As primary schools open over the next 2 weeks, there is considerable anxiety amongst teachers, and especially amongst those teaching infants, where social distancing is not required and where the children will find the new requirements even more challenging to follow. Below are some tips for Infant teachers for navigating these first few weeks.
All of the government’s guidelines and resources for opening schools can be found here. There is also a helpful video for children from Infants – 2nd class explaining what school will be like and the importance of handwashing and telling the teacher if they feel ill.
Be Prepared for Change
- Be prepared that schools may have to close and a return to distance learning, or blended learning may need to be implemented. Be flexible in your approach and have the mindset from the outset that things may change. This is true also of our plans for reopening and how we envisage our classroom set up and routines will be. None of us have been in this situation before, and so, the plans we put in place now, may not go accordingly and may need to be changed and refined as we find out what does, and doesn’t work on the ground.
- Set up your class on your chosen distance learning platform in September so that if there is a school closure, the class and parents will already be familiar with it. Seesaw and Class Dojo work particularly well for younger classes.
- Try to teach the routines and skills that children will need for remote learning early in the year in case there is a school closure. For instance, if you intend to use workbooks, get the children and parents familiar with how they are to be completed so they can carry on at home if needed.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Class teachers can’t be expected to do all of the extra cleaning needed and to provide work for children who are unable to attend school as well as teaching their class. If you are overwhelmed, ask a SET college for help, or add it to the agenda for a whole school meeting.
Practical Matters – Hand hygiene and Cleaning – What do the guidelines say?
If hands look dirty, they need to be washed for 20 seconds with soap and water and dried thoroughly. If hands look clean, sanitiser can be used. If possible, have a SET teacher to help for the first week to take children individually to ensure they know how to wash and dry their hands properly. Make sure they also know how to flush the toilet, and use the soap dispensers and hand sanitiser dispensers in school as it will be different to what the children use at home. I have often had infants not know how to flush a toilet with the dual flush button that we have in school!
Hand hygiene should take place:
- On arrival to school
- Before eating or drinking
- After the toilet
- After using the toilet
- After coughing or sneezing
- When hands look dirty
Cleaning will be increased and your school will have been given additional funding for this. Clarify with school management exactly what the cleaners will do and what you are responsible for. You may be required to:
- Clean toys once per week
- Clean down your desk, computer and work area daily
- Clean children’s desks during yard times
Curriculum – What will I teach?
- Certain aspects of the curriculum are to be prioritised initially i.e. SPHE, PE, Language and mathematics.
- A big emphasis will be placed on well-being. The key message is “slow down to catch up”. Take time to settle back into school rather than ploughing ahead with curriculum work.
- The month of September will be focused on settling in, establishing routines and catching up on missed learning from the previous year.
- SPHE should focus on the promotion of personal hygiene including proper hand washing. Ensure that Stay Safe and RSE are taught early in the year.
- PE should from a significant component of timetable as it contributes to well-being. Children should work individually or in their pods, use minimal equipment and use out door spaces if possible.
- A big emphasis should be placed on language and talk and discussion.
- Arts education and SESE can take place through integrated learning experiences.
- Use the outdoor environment more often when planning for curriculum work e.g. nature trails.
- Use play as a methodology is important for developing resilience and wellbeing. This means that Aistear can and should go ahead. Avoid having the children move between groups, or sharing toys with other groups during play. They can share toys amongst their own group.
My Top Tips for the First Day with Junior Infants
- If children are anxious about starting school or you know you have children with SEN starting, send a social story with photos of yourself, the school and the classroom, or do a video tour and send that home in advance
- Parents won’t be able to enter in the classroom, but you could share videos/ photos throughout the day with them on your school’s social media or via an app like Class Dojo so they can still see what is happening
- Communicate your expectations to parents clearly in advance of the first day. Encourage them to remain enthusiastic and excited so their child will be too. Reassure them about the measures the school is putting in place to keep their child safe. If they are anxious, their child will pick up on this and will also be upset.
What about Planning?
I have very detailed plans for Junior Infants as well as Senior Infants and multi-class infants for the entire month of September based on the reopening guidelines in my Mash Store. If you are teaching Infants this year and are worried about the return, and unsure about what to teach and how to follow the government guidelines, then these are the plans for you!
Want to hear more?
Earlier in August, I had a chat with Dee from Playful Classroom and Simon from Mash.ie about the reopening of school and what this will mean for infants and also SEN. You can watch the chat back on Facebook or YouTube.