September still seems like a time of new beginnings to me. I’m sure it’s a legacy of my school and college days, when early September marked a return to work, and an advancement to the project of a new academic year. The mornings are fresh and I feel keen to leave behind the lethargy and pleasant sloth of the summer holidays. It’s a time for work and new beginnings. This year, for families around the world, September means going back to school after an unprecedented six months of absence from it.
Thankfully, this extra-big back to school moment has proven to be a joy for all concerned in our family. There was, of course, a novelty to home-schooling at first. The kids enjoyed starting their day with some PE with Joe Wicks and a run in the garden. They enjoyed not having to wear uniforms and having the flexibility to do their homework when it suited them. For a while, they loved the simplicity of life spent at home with the family for weeks on end. Yet as the summer wore on, they began missing friends, playdates, clubs and, indeed, even school itself.
After all, emails and videos cannot replace direct interaction with a teacher in the classroom. Texts to friends, or the odd socially distanced playdate cannot replace the social hub that is a happy school. School provides an enormously important social education for kids. They learn to make friends, chat with other kids, negotiate their way through disagreements, live with kids they aren’t crazy about and they learn to share and to play new games. They learn the social rewards of being kind to others.
Before the first day back, emails arrived from the school explaining all the social distancing measures. We talked through these with the kids. Starting times would be staggered and some families would use one gate, some the other. Playtimes would be staggered and kids would be placed in pods within the classroom. They took all this on board quite happily.
In the days before school started back, new uniforms, schoolbooks and fresh schoolbags and pencil cases were sourced and stocked. The kids were delighted with this and the dominant feeling in the house was one of excitement at the prospect of going back. Yet there was some trepidation too. One of the older kids asked whether they might have to wear masks in school. Our senior infant was excited, but also a little nervous about the whole thing, yet she couldn’t quite say exactly why. She became palpably more anxious in the days before school opened. Small kids are funny with anxieties, they often don’t even know they have them, they just act a bit stressed. We made sure to give a lot of extra leeway and kindness in the days before they returned to school. The school was doing likewise, promising no homework for the first two weeks, and lots of play for the smaller kids.
Despite any lingering anxieties, in the event, the kids all slept well before the first morning back. Uniforms were carefully laid out in each room and schoolbags were at the ready in the hallway. The morning rituals of tying ties, straightening collars and doing up hair resumed, just as before. Both my wife and I went to drop them off together. There was a lovely feeling around the school gates as we wandered up, as friends shouted happy greetings to one another. The kids burst in the gates before us, with barely a backward glance.
When we picked them up that afternoon, they were bright, bubbly and buzzing. It had been lovely to be back, they said. Tales of their new teachers, who were reported as “too nice, if anything” and new games in the yard, and the freshly painted yellow line that separated them from other kids during playtime. As the days wore on, they spoke of fun with friends and goals scored during lunchtime games of football. The rumblings of the ongoing pandemic seemed more distant as something resembling normal life successfully resumed. Any anxieties have dissolved upon contact with the altered, but nonetheless pleasant, reality of the new school day. Thankfully, happy children leave in the morning and even happier kids come home each afternoon.