A friend of mine returned to work recently for the first time since the lockdown. She works with autistic children at an inner-city Birmingham primary school, in a majority BAME area that has experienced a great many Covid-19 deaths. She expressed her anxieties about the return as a practical question: will the crayons be sanitised? Another friend has been rota-working throughout the lockdown at a primary school near one of the city’s hospitals. Some of the children were already designated ‘vulnerable’, while others are children of NHS workers. She regards them all as vulnerable, because key workers’ children have particular worries about their parents. She related the following incident from playtime: “It started with someone throwing themselves off a climbing frame, lying there. Someone else said, ‘Let’s have a funeral.’ They pounced on the idea and all the children from Reception to Y6 got involved. The game was about taking it in turns to die. The others would hold their funeral, including a eulogy for them. Children were clamouring for it to be their turn. They played for at least 30 minutes.” She reflected afterwards: “I see a lot of play about fighting, about power and strength, but I have never seen children, especially younger ones, deal so explicitly with death. As an Early Years teacher, I am used to knowing what to do with play, but this time I felt out of my depth. This was not something any of us had ever experienced before.” She concluded: “They were playful about it. What they needed was for me to take a step back.” What are the experts saying? The lockdown has caused individuals and organisations to produce innumerable materials supporting children and their families, including home learning resources and some good guidance on children’s needs. Much of this focuses on children’s need for a safe, loving and caring environment. Some experts, such as Professor Paul Ramchandani – LEGO professor of play in education at Cambridge University – have urged adults to balance formal learning with opportunities for unstructured play (see ‘Further reading’ panel, overleaf). Looking ahead, neuroscientist Professor Irene Tracey has warned that | 23 “increased levels of anxiety, OCD and other conditions” are a real risk that could affect pupils over the coming years. Helen Westerman, safeguarding expert at the NSPCC, has reported seeing increased levels of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts during the lockdown, especially among the 400,000 children designated ‘vulnerable’ by the DfE, saying that “there is a potential generation of children that are very vulnerable following this epidemic.” Nigel Attwood, headteacher of Bellfield Junior in Birmingham, agrees, saying: “Our vulnerable children … will be even more vulnerable.” So what can we do? Reassuring routines Routine can be reassuring for both children and teachers: not everything needs to be different or strange. There will bemany things that are new for children in terms of social distancing: keeping clean; people potentially wearingmasks and gloves. Everyday school rituals such as doing the register, playtime and putting things away at the end of the day will help provide children with a sense of continuity and stability. Social contact Replace pats on the back and high fives with other forms of human contact: spatial distance need not necessarily Howcanwe reconnect with children after the enforced break? Ben Ballin sets out some ideas… F EATURES PASTORAL CARE BACK Welcome “I have never seen children, especially younger ones, deal so explicitly with death”