Physical Space and Physical Distance

Keep Calm – Stay Wise – Be Kind (Action for Happiness)

If you’re feeling a bit weary as the current situation continues why not download the Action for Happiness calendar for June: Joyful June.

As we begin to adjust to the “new normal” brought about by the COVID19 pandemic, our individual and collective actions and experiences in the coming weeks will shape and influence the longer term impact of this crisis. Whilst national policy decisions remain outside of our direct control, our work with schools, families and children offers opportunities to support a more resilient return to education after the disruption of recent weeks. I have felt proud this week of the leadership shown by my colleagues in the British Psychological Society Division of Educational and Child Psychologists (BPS/DECP) in providing clear, practical, evidence-informed and resilience-focused guidance for schools as they plan their next steps for pupils and staff: Back to school: Using psychological perspectives to support re-engagement and recovery.

Over the coming weeks through this blog we will be gathering and disseminating information, advice and resources building on the psychological advice provided by the BPS, starting this week with advice related to the changes in the physical environment in school. However, all of the recommendations are underpinned by a focus on building resilience: “During this crisis, there is a risk that the narrative around changing policies and school transition becomes dominated by the language of risk and trauma. Coping is important to protect ourselves from stress and it is important to connect with the ways in which we are coping with this challenge.”

There is, understandably, much focus at present on the needs of children returning to school. However, a greater number of children and young people are in fact still at home, and headteachers are predicting that disruption to schooling may continue into the Autumn Term. It is important that we continue to consider the needs of children at home, and that we continue to support their resilience during this time. Promoting resilience using a simple set of principles includes: creating positive goals; tracking positive change and reducing risk whilst enhancing strengths. You might like to revisit our webpages and previous blogs for more ideas about promoting resilience, positive psychology, and home learning for children.

Changes to the Physical Environment

As schools begin to prepare to welcome more children back, Headteachers and their staff have been asked to design and develop school systems that will reduce potential virus transfer amongst the school community. This will involve seeking to reduce each child’s number of close physical contacts as far as possible – a practice that has become known as ‘social distancing’ although the preferred term, and the one we will use, is ‘physical distancing’. For children and staff, the biggest initial change will be in the physical environment of their school.

The BPS guidance, “Back to school: Using psychological perspectives to support re-engagement and recoveryrecommends strategies to help manage this new physical organisation, including:

  • Communicating with families and pupils to explain as clearly as possible what has changed and why

Schools could consider producing briefing letters with photographs of changes to the physical organisation of the school; make follow up calls to parents and carers to explain how the school day will be organised for their child and encourage parents to prepare their children for what to expect; short films could usefully show changes in the physical organisation of entry points, corridors and classrooms.

These preparations with photos and films will be most helpful for children who experience anxiety or who find change difficult to manage.

A range of organisations are producing resources including visuals and social stories. We have complied an initial resource list here and we will upload more resources to our website over the coming weeks.

  • Discussing and explaining new rules to children when they return

Key points here include using developmentally appropriate language to explain and discuss the new rules for staying safe at school; engaging children themselves in generating their own ideas and rules

  • Promoting hygiene behaviours

Take some time to think through the logistics of the regular handwashing routines and give time to introduce and practice these until children are comfortable with the new routines. Children should follow a handwashing routine on arrival, before and after break, before and after lunch and before leaving school.

  • Continuing to support blended learning

There is likely to be ongoing disruption to schooling and an ongoing need to engage in an online curriculum at home alongside school based learning. Schools will need to continue to consider how best to support the learning of children at home.

  • Children with additional needs

Some children with additional needs may find it hard to return to school. Children with autism may require specific support to help them adjust to changes in their school routines and environment. Other groups to closely monitor include looked after children, those recently adopted, those with Education, Health and Care plans and all children in need.

Support services and teams who know your school will be well placed to support and are already thinking about the issues and the supporting materials needed. Supporting professionals include Educational Psychologists; Speech and Language Therapists and specialist teachers: ask for and use the help that is available.

You might have missed…

Manchester Mind have recently updated their services for young people with some new offers for 15 – 25 year olds, including a counselling service, a phone and email service (Listening Ear) and a Virtual Wellbeing café. If you know of a young person who is struggling at this time, there is more information on the Manchester Mind website here.

As the novelty of home-based life wears off, we might all need a boost to our mental well-being. The Manchester Mind website has ideas and activities to support well-being for everyone. I particularly enjoyed browsing their suggested ‘feel good’ films.

Contact us 

Email: [email protected]

Facebook: @catalystpsychology

Twitter: @catalystpsych

Instagram: @positivity_project_manchester