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Using Play to Help Children Prepare for Going Back-to-School During the Pandemic

Using Play to Help Children Prepare for Going Back-to-School During the Pandemic

Posted by Andrea Elliott on Jul 22nd 2020

Some families may decide to homeschool their children, which has its own unique benefits. We explored some of those in our last blog post. In this post, we’ll explore what in-person school will look like and how we can use play to help our kids through this unique and challenging time.

Keep a Positive Mindset

As parents, caregivers and educators of children who normally attend in-person school, the upcoming school year is going to be unlike anything we have experienced before. More importantly, the school experience is also going to be very different for our children. As adults, it is our duty to help our children make the best of the current situation. Whatever your family or your school district plans to do, it’s important to have a positive, open mind. Kids are always listening, they hear our parental frustrations and opinions, which can heavily influence both their behaviors and attitudes. No matter their age or grade, the environment when they return to their classrooms will likely be unrecognizable. Due to the precaution measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many of the activities that children are accustomed to in school will not be possible. Either that or they will be modified in a way that incorporates social distancing and no contact. It is very likely that our children will be anxious or nervous about going back to school. Not only that, but once they return, the changes they experience could very well increase their anxiety. Many of the traditional tactics that our amazing teachers do to help children feel comfortable and welcome just may not be possible this year. Familiar things like high fives, hugs, circle time, holding hands and lining up will be things of the past (this year anyway.)

Don't Underestimate Our Teachers

Our teachers have the tools to help make this upcoming school year a success. It is likely your child’s teacher has been preparing for this moment their entire career. To even become a teacher, one must complete at least 4 years of higher learning, with many states requiring advanced degrees which tacks on at least another 2 years. Most teachers also obtain specialty certificates, attend regular workshops and on-going training to keep up with advancements in technology and changes to testing and teaching standards. Because of all of the preparation it takes to become a teacher, they are very equipped to deal with changes and conflict. Not only that, most teachers are inherently organized and highly skilled at transforming a room full of antsy, stressed out, confused kids into a group of students who have a daily routine, who follow the rules, respect each other, feel safe and most importantly: want to learn.

Tips to Ease Anxieties Using Play

If your family decides to do in-person this school year, both you and your child may feel apprehensive about it. This is completely normal, as ‘fear of the unknown’ is a very common anxiety many people face. And school may be especially hard on children this fall because they have been home and out of their school routine for so long. New safety measures aside, the transition from the unstructured environment of being at home for nearly 6 months, back to school mode might be a bit more challenging. A great way to encourage a smooth transition is to role play with your child what school in the COVID age might be like. This will help reduce some of those ‘scary’ unknowns swirling around in their heads. In fact, partaking in this type of play is one of the most natural ways children can overcome their fears, and a safe place for them to express their thoughts and feelings.

In addition to role-play between you and your child, children also help sort out their fears through pretend play using dolls and play figures such as our Plush Dolls or 4” Little Friends Dolls. Puppets are also great tools as well. The advantage of doll play is that it enables your child to take themselves out of the ‘scary’ situation and use the toy as a stand in. As children act out the different school scenarios in their play sessions, they’re able to imagine their doll or figure in school and what it would be like. Once they have the opportunity to act out these new scenarios, and some of the different conflicts they imagine will arise, they will begin to feel more comfortable with the idea. Since in-person school will likely require that children wear masks, you could even have your child’s dolls wear masks. Perhaps even encourage your child arrange their dolls so they are practicing social distancing to mimic the classroom environment. Dolls and figures provide ample opportunities for role playing situations, and are sure to help ease and comfort your child through this time and beyond!

Be An Advocate For Play

The harsh reality is that free play and outdoor recess in school is in serious jeopardy. Even before COVID hit, we've been seeing play decline in schools more and more as each year passes. With increased pressures on schools to improve test scores, has come a reduction in things like physical education, art, music and recess. According to the Genius of Play website:

"Despite the overwhelming amount of science to champion the importance of play, schools and cities continue to overlook its value, writing it off as an unnecessary luxury. Almost half of the average child’s playtime comes from recess, but more and more schools are cutting recess to focus on academics. Most ironic—and tragic—of all, kids who are less active outside the classroom perform worse inside the classroom."

With many school districts implementing a hybrid of in-person and remote learning plans for the upcoming school year, it is likely these plans will not include many, if any opportunities for play to due to the new safety precautions in place. Not only that, due social distancing requirements, the amount of time each student will be spending in school will be significantly reduced, in turn reducing or likely even eliminating recess periods completely. As parents, encouraging quality play opportunities for our children has always been important. However with the real possibility that play opportunities in school will likely be eliminated this fall, it is more important than ever that parents strive to be advocates for play outside of school. Being an advocate for play means being intentional about providing ample opportunities for your child to engage in quality play. Whether it is through allowing for free (no appointments or activities) time, setting screen and gadget limits, encouraging playground time, spending time in nature and toy rotation. Even though children are perfectly capable of playing without toys, open-ended traditional toys like blocks/building sets, puzzles, boardgames, dolls and balls are great to have on hand as these type of toys allow children to learn and practice important life skills. The silver lining to our children spending less time in the classroom this upcoming school year is that there is more time for them to PLAY!

The Importance of Play

When children play, they can explore their own personal interests and passions. Kids may find they have a love for a specific activity such as collecting rocks or watercolor painting, or discover that they really have a knack for basketball. Unstructured play encourages children to continue persuing their own interests and build skills they will use in the future.

All children should have time for play. It is the building blocks for establishing self confidence, coping skills, flexibility and positive interactions with others. Through play, your child will be able to apply these skills as they make their way through childhood and adolescence and into adulthood.