We’re coming to the end of the six-week’s holiday, and it’s time to prepare to go back to school. This can be an exciting but nervous time for children, parents, and early years practitioners alike.
Older children may be returning to school, while younger ones could be making the leap from nursery to ‘big school’. Even if the children are just going back to their regular nursery hours, it can be an adjustment after so much free time and time spent with family and friends.
As early years practitioners, it is our job to make these transitions as smooth and stress-free as possible. Don’t worry, this is largely a matter of good communication and setting realistic expectations about what you are likely to get done in the first few days back.
Six weeks is a long time when you are a child, and small children may experience anxiety about going back to school or starting a new school if they were previously in a nursery setting.
Similarly, parents may be worried about sending their little ones to a new place or even just handing them back over and going back to work when they may have enjoyed lots of quality time with their children over the break. Of course, some parents may have been juggling working and childcare over the break, and the children may be missing their classmates and raring to get back.
This, too, can be distressing for parents who may feel guilty or sad that the child seems so keen to leave them and return to the nursery or classroom.
Hopefully, you have developed a good working relationship with the parents of each child in your care and can address any concerns before they arise.
For new children, it’s important to foster this kind of open communication from the get-go. Our ‘Partnership with Parents’ course can help you to navigate any issues.
If you haven’t done so already, organise a visit, so both the child and the primary caregivers can get a sense of where the child will be spending their days, the facilities available, and the basic routine.
Ease Back In
Don’t be too ambitious – If you are an early years practitioner who is welcoming children back after the break, it is important to ease them back into the routine.
The first few days back can be tiring. After weeks of running around and perhaps a family holiday, learning and structure can seem restrictive and wearing, so don’t plan anything too tasking for the first couple of days at least.
If you have new children coming in, a ‘getting to know you’ game or art project is a good way to break the ice and introduce the new member of the class. Depending on the children’s ages, you can help them to complete an ‘all about me’ worksheet, asking them to draw their favourite things, or play a simple game of catch where whoever has the ball can announce something they like or dislike. This is a good way for children to process information about a stranger they may otherwise be unsure of.
Make sure you take part so the children can learn a little bit about you too, putting you on their level.
Have everything ready for any new children, such as their peg, to help them to settle in quickly and feel like they belong.
Explain what you are doing and what the class will be doing next as you go along, so any new children don’t feel overwhelmed. This is also good to remind the class of routines and schedules following a long break.
Accidents and Setbacks
Things change quickly when you don’t see a child for a couple of weeks, and they may have developed new eating or sleeping habits, may have learned toilet training or even regressed slightly.
Don’t worry if one of the children has an ‘accident’ and doesn’t make it to the toilet, or suddenly needs a nap which they had previously grown out of. Keep the parents informed using the messaging function on our digital learning journal and reassure both the child and their parents that these things can happen after an absence or a change in routine.
There may be other behavioural slips, such as attention wandering, or short tempers. Again, explain that you understand there has been a break, but it’s time to get back into the usual routine.
Young children thrive on routine and should soon get back in the swing of their previous schedules and any ‘responsibilities’ they have, such as watering plants.
Encourage Kindness & Inclusivity
Any new children coming in will change the dynamic between the group, particularly if another child has moved on. Young children are naturally curious and inclusive but they may not like the change. Similar to introducing a new sibling, some children will be immediately delighted with their new playmates. For others, seeing a new child they don’t know using their friend’s peg or sitting in their chair may be confusing or even distressing at first. Remind the children that their friend is happy learning new things at their new school and help them to see that the new child is another potential friend for them.
This is particularly important if the child in question is in any way ‘different’ from their peers. Children do not discriminate based on any of the prejudices that adults learn. However, they may be wary of a new person who they struggle to communicate with or who is not as able to run or climb as they are, for example. Help the children to bond through teamwork exercises and make sure the new child is included in unstructured playtime.
With new children or even just the same class returning after a six-week break, a couple of teething problems are perfectly natural and should be viewed with perspective. Once everyone has settled back in, everything should fall back into place. Note any changes in behavior and monitor them, but don’t place too much importance on any setbacks. Maintain your usual routine, and the children will soon pick everything back up. Enjoy the new term!