Starting school under the new norm
A group of socially distanced parents stand in the early morning light, waving to their children through the windows of the nursery classes of the Early Years School, the British School of Amsterdam. Some children give a smile and a wave back before running off, eager to explore the activities in the classroom. Others need a little more time to settle and teachers lift them up to the classroom window so that they can blow a kiss and say goodbye, waving until their parents are out of sight.
This is what it now looks like every morning at the doors of the Early Years School. This is the effect of the new "norm" on starting nursery at the British School, where Covid-19 protocol for schools means parents are not allowed on the premises.
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A fresh start
Traditionally, the British School of Amsterdam runs an induction programme which aims to make children’s transition to the Early Years a positive and enjoyable experience. Parents join their child’s nursery induction sessions; they start to develop relationships with the staff in the school and support their children’s understanding if they are additional English language learners. They help their children form friendships - and they begin to develop friendships themselves with fellow parents.
Knowing that none of this was possible, staff have redesigned the induction process within the boundaries of the protocol to try to ensure a successful transition to school. Early Years parents and children are now invited to a virtual "home" visit prior to starting school. This meeting helped to build a bond between the new family and the teachers - children were encouraged to share a favourite toy or book with their teachers, and parents were able to ask questions or raise any concerns.
The day before the start of term, all the children in the Early Years were invited to a "zoom" story session. During this storytelling session, the children were able to meet their class teacher and the children in their class. Teachers read the story The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, which deals with the issue of separation anxiety children may face when starting school for the first time.
The length of the induction sessions was reduced, and extra staff were on hand so that there was 1:1 support for children who found it difficult to separate from their parents.
Making children feel at home
Despite careful planning and preparation, staff couldn’t help but feel anxious about children starting school for the first time in September. Nobody really knew how a child would react when confronted with the reality that they would have to say goodbye to their parents at the front door. Yet the staff's worries were largely unfounded, the majority of children came happily into school, waving goodbye to their parents, sanitising their hands - which to them is now so normal - and making their way to the window in the classroom to check that their parents were indeed ready to wave from outside. There were plenty of toys to distract them and soon many were engaged in their play.
At the British School of Amsterdam, staff cater to the needs of the individual child
Of course, not everyone found it easy. Some children didn’t make it over the threshold on the first day. Instead, staff chatted to their parents outside and played with the children on the square. A couple of children preferred to just play with the staff in the entrance hall, with one eye on the door to check that their parents hadn’t left. Parents were reassured that the induction programme didn’t need to be rushed and grateful that the staff were willing to cater to the needs of the individual child. Within a couple of weeks though, all the children in Nursery had settled into school and they are now thoroughly enjoying all the exciting opportunities that school offers. Watching the children excitedly playing outside, exploring the playground with their new friends and teachers proved to the school how important it is that children have these opportunities and that schools remain open as far as is possible during the pandemic.
Providing the best possible start to education
Naturally, parents are always concerned about their child starting school for the first time, and the added uncertainty of starting during a pandemic merely makes the entire process more nerve-racking. But UK government figures show that the number of children attending early years settings in the UK is continuing to increase following the start of the autumn term, as parents across the country realise the advantages of in-school learning for their children.
There is no doubt of the social and academic benefits of a child joining a pre-school setting. If you are thinking about your child starting school but are worried about the impact of Covid-19, please do not hesitate to get in touch. You can also arrange a virtual visit to ensure your child is comfortable and happy at the school.