How to be an ally to your school going child

5 WAYS TO BE AN ALLY TO YOUR CHILD IN SCHOOL

Here in England we are three weeks into the new academic year. After a wonderfully relaxing summer of camping, festivals and family time we were all gearing up for the new term to begin. Just hours into the first day my phone is alight with emails and messages from the School Office, reminding me that the holidays are well and truly over and the endless influx of homework, targets and behavioural expectations have begun once again in earnest! It’s easy to forget during the holidays just how full on being a pupil at school is and how much pressure the children are under each day.

In the frenzy to get the children to school on time each morning, whilst simultaneously updating their reading records and signing the right permission slips,  it is far too easy to fall in to the rigid expectations of the education system and neglect the needs of the whole child. However, in order for our children to put the best version of themselves into each day I believe we need to be their allies and advocates when the pressure of school gets too much. Our role is to support the natural flourishing of their body, mind and soul as best we can. Over the years (I have now been a school mum for 5 years) I have found the following 5 things to be the most useful in helping children remain as the unique individuals they were created to be and not get swallowed up by the restrictive assumptions of school:

1. Create your own routines to stay connected
Whether this be going for a special hot chocolate after school each Friday, going to the same place on holiday year on year, or always going for a walk in the dark once the clocks go back, familiar routines help children feel safe and secure. Creating your own family rituals and patterns builds a sense of belonging and familiarity that can give children connection around school life.

My favourite routine at the moment is our ‘Family Night’ when after dinner we clear a space for craft, lay blankets on the floor for an extended story time or each choose a board game to play together. We aim to do this on a Friday evening after a full week of work and school and be completely present for each other. The boys love any chance to spend some unhurried time with us and have often used this space to ask questions they know will take some time to answer, such as ‘ Why do my friends call me gay?’ and ‘How can I tell them they make me feel sad?’. As heartbreaking as these questions are to hear, I am so glad they have a space in their busy week to confront these big feelings in a safe and non judgmental place.

2. Take time to transition and unwind
Starting school, whether it’s your child’s very first day, or they are simply going back after a holiday, is a big transition. Allow them time to adjust to the new routine and relax once they get home rather than rushing to a new club or beginning homework the moment they walk through the door. When my eldest first started Reception he would come back with these epic emotions that hadn’t been released during the day and quite frankly he wasn’t much fun to be around. It took changing out of his uniform, space alone in his bedroom and a wholesome snack before he was recharged ready to spend time with us. Home should be the sanctuary for a child; the safe place where they are always accepted, respected and allowed to be themselves. So keep school related work and questions to a minimum until they are ready to engage.

3. Ground yourself in Nature
Being outdoors and immersed in nature is a surefire way to become grounded again and has helped my children immensely when they have felt caught up in the frenetic energy of school. It is therapeutic, restorative and relaxing. Whatever the weather, being outside can lift the spirits and give children and their parents better perspective; helping approach school tasks and learning with a clear and balanced mind.

My son recently fell from a tree, whilst in the garden and needed 6 stitches on his knee. The next day he was bouncing around as normal, showing that enviable resilience children have, whilst I was completely consumed by these really dark and guilt ridden thoughts. After a full week of feeling out of sorts I sought comfort in nature and took my smallest charge along with me to the local woods. Just the feeling of the soft earth under my feet, the tall trees completely enveloping us in their protective shelter and the smell of the early morning dew lifted the dark cloud over me and I felt recharged and ready to fully immerse myself in motherhood once again…and not wince every time one of them climbs a tree!

4. Stand Firm in your beliefs
When my children first started school I was very keen in allowing them to take the lead on their transition to full time hours. They are both Spring-born babies so did not legally have to attend full time until the Summer term. I had to be steadfast in my beliefs that there is no rush to be at school so young, but it paid off and by the time the boys were ready to be there all day, everyday they were mentally and emotionally prepared.

If you too are unsure of the impact full time school will have on someone so young, or if you believe the amount of homework set for the holidays will take away from unwinding after a long school year or your child is still recovering from a major illness and needs to come home at lunch, speak up and challenge school perceptions! Contact the Head Teacher and explain your thoughts. The child’s voice and needs are so important in helping maintain a healthy school attitude.

Having always been terrified of authority this is definitely the area I struggle most with, but striving to be an advocate for my children I have grown in confidence when speaking or emailing the head teacher. Funnily enough she isn’t as scary as I first thought and in offering alternative view points I believe we can learn from each other and broaden our understandings.  She let me flexi-school two children after all!

5. Give them Well Being Days

With schools favouring brain based and physical learning, it is very easy for children to become wearied by academic life. Their hearts and minds just aren’t catered for in equal measure. Whenever my children show me that they are feeling less than enthusiastic, that their confidence is waning and their happiness is compromised I will give them a day off school! We call these Well Being Days and they simply mean giving the child a day at home, just as you would if their physical health wasn’t in tip top condition, to recharge, relax and be close to the people they love.

My eldest still needs more of these days than his younger brother at the moment, perhaps up to one a term and he will usually come home after dropping his sibling at school to empty the craft cupboard. He loves to make and draw and express himself creatively, so as soon as he has time to lead his own ideas he heads straight for the art stuff! Once he is focused and engaged with a project you see a noticeable shift in his mood and he often relaxes so much he will fall asleep in the afternoon!  When I share with the class teacher how much more settled his mood is after a Well Being Day, they often share how they wish they were brave enough to take their own!

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The many pressures of being at school can easily tire out even the most robust child, but I believe allowing the chance to unwind, refresh and restore between school hours leads to a healthy mind, body and soul; enabling the children to fully engage in both school and family life and put their best self into each situation.

Rachel Solly lives in the UK with her three children and blogs at Play At Home

Mummy.

Would you like to share the ways you are an ally to your child? We love to help people tell their stories- it is inspirational for other parents to hear practical ways of being an ally to their children. Please email Lucy on lulasticblog@gmail.com

1 Comment

  • Sarah October 5, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Brilliant. So many of these things I do too!
    I agree what you are saying about the transition from summer holiday to school it can be a really tricky one.

    Reply

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