Reopening schools is best for children and parents, even if we feel torn about it

In spite of the excitement of returning to school in September, I feel equally nervous about it. I have grown used to seeing my three children all day, every day. It will be a massive adjustment

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The countdown has begun. Parents are eagerly crossing off each day of summer holidays, preparing for the start of school in September. This year, we are sending our kids back into the classroom after, not just six weeks, but six months of being out of a school setting.

This weekend, Boris Johnson has announced that it is a “moral duty” to get children back into school. I wouldn’t go so far as that, but I do think it will massively benefit both parents and children, even if we feel torn about doing so.

As a mum of three young boys, I have spent lockdown constantly bombarded with their needs and cuddles. Their snacks and their play. Their boredom and their company. There have been aspects I loved and cherished, and things I found monotonous and tedious.

For six months, my mind hasn’t been able to shut off. I’m either thinking about work that I need to get done for my job, homeschooling, preparing food, or worrying about loved ones that are classed as vulnerable. My mind is tired. While I feel that I have managed to cope, my mental health has taken a hit as I deal with physical fatigue from constant activity, irritability as the kids require my constant attention, loneliness resulting from seeing so few adults, and guilt that I’m not doing enough as a parent, friend, partner, or employee.

I have worked from home during lockdown – desperately squeezing in a few minutes here and there to check and respond to emails while the children eat lunch. I haven’t been able to throw myself into work how I would like during lockdown, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, once the kids are back in school.

Going back to school will be positive for the kids as well. At the start of lockdown, when we thought it may just last a couple of weeks, I created a detailed, daily routine for us to follow. It included an early start, creative maths lessons, interesting writing projects, PE with Joe Wicks, Cosmic Kids Yoga, art projects, Zoom calls with friends, and exploding science experiments.

We started strong, but it is quite a shift to suddenly be thrown into the role of teacher – being held responsible for whether or not your child is learning enough maths, reading, and writing. The school sent homework every week for us to complete, and most weeks, we did manage to. But as the weeks progressed, we grew bored, slipped out of routine, and stopped nearly all homeschooling. My boys missed the exciting lesson plans that made learning fun in school. They missed their teachers, who could give them their full attention. They missed learning alongside their buddies. Children need routine. They need education. They need social interaction.

In spite of the excitement of returning to school in September, I feel equally nervous about it. I have grown used to seeing them all day, every day. It will be a massive adjustment sending them away for six hours a day. I won’t be able to protect them from the bullies, the disappointment, and the anxiety they may encounter as they walk into their classrooms – which will be very different than the ones they left in March. I’m gearing up for tears when they have to let go of my hand that first day back. I’m also preparing for an influx in viruses and bugs – and I don’t mean Covid-19.

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Children haven’t been socialising for six months, and so there aren’t colds, stomach bugs, or chicken pox being passed around. We are most likely going to have a lot of sick days soon. And the obvious hesitancy of sending them back is the coronavirus. Even though we are being told there is little risk of transmission of Covid-19 in a school setting, I can’t help but think, “Is my kid going to get Covid from that swing set?”

Our school has been brilliant about preparing us for the return to school – sending home letters and creating videos showing the kids their new classrooms. Measures have been put in place, such as “bubbles” and staggered release times, to protect the children upon their return. It all helps to make both parents and children feel more comfortable about returning. In the back of my mind, I do wonder if winter will bring another round of lockdown and homeschooling, but I’m choosing to take one day at a time instead of allowing myself to become anxious about the possibility.

Needless to say, many parents all over the UK are feeling emotionally torn about sending kids back to school in September. There are many unknowns about what the next few months will bring, but parents and children should feel proud of how they have coped for the last six months, and let that pride assure them they can handle whatever comes as schools reopen in three short weeks.

Lauren Crosby Medlicott is a freelance journalist.

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