By Stephanie Yeo, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times

24 May 2020 - 23:05

Mother and daughter wearing surgical masks
Parents can prepare their children for the new school term after the circuit breaker lifts by talking about the practices they must observe, such as social distancing in the canteen during recess time, and steps to putting on a face mask or shield. ©

The Straits Times

With classes resuming in stages from June 2, experts say parents should restart their children's school-day routines to help them adjust and talk to them about observing social distancing practices.

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While Ms Linda Othman has been preparing for Hari Raya Puasa today, she has also been making sure her sons are ready for Term 3 next month.

'While we are basking in our Eid mood, we still need to ensure that the kids have their things ready for school,' says Ms Linda, 42, whose sons are in Primary 4 and Secondary 3.

'Both boys have been told to keep their schoolwork in check, especially the teenager. My kids' issues are always the late-night sleeping during school breaks, hence we have started to readjust,' adds the co-founder of The Resource Campus, an online education provider.

She also has a 19-year-old son who is starting his basic military training soon and a 16-year-old daughter who is currently out of school as she has leukaemia.

After almost two months at home under the circuit breaker, children are finally going back to school - but with different schedules for various levels. And there are several things parents can do ahead of time to ease the transition.

Pre-schools will welcome children in stages from June 2 to 10, while students taking national examinations will resume daily classes from June 2.

Other levels will alternate between classroom time and home-based learning (HBL) every week.

Experts say parents should resume their school-day routines well before their children return to class to minimise problems readjusting after the extended break. They should also discuss the changes to school life brought about by social distancing measures.

Most children would have become used to their stay-home routines, so getting ready for school may be an issue, especially for younger kids, says Ms Pok QiaoXin, principal of Star Learners @ Pasir Ris. 

'During the drop-off period in the morning, we expect children to display separation anxiety, thus exhibiting behaviours such as crying, screaming and/or refusal to let go of the parent or caregiver,' she says, adding that it is natural for them to behave this way.

'Trust the school and know that this is only a temporary situation that will ease gradually. The crying and tantrums should lessen after the first week of school.'

She suggests that parents set up a back-to-school routine with consistently regular times for sleeping and waking up, as well as guide their children to pack their school bags and prepare their uniforms and accessories.

Ms Linda adds that parents should also check on the child's last lessons during HBL, so they can anticipate the upcoming ones, and make sure school supplies are sufficient.

Children take social and emotional cues from their parents, meaning that parents will want to make sure their kids are feeding off feelings of confidence and assurance on returning to school. 

Ms Mei-Kwei Barker, director of English Language Services at the British Council Singapore, on how parents should be mindful when they project their feelings amid the back-to-school preparations.

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Ms Mei-kwei Barker, director of English Language Services at the British Council Singapore, likens the transition to preparing kids for their first day at a new school.

Some parents will be worried about their children's safety in school post-circuit breaker and wonder if the precautions are enough, she says.

'Under these circumstances, parents should remain calm and be consistent in their behaviour to ensure their children do not pick up on their concerns and become overly anxious themselves.'

Some children may also be stressed about returning to school because of academic challenges, separation anxiety, safety concerns or other issues, so parents should have open conversations with them, she adds.

Mums and dads should also keep an eye on kids who have thrived under HBL and 'help them maintain their momentum, enthusiasm and focus' as they return to the traditional classroom approach.

Ms Joyce Lim, 42, for instance, feels that her four children, aged six to 13, learnt how to be tech-savvy and more independent during HBL.

Besides granting them much-needed 'breathing space from the daily drill', it also gave her elder daughter, who is in Primary 6, time to 'revise more thoroughly, under less stress', she says.

The stay-at-home mum is also looking forward to the staggering of school days for non-graduating classes, as it helps reassure her that schools will not be too crowded.

'It is important for the graduating cohorts to be back in school with their teachers and also to enjoy their last year with friends,' she says.

'With four kids, I do feel this staggering will also help me manage better, as I can spend more time with the children who have HBL for the week. It became rather chaotic when all four were at home.'

Ms Veronica Chua, who was director of well-being at Hwa Chong Institution for seven years, reminds parents to highlight the positives of starting school when they talk to their kids.

Such positive emotions help children overcome negativity and think creatively, says Ms Chua, co-founder of Happiness Scientists. It provides consultancy and well being training for staff and students of pre-schools and schools, among other services.

At the same time, they should ask their children if they have worries to share and paraphrase the concerns to show that they understand - for instance, saying, 'it sounds like you're worried about going back to school'.

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'Labelling the emotion the child is experiencing helps manage negative emotional experiences,' Ms Chua says, adding that parents can show their child an emotion wheel (available online) for a set of emotion words to spark further discussion.

'Let your child know that you will be there to support him or her. If there are things your child can do, but would like you to do for him or her instead, offer to do it together with him or her.' This will help build the child's confidence, she says.

Ms Pok says with pre-schoolers, songs and stories such as The Pigeon Has To Go To School by Mo Willems may work better in communicating the importance of school.

Parents can start a countdown calendar and share past photos of happier times in class, while still acknowledging their child's feelings.

As children aged two and older must now wear masks in school, Ms Pok suggests parents encourage the habit with pretend play.

They can prepare different types of cloth and surgical masks, then invite their children to play the role of doctor or teacher by putting masks on their soft-toy patients and students.

'In doing this, parents can educate the child on the importance of masking up and clarify any doubts the child may have,' she says. They can also practise wearing masks at home together.

Ms Barker says parents should be mindful of how they project their feelings amid the back-to-school preparations. 'Children take social and emotional cues from their parents, meaning that parents will want to make sure their kids are feeding off feelings of confidence and assurance on returning to school.'

Ms Chua adds: 'To the parents, please also take care of your needs and take time off for yourself too.'

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Counting Down

Ms Veronica Chua, co-founder of Happiness Scientists, which provides consultancy and well-being training for staff and students of pre-schools and schools, offers a countdown of activities parents can do with their children the week before school reopens.

They are written as statement prompts and questions, and can be adapted to the child's actual school start date.

May 26 (Tuesday)
Share five things you are looking forward to about starting school. Share anything you need Mummy and Daddy to help you with.

May 27 (Wednesday)
Write down five or more things you are looking forward to when school starts. Who are the friends you are looking forward to seeing again? What will be some things you will tell them? 

May 28 (Thursday)
Call a few friends and share with them the things you learnt or did during the circuit breaker.

May 29 (Friday)
Let us restart our family routine (waking up early every day, packing the school bag and so on). Work on the things you wish for Mummy and Daddy to help you with. 

May 30 (Saturday)
Write down five or more things you are grateful for and why. What is something you have learnt to do during the circuit breaker?

May 31 (Sunday)
Share with Mummy and Daddy what a good school day looks like.

June 1 (Monday)

Share with Mummy and Daddy three things that went well in Term 1.

June 2 (Tuesday)
Schools reopen. 

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Ms Linda Othman is preparing her school going sons
Ms Linda Othman is preparing her school going sons Ryqe (back row, centre), 15, and Ryle (front row, centre), 10, for school by readjusting their sleeping hours. With them are her husband Rahmat Ramli, 43, a technical specialist; daughter Rhea, 16, who is not in school as she has leukaemia; and son Ryzl, 19, who will start his basic military training soon. ©

The Straits Times

This article was originally published on The Straits Times.