Parents: ‘We’re both excited and nervous about the return to school’

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With many of Ireland’s schools reopening this week, we asked a number of parents from around the country to share their thoughts on what’s ahead.

Schools around the country are reopening after months of imposed lockdown due to Covid-19. Since March, parents and teachers have had to navigate the new world of homeschooling.

Ahead of the reopening, we asked parents to give us their thoughts on the return to school and the readjustment for their families.

Some of the families have already returned, some will be back next week. A number were nervous, some excited, but all are hoping that the return to the classroom goes smoothly:

Sharon, Galway, working mother of four

Before Covid-19, we had a busy household, like many families. Four children bring all sorts of challenges and both my husband and I work full-time, so it was ‘all go’. The kids are between eight and 14, so I have one in secondary school.

We have always been lucky with childcare and we have a great childminder nearby, while my mum (in her 70s) always helped out, too. We recently lost my dad but my mum has coped well and is always busy as she believes she’s still in her 20s. We’re so lucky she’s so healthy and well.

The children have had a great summer, no one could accuse my four of being lonely or bored – one of the benefits of having a large enough family. They’ve been in the garden a lot and school was a distant memory.

My eldest is going into second year this year. They all take the school bus and while we have had information regarding bus protocol we are unsure if there are spaces available due to new requirements of 50% capacity.

In relation to the return to the classroom – I am not a bit apprehensive at all! Our schools have been excellent when it comes to communication ahead of the reopening, in particular, St Joseph’s Patrician College (The Bish) so there are clear guidelines on returning and I am very comfortable with all of it.

I feel the Principals and boards of management of schools around the country deserve serious credit for all the work they’re putting in. I’m not involved in the sector, but from what I can see, the Department of Education could do with upping its game in relation to support of schools on the frontline.

No matter what comes, the kids need this, they need their education. Overall, we’re not a bit worried, though. Time to get on with it.

Catherine, mother of two, Dublin

As much as I am looking forward to the kids getting back to school, part of me is nervous. Although our school and teachers are obviously doing their best, they can only do so much with the space and building they have.

I saw pictures of my child’s classroom, and knew that “social distancing” was out the window. Children are seated side by side, and facing each other. Barely ten centimetres between elbows. My youngest has asthma and a history of very bad chest infections and pneumonia. That is a worry for us.

At drop off, first thing this morning, we were faced with the reality of school opening times that were not staggered. All the children piled out of cars on to narrow footpaths, trying to get in one gate, having to wade through adults, with no masks on, catching up.

It is so good for the kids to have some normality back but it seems to me we are giving our children mixed messages. We are sending them into classrooms that are ill-equipped and overcrowded, after all the effort and sacrifice they have made, to socially distance and keep the community safe, over the past five months.

It makes me wonder what all that effort was for. And I am hoping this doesn’t backfire in a few weeks time. I just hope there’s a plan B!

Darren, stay-at-home father of three, Dublin

I’ve been doing the majority of the kids’ homeschooling and managing tantrums while mum works in the attic office. I’m looking forward to the kids going back to school, I’ve ordered all their books, bus tickets and been active on all the Whattsapp parent groups!

We have three kids all going to different schools so it’s a full-time job managing all the emails and texts from the schools and trying not to mix-up dates and instructions from each school.

I’m not nervous about them going back to school because they’re already back in their sporting activities. I can already see positives from them getting plenty of structured exercises and meeting their friends.

School will bring structure and routine to their day, the younger kids need this; the older kid is more independent and gets up and out. The younger ones would play Fortnite all day if they could!

I’m not concerned they’ll catch Covid-19, we’re aware the danger exists but I’m of the opinion we could have all had it already but didn’t know or it didn’t impact us. I feel less fearful of Covid-19, maybe it’s been normalised and it feels like it’s part of life now or we have pandemic fatigue.

We still follow social distancing, wash hands and our masks are all second nature to us now – never leave home without a mask. The kids are all ok to wear masks in shops so school won’t be too much of a big change for them.

No, I won’t miss them, they’re only gone for a couple of hours and I get to have a break, so it’s a result for everyone!

Liz, working mother of two, Cork

I have two children in primary school and I work full-time as an essential worker. I think the time off school during lockdown has proved what an essential service schools are for children.

Children have suffered so much loss during this time – loss of education, and of intellectual, emotional and social development. And that is just kids who live in happy, loving homes. There are many others who have suffered neglect and abuse during lockdown, for whom school was their only safe haven.

My children are lonely and miss their friends, while my eight-year-old is worried that he’s become stupid (his word) because he’s missed so many months of school. They crave structure but after months without it can barely organise themselves to do anything, like get dressed or go out.

So, while I am nervous about one of them contracting Covid-19 once school begins because our number of contacts will increase, the school learning environment is vital their health and wellbeing, and I am delighted they will be able to see their friends and teachers again.

Martina, working mother of two, Clare

Homeschooling two young children, while my husband and I tried to work full-time, was hard. So, I am very excited about the return to school. I know some schools are opening this week, but our daughters return next week, which gives us a bit more breathing space to get ready.

However, the mad race in the morning is not something I missed in the past few months. The stress of getting to the bus stop on time. The uncertainty of ‘will there be the bus this morning or will we have to walk 2km and be late’. I’m not even going to mention all the tantrums and miscommunication that happens before we close the front door.

I am not afraid about the kids getting Covid-19 really. From what I can see, the statistics show that their age group is very unlikely to get it or have any symptoms even if they do get it. So we’re what you would call ‘quietly confident’.  

Angela, working mother of two, Dublin

I thought school would never start back but now that it’s about to reopen I am not exactly rejoicing. After months of working from home in a pressurised role where I basically spent the days shouting at the kids and trying to push them discreetly out of my zoom calls I’m sad to think of being home without them.

I’m not worried about them getting sick but it’s an odd feeling sending them off into this new world of masks and sanitising. I guess I liked our little bubble, even if it was a stress-filled one

It’s definitely the best for all of us and I’ll realise how crazy the past few months have been once there out the door and I’m no longer a full-time chef.

Dermot, working father of two, Dublin

It’s been an intense few months for every one of us, regardless of whether you’re a parent or not. My wife and I have been working full-time from home since lockdown began. The only thing about this remote working, while a great thing in some ways, is that the pressure grew in both our jobs so our daily working hours increased substantially. We often found ourselves doing 10 hour days, which brought a hefty dose of guilt about the kids.

The whole thing has been a massive juggle on both our parts, with some days going better than others. We have two boys, aged 6 and 8 and we’re lucky at least that they get on so well and were good, but I can’t say we did ourselves proud when it came to the homeschooling. It was patchy, at best.

On a good day, I’d stagger my hours while my wife worked early shifts, so I’d get the kids out to the park or do some colouring with them, then we’d try to get the homework going. My wife would take over later and get them out again. The aim was always ‘tire them out so they sleep’. 

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The bad days brought frustration, tired kids, too much TV, a trashed house and frayed nerves. Thankfully, we’re all still friends. On those days, my wife and I would find ourselves saying, “Eek, bring back school”, but now that it’s coming this week, we’re nervous for the kids, and we’re dreading the goodbye. Low and behold, I think we’ll miss them!

But we need the routine, we need them back in education, there’s no way we can’t get the school system going. The boys are doing ok and are looking forward to seeing their friends again. They’re definitely nervous, but we’re trying to talk about it in a positive way a couple of times a day.

I’ve no doubt it’s going to be a rocky few months ahead. I feel for the teachers, too, it won’t be easy for them with all the new restrictions. I have a feeling we will see our fair share of half days, half weeks, contact tracing calls, all that comes with Covid-19. As with lockdown, we’ll just have to take it day by day and do our best.

Jane, working mother of three, Dublin

Working from home with three children under 11 in the past few months has been so tough, but I know we’re not alone. The kids are happy overall but their attention spans have definitely declined in recent weeks.

For that reason, I cannot wait for them to get back to school.  It’s so important for my kids and all the other children in this country, especially those coming from homes without stability and support.

The only real concern I have is for my son, who has asthma and allergies. I am nervous about how this will work in relation to any time he sneezes or any Covid-19 issues. We’ll just take it as it comes, I guess.

Mary, stay-at-home mother of two, Stoneybatter, Dublin

I am literally bursting for the kids to go back. I cannot wait. It’s way better for them to be in with their friends other than sitting alone on a computer screen with parents shouting at them while trying to work.

I feel we have to weigh up the impact of the past few months on their mental health. It’s affected them, no matter what their circumstances. School is a great leveller so they need to go back.

In relation to the virus, I’m not as scared as was in March. I would love to know though if one sibling gets sick does the other sibling have to go home? What happens when all the Winter bugs kick in? Substitute teachers are few and far between on a normal day. It will be chaos for a while but hopefully will all smooth out. Fingers crossed, anyway.

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