Most pupils across the UK are returning to school this week after months of being at home.
While parents may be relieved at getting some time and normality back, for children and teenagers, adjusting to a new routine after the summer holidays can be tough.
And as if the return to school wasn’t enough pressure, parents must now also consider how to prepare their children for the ‘new norm’ due to Covid-19.
Speaking to FEMAIL, experts in children’s nutrition, sleep and parenting have shared tips and suggestions for the lead up to the first day of class.
So if you’re trying to get your children back into their sleep routine or attempting to settle their anxieties about going back to school, read on to see what the experts have to say.
Speaking to FEMAIL, experts in children’s nutrition, sleep and parenting have revealed tips and suggestions for the lead up to the first day of class. Stock image
MAKE SURE YOU’RE ORGANISED AND UNDERSTAND THE SCHOOL’S COVID PROTOCOL
‘Being organised is the key to the smooth running of the first few days back at school for your children,’ Georgina Durrant, author of 100 Ways Your Child Can Learn Through Play, told FEMAIL.
‘Make sure to double check the school website for term dates, start times, latest updates and any new COVID-19 protocols.
‘Make sure any forms are signed, bags are packed and you know things like when it is their PE day? Who’s having packed lunches? And which days they may be attending after school clubs or breakfast clubs etc.
‘I always advise parents to write it down, use lists, your phone, post its, wall planners – whatever works for you.
‘Check their uniform fits, is labelled and that their school shoes are comfy and their lunchbox is clean! There’s nothing worse than a lunchbox that has been left in the bottom of a bag all summer!
‘To make things as smooth as possible for the first morning get everything out the night before – uniform, bag, shoes (if you have older children you may choose to encourage them to do this themselves). And allow a lot more time than usual for the first morning.
GET THEIR SLEEPING PATTERN SORTED
‘A good night’s sleep in the days leading up to school is really important. And not just for children but for parents too!
‘If you’re feeling refreshed you’re much more likely to have a less stressful morning. And that positive, relaxed mood is likely to be passed onto your kids too for their day at school,’ Georgina added.
‘You could try encouraging your children to practise getting up early to make it feel less of a shock on the first day.
Spend time with the pet before you go back
Dr Kate Stephens told FEMAIL quality time with fluffy pals can be useful for kids before they head back to school.
‘Spend quality time with the family pet,’ she urged. ‘Some studies show that having an animal in the house could be great for the immune system and your gut microbiome in early years.
‘In fact, studies in infants suggest that having a dog may reduce the risk of asthma and allergies.
‘Others suggest that having more than one pet, especially dogs, had a more protective effect. A perfect excuse for a dog walk or puppy cuddles!’
‘Early nights are also really important and I’d advise starting them as soon as you can before they go back, so they are in a good routine.
‘If they are due to start school tomorrow though, don’t worry- an early night the night before is still better than nothing.’
Dr Kate Stephens, gut microbiologist at Optibac Probiotics, agreed that sleep is also important.
‘Not getting enough or sufficient quality of sleep can have a negative impact on your gut health, which can in turn contribute to more sleep issues,’ she explained.
‘While being at home encourages a more flexible routine, going back to school is the best excuse to implement a new routine to kickstart improved sleeping habits. Try to aim for at least seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night and ensure there is a good bedtime ritual not involving screens to help your child relax and recharge.’
MINIMISE SCREEN TIME BEFORE BED
Mandy Gurney, founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic, added that a good bedtime routine should be ‘fundamental’ to family life.
‘Start thinking about your child’s bedtime an hour before you want them to be asleep.
‘Tidy away toys and turn off all screens including phones, tablets and computers, as blue light can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Dim the lights in their bedroom, too – this will also help with melatonin production. During this hour, it’s also best to avoid giving your child any sugary food and drinks, as these could impact on their sleep.
‘Take your child for a warm, relaxing bath lasting no longer than 10 minutes; avoid making this pre-bed bath an opportunity for play time to prevent over-stimulation before bed.
Educating your children about Covid is essential before school starts. Stock image shows children in school with masks on
‘Afterwards, go straight from the bathroom into the bedroom. To keep the routine focused, it’s best not to go back into the living area as your child may become distracted.
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1. Be open. ‘It’s normal to feel anxious about your child going back to school after the summer break, but it’s really the best place for them. If you are worried about any of the changes to restrictions, speak to your local school to find out how they are preparing to reopen.
‘Things are going to be different than when they were last in school than when they were last in school – for example they may not have bubbles or any social distancing in the classroom, but important measures are still in place.
2. Educate your children about measures still in place.
‘Schools and colleges will continue to encourage regular handwashing, cleaning regimes, and keep space well ventilated. For secondary age students, schools and colleges will be asking them to take two rapid Covid-19 tests on returning in September, as well as them performing twice-weekly lateral flow tests at home. Most children get used to this very quickly, and it will ensure teachers know of any positive cases as early as possible.
3. Encourage good hygiene. Continue to make sure your children are regularly washing their hands, practicing the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach and generally sticking to good hygiene habits they’ve built at home will carry on at school. This helps to keep them and those around them safe.
4. Be positive. There are many things children will be able to do at school that they haven’t been able to do for a while – encourage them to go to after school clubs, take part in competitive sport as well as extra-curriculum activities when they can. Being able to do such activities with all their friends again, not just their bubble or year group, will be great for their mental wellbeing.
5. Don’t forget to get the vaccine! Thanks to the UK’s vaccine programme, we can start living with the virus rather than living in fear of it. To help reduce the amount of people catching Covid-19, all 16- and 17-year-olds can now have a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine – so make sure you book this in if you can before your child starts school. Find your nearest centre through the ‘grab a jab’ NHS online walk-in finder.
‘Each night while your child is lying down in bed or sitting on your lap, end your bedtime routine with a story. Listening to well-loved stories helps your child to relax and soon become a familiar part of their bedtime routine that your child associates with the end of the day and time for sleep.
‘While schools have been out for summer, children have become used to staying up later and sleeping in a little more in the mornings. Now that schools and nurseries are restarting, the big change in routine may be resulting in your child finding it more difficult to fall asleep. This may just be a matter of pressing the “reset button” on their sleep routine – if they are now taking an excruciating hour or more to fall asleep, it is important to teach them how to nod off in 10-15 minutes again.’
BE OPEN WITH YOUR LITTLE ONES
‘Children and teens may have concerns and worries about returning to school, and this is completely normal, especially with disruption to their last couple of school years due to the pandemic,’ Georgina explained.
‘Whilst you could sit them down to ask them about their worries, this may not be the most helpful approach.
‘Children are much more likely to open up if they aren’t forced to talk but instead provided with natural, opportunities to chat.
‘For older children this could be going on a family walk together, having a family meal at the table or taking part in sport together.
‘For younger children I’m a huge believer in the importance of play. Getting down to their level and playing with their toys together gives them the chance to bring up some concerns they have.
‘Also, children often “act out” their worries with their toys. So you could set up a toy school with them and observe the pretend interactions between the toys- is one of them nervous about going into the dinner hall?
‘Or worried about play time? It’s amazing what you can learn from watching them play!
‘Lastly, don’t panic if something goes wrong, everyone understands. There’s so much to juggle that it’s so easy to forget their packed lunch or a certain form. Don’t give yourself a hard time over it.’
Gemma Berg, a mother-of-two and former teacher who runs Peekaboo Learning, supporting parents with their children’s learning, suggested giving your child a pom-pom to keep in their pocket to squeeze, helping to alleviate any feelings of worry. If you are also feeling worried, then keep a couple in the car for the day of return.
‘For younger children it’s a great idea to speak with them about what will be happening a couple of days prior to returning to school,’ she said.
‘Taking them through the motions you will all be doing together in the morning and drawing pictures to support what you are explaining, so they can better retain and understand the information.
‘Buying a clipboard for your child is a great way to encourage them to do their homework; many children are reluctant to do work at home as they are stationary – a clipboard allows more movement and a feeling of freedom. This has worked for many of my parents I have suggested to try with the 1-1 children I teach, it can also be used for outdoor learning.’
Kate added to FEMAIL: ‘We all know that being active is a vital part of keeping our bodies and minds healthy, however emerging research suggests there may also be a link between physical activity and promoting a healthier gut composition.
‘Physical movement can also help keep the bowels moving, so keep up the walks and the family’s activity levels when getting back into the school routine.’
Dr Kate Stephens told FEMAIL quality time with fluffy pals can be useful for kids before they head back to school (stock image)
DON’T SPEND A FORTUNE ON UNIFORM
‘Many schools have second-hand school uniforms to sell at a discounted price which can be worth looking into,’ Gemma added.
‘If you have a class WhatsApp group, it’s worth suggesting a uniform swap if they have older siblings attending the same school.
How to compile your child’s lunchbox
Roz Kadir, nutritionist and adviser for Equazen suggests including something from each of the below food groups in your child’s lunch box:
1. Carbohydrate: Wholemeal bread, wraps, crackers, rice, whole-wheat pasta, couscous, noodles or potatoes are great for slow-release energy.
2. Protein: Lean beef, turkey, ham, an egg, flakes of tuna/salmon, beans or lentils, peanut butter or hummus. Omega- 3: If you’re not managing 140g of oily fish every week, add Equazen liquid or chews to make sure they’re getting their Omega-3.
3. Dairy: Cheddar or Red Leicester, cottage cheese, fromage frais and natural yoghurt. Vegetables: Baby sweetcorn, cucumbers and tomatoes, mini peppers and shredded carrots can all add to the mix.
4. Fruit: Easy peel oranges, bananas, raspberries, blueberries, small apples, kiwi fruit are all winners.
‘Thick masking tape from the pound shop can be used to stick and lay flat inside your child’s shoes easily as a label.
‘Draw a picture or write their name and cut it in half, sticking one half in each shoe so they can identify their right foot from their left and avoid losing their shoes in a sea of 30 identical pairs.’
MAKE SURE YOUR CHILD IS EATING LOTS OF FIBRE
Roz Kadir, a nutritionist, and adviser to Equazen and Colin Foley, a specialist leader in education told FEMAIL planning breakfasts and good packed lunches in advance is key.
‘Staying hydrated and good nutrition will stand children in good stead for maintaining physical and mental health during the school day.
‘To encourage good nutrition, involve your child in planning and preparing meals and encourage experimentation with ingredients and sourcing recipes. Ensure they get enough Omega-3 in their diet, its brain,’ Roz said.
Dr Kate added: ‘What we eat, especially foods that contain chemical additives and ultra-processed foods, affects our gut environment and increases our risk of diseases.
‘This impacts our mood, because it’s important to remember that 90 per cent of serotonin receptors are located in the gut.
‘Our gut health and diet has the potential to positively or negatively affect our mood. When the balance between good and bad bacteria is disrupted, this leaves us more as risk of disease and more unhappy in mood.
‘High fibre foods such as beans, peas, oats and bananas have been shown to have a positive impact on digestive health and will help keep your child’s bowel movements regular.
‘Another easy fix is swapping white bread or pastas for wholegrain alternatives, they might not even notice!
‘Probiotics are friendly bacteria that help to support and maintain a healthy gut and digestive system. Try supplementing fermented foods with a specially formulated children’s probiotic that’s easy to take and free of added nasties.’