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Starting School In A Global Pandemic

School – the great unknown. The big wide world I knew I wouldn’t ever be ready for my daughter to discover. The care of someone else that I didn’t want to ever hand her over to.

I’d been wondering how it would all be for a few years now. I don’t think any parent can predict how their child will react to starting school. Some children are exhausted by it, some love it straight away, some are scared, some develop challenging behaviour as a result. I played out so many different scenarios in my mind. I dreaded her not wanting to go. I knew I would miss her terribly. Trust me when I say I overthought the whole thing. Or so I thought – but as it turned out 2020 had a totally new scenario for us that I never could have envisioned or prepared either of us for. A global pandemic. I never imagined that something like this would happen in my lifetime, let alone at the point in my life when I am trying my hardest to raise well rounded little humans, in an already very complicated world.

My daughter can be very reserved, it takes her a long time to warm up to new people. New environments, especially busy ones, can be very overwhelming for her. I always knew that settling her into a school setting would be a process. But one that the school would be prepared for. I knew there would be a home visit – a chance to meet the teacher in our own safe environment. There would be tours of the school, and sessions to stay and play. She would have time to get to know it all before the day came of having to leave her for the first time. It would be hard, but we could do it gently and she could have the time she needed to feel comfortable for me to leave her with these new people, in this new place.

Then 2020 happened.

Some terrible things have happened this year, the news headlines have been horrific. We are lucky to have been relatively unaffected by it all. We’ve been able to hide from the world a lot, not that that’s necessarily been a totally good thing, but at least I’ve been able to keep the children protected from it all. I don’t just mean the virus itself, I also mean the new rules, the ‘new normal’ that will never be normal. That can be problematic when it comes to our children and their formative years. I haven’t wanted to worry them with all the talk of germs and excess handwashing, I’ve just quietly got on with things, and they’ve been joyfully oblivious in our little bubble.

But now it’s September, time for my daughter to start reception. Time for that bubble to pop.

And there have been no home visits (of course, rightfully so), no settling in sessions, no stay and play. I’ve never set foot in my daughters class room. I don’t know where she hangs her coat or where she sits. We haven’t had much interaction with the teachers, and ‘settling in’ was simply a two minute handover outside the classroom to someone none of us had ever met before. ‘Show and tell’ involves us emailing a picture to the teacher for them to ‘show’ the class. The pencil case and school bag she’s been excited about, aren’t allowed to be taken in. When she cries in the playground and tells me she doesn’t want to go in, I’m not allowed to give her one of her little toys to take in for comfort.

This isn’t a criticism of the school, they’re doing their best with the information and the resources they have been given. This is just the reality of starting school in a pandemic.

And it’s really difficult. Especially for those of us with the more nervous children. Children who have barely seen their closest family and friends over the last six months, who are now expected to be in a new environment, with strangers. They’re expected to communicate, learn, make friends, try new foods, meet new people. As a fully grown woman, I feel like my own social skills have been affected by six months of little face to face interaction, so for a four year old who just quite likes being at home, with her family – I’m not surprised she’s finding it hard.

When she has to be prised away from me at drop off, and I spend the morning wondering how she’s getting on, with a sick feeling in my stomach knowing I’ve left her somewhere that she doesn’t want to be, I can’t even visualise what she might be doing. I don’t know what the classroom is like – does she have her own seat? Does she have her own peg to hang her coat?

And I also wonder how much they’re being told about the virus. Is she suddenly going to start talking about ‘the corona virus’? Is she going to ask me questions I don’t know the answers to? Will she become totally germophobic? She’s no longer in our little bubble. She’s out in the big wide world and it’s even more unknown to me than I ever could have anticipated.

Will the schools shut again? Will she settle only to be uprooted again? Will the rules change and restrictions become even tighter?

To the world this is a very tiny problem right now, almost completely overlooked by everyone apart from those of us going through it. But life is all relative and for us – this is huge. They say the transition from preschool to primary school is the hardest transition that a child will ever go through in their education, and that’s without a pandemic to contend with.

Nothing could have prepared me for sending my baby to school for the first time in such strange and alien times. I’m sending all my love to anyone reading this who is also struggling with this huge adjustment in such an uncertain world

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