for helping a child of any age and/or ability level with a personal loss of any kind. 
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