Experts’ five tips for parents when school returns

The return is another event that needs managing.
Oct 12, 2021
Pity the parents.

Parents have borne a heavy load during this pandemic, the period of home schooling might be drawing to an end but there is now the issue of preparing children to return to school.

Davina Russell is the mum of two boys who like many has been juggling remote full-time work, a husband in the same boat and two kids’ online learning. She is the first to admit that it has been trying.

“It has been really challenging at times. My husband and I both work full time, with a lot of meetings through the day for both of us, so it was almost impossible at times trying to be there to help our 6-year-old navigate his work. It was much simpler for our older son, who is 11, as he could work his way through his timetable with a little prompting from us to stay on task.

“I’m feeling equal parts relieved it’s coming to an end, excited for the kids to get to spend time with their friends and other kids their age, and a little sad that this strange time is coming to an end and I won’t have ‘visitors’ popping into my meetings anymore. The kids are excited to be going back – apparently we’re ‘way worse’ than their real teachers,” she says.

Ms Russell has been been happy with the quality of the work her kids received from their school, but the family couldn’t always complete it all.

“This term our youngest has been doing the absolute minimum, focussing on reading, writing and numeracy – but there was a good range of activities, online excursions, meetings and more challenging project-based tasks. I think it’s been really difficult for the teachers to balance different families’ situations.

“Last year I was able to give our kids more support with home learning, but this year it’s been more difficult because of work commitments. I guess I have faith that it’ll all come out in the wash and the teachers will meet the kids where they are at academically when they return to school."

The return to school after two interrupted years is something that needs to be managed carefully.

“We’ve talked to them about when they’ll go back and which other year groups will be there. For our youngest, who will return before his brother, we’ve had to be a bit careful in breaking the news that he’ll be back at after school care when his brother will be at home. Fortunately his friends will be there too, so he was pretty unfazed.

“Our kids have kept their wake-up time the same through lockdown and have been starting home school at the time we’d usually leave the house, so oversleeping hopefully won’t be a problem. I suspect our biggest challenge will be making sure everyone is out of their PJs and into uniform in time!”

Australian Catholic University (ACU) education expert Associate Professor Miriam Tanti said the reopening of schools is nothing like the traditional back-to-school period.

“This return to school does not have the excitement of new uniforms and stationery or the anticipation of making new friends and the obligatory family photo in school uniform with school bag,” Associate Professor Tanti said.

“There’s no way to predict how a child will respond to returning to school post-pandemic. We haven’t been here before. Some will be excited, others nervous and anxious and some may start out feeling excited but then reality sets in and those feelings can shift too. This is all perfectly normal.”

Fellow ACU education expert Dr Chrissy Monteleone added, “Parents should avoid over-sharing their worries. I also don’t recommend bombarding an already-tired child with questions at the end of each school day. Instead, consider more open-ended questions to prompt a relaxed conversation. For example, “What was the best part of your day?”

Five top tips for parents on kids’ return to school:

  • Be familiar with new school processes: To avoid worry, parents/carers should be familiar with any new processes and share those processes with any other parent/carer that supports your child. For example, new processes may include mask-wearing, classroom seating arrangements, staggered lunchtimes. Where possible provide information that will reduce the element of surprise – the more information your child has the better.  
  • Time and openness for questioning: Your child will have questions so be sure to give your child the time and your undivided attention in providing answers to those questions. Be open and honest. 
  • Be an active listener: During conversations, try and identify the key message that your child is trying to convey. Take the time to stop what you are doing, look at your child, use non-verbal communication, acknowledge what you hear, summarise what you notice and avoid judgement. 
  • Share your own feelings in an age-appropriate way: Share how you might be feeling about your return to work/office and some of the strategies you will employ – strategies which you can share with your child.  
  • Show them they’re not alone: Prepare both of your lunches and bags for the next day together. Get dressed in the morning, don’t do the school drop off in pyjamas – it’s important that parents don’t just communicate verbally but through action that this is an important time and we’re all in this together.

Russell says, “They’re very excited. The friends bubble really made a difference for them towards the end of lockdown and they’re definitely looking forward to seeing other kids they haven’t seen since June. They’re also happy to be seeing less of us, I think.”