Back to school—but not as we know it

When I was at school, I remember standing there at the start of the summer holidays and finding it impossible to believe that September would ever arrive. This disbelief hit harder than ever this year; after months with the children at home, I have found it so difficult to get my head round the new term’s arrival. Last week, I struggled to remember what the items in a PE kit are! But, beyond the practicals, ‘back to school’ has more gravity and meaning for all of us this year. Like millions of other children across the country, my two children haven’t set foot in a classroom for nearly six months. And while I’m sure all parents will agree that this day has been a long time coming, it’s natural to be concerned about the return to school. After all, lockdown happened for a reason.

My children are seven and four years old and I can see that they are feeling a little worried too. They know things will be a little different at school, but I don’t think they can picture what that will actually be like, and for small minds, that can be unsettling. The risk of them actually catching COVID-19 is fairly low on my list of concerns, but I have spent the past few weeks wondering how they will cope when they go back to their new classes. While we made some attempts at teaching at home, they have missed out on months of learning and are well out of practisehow will they cope with the intensity of school again? How will they respond to being more restricted within the school itself? They will have to get used to eating lunch at strange times and playing in a small section of a carved-up playground. 

My daughter is going into Reception and I am sad that her first experience of full-time school will be so strange. There are so many little elements that make starting school specialit might sound silly, but I’m a bit sad that I’ll have to say goodbye at the gate rather than taking her to the door of her classroom. I’m also wondering how the teachers will cope with 30 four-year-olds who have forgotten what school is all about! 

But alongside these concerns, I also have great faith in those teachers and other school staff members. I know from videos and emails sent home that the staff team has worked so hard over the past few months to make these first weeks back as close to normal as they can be. As a parent, it’s so easy to take the school community for granted, but these past months have shown me that it is such an important part of our family life.

And then there’s my faith, which allows me to trust that, in spite of the chaos, I can trust God for my children’s wellbeing. It gives me hope that good will come from this difficult time for our children. I know from experience that challenges are tough, but through them we can grow and learn. I will be praying for my children and their classmates as they pick up their pens and file into the lunch hall on that first day, believing that they will flourish in spite of the change and restriction. As a parent, I’ll need to make sure I give them time and opportunity to process the things that are causing them worry.

In years to come, I wonder how my kids will remember their first day back after lockdownthe joy of seeing friends they didn’t even realise they missed, or the confusion of one-way systems and hand sanitiser at every doorway? Whatever memories they keep, my prayer is that they will come out of this experience more resilient, considerate and thankful for the amazing schools and teachers that we so easily take for granted.