Your church has decided to reopen its children’s ministry for Sunday mornings. With excitement, you dust off curriculum packs and plan for a grand welcome back. Children who have been learning virtually and in person on a limited basis walk in the door and you expect a return to March 1, 2020.

But instead of energy, noise and an enthusiasm to join the preplanned activities, children enter and look at you, unsure of what to do next. This isn’t what you thought would happen.

As I have talked with school teachers about their experiences as children have returned to in-person school, I have been struck by a common theme, regardless of grade level. Children are unsure of their environments and need time and help to reacclimate to a new teaching environment.

Many younger children have had the gift of concentrated attention and assistance of an adult as they have learned virtually. Sharing that attention with 20+ other children is not their “new norm.” Certain skills such as cutting with scissors have been reduced to watching mom cut the handout to save time. And more than likely the learning environment has been much more relaxed than the typical classroom setting.

For younger children returning after a long break, teachers may need to lead as if they are at the beginning of the year instead of nearing the end of the year. Gentle reminders about waiting their turn for help or encouragement to try an activity without direct adult supervision need to be offered. Repeated instructions on how to choose a center or do rotations may be needed. A reminder to ask permission before exiting the classroom, adding to a conversation or engaging with centers may need to be reinforced.

For older children, the biggest need is to help them reengage with others. One sixth grade teacher said that instead of returning to school with classic preteen energy and noise, her classes are quiet and withdrawn. Children who have communicated online for months seem to have forgotten how to speak out loud to both adults and their peers.

Children are unsure of their environments and need time and help to reacclimate to a new teaching environment.

Across all ages, teachers were more concerned about the social and emotional deficits they are seeing than the educational deficits. Following are some ideas for reviving these missing elements.

  • Offer a 5-minute check-in so students can talk about what is happening in their lives outside of the classroom. Listen actively and follow up on students who need individual help.
  • Understand that you probably don’t know what life is like for the children in your class outside of your classroom. They may have endured any number of family or emotional crises.
  • Remind students of your expectations for behaviors as they interact with friends. (They cannot wallop their friend for knocking over the blocks like they would their sibling.)
  • Incorporate routines that help a child know what to expect next during the session to provide a sense of control and purpose to children who are unsure of themselves.
  • Understand that some new behaviors are based in fear, so reassure children they are in a safe place.
  • Incorporate wearing face coverings, social distancing, sanitizing surfaces and hand washing into your teaching environments to reassure children and parents of your commitment to their well-being.
  • Since much of what children understand about the world has come from TV or social media, intentionally plan for the development of critical thinking skills to help build a biblical worldview.
  • Consider limiting rotating teachers to help children form and build upon relationships with caring adults.

Above all, be patient and extend grace. Be willing to reteach basics, plan for reacquaintance activities, encourage reconnections, slow down and be a good listener to help children reengage with your classroom and your church. Not only will children benefit, your own discipleship, patience and blood pressure will thank you.