We know going back to school after lockdown is a tricky affair for many children (and adults!) Some of them are chomping at the bit, some find it hard to readapt to a rigid routine and some have developed social anxiety. At best, it’s going to be weird. But we can get there.
The main problem arises if we pretend that everything is back to normal: ‘chop chop, we have loads of ‘lost’ learning to catch up on, now let’s get through all the learning outcomes we were supposed to cover this year!’ Simply put, this is not going to work. We are all, staff and pupils alike, shattered by a year of constantly changing goalposts, fears, worries and loss with too many constraints and not enough joy and freedom.
Schools need to become again a safe welcoming and, dare I say it, a fun and creative place for children to go. And it’s a win-win option, because a child who feels safe and stimulated will be more receptive and engaged in learning.
Many UK education experts are advocating for a summer of play to allow essential recovery time. Yet we hear that Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, is looking at longer days and shorter holidays instead. But the question I propose we should be asking is, what can we do to support better wellbeing, mental health and learning, despite the ongoing Covid restrictions? Here are a few creative classroom ideas that teachers can implement right now and will go a long way to help everyone transition back to a post Covid world.
1. Take lots of breaks
Every minute of the school day tends be accounted for. This is too much. No one can be expected to focus for hours at a time, especially children. It’s counter-productive. When kids start to fidget, chat, look out the window, it’s probably time for a break. Stop for a few seconds, tell them a joke, or maybe it’s a movement break.
Moving between classrooms in secondary school is one way to provide much shorter bursts of freedom, but even that freedom has melted away. All important social interaction is reduced. One of the main reasons for wanting to go to school is to be with friends. So why not provide lots of mini breaks and freedom between lessons? A lot of teachers will do this naturally, but what if this was school policy? No guilt, just mindful breaks for refreshed brain action.
2. Have curriculum free time
Children are natural learners, avidly so when they care. Some schools introduced wellbeing days during lockdown, why not keep them going? One day a month of curriculum free time will mean so much to the children and won’t impact their learning. Go further and give them half an hour daily, where they can be free to do something without a learning outcome attached to it. Give the fronted adverbials a break. Fractals can wait. Turn off Oak Academy. Let them lead their own learning.
3. Engage students in self-directed creative projects
Over the next term, get a project under way. It could be super simple, like decorating their classroom, a video project, a play. I hear you; all of this can be a lot of work! How about letting them self-direct, choose what they want to do, within rules? Let them do the hard work. My bet is they will take huge pride in creating something themselves. Relight their fire and give them a sense of worth and responsibility.
4. Listen and learn from students
Small children often do show and tell at school, but that soon disappears at Secondary level. Open a weekly forum and talk to students about what they love. Let them teach you something, show them that their world and their voice matters. We all want to be heard. Silly, serious, far-fetched, anxious thoughts, it’s all important. Give them space, time and a listening ear, and you will get so much more from them.
A lot of you will read the above and say, ‘but I already do all that!’, and you know what? You are wonderful. Why not share the ideas above, and your own, with your colleagues? Ultimately, all of the above could be summed up easily: give children a chance to have fun, play and share with you their boundless creativity!
Katherine Mengardon, FRSA, is a play and creativity educator, founder of Play/Space, hundrED.org ambassador and innovator, as well as the author of three Little Inventors books published by HarperCollins.
Keep up to date with Katherine on Twitter, here.