OPINION: Half term is the perfect chance for children to let off steam

Half term is a great chance for children to let off some steam without worry. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Half term is a great chance for children to let off some steam without worry. Picture: GETTY IMAGES - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

You may not be looking forward to half term - but the kids certainly are says our columnist

When I began this column in August about the return to school, it prompted a range of feelings. Whilst I desperately wanted to be with my class again, I felt a lot of trepidation. Would the children cope with the return to school after so long with their families? Would we be able to adapt to the new routines and relearn habits? Was it feasible to carry on as normal, with the threat of local closures or instant quarantine at any day?

We have been one of the fortunate schools so far and have (nearly) completed our first half term. But it’s been a different kind of half term.

For parents, there have been challenges- both emotional and logistical. Schools follow the government guidelines for keeping everyone safe, but these guidelines are not always convenient! Due to staggered starts and ends to the day, parents may have been given different times for different siblings, or times which have shortened their own working days.

Without access to the school grounds, many have felt more cut off from their child’s daily life or missed seeing teachers for an impromptu chat.

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Absences of individual children who are waiting for test results can be an anxious time for other parents in the class too, who are worrying about their own child’s health.

For school staff, our busy days have become even busier with additional roles such as manning the gates in the mornings and afternoons, supervising extra break duties, and regular cleaning of tables and ‘high touch surfaces’ (like door handles and light switches) several times each day.

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Teachers have extra lesson planning, as we have to be ready for an impromptu quarantine. As well as planning our usual week’s lessons, we have to have contingency plans prepared. If our bubble closes, we need to have a fortnight’s lesson plans for each subject, ready to be accessed by the children.

In addition to this, individual pupils sometimes quarantine with family members, so we plan for them to continue their work parallel to the class.

But the children have had to absorb some of the most significant changes of all.

For them, the duality of what they’re expected to do is tiring. They sit directly next to other children, but yet we ask them to line up leaving lots of space. They can run around on the playground together, but we ask them not to make any physical contact. Children are naturally tactile, and refraining from touching each other doesn’t come easily.

They are used to being led by their senses. In normal life, they touch each other frequently: a celebratory hug, catching each other in chasing games, playing with a friend’s hair- as well as the odd shove or wrestle. They are physical beings who are used to using touch as an extension of their feelings. So keeping their hands to themselves is no small feat.

Even refraining from touching others’ property is tough. Those unfamiliar with school life may not know that children routinely identify whose jumper is whose by giving them all a sniff. They often pick up friends’ belongings to pass them on, fetch each other’s water bottles, and swap crisps when they think an adult isn’t looking. Children are far more physically attuned to one another than adults are, and younger children even more so.

We are not just asking them to change to slightly different habits, they are being deprived of some of their sensory needs and ways of expressing themselves. Without this outlet, some of their behaviour at break times can be temperamental. Using purely verbal communication is a hard adjustment for those used to using touch to reassure or comfort each other.

The pupils who are generally resilient have continued to be so. But for children who had worries, or problems with anxiety in non-pandemic times, the changes have given them more to feel insecure about.

Many schools pay for a counsellor or therapist to give support to those in need, but places are limited and children often have to be added to waiting lists before they can access the help that they need now.

The October half term is always the most intense (as everyone gets to know each other and settles in to work mode again), but this half term holiday is particularly needed.

Time with family will give the children a chance to be as physical and spontaneous as they want. They need a rest from having a timetabled day and specific ways of doing every task- from washing their hands to moving around the classroom in a one way system.

Have a wonderful half term, children. Pick up books without having to quarantine them, invade the personal space of loved ones, and sing as loudly as you want! You have definitely earned it.

The Secret Teacher has been a primary school teacher in East Anglia for more than 15 years

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