As we return to our lives in the new normal, students have slowly made their way back to school. Schools were once the epicenter of a child's daily life wherein they learned to socialize, and in the absence of the threat of COVID-19, one that they naturally integrated into. However, after two years of remaining indoors with close to no social interactions, they require time to adjust to this unexplored environment.
Children across the globe are showing symptoms of stress and trauma in post-pandemic times, though the degree of trauma experienced may vary depending on their developmental stage, and other external factors. Some symptoms are temporary, like increased episodes of crying (more while dropping children off at school), change in food or sleep patterns, nail-biting, thumb-sucking, displays of aggressive behavior, etc. These symptoms, if addressed correctly, can guide children to develop stability in their emotions, and learn to understand them better.
In the context of children going to school regularly, it is without a doubt that children look up to their teachers to guide and help them navigate their overwhelming thoughts and feelings outside of their homes. They play a big role in acting as a bridge to the outside world and are responsible for providing a safe space in the school to help the little ones deal with separation anxiety brought on by being away from their homes.
Meghna Yadav, Child Psychologist and Head of Training, KLAY tells how teachers can provide a secure and enriching environment for children at school:
1. Learning through nature - In the past two years, children have been confined within the four walls of their homes, mostly glued to the screens in front of them. As they are back in school, children will once again get to engage with the world around them that they previously lost touch with. Teachers could go beyond the four walls of the classroom, and help children learn through nature. The research titled 'Do Experiences With Nature Promote Learning' studied the relationship between nature and learning, finding an improvement in attention, self-interest, discipline, and enjoyment in learning. Conducting classes around nature, perhaps in the school park or under a tree, will help teachers provide a calmer, quieter, and safer environment for children to learn in.
2. New technology in classrooms - Online learning during the pandemic opened up avenues for teachers to teach concepts creatively and broaden their horizons when it comes to imparting general awareness. A field trip, for example, could be organized in Italy where children learn about the art, language, and currency of the country virtually. Interactive learning helped teachers make stories like Gulliver's Travels come to life. Drawing from their experience of engaging technology during the pandemic, teachers will have to go beyond traditional modes of teaching and incorporate innovative tools to engage and spark children's curiosity. This will make children look forward to learning in school.
3. Employing 3 R's for emotional regulation: Teachers should keep the mantra of the three Rs in mind to help children navigate/process their anxieties-
Reassure: Providing age-appropriate information to children about the school safety checks in general and at the same time, reassuring them that they are safe in classrooms, will curb their worries about health. Further, talking about ways to keep expressing themselves will send the message that teachers are available for them.
Routine: Giving predictability and structure to children's brains ultimately leads to a sense of control over any situation. Providing children with a set routine through classroom timetables involving fixed timings for activity time, circle time, outdoor playtime, and meal times will greatly reduce anxiety among children.
Regulate: Teachers need to regulate their own emotions to teach children self-efficacy as they begin new academic sessions. Children keenly observe and absorb the way adults respond to changing and stressful situations. So, teachers need to be role models for children by staying strong and calm in tumultuous situations.
As the First Lady of the United States, Jill Biden once said, "Teaching is not a job. It's a lifestyle. It permeates your whole life." Teachers leave the best of themselves with children, who learn and grow into the future generations that lead the country. Bringing in their unique touch to support children requires training to meet the changing demands of children. Investing and developing essential skill sets that can ease children into school is instrumental in making them well-rounded adults. (AA/IANS)