Ding-ding-ding-ding. The school bell rings. And kids rush out screaming their happiness. We all know that meme-worthy moment so ubiquitous to childhood. But this year, things have changed. This year – one enveloped in COVID-19 precautions, where parents think first of the mask and the sanitiser before considering lunchboxes or ponytail styles – student responses to the tie-in of a whole school day have altered. Now, many instead of feeling a sigh of relief escaping their lips at the end of classes, look back with longing at the playground and classrooms.
As COVID-19 creates variations and distributes infections across the globe, the UAE has been both prudent and calculated in its safeguarding of young ones, resulting in a school year that may have safe bubbles in place but looks more like a normal school year than most in the world are going to experience. The kids are beside themselves with glee.
The Richards siblings – Monty, aged 8, and Scarlett, aged 11 – much prefer going to school. “It’s because they can play with their friends there,” explains Cherry Richards.
Monty, who is in year 4, says he likes having a teacher who’s a man, but he doesn’t like writing or waiting for his sister after school. And Scarlett, a year 7 student who is loving the science lab and meeting her friends, says she misses doing her homework in her pajamas.
At the Gupta home, Manvik and Mansvi are “more than thankful they are able to go back to school,” says mum Rimpy Gupta. “Last year they did blended learning – alternate days from home – and in that time also they couldn’t go every month, because sometimes the cases were on the rise, so they of course missed the school,” she explains. “They were very, very happy, very excited today when they came back. All I can hear is new teachers, friends and how they are liking being back. Even though today there was traffic and they came back very late - it took around one hour for them to reach home – they were not at all troubled [by it].”
Manvik, who is 14, said: “I was happy to see my teachers face to face, and not just through my laptop.” Eight-year-old Mansvi had a tempered view. “I could see my friends and talk to them though still can’t hug them,” she explained.
Ten-year-old Deena Ghazal is also enjoying getting back to school. She says, “I like it. It’s a new year and a fresh start. It’s like having new adventure.” For her brother Jude Ghazal, nine, it’s all about PE class. “I like running and playing football,” he explains.
"It is the amazing time," said five-year-old Alexandra Nicola Smith of Pristine Private School who recently started school. "My friends are Noor, Kaylin and the twins Christian and Celestian. It is great to make new friends. Miss Anika is our teacher and Miss Joy is our assistant and she is also a best friend."
Going to school in the UAE this year is a mixed bag - of trials and triumphs jumbled in with wants and want-nots - just as it should be. Except when the school bell rings.
Getting back on track after the holidays: A parent's viewpoint
Dr Vassiliki Simoglou, Counseling Psychologist at Thrive Wellbeing Centre, explains her experience on getting back to normal life after a break from work and school, recommending that all parents – and kids – take it one day at a time, one step at a time. She says:
“It had been two long years since we went back home, and the first time ever that we took a whole month off work! But as the day of our return was approaching, I couldn’t stop thinking how on earth we would get back to our routines again: would it be better to get back right at them all the way or take it slow?
Which approach to follow? Take it slow, one change after the other, or get back at it as soon as you return? No recipe fits all, take it by ear and adjust accordingly. My preference will be to fully get back at it, and if things become too demanding, decide where to be more flexible.
“Those prolonged holidays were coming to an end, and along with them the summertime carelessness, nonchalance and joie de vivre. And inevitably, the longer the vacation, the bigger the disruption from everyday routines. The prospect of coming back home entails not only resuming work and going back to school, which are challenges on their own, but also putting back in place all those lifestyle and functional routines for adults and their children.
“Indeed at the beginning of the holidays one tries to stay on track with those routines. But gradually as the days go by, especially in the case of long holidays, those rules are relaxed: kids’ bedtime timings and routines, diet restrictions, meals, meal planning and calorie counting, systematic and strenuous exercise is replaced by long days at the beach, indulgence in food, etc. But that’s precisely what holidays are meant to be, a break from all those internally and externally assigned limitations.
“So, which approach to follow? Take it slow, one change after the other, or get back at it as soon as you return? No recipe fits all, take it by ear and adjust accordingly. My preference will be to fully get back at it, and if things become too demanding, decide where to be more flexible. It might seem insurmountable but it was achievable before the holidays. Take it easy at the gym, but go back to your workout routine at the soonest, immerse yourself in your pre-holiday life. Particularly for children, make sure they can adapt to not being with their parents who will be going back to work, by putting extra effort into spending daily quality time with them.
“Cherish the holidays and the relaxation, the rules gone out of the window, feel no remorse, but do get back on track. And definitely, be sure to make the most of your weekly days off or the weekend,” she says.
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