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Return to school: finding space to listen and reflect

Bonsai tree growing on a rock, in the middle of clear blue lake

Monday 8th March 2021 brings another full return to school for children and young people and with that comes uncertainty, change, but hopefully also some sense of excitement and joy too.

A key focus for this return to school needs to be the opportunity for time to reflect on all that has happened, is happening and will happen. I have been lucky enough to be involved in projects throughout lockdown where we have gained the views of children and young people about what living through the COVID-19 pandemic has been like for them. Their responses are not always what you might expect – it is important not to make assumptions.

So what questions should we ask and how should we ask them…this will depend very much on the age and developmental stage of the child or young person, but there are a range of ways to explore and think together about what is happening and this does include acknowledging the more difficult experiences and thoughts too. Here are a few examples:

Be open to joy and sadness

Being open to asking about and listening to thoughts around what might have been enjoyed, but also missed, lost or unachieved during the pandemic is important. Having been at home or in their own small support bubbles children and young people may not realise that there were many others who missed out on a big Christmas party or feel frustrated that exams were cancelled or found it hard to attend school / learn from home without their friends.

Invite children or young people to share (spoken or written down on a piece of paper) one ‘enjoyable’ experience and one ‘tricky’ experience. This can be done in a small group or whole class – which ever feels safer for the children and young people.

Use stories to encourage conversations

I have recently read The Huge Bag of Worries (Virginia Ironside) and it offered the chance for a conversation about how it is OK to feel worried sometimes and how important it is to share our thoughts. I made a visual as a follow up to this activity – the ‘Thinking about worries prompt sheet‘ which can be used in conversations with children.

The Little Elf therapeutic stories are another fantastic option to encourage conversation and reflection about returning to school.

Play games

Board games, feelings bingo, chatterbox/fortune tellers, virtual question wheels or even physical activity games – stand up if you have felt bored during lockdown / wave your hands if you are disappointed that you had a lockdown Christmas / jump up and down if you have enjoyed being at home etc. This will provide a way to share different words to express and describe feelings and show that different people have had a range of different or similar experiences. It also provides a playful way to express, share and listen to each other.

Make time for one to one

Some children and young people may benefit from 1:1 time provide a sense of security and containment and allow them to share their thoughts and feelings.

Acknowledge, validate and share hope

Remember to acknowledge what you have heard and bring some hope for the future into the questions and activities. “Yes, it is rubbish that COVID-19 has changed so much, but – what can we plan for the next lesson, tomorrow, next week that gives us something to look forward to”.

Silence and not knowing are OK

Take time to reflect as a listener and responder to the thoughts and experiences children and young people bring. It is OK to just sit with these experiences, it is very likely you won’t be able to fix, change or mend what has happened for them and also important you don’t say that you can.

Think about any responses you might give and how useful or truthful they might be. For example, is it helpful to tell a child or young person not to worry and are you being truthful when you tell them that everything will be OK?

Take care of you

I will end with a call for self-care. It can be hard work and overwhelming being an adult working with and/or parenting children and young people, so be kind to yourself, seek support and opportunities to rest, recharge and be playful.



About Sarah Sivers

Sarah is an Educational Psychologist working in Southend-on-Sea. Sarah has a particular interest in involving children and young people in understanding and developing their strengths and ensuring they feel thought about and listened to.

View all posts by Sarah Sivers



One Comment so far:

  1. Anne Powell-Davies says:

    Thank you Sarah for your thoughtful suggestions for how we can welcome young people back into the whole school setting, and for giving some very helpful and practical advice to hold in mind, I particularly found the thinking about worries prompt sheet a very useful exercise!

    Your comments about self care are key . . .looking after ourselves so that we can do the best job we can for our children and young people

    Thank you

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