Article first appeared in the Portugal Resident.
As children of all ages in Portugal return to school, it is now very important for parents and school communities to support our learners with emotional and academic guidance as they navigate the challenges of the new norm.
We should consider that all children will have had different experiences of the pandemic and responded in different ways. Most students will have had relationships disrupted by being apart from a combination of both close relatives and friends. Others may even have suffered the trauma of a Coronavirus death.
As we emerge from lockdown, now is the time that we must be listening to our children/students, and allow them time to talk about and process any personal issues both in and out of school.
No one wishes to dwell on the Coronavirus pandemic. However, the reality is that the world has changed. The irrefutable fact is that we do not know if and when new restrictions or lockdowns will be enforced. It is very important to be open with children of all ages. In their short lives, this is their new norm.
Very young children cannot remember a life before Covid restrictions. Older children have had to face the new reality head on, such as having had important exams cancelled and rescheduled. They are naturally anxious as online and distance learning may have resulted in their need to catch up academically.
What is important is for both schools and parents to find a balance between acknowledging the abnormality of an ongoing worldwide pandemic, and yet provide clarity of the situation for our 21st century learners, who have been taught and encouraged to be both inquisitive and curious. One must keep an open dialogue and be transparent regarding future developments. Communicating and acknowledging the world that we now live in is absolutely key.
For parents at home, there is already an excellent range of very positive material that can be read to younger children including books. The World Health Organisation on its website has lots of accessible literature for older students. As educators, it is absolutely vital that we allow students time to talk and to share their thoughts about the virus and its ongoing impact on their lives.
Fundamentally, now is the time for everyone to have a positive approach towards the future. Balance academics with creative, out-of-the-box activities that stimulate all children to work together, embrace the outdoors and focus on mental health to rebuild a sense of school community.
As the head of a school, I know that we will be using the outdoors to enable our students to take part in scavenger hunts, orienteering exercises, team challenges, whole school art and design activities and community projects. Being active is vital for the mental wellbeing of all. Family walks, bike rides and beach combing are all activities that can be safely undertaken together and are a great boost to mental health.
We are all very fortunate to live in the Algarve where the climate and open outdoor environment allow us the opportunity to be active and stimulate our sense of wellbeing. As parents and educators, we must remain positive for our children and students, whilst also taking time for our own self-care and wellbeing.