On June 17th an advisory group for the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, one of Canada's leading children's hospitals, released a series of recommendations on schools reopening. The experts stressed that although proper safety precautions should be in place, children need to return to school. The last few months of school closures have been necessary to curb the spread of the pandemic, but as time goes on the negative impacts on child behavior and mental health will outweigh the benefits, especially for those with complex needs.
“We strongly believe that it is of utmost importance that we open schools in September,” Dr. Ronald Cohn, president and CEO of SickKids, said during a webinar on Wednesday.
“The impact on the mental, behavioural, and developmental health of children not going to school, not being exposed to in-person teaching, and not being with their friends and peers is something that myself and many of my colleagues in pediatrics are literally losing sleep over.”
Sick Kids advised that schools should screen children for symptoms before they enter, encourage hand hygiene, and implement some physical distancing measures. However, they advised against the use of face masks for students and stated that children should be allowed to play with one another.
Here at the Developing Brain Lab, we couldn't agree more. Dr. Emma Duerden points out that the last few months have taken their toll on parents and kids alike.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario school closures have resulted in education shifting from the classroom to the living room, and the burden largely falls on parents. For parents of elementary school children who are working full time from home, this involves juggling home and work commitments, which can be stressful.”
A recent study from the University of Oxford found that the mental health of children during the pandemic has been negatively affected as well.
However, not all families may feel ready for the shift back to school. A study in the UK found that parent opinion was split on whether children should return. All families have different situations and concerns, and this can make it challenging for politicians and public health officials to find a solution that works for all.
The Developing Brain Lab is currently running an online study called "Learning, Education, and the Pandemic (LEAP)" to understand the full impact the move to online learning has had on families with school-aged children. Anyone with a child between the ages of 6-12 years old who attends an Ontario publicly-funded school and is now receiving virtual schooling at home can participate. Participation includes a short questionnaire for the parent, and optional cognitive games for the child. The study takes about 30 minutes to complete.
The full Sick Kids report can be found here
For more information on the LEAP study, check out www.leapstudy.ca