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This is what kids really think about going back to school after lockdown

The Independent logo The Independent 23/02/2021 Victoria Richards
a group of people sitting in a tree © Provided by The Independent

After months of on-off starts, and sizeable chunks of time out of the classroom, it won’t come as any surprise to hear that children have strong feelings about going back to school.

Many are desperate to reconnect with their friends, and talk passionately about how much they miss being around children of the same age. Others are nervous and have internalised all of our messages – and some of our fears – around Covid-19. My four-year-old describes the pandemic in the terms of a superhero movie villain: “Coronavirus is mean,” he says. “It stops us cuddling our friends.”

In my personal experience, it can be summarised by what I saw at my local park on Sunday: a little girl, no older than six, out for a walk with her family – in full school uniform.

Anecdotally, at least, she’s not alone in wanting to “speed up” the next two weeks until 8 March, which is when the PM has told MPs all school and college students in all year groups can go back to the classroom, with outdoor after-school activities and sports also allowed to restart.

One mum told me her daughter wore her uniform all through the first lockdown; another said that at least once a week, her then reception-aged child used to disappear upstairs, and come down, fully dressed. “Weirdly, he couldn’t dress himself on an actual school day, but perfected the art for hanging round the garden,” she added.

Another parent told me that her eldest daughter, who had to stop after one term of longed-for reception, “has worn her uniform almost every day through half term”.

I wanted to find out more about the issue straight from the mouths of babes, so I asked Olivia, seven, how she felt about the potential easing of lockdown restrictions. She told me that if she were Boris Johnson, she would keep lockdown in place until “every elderly person and every adult with illnesses has had the vaccine – twice”.

She also told me she was “nervous” about going back to her state primary school in east London – but less because of the virus itself, and more because of the length of time she’s spent away from her friends.

“My friends might have changed – they might like different stuff, play different games, or like new things. They might have forgotten about me,” she said. “But I’m pleased that I’ll see my teacher again. I’m not scared to go back because school doesn’t feel different – I know it so well. I’ve been there for four years, and it feels like home. The only thing I’m worried about is my friends.”

Her brother Eddie, four, is also feeling hesitant. “I feel a bit good about going [back to school] but school is long,” he said. “I like home a lot more than school.” But he insisted he would be “brave” about going back in a few weeks, if it comes to pass.

Rafferty, five, said he “wasn’t sure” about going back to his state primary school in Yorkshire. “There’s two parts of me, and one thinks I want to go back to school, the other thinks not. It’s hard to decide,” he said. “The part that does want to go back, wants to see my friends and teachers; but the other part wants to relax and stay at home. Homeschooling is amazing because I get to stay with daddy, and he sometimes is a bit silly. I’m not absolutely sure if I am happy to go back or not.”

Whereas for his sister Azara, who’s 14, going back to her state secondary school in Yorkshire is nothing short of essential. “I’m most excited about seeing people,” she told me. “The whole idea of being able to talk to other people who are the same age as you, and having breaks and laughing with those who know what it’s like to be your age – not just having your family around you.”

Azara said that the one thing she’s worried about when it comes to returning to school is having to wear a face-mask – rules governing the wearing of masks in schools are likely be tightened, including making face-coverings compulsory outside classroom bubbles in secondary schools. “I understand why we have to, but because I suffer from panic attacks, I don’t like wearing them all the time because I feel like I’m enclosed and can’t breathe.

“But I definitely want to go back to school. I don’t like being alone; it’s important to have company, and I don’t mean constantly talking and having a conversation, but the feeling of someone ‘being there’, rather than having to email them. It’s being able to put your hand up and say, ‘Miss, Sir, can I have help?’, not worrying whether they’ll reply to you, or whether the WiFi is working.”

Connie, eight, told me she is “excited” about going back to her state school in east London, seeing her friends – and doing some “proper work”. “The work they send home doesn’t help me do very much,” she said. “I learn better in the classroom. But I don’t want school dinners – I like home lunches, and play-time at home is better because we get longer. I’m also sad to spend less time with my family, and less time in the park.”

Whereas Leah Ora, 12, said lockdown has made her realise how important her friends are to her – and she is “desperate” to get back to her Orthodox Jewish state secondary school in north London. “A few weeks into lockdown, I was feeling like it would be ‘nice’ to go back to school again,” she said. “But now I feel a bit more desperate. I am sure going back will take a bit of time to adjust, but I am ready for that – I’m just eager to slowly get back to ‘the old normal’.”

Her brother Yeshaya, nine, said he “can’t wait to play football with friends again” once he returns to his Orthodox Jewish primary school. “I’m not looking forward to doing more school work,” he added. Their sister, Temima, eight, who attends an Orthodox Jewish private school, said she was feeling “very happy in one way, because it is much easier than online. But on the other hand, I'm a bit sad, because I will be seeing my family less.”

What these conversations have taught me, more than anything, is that it’s time we listened to our children. They may be small, but they have big feelings. They also have insight, passion – and much more awareness of the intricacies of the pandemic (and their emotions around it) than we may give them credit for.

In my case, nobody is more vigilant in checking up on us all during lockdown than my four-year-old son, who likes to shout out every time someone exits the toilet (regardless of who might be in earshot): “Have you washed your hands?”

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