When we welcomed the children back through the school gates after lockdown, they walked in with an entirely new set of needs. We were met with pupils struggling to cope with their feelings of both excitement and anxiety.
These intense feelings caused a significant amount of overwhelm, which of course culminated in array of behavioural changes.
We are very lucky at St Margaret’s CofE Academy that we don’t have many behavioural issues, but it was clear to myself and my staff that instances of bad behaviour were much more frequent after the children returned from lockdown.
There is a myriad of reasons the issues could be attributed to. Some children had been very engaged during lockdown and completed a lot of work; others had not done much schoolwork at all and had been hard to communicate with. It was clear to see that there were not only gaps in their learning, but also that some children were struggling with their social skills.
Despite many friendships flourishing as the children returned to school, we noticed that some were more hesitant. Children who were previously chatty, friendly, and confident were now reluctant to interact, put their hand up or answer a direct question. Some even found it hard to make eye contact.
Before COVID-19, many would have been able to share with us that they felt sad or worried and explain the circumstances, but since the national lockdowns there are times when they seem unable to articulate how they are feeling. It may be that some of the children have overheard conversations about parents losing their jobs, money worries and relatives being ill in this time frame. All of which is likely to have taken a toll on them, even if it is unknowingly.
I knew we needed to do something to help them with this transition. I had been looking into the benefits of wellbeing areas for some time and decided that now was the right time to implement these spaces throughout the school.
My team agreed that our school needed specific environments where children could go to feel safe, happy, and have their own space. Over the Easter break, staff worked tirelessly in their own time to develop mindful, wellbeing spaces across the school. Our school community even pitched in by providing plants and turning their expert hands to tending the mindfulness garden.
We made use of the space we had available to us as best as possible - both indoors and outdoors. Outdoors we created a quiet and comfortable reading area, and a brightly coloured mindfulness space, with lots of natural elements. In our classrooms we now have wellbeing baskets which have stress balls, blankets, books, sensory toys and playdoh.
The children love the outside space, where they can tend the plants and vegetables and feed the birds. Being outside can be really calming for them and already we have noticed the behavioural blips have evened out. It is clear to us that the children are making use of the areas when they aren’t feeling great, even if they are unsure why.
Sally Finch is executive headteacher of Vine Schools Trust, St Margaret’s C of E Academy.