Entry 1 of a 3-week series by Eleanor Glennon
Play to Prepare
Schools across Ireland are preparing to open the doors in just a few short weeks. Teachers, SNA’s and other staff members in these schools are doing their best to figure out how they can provide the children of Ireland with an education, while also keeping them safe. Parents are also trying to navigate the current situation and may be experiencing feelings of uncertainty or worry in the run-up to the first day of school! Then we have children, who may want to return to school but fear that it won’t be safe. They may also be missing their friends while being fearful of being in a room with them. It is such a conundrum! However big and mixed-up these feelings may be for grown-ups, they must feel even bigger for the littles in our lives.
The question at the forefront of all of our minds is the same: How are we going to do this? Well, I say play is the way. According to Virginia Axline (1969), “play is the child’s natural medium of self-expression”. There are endless quotes across the internet stating the same thing, children communicate using play. So how do we utilise play as a tool in helping children transition back to school?
Did you ever play ‘school’ when you were a child? I certainly did- and pretend school usually mirrored real school. Your pretend ‘school’ memories will be individual to you, as they likely mirrored your unique perception of school. It was a way for you to prepare for going to school, manage difficulties which came up in the classroom, and process fears or worries in a safe way without you even knowing it. It is truly incredible what our brains can do!
Role-play, real-world play, sensory play, and all sorts of free play will be great outlets for children in the run up to school. It will also help children to settle in to school and come to terms with the changes which Covid19 is bringing. I will discuss this in more detail in my upcoming webinar, and you can find excellent information on this topic online! Social Media might be a double-edged sword at times, however there are so many accounts sharing helpful information on how to manage the back to school transition right now:
- @reachchildrens (amazing series coming up on returning to school! Tons of helpful parenting tips on their Instagram, too!)
- @ctc_childrenstherapyservices (great highlights on using play to prepare children for going back to school using playful tools like social stories and role-play)
- @teacher_turned_therapist (breaks down the government’s roadmap on returning to school and their focus on wellbeing)
- @deehollhan (great posts on separation anxiety and returning to school)
- @themompsychologist (fantastic posts from a psychologist in USA on helping children to manage stress during the pandemic and practical parenting tips on preparing children for big transitions)
- @littlepuddins.ie (excellent posts on preparing children with additional needs with their return to school, transition strategies which are particularly helpful for children who have an ASD diagnosis, and practical support for parents)
It is important to note that each individual child will need different amounts of preparation. As a parent, you are the expert of your own child (Winnicott, 1988). Therefore it is only you who really knows when it is time to start preparing your child for school. For some children, you will need to give them as much time as possible to mentally prepare for the transition. However for others, this may make the child more anxious. I will go over this further in my webinar, and how you can start preparing a child who is anxious by discussing school in a safe and gentle manner!
Be sure to look for some more suggestions in our next entry in this series next week.
Axline, V.M. (1969) Play Therapy, New York: Ballantine Books.
Winnicott, D. W. (1988). Counter-transference. In B. Wolstein (Ed.), Essential papers on countertransference (p. 262–269). New York University Press. (Reprinted from: D. W. Winnicott, “Counter-Transference,” “British Journal of Medical Psychology,” Vol. 33, 17-21, 1960)
Eleanor is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and Play Therapist at her private practice. After years of working as a Social Care Worker and SNA, Eleanor felt that play was the missing piece in her work (and life!). Jumping back into third level education, Eleanor recently finished her MA in Creative Psychotherapy! During her training, Eleanor also became a mother to her now 2 year old daughter and has since developed a strong interest in empowering and supporting parents.