Covid-19 and education: How can parents foster whole family wellbeing as some children return to school – especially for youngsters with special needs?
By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 2 June 2020
During periods of upheaval, it can be particularly challenging to meet the needs of the whole family. Families now are juggling the school partial reopening, meaning that some children may be going back, while brothers and sisters are not. Not only is this difficult for practical reasons (such as getting some children to school while caring for others at home), but perceptions of fairness may well escalate. It may be hard, for example, not to meet friends when your sister can, or go to school when your brother gets to stay at home.
Explaining the situation
Social stories can be a very useful way to explain changes in circumstance to children with special educational needs. Beaucroft Foundation School have a wide range of excellent examples. ‘Going to school part time’ uses common visual symbols to explain the changes and has an excellent example of a simple visual calendar to show when a
child is at home and when at school.
Supporting the transition back into school
Communication with the school is absolutely crucial at this time. You will need to know how social distancing and deep cleaning measures are being handled so that you can prepare your child. Children with sensory sensitivities may find changes such as using hand gel (see below) need to be discussed and experienced at home. Children with communication needs may need more time to learn and practice new routines. Children who are used to physical contact from a teacher if they are distressed will need creative solutions to find ways to show reassurance.
Thinking through difficulties: using hand gel as an example
Collaboration and analysis are all-important. Is it the smell, texture, coldness, sensation or sound of the hand gel application process which is causing the problem? By being curious about the problem, we can open up a dialogue with child, home and school and seek the smallest possible adjustment that might make the difference. For example, if the child was able to choose which of three types of hand gel were best smelling or more acceptably textured, this would be a way of consulting with them to find a solution. Perhaps an alternative such as antiseptic wet-wipes might be the answer, in which case the school needs to be fully briefed and relevant staff informed.
When children are powerless in a situation, it can be important to give choice where this is still possible. For example, if a child is upset that she can’t see her friends unlike her brother who is going into school, suggest she chooses a schoolfriend to video call and perhaps make this part of her daily timetable. Small choices can help, such as asking if a child wishes to eat breakfast with the sibling and travel with them on the school drop off. For the child wishing not to go to school, choices might include choosing favourite meals before and after school and planning activities after school or at the weekend. Some children will benefit if activities are written, drawn or otherwise represented on a calendar, time-line or timetable.
The May Institute offer a range of helpful strategies to offer choices and understand preferences for children who may find it more difficult to express opinions.
Family-based shared activities
Shared activities that promote fun and laughter can be so important in times of stress. Some activities can be modified to include everyone. A real example of this is a child who would build walls with blocks, but become upset when another child knocked the wall down. When the game was re-branded ‘The Build Up, Knock Down Game’, the situation became much better. Older children or teenagers who may be reluctant to come off a screen to play ‘boring’ games, may respond well to choices (see above), such as deciding when to play (and putting it into the timetable) and choosing a game from two or three options.
Parentcircle suggest ten activities and games for children with special educational needs.
The Special Needs Child website has other ideas, particularly sensory processing games and activities that develop fine and gross motor skills.
FirstCry parenting also have some fun ideas for all the family.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
It might be useful to visit some resources which are collated here on the UCL Centre for Inclusive Education website:
- Government general guidance
- Here is a useful set of Frequently Asked Questions from legal experts at Understood.
- This is a robust and detailed document from the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation.
UCL Centre for Inclusive Education are launching a ‘Back on Track’ series in the Autumn for schools to boost attainment for children with Special Educational Needs. Visit our website: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/departments-and-centres/centres/ucl-centre-inclusive-education