Congratulations. You made it through an unexpected, difficult year filled with changes, decisions and uncertainty.

As you move into the new school year ahead, reevaluate your approach to children’s ministry by reflecting on what you have learned through this difficult time.

What changes did you make that you will keep in place? What changes were the hardest? What do you wish you had known and done differently before the pandemic hit? What are you expecting for the new school year?

It would be easy to enter this new chapter trying to replicate the way things were before the pandemic. But we must think about whether that is the best approach. New challenges must be faced as we move forward, requiring some changes to be made.

Children, although resilient, will likely display unexpected as well as challenging behaviors. They may be much quieter and less likely to engage with others. They may display developmental delays that will surprise even veteran teachers. Adjustments will be necessary in lesson plans, activities, attitudes and patience.

Psychologists, counselors and other professionals say it could take from one to five years for children to bounce back from these developmental delays that have resulted from isolation during the pandemic.

New challenges must be faced as we move forward, requiring some changes to be made.

How can you help children adapt and grow? How can you foster learning? Consider these suggestions:

Be patient and reduce expectations
Train your staff to expect a different level of competency in the age that they teach. Have them review lesson plans to allow for this change. Remind them that having patience will go a long way in helping children succeed. Unrealistic expectations cause frustration with teachers and a disengagement from children.

Teachers will need to explain again even the most simple tasks. Children will need to be shown how to do things that previous students may have already mastered, such as using scissors or glue, opening their lunch or taking turns.

Change the environment
If the teacher is experiencing challenging behaviors and emotions in the classroom, then it’s time to change the environment. We can’t change children, but we can minimize the difficulties by creating different opportunities and experiences for them.

Encourage and guide
Children will need encouragement and guidance to try new things. Many of the activities children have been used to doing have been restricted or non-existent in this last year. Teachers will need to not only provide these opportunities, but also gently guide children to take part and even allow for failure.

Slow down
Children may be overwhelmed with their new environment and may suffer from separation anxiety. Children may have had very little interaction with others in the past year, so being in a classroom with new adults and other children may be stressful.. Give them the freedom to adjust. Make an effort to talk one on one with quiet children to draw them out. Offer opportunities for them to engage in conversation with others.

Play is how preschoolers learn. Academics will come later. Play encompasses all the developmental areas – physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual. It improves the overall well-being of a child. Recent studies from The LEGO Foundation and The Hechinger Report reveal that, “learning through play may represent the best long-term value for helping children, regardless of background, to develop a breadth of skills that will last.”

So, celebrate your accomplishments from this past year but reevaluate to make the best plans for a great school year ahead.