By Puja Chandra Nanda

Singapore progressed into Phase 2 last week after the COVID-19 circuit breaker ended on June 1. However, even as more people return to work, study, shop, dine and socialize, several restrictions remain and things are different from how they were before the pandemic. This “new normal” is expected to stay for many months and we need to learn to live with it as normally as possible.

The pandemic has impacted young children as well. It has affected the way they go to school, play, study and interact with their friends. Schools and caregivers both collectively play a part in helping children adapt to the new normal.

Here is What the New Normal looks like for Children at School:

Children wearing masks in class – Pic courtesy OWIS
  • Daily Temperature checks and responding to questions on other respiratory symptoms
  • Immediate isolation for those who have fever or other symptoms with instructions to see a doctor. Children might need to stay at home till they are completely well. Older children need to be prepared for swab testing if required under the Expanded Surveillance Testing.
  • Safe distancing – Children need to adapt to changed arrival, dismissal and recess timings – crowd management measures implemented by most schools. Children also need to adapt to sitting alone, away from their friends or in small groups as seating is spaced out in classes and canteens to minimize physical contact.
  • Masks and shields – Children need to adapt to wearing masks for 7 -8 hours a day (except while eating and during PE lessons) in school and while commuting. Face shields are allowed as a temporary reprieve to wearing masks and in certain defined situations.
  • Hygiene- Children are reminded frequently to wash their hands or sanitize them and wipe down their desks to maintain hygiene.
  • Most of these measures are also being implemented by private enrichment and tuition centers as classes resume, so children have to adapt to this normal even beyond school.

To learn more about these measures, read here: https://www.moe.gov.sg/faqs-covid-19-infection

Helping Children Adapt to the New Normal:

Children are resilient and very quick to adapt to changes. In fact they are more likely to follow measures in earnest than adults. However, some children may face difficulties in adapting to measures such as wearing of masks for prolonged periods or feel overwhelmed by the restricted social interactions. The Ministry of Education rolled out a resource kit for caregivers and children with informative videos on safe transition back to schools in Phase 1 after the Circuit Breaker ended.

Washing hands – Pic courtesy OWIS

This is how parents and caregivers can reinforce the guidelines and help children adapt to the new normal:

  • By regularly discussing with children why measures such as safe distancing are important.
  • By making children try out the masks and shields at home to help them get familiar and feel comfortable wearing them.
  • By counseling them on the need for good hygiene and ensuring that the hygiene habits at home mirror those implemented at school.
  • By being a role model and following rules on wearing of masks, safe distancing and maintaining good hygiene ourselves.
  • By watching out for their mental well being in times of stress and confusion.
  • By offering them ways to interact with their friends virtually when physical interaction is restricted.

Insights from OWIS on Adapting to the New Normal:

Undoubtedly, schools play a pivotal role in ensuring that the measures outlined by the ministry are implemented and that children learn to adapt to them for their own safety and the collective safety of all in school.

Ms. Michelle Dickinson, Head of School, One World International School (OWIS)

We asked Michelle Dickinson, Head of School, One World International School (OWIS) on how the school has adapted to the new normal. Here is her reply:

Q. What additional measures (besides the government-mandated ones) is OWIS taking to facilitate the new normal at school?

Thermal scanners in place at OWIS

MD: “We have invested additional resources to keep our students and staff safe that include:

  • Thermal scanners, which help in efficient temperature control and also reduce human contact.
  • Desk separators, to ensure that students keep a safe distance from each other.
  • Disinfectant misters, to disinfect classrooms thoroughly in addition to manual disinfection methods
  • Face-shields for all our teachers and for all students under the age of 12.

We have also increased the frequency in which we clean and disinfect commonly used facilities and employ staggered timings for drop off and pick-up, and recess. ”

Q. How did the school help returning students understand the rationale behind the measures so they could accept them?

MD: “To help students understand the importance of these new arrangements, teachers have taken time to explain the rationale and necessity of having these measures in place. Students are reminded of our collective responsibilities and they have been very receptive to these sessions and are adapting well to the changes in the routine. They continue to be positive throughout the day and  adhere to the safety measures and precautions put in place. Overall, despite not being able to physically interact with each other, students are pleased to be back at school.

Routine is important for mental well being and everyone has a part to play in helping the students adapt to these changes. By modelling our appropriate responses and helping students understand the requirements, we’re able to reduce confusion and emphasise the seriousness of the situation. This also allows us to keep the students well-being in check as well.”

Children at play sporting face shields – Pic courtesy OWIS

Q3. What is the learning from the new normal that the school feels it can carry forward into the future?

MD: “Ensuring regular interactions with peers and teachers plays a significant role in helping children adjust with the transition. With fewer opportunities to socialise and interact with peers, this could lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. It is important to allow children the space to express their thoughts and feelings, and for adults to address their concerns about the situation in a manner that is age-appropriate.

Outside of school, parents play an equally important role in understanding and supporting the child’s emotional needs. Alongside, efforts should be made to encourage a sense of positivity. Help children see this as an opportunity to pick up a new skill or engage in a new hobby. At OWIS, we believe that mindfulness can help our students build emotional resilience, especially during these unprecedented times. As we take the necessary safety precautions to welcome our students back on-campus, we believe that our teachers will continue to play a critical role in helping to bring back a sense of normality, belonging and connection to our students.”

You can find out more about One World International School (OWIS) here.

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