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LB COLUMN | Getting back on track | Tim Manson


______________________ Tim Manson is the Vice Principal at a local school in Ballymena. Tim is a family man at heart with a keen interest in all things Geography, and an avid supporter of Ulster Rugby.

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It has been fantastic to see all those shining, happy, smiling faces as parents have left their children off at the school gates and sped away quickly in case we changed our mind about wanting to take them back! I know that many parents are glad to get their children out of the house and back to some sense of normality and routine. Let’s face it – getting used to these early mornings has been a strain and we once again count down to the weekend from Monday afternoon.  

There is comfort in routine and familiar patterns. However, now that schools are back to the ‘new normal’ – we are starting to be reminded about some of the things that we did not really enjoy about these routines. The pressure to prepare good, well-balanced lunches; the management of starting and finishing times of our children across a range of different schools; getting PE kits, uniforms and also those reusable masks cleaned and dried for the following day; the joys of those ‘demanding’ teachers sending home worksheets, booklets and activities to be done at home. It’s great to be back!

In the run up to the return to school there were numerous stories about the impact that all this time locked at home was going to have on the mental health and progression of our children. Some teachers in England have noticed that students had developed ‘gamer’s thumb’ caused by sustained eSports activities – meaning that they could not grip pens and pencils correctly.  

I have to say that I have found that some students seem to be a little ‘rusty’ with their handwriting, spelling and organisation. It’s not really something that is particularly worrying – I usually notice that it takes students a few weeks to get back into the right ways of thinking following the summer break. However, there is a really important role here that parents in particular can play in getting their children back on track.  

Two of the main areas of immediate concern as we return to the ways of school are in relation to Maths and English.  

In Maths - we need our students to get back into the good habits of presenting their full working out and practicing activities as much as possible. Simple maths games and apps can help speed up brain processing. Students should make sure that they know their Tables and can recall these quickly and efficiently.   Practice these in the car with your children. Make it into a competition. Find some basic mental maths quizzes online and use these to speed up your child’s thinking.

It was Dr Seuss who wrote, “The more you read, the more things you know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

In English – reading is the key. The COVID restrictions have made things even more difficult for children to be able to borrow books from school or local libraries.   However, it is really important that we get ALL students reading again. Many studies show that the kids that read more are the ones that develop their intelligence at a faster rate. Some of thechildren I know tell me that they don’t like reading or they can’t ‘do’ reading.  They might need a bit of help to find something that is appropriate for them – but every child should have a book that they are working their way through. Why not see if you can find them something? Give them some encouragement by setting a time where the TV and all the games consoles are turned off to allow a 30-minute break for reading.  

The Libraries NI web site at www.librariesni.org.uk allows you to select books to collect or you can select some of their digital books that can be read on computers, tablets and mobile phones.  

Its does not take long for the same old routines to get established – so let’s make sure that these routines are filled with good habits that help our young people to get back on track quickly. Get homework completed as early as possible and before any computer games/ playing outside.  Also, get the bags packed and ready the night before so that if you do sleep through that first alarm – you are not running round the house throwing random things into a schoolbag!

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