School's Out: Go the Distance, Keep the Distance

As school staff are finding their feet with running school Hubs, staying open for small numbers of children among the closures due to COVID-19, Mr W, a primary school teacher from Wales, reflects on the opportunity Hubs present to help children get a better understanding of our new social norms.


Children are magnetic. If you put a group of children who don’t know each other in a room, they will instinctively play. It’s one of the beauties of childhood; no judgement, no predispositions, just the desire to have fun. They will share stories or help each other play games. It’s also one of the joys of working with younger children, before the hormones and peer pressure set light to innocence and everything becomes uncool.


What does that mean for the new school Hubs?

The Hubs can be a lonely place for some children. Many schools may only have a single child accessing their Hub provisions. Staff will do everything in their power to make that child’s time amazing, but sometimes us ancient folk just haven’t got the same imagination or the zest as children to play with. We were excited about the prospect of the number of children accessing our Hub provision raising from one to five. Five children! Imagine the fun they could have.

And so they did. We took advantage of the amazing weather and played outside. Another school based down the hall came to join us with their lone pupil. All the children played together brilliantly. They had yearned for interaction with other children. They even kept their distance; they rode bikes and played games based on characters that us adults will learn about in six months’ time. It was idyllic. If there was one great thing to come out children attending the Hub, it was seeing children pull down their barriers and lift each other’s moods by playing wonderfully together.

The weather started to turn and the children decided they wanted to come in. As we are allowed up to ten people in a classroom, we asked the lonely pupil from the other school to join our children and play Minecraft. His eyes lit up, and his teacher came to join us and help supervise from a distance.


Attempting to take the fun indoors

We organised the children as per social distancing guidance, with two metres between each child. Seconds after sitting down, each of the children, without any sort of prompting, started to gravitate towards each other. We reminded them of social distancing and the importance of putting space between each other, but again, they sprung together like they were tied with elastic.

What we were seeing was not radically new or particularly surprising. Children like to be close to other people. In fact, they need to be close to people. Children rely on relationships to feel secure and being near others is a fundamental part of establishing a relationship.


Teaching a new type of lesson

It goes without saying that we are experiencing a once in a lifetime event. We are living through a pandemic that is indiscriminately killing thousands around the world. People have shifted their routines to limit coming into contact other people. As adults, we understand that by staying away from each other, we help to limit the spread of COVID-19 and help to flatten the curve of patients needing hospital treatment. We understand that by limiting our contact, we also help keep our families safe. However, children find social distancing extremely difficult.

Like everything in a child’s life, learning to do something takes time and practise. They may understand the basic rhetoric of ‘two metres away from everyone else saves lives’ but they need to understand how big a gap two metres actually is, and they can’t just pop over to see what a friend is doing or hold their work after they have finished with it. Most children won’t be able to comprehend how far social distancing extends. A child’s sense of personal space is still developing.


Honest communication and regular reminders

Put it this way - before we undertake an extended piece of writing in my class, I ask everyone the same two questions: What goes at the beginning of a sentence? “A capital letter, sir.” What goes at the end? “A full stop, sir,” they recite, rolling their eyes.

When I work with different groups, I can guarantee that at least one child on every table will have forgotten both of those things. Minutes before, those children were telling me the very things I was looking for. What we can take from this is that children learn to answer a request by using language they know will satisfy the answer. “What have we got to remember?” “Social distancing, sir.” But do they actually know what social distancing is? Do they understand what it entails? How much it alters communicating with other people? Probably not.

I try in my limited time in the Hub to help children not just know the words ‘social distancing’, but to help them understand the meaning. If you are looking after children during lockdown, I’d like to urge you to talk to them about what social distancing is. It doesn’t have to be scary, but honesty is the best policy when it comes to explaining difficult topics to children. It will help exponentially in keeping you and your family safe, and they can get back to playing safely and having fun again.



Read more from our School's Out series