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Mind the Gap. Returning to school and mental health after Covid-19

Module 2 - ROUTINES

Our brains love patterns and routines - they help to keep us safe. How can parents and school staff work together to help children re-establish some helpful habits from before lockdown? And which new routines will need to be established, to keep them safe and to get them learning effectively again, as part of a larger group?


However determined we were to maintain children's routines when home-schooling began, chances are that a few things have gone out of the window. Like getting dressed every day! Have a look at these clips to find out how parents and teachers can help kids get back on track.

Introduction to Routines

Sarah Creegan introduces Module 2 of our Mind The Gap: Back To School series, looking at the importance of routines on children's mental health, wellbeing and learning.

Back to School Routines

With a return to the school on the cards next week, the struggle of getting back into a routine might seem particularly daunting. However, the more we can help ourselves this week the less chance there is of a shock to the system. Victoria shares three tips on how to make the transition seem easier.

Find out more about the Laughology Mind the Gap mental health virtual workshop ...


Reading time approx. 5 minutes. With one half term left of the academic year, what should schools be focussing on as the children gradually return? Here, Sarah Creegan gives school staff some top tips to get children back into those great learning habits.


The vast majority of school staff are chomping at the bit to get kids back and learning – when it’s safe to do so. To support children’s good mental health and wellbeing during this transition stage, adults need to balance their keenness with caution.

Heads, teachers and teaching assistants need to remind themselves, for some time to come, of the unprecedented situation we’ve been in, the trauma that some families have experienced and what’s been happening, in homes, over the past few months:

  • During challenging times, children’s behaviours often regress. This means that parents may have had to do a lot more ‘hand-holding’ and less ‘tough love’ than they ordinarily would.
  • Unless they are trained themselves, parents are unlikely to have the questioning skills of teachers. How many will have had the knowledge or patience to go back a few steps, extend or tease out their thinking?
  • Understandably, parents have felt anxious and more protective than ever. They may have ensured their child got things right and felt good, rather than setting challenges to stretch and develop them.

It’s going to be really important in the first few weeks back, to carefully and kindly re-establish some of the great practice which, we know, helps children to become successful learners - and which teachers do routinely.

Promoting independence

Almost every classroom will have something similar to the 5 Bs model. To develop independence, children should use their Brain, Book, the Boards and their Buddy, before asking the Boss.

When they reopen, some schools are using loose leaf paper, so kids may not be able to flick back through their exercise books to remind themselves of a concept. And, with social distancing, it won’t be as easy to discreetly ask friends or the teacher for help.

Develop an enquiring culture, especially if you don’t usually teach this group of children:

  • Explain that there’s no such thing as a silly question – all questions are helpful.
  • Encourage debate by asking if they want to agree, build on or challenge their classmate’s thinking?
  • Make sure your working walls are like having another adult in the room.
  • Set up team activities to get them thinking again and to put a competitive edge back in. During lockdown, we’ve all done online or virtual quizzes and games which can easily be transferred into the classroom.

Developing a Growth Mindset

More than ever, children are going to need to be encouraged to develop a Growth Mindset (search ‘Carol Dweck’).

To start to shift them from their comfort zone, set up fun activities. For example, try asking them to draw the teacher’s face without looking at their paper. Then talk about how that felt.

  • Was anyone’s first thought, ‘Oh no! I can’t draw?’ If so, what can they do to improve? Here, stress the importance of being resilient, practising and having a ‘can-do’ attitude.
  • Were they happier when they knew that no-one else was allowed to look at the paper, meaning everyone else's was likely to be a bit rubbish? Ask the children if they think it helps to compare ourselves to other people? How about trying to set personal bests and targets instead? If they do want to draw as well as a classmate, what can they learn from them?
  • How easy was it not to peep? Explain that it felt uncomfortable because we’re so used to looking at the paper when we draw. If we always feel comfortable then we aren’t going to learn as much. With the portrait today, what was the worst that happened? The teacher’s nose was as big as her head, and she didn’t have any teeth. But she’s not offended – honest!


Reading time approx. 5 minutes. To have a happy and successful transition back to school, there are lots of ways that parents can support their children - particularly around their routines. Whether it's getting back into the swing of old habits or doing some things a bit differently.


Life is slowly returning to ‘normal’ and schools are making plans to reopen for more pupils soon. In order to maintain kids’ good mental health and wellbeing during the transition period, and beyond:

  • Now’s the time to ensure they understand why routines have been so different over the past few weeks.
  • They need to know what the adults are going to do to help them to be school-ready again.
  • They also need to be able to tell the difference, once more, between school and home.

Establishing new routines

It’s likely that, for the rest of the academic year at least, school life will be very different for the children. They may be at school for part of the week, in smaller groups and possibly not with their usual teacher. Once you know the plans:

  • Create a weekly timetable with your child, so that they know what’s happening and when. Make the distinction between school days, home learning days and family days clear.
  • If they haven’t got their own teacher when they return, make sure they understand that he/she still very much cares about them, they’ll still be setting the work and checking in on them, from a distance.
  • Chat through all of the exciting opportunities of having someone else teach them for a few weeks – maybe it’s a teacher they’ve had before? Or one their brother or sister knows well?
  • Talk about their new class, the friends that they have in it and all of the learning and safety benefits of being in a smaller ‘bubble’.

Rethinking previous routines

  • If they’re sad that certain people aren’t in their bubble, make sure that they understand how they can still be friends across the playground. While We Can't Hug is a great film, which will help young children to reconnect from a distance.
  • If you usually walk to or from school with another family, then start doing this again. Maybe they can’t zoom off on their scooters together, but they can chat over the road from one pavement to another.
  • And, until we can safely be in each other’s houses again, make sure they’re getting plenty of virtual play dates. Adults’ and children’s conversations might have been a bit ‘samey’ during lockdown but, once they’re back at school, there should be lots more to chat about.

Re-establishing old, helpful routines

Pre-Corona, we all know how tricky it was to return to school or work after a couple of weeks’ holiday. To support children to readjust:

  • Help them to be in the right frame of mind for school days. The night before, lay out their uniform and get them to help pack their lunchbox (with at least one treat).
  • Reintroduce a consistent bedtime and early morning routine during the week.
  • Encourage greater independence – in learning and self-care skills. For example, remind them of the hand washing rules and make sure that, out of habit, they are singing Happy Birthday twice while washing.
  • Help them to start concentrating for longer periods of time by themselves. A sand timer is a good visual cue for younger children. Older children could set an alarm, though it’s better if it’s not on their phone.
  • Gradually start to remove that mortarboard and cape. It suited you – it really did! But, hopefully, you won’t be needing it for too much longer.


You've watched the clips and read the tips. Now it's time to start supporting children to develop their coping skills, as well as helping them establish a growth mindset when faced with new challenges . Here are some quick and easy activities to help you.

Ed’s Thunk: What would you like to do that you can’t do yet, and how are you going to go about doing that?

We’re thinking about growth mindset this week, so let’s look at what our ambitions are. What do we really want to be able to do? What are the steps that we need to take in order to achieve our ambitions?



Why not get the children to make their own coping cube in their first week back at school? With lots of positive phrases, it'll remind them of the importance of having a Growth Mindset and using positive, 'can-do' language.

Coming up...

Coming up next week we look into practical ways that workplaces can continue the conversation around mental health, as well as activities to support mental wellbeing.
big chat about mental health logo


Are organisations and companies just paying lip service?
Join some of the most interesting and respected voices in positive psychology for our Our Big Chat about…Thinking outside the tick box, inaugural webinar. Our two and half hour interactive event will look at the best mental health strategies for organisations, identifying what works and what doesn’t.

Dave McPartlin:

Dave is the Headteacher of Flakefleet Primary School.
Creating the right environment for people and communities to flourish

Sunita Hirani

Sunita is one of the BBC’s key equality, diversity and inclusivity experts.
Why inclusion is essential for mental wellbeing

Professor Sir Cary Cooper

Cary is one the world’s most influential voices in occupational health and wellbeing.
Enhancing Mental Wellbeing at Work. Evidence based strategies for creating a wellbeing culture at work.

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