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There's still joy and fun in socially distanced schools

Andrea Strachan

 

Joy in Social Distance

Going back to school may seem daunting but, if done safely, the same magic classroom moments will occur each and every day, so don't feel defeated before you've even started.

I recently read an article posted on social media about a return to school experience that was very negative.

A teacher wrote that they had returned to school with social distancing measures in place and suggested it had taken all of the joy out of teaching.

I could see parents and other teachers (who had not yet experienced a return to school) responding in panic to this article.

I want to share that my experience could not have been more different – the time I have spent so far back in the classroom has been some of the most joyful I have known.

Adapting to the new ways

I am a Canadian teaching kindergarten in Singapore. After an eight-week lockdown in April, we returned to the classroom in June for the final three weeks of term.

We had a very short amount of time (one day) to go in and set up our classrooms according to new social distancing guidelines so that we could safely welcome the children back to school.

Furthermore, these new guidelines were very strict (understandably so):

  • Social distancing in the classroom and mandatory wearing of masks.
  • Class “bubbles” (no specialist teachers, no mixing of classes, lunch in classrooms, designated class play spaces).
  • Ongoing hand-washing and sanitising throughout the school day.
  • No non-essential adults allowed on campus and no in-person meetings or socialising with colleagues.
  • No sharing of class materials.
  • No after-school activities and we had to leave the grounds immediately at the end of the school day.

Yet, despite these stringent measures, we managed to maintain this new normal for the final three weeks of the school year and had near-perfect attendance.

And do you know what? It was awesome.

We can do this – and have fun

Returning to school in person in June was a gift to us all, because it showed us that we could do this.

We could adapt and continue to educate children in ways that are rich, meaningful, engaging and joyful.

After eight weeks of remote learning, the children were delighted to be at school and they had never behaved better.

They wore their masks and face shields with no complaints.

They took the social distancing guidelines seriously and respected the new rules.

We created new class routines together and just got on with the business of learning.

We found that we were able to continue with lessons similar to the ways we had before, with a few simple adaptations. Prior to Covid-19, for example, we would mix a class batch of playdough at the start of the week that would be shared at a centre. 

With social distancing in place, we simply had children mixing their own personal playdough each week.

They had fun working at tables together (sitting one metre apart), chatting about the sensory experience, choosing their colours and mixing their dough. 

As a result, they are now experts at making their own playdough!

The fundamentals remain the same

When we finally had made it to the last day of school, we were sad to say goodbye to our very special classes.

We were very thankful that we had the opportunity to end the school year together, in person.

It was heart-warming to once again witness first hand the resilience of children, the passion of educators, and the creative lengths to which people will go to find ways to connect with others when faced with extraordinary circumstances.

I now know that there are no guidelines that can be put in place that will stop our students from enjoying their time back in the classroom with their friends and teachers.

With these new experiences behind me, I feel confident that we can face the uncertainty of this new school year together and have the ability to adapt to whatever challenges and opportunities are thrown our way.

It’s a strange time for all and of course I know everyone’s experiences are different, and for those in tougher circumstances, for whatever reason that may be, the fear of returning is not to be dismissed or ignored.

But for those steeling themselves for their return to the classroom, convinced a socially distant classroom will lack joy, or feel sterile, I feel confident to say this will not be the case.

You will still find teaching the wonderful experience it always has been.

Andrea Strachan is a kindergarten teacher and head of grade at the United World College of South East Asia in Singapore. She has taught internationally for 25 years.

This article was originally published by Tes (originally The Times Educational Supplement, now a digital community of over 13 million educators around the world) on 6 August 2020 titled, 'There's still joy and fun in socially distanced schools' and is reproduced with permission.