A second school year begins under the shadow of the pandemic, but knowing what to expect eases anxieties, writes Jason Osborne
I doubt many would have expected such an altered start to the school year for a second year in a row, but here we are. Students heading back to school this September are entering uncharted waters yet again because, despite Covid still being present, the country is in a much different situation to the one it found itself in this time last year, when not a single vaccine had been administered.
Regardless, the present circumstances are surely causing much concern among teachers, parents and students, if for no other reason than all of the extra boxes that have to be ticked as school approaches, such as mask-wearing and the potential for testing throughout the year if a case springs up in the school.
It’s worth going through the features that will make this another unorthodox year for schoolchildren and their parents, before considering what steps can be taken at any time to make the transition back easier.
As with last year, teachers and students in secondary schools are required to wear face masks throughout the school day.
In primary schools, however, children won’t be required to wear them. Health officials have decided that a mask mandate for young children is too tricky and would likely cause the children unnecessary stress.
In terms of other measures, the school year will look much the same as last. Hand sanitising, social distancing and regular classroom cleanings are all here to stay, while in primary schools, “pod” grouping of children together is set to continue.
A new feature of the year will be the presence of carbon dioxide monitors, with Minister Norma Foley saying they’re an “additional tool” to aid schools in their efforts to ensure adequate ventilation.
The intention is to have portable Co2 monitors that will be shared between classrooms, moving between rooms at set times throughout the day, to ensure the level of Co2 remains below a suitable level, indicating suitable ventilation in the room.
Teachers and other school staff won’t be required to receive the vaccination, as a decision was made against making it mandatory. However, they have been strongly advised to receive it, regardless.
In terms of students, the vaccination of students at secondary school age has been underway for a number of weeks, with those aged 16-17 able to avail of a vaccine at the end of July, while vaccinations for those in the 12-15 age cohort began in mid-August.
With their parents’ consent, around 135,000 young people between 12 and 15 have registered for the vaccine, with around 78,000 of them having received their first dose.
The completion of vaccination for young people in these categories is expected to take another couple of weeks which will eat into the early part of the school year, but the earlier-than-expected rollout of vaccines to this cohort is going to surely limit the impact Covid-19 has on schools around the country.
So if that’s the state of the Covid restrictions you’re likely to encounter in schools this September upon returning, what can you do to ensure the experience is as normal as possible for your children both in and outside of school?
Routine is an enormous part of ordering our days, no matter what time we find ourselves in. Whether you’re a child in school or an adult in bustling full-time employment, routine will serve to give you a healthy grounding as you go about your day. How might this look for schoolchildren and parents, then?
It isn’t possible to overestimate sleep’s importance in terms of establishing a good, healthy routine”
As soon as possible, try to move your child’s bedtime a little earlier to ready them for the early school starts, or encourage them to do so if they’re a little older. Once a time is set, institute a relaxing, age-appropriate wind-down routine for the hour before sleep, such as a bath or shower, reading, drawing, colouring or prayer (always a good idea).
It is important to manage screen time these days, particularly before bed. If at all possible, work towards having little to no screen time for the hour before bed, to ensure the best quality of sleep possible. It isn’t possible to overestimate sleep’s importance in terms of establishing a good, healthy routine.
Another staple of the day is the meal time routine. It’s advisable to establish healthy sleep and meal routines hand-in-hand, as they’re two big elements in a child’s day that have become secure and stable, allowing more focus to be paid to the rest of school life. Also, start adjusting mealtimes to match up with school time routines.
Talk to your child or teenager about the importance of eating well, and involve them in the planning, shopping and preparation of the meals. Not only is it good discipline now – it’s good preparation for the future. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of quick-fixes and fast foods once the school year gets rolling, so pre-emptively cut that out.
Separating the day into morning routine, school, evening routine and night routine is a useful way to ensure your children get the most from their days. An orderly morning leads to an easier day at school, while an orderly evening means a relaxing night and morning.
Young people are gifted an abundance of energy, and so it’s important that leisure and downtime are incorporated into their days as eagerly as anything else.
A child or teenager who enjoys sufficient time playing, training or engaging in whatever other activities they most enjoy is more likely to engage well with school and its often-stuffy environment.
They’re the base upon which these pandemic school days can be dealt with”
Studies have linked play to building literacy skills in younger children, as well as a greater ability to cope with upheaval and stress (such as has been provided for in abundance by the pandemic and its concomitant restrictions).
Next week will see healthy lunches for school days discussed, but for now, focus on getting sustainable routines in place. They’re the base upon which these pandemic school days can be dealt with.